(Price: $639, suggested retail)
- Touchscreen and menu system intuitive and easy to use.
- Large (3-inch diagonal), sharp color screen.
- Paperless geocaching.
- My top pick for trail use and geocaching.
- Hefty $639 price tag.
- Multi-profile functionality doesn't replace need for special auto or fitness GPS.
Garmin Takes the "Geek Factor" Out of Handheld GPS
With the introduction of the Oregon handheld GPS line, Garmin takes another giant step toward taking the "geek factor" out of handheld GPS navigators and making them easy-to-use and consumer friendly. It's impossible to get lost in the Oregon's touchscreen, graphics-driven menu system, yet Garmin packs plenty of features into the line. But Garmin doesn't sacrifice high-end functionality for user-friendliness. The Oregons will serve well in the most demanding situations. All of this comes at a price, however, with a map-equipped 400t model selling for $600 online.
As I've worked to learn how to use the multiple button setups on various handheld GPS units over the years, I've often wondered, "why not a touchscreen like a car GPS?" With the Oregon line, Garmin is showing touchscreens are the way to go with handhelds, as well.
Oregon Line Includes Five Models
Features: Review and Rating
Let's take a look at the feature set and then review how everything works. The Oregon 400t stands out not only for its touchscreen ease of use, but for a deep set of functions.
The 400t comes with US topographic maps preloaded. Just touch "map" on the first menu screen. Zoom in or out with the plus and minus symbols at the top right of the screen. To pan across the map, simply touch the screen and drag the map in any direction, a terrific feature that is intuitive and easy to use. For more information about a point of interest on the map, just touch it and an info-box pops up with precise location and distance-to data. Touch "Go" on the screen to navigate to to selected destinations. It's easy to save and edit waypoints using the touchscreen, as well.
The Oregon line also features 3D view capability. Out on the trail, 3D view is not especially useful for navigation, but it is very useful for providing an overview of the area, and for judging the size of hills and mountains you may need to traverse. On-screen arrows let you scan in any direction in 3D view.
Geocaching is one of the Oregon's strengths. You may download geocache coordinates and descriptions directly from Geocaching.com, and they will automatically appear in the unit's geocache menu. Select "Geocaches" and tap on the name of the cache for a map overview. You will also be able to view its terrain rating, cache size description, whether it includes trackable items, and full description. I used the Oregon 400t on a geocache outing with a group of kids, and it worked very well.
Go to "setup" and "profiles" in the main menu, and you have the opportunity to set up your Oregon in the following preset modes: recreational, geocaching, automotive, marine, or fitness. Garmin is trying to fit five specialized GPS functions into one unit, an admirable way to add value to this pricey device. However, the automotive will work in a pinch, but it's no replacement for a dedicated in-car portable GPS due to small screen size, lack of windshield mount, and other features. Likewise, the Oregon could be useful for a casual fitness program (you can even add an optional heart rate monitor) but doesn't replace dedicated sports & fitness GPS. Its hefty 6.8-ounce weight (with batteries) is one reason why.
That said, the Oregon 400t is among the very best out there - especially if you value the ease-of-use of a touchscreen and excellent menu system - for outdoor recreation, serious wilderness travel, lightweight marine portable applications, and of course geocaching.
Author update, March, 2009: Regarding user review comment on screen brightness below. For both the Oregon 200 the user refers to, and the Oregon 400t reviewed here, screen brightness is adjustable by pressing and releasing the power key, then using the "+" or "-" button to adjust brightness. The default setting is dull, but brightness is adjustable. I would have definitely downgraded the Oregon if its screen was as portrayed by user review, but that was not the case.