The Magellan Triton 1500 is one of a new series of handheld GPS receivers from Magellan that can display USGS topo maps (raster imagery) from National Geographic. I’ve had the unit for over six weeks now and have put it through its paces.
Before we get into the details of my review, lets take a quick look at the Triton series. The 1500 and 2000 both have 2.7″ touch screens, an MP3 player, an LED flashlight, and a speaker and microphone for recording field notes. Step up to the 2000 to add a barometric altimeter and tri-axial electronic compass, along with a 2 MP camera that geocodes photos.
Moving the other direction, the Triton 500 loses the touch screen and the screen size drops to 2.2″. Nor does it have the MP3 player, LED flashlight, speaker and microphone. The 500 does include the barometric altimeter and electronic compass though, features not found on the Triton 1500.
Magellan Triton 1500 hardware
For the most part, Magellan has done a nice job on the hardware. The Triton seems to be well built. It fits nicely in hand and feels quite solid. I found it relatively easy to move back and forth between the touch screen and the button controls. A stylus (and five spares) is included for detail work, but I’m not finding it necessary to use that often. The one unfortunate exception is the map screen’s navigation fields, which are difficult to access without the stylus.
Though the buttons are stiff, I’ve gotten pretty used to them. They are backlit, which is a nice feature.
Initially I was concerned about the screen brightness, but after a number of times out on the trail with it, that concern has been alleviated somewhat. In the absolute brightest conditions though, the screen is difficult to see, and not as legible as my Garmin 60CSx. The Triton uses a transflective color TFT screen, but since it is a touch screen it has a another layer that may impact visibility somewhat. The backlight, BTW, is affected in two different locations. You can change the time out and backlight level settings in the Profiles menu, but the easiest way is to use the LED flashlight button, which toggles through four different backlight levels (you need to hold it down to turn on the flashlight).
UPDATE: Since posting this review, I’ve investigated the problems common to screen visibility in the newest generation of handheld GPS receivers with high resolution screens, including the Garmin Colorado series.
The processor seems beefy enough to handle map redraws, etc. Since updating to the latest firmware, I’ve experienced no lockups, but I do see some occasional delays.
National Geographic TOPO! maps
This, in my humble opinion, is the only reason to buy a Triton. The ability to load real 1:24,000 scale USGS quads , in the form of National Geographic TOPO! maps, is a tremendous plus for outdoor enthusiasts. There is nothing quite like being able to see your exact position and compare it to the identical paper map in your hand.
Magellan Triton 1500 firmware
While the hardware is good, the firmware is weak. There are numerous reported firmware bugs; these are only a sampling:
- The GoTo button does not work. Hold it down and the unit just cycles through the various screens.
- The Find Nearest (waypoint or geocache) feature does not work.
- On most screens, you cannot save customized navigation fields (elevation, distance to next, etc.). Power off the unit and they are gone. With the compass screen they vanish as soon as you toggle between screens. Nor can you set the map screen to display these fields at startup.
- Time zones are set in the Profiles. Why in the world Magellan would put it here is beyond me. If you are a hiker, geocacher and marine user, you’ll have to set it three times. Even worse, your time zone info is lost upon restart.
- You cannot customize what screens are displayed or in what order.
- The erase tracks feature does not work. They return upon restart.
- The Trails feature does not work.
- Creating waypoints requires too many steps, and the accept checkbox on the final screen must be scrolled to in order to see it.
Having said that, Magellan has already delivered one firmware update, and most of the items above seem to be correctable.
The Triton is an entirely new platform, and its problems have made it a difficult unit to review. I expand more on these issues below, but I do not consider it a comprehensive listing of its pros and cons.
Magellan Triton 1500 pros
- Touch screen works well for field use — the ability to drag the map to show adjacent areas is a nice benefit.
- Well constructed hardware.
- The ability to load National Geographic TOPO! maps is the nicest feature by far.
- Can load MapSend Topo 3D maps.
- Good reception, even indoors.
Magellan Triton 1500 cons
- Even though reception is good, it’s not fast. Time to first fix (TTFF) was around one minute in my tests, versus five seconds on my Garmin 60CSx.
- National Geographic TOPO! maps don’t show above one mile or below 300 feet.
- The free VantagePoint software, used for transferring waypoints, etc. to the unit, needs a lot of work. There are unresolved issues with Vista compatibility, among other things. It currently will not even recognize my Triton.
- Difficult to access map screen navigation fields without using the stylus.
- There is no trackback function.
- Multiple firmware problems (see above).
- Geocache descriptions are not shown, nor are logs.
- You can only access the main menu from the map screen.
The Tritons will be a product line to keep an eye on. I’m hoping Magellan will move aggressively on firmware improvements. If so, they could have a winner. But at this point, I am not recommending this unit.
It’s not unusual for new handheld lines to have firmware problems. The new Garmin Colorado has some firmware issues too. The difference is that many people have confidence that Garmin will fix those issues ASAP; Magellan OTOH, has a reputation for poor support.
If you really want a ruggedized handheld GPS with USGS maps, your choice for now is a Triton or a DeLorme PN-20. Which one is a tough call. Neither is perfect. The DeLorme, to my recollection, is much more sluggish than the Triton. (EDIT: I should add that the PN-20’s newest firmware has reportedly improved redraw, scroll and find speeds.) And I think their Topo USA map interface has a huge learning curve. Nevertheless, for the most part it works pretty well, and DeLorme offers excellent support. For the time being, the PN-20 may indeed be the better choice.
More Magellan Triton 1500 reviews
- Consumer-written Magellan Triton 1500 reviews have been posted at Amazon.
- Consumers are also posting Magellan Triton 1500 reviews at Cnet.
- I’ll be posting more hands on GPS reviews as they appear, but in the meantime, here are some…
Other Magellan Triton 1500 resources
- A PDF version of the Magellan Triton 1500 owners manual.
- A Magellan Triton 1500 FAQ.
- Another Triton 1500 FAQ.
- There is a TritonForum.com message board.
- And a Yahoo! Triton GPS discussion group.
- The official National Geographic Maps Triton web page.
- The TOPO! and Magellan Triton how-to guide (PDF).
- Magellan’s VantagePoint software page.
- The VantagePoint user’s guide (PDF).
- How to upload Magellan MapSend maps.
- The official Magellan Triton 1500 web page
Compare prices on the Magellan Triton 1500 at these merchants:
- Check the current Magellan Triton 1500 price at Amazon.
- Get the
Magellan Triton 1500 Touch-Screen Expandable Color Handheld GPS Receiver (PRE-ORDER)
at TigerGPS, where you get free shipping on orders above $250.
- Find the Magellan Triton 1500 for an amazing price on eBay.
- I’ll post more sources as additional merchants pick up the Triton line.