Hands on with the Garmin Colorado 300
UPDATE: I’m recommending the new touch-screen Garmin Oregon series instead of the Colorado. It has a superior interface, along with almost all the other good things found on the Colorado. Read my hands-on review of the Oregon 400t for more information. I’ve also posted a page on the comparable model in the Oregon line — the Garmin Oregon 300.
The Garmin Colorado 300 is one of the first in a new line of handheld GPS receivers from Garmin. It has a completely new interface, very different from the eTrex and 60/76 series units. I’ve had mine for a couple of weeks now and have been enjoying getting to know it.
Before we get into the details of my hands on review, lets compare the major differences between the four Colorado models:
- 300 – Worldwide basemap with shaded relief, no pre-loaded detail maps
- 400t – Worldwide basemap with shaded relief, U.S. topo maps pre-loaded
- 400i – Worldwide basemap with satellite imagery, U.S. inland lakes and navigable rivers charts pre-loaded
- 400c – Worldwide basemap with satellite imagery, U.S. coastal waters and Bahamas charts pre-loaded
To see how the Colorado 300 stands up against other Garmin models, check out my Garmin handheld GPS comparison chart.
Since this is a landlubbers blog, I’ll mostly ignore the marine units. So the key question is whether to buy the Colorado 300 or the 400t. The 300 is a great unit for those that already own Garmin’s Topo U.S. 2008. Otherwise, you may want to buy the 400t, which comes with those maps pre-loaded. On to the details of the Garmin Colorado 300 review…
High-resolution screen and shaded relief
The Garmin Colorado series uses a large 3″ (diagonal) screen with a 240 x 400 pixel resolution screen, allowing it to deliver some beautiful imagery. Unfortunately, the high res screen isn’t as bright as previous handheld models. I don’t think it’s a deal killer, but it is something to be aware of.
The high-resolution screen, along with the DEM data embedded in Topo U.S. 2008, allows it to display gorgeous shaded relief maps (see image at right) and 3-D terrain. This allows much better visualization of the surrounding terrain, a great improvement for backcountry enthusiasts.
A new interface
The Garmin Colorado series has things in common with both previous Garmin handhelds and with their auto navigation line. This is an entirely new platform and interface that will require a little getting used to if you’ve ever used an older Garmin handheld.
Garmin has managed to greatly reduce the number of buttons on the unit. My 60CSx has ten buttons; my Colorado has four (including the power button). The big change that allowed this is the “rock n roller” button at the top of the unit. It’s three distinct types of motions are shown below (image courtesy of Garmin).
- When pressed, the center acts as an Enter key.
- You can move the cursor in four directions to select menu items, highlight the map, etc.
- And then there is the outer wheel, which can be rotated to move through menus and zoom the map; I love that last feature!
Another big change to the interface is the context sensitive left and right soft key, pictured below (image courtesy of Garmin).
The shortcuts menu
Hit the right soft key in the image above and you get the shortcuts menu (shown at right), which you can spin through with the rock n’ roller wheel. Here you have access to what were termed “pages” on the 60CSx. They include map, compass, elevation plot, setup, trip computer, where to, add page, others and mark waypoint.
The latter function can also be accomplished by holding down the center of the rock n’ roller.
Items under “others” can be added to the shortcuts menu using “add page.” These “other” items include share wirelessly, image viewer, 3D view, geocaches, Whereigo, sun and moon, hunt and fish, waypoint manager, route planner, active route, area calculation, alarm clock, calculator, stopwatch, calendar, profile change, recent finds and the satellite screen.
Garmin Colorado features
All the current Colorado units have an electronic compass and barometric altimeter. They also come with a picture viewer, an SD card slot, and a high-sensitivity chipset for superior reception in difficult conditions,
The Colorado has a number of interesting new features too:
- If you have a friend with a Colorado, you can wirelessly share basic waypoint, route and geocache data between units
- The Colorado can display data from an optional heart-rate monitor and/or speed and cadence sensor
- It also supports Whereigo activities, from the folks behind geocaching.com, speaking of which…
The Colorado series appears to be at least partially targeted towards geocachers, with an effort to make the Colorado a “paperless geocaching” tool. Unlike previous Garmin handhelds, the Colorado will accept and display the full description, cache size, difficulty and terrain ratings, and recent logs. I really like this feature, and it will probably get me out geocaching more. Geocaching mode screen shots follow.
A replacement for the 60CSx?
What is less clear is whether Garmin intends this to be a replacement for the 60CSx or not. The Colorado does not (at this time) have the full complement of features and options found on the 60CSx. The Colorado has inherited some nuvi-like features (e.g., USB mass storage mode). I hope it hasn’t inherited the nuvi’s lack of options and flexibility as well. Read on for more on this.
UPDATE: Garmin has released new firmware for the Colorado series, which improves or fixes some of the issues below. Here is a link to a discussion thread that leads off with the fix list.
A number of perceived deficiencies in the Colorado series have been documented by forum participants at Groundspeak, which has been compiled into a Garmin Colorado issues list. I won’t go into all of them here, but the worse, IMHO, are the following:
- Won’t show geocaches on map without a workaround
- Cannot mark a geocache as found
- Several key geocaching mode functions are missing — there is no find nearest/next, nor can you select by symbol / type
- Backlight setting not stored when powering off
- No busy indicator during lengthy processes
- No single place to reset trip data
- No waypoint averaging
- North up / track up option not available from the map page (you must go to Setup>Map)
- Cannot change track color
- Cannot display multiple saved tracks
- NiMH battery reserve not properly reported, so the unit automatically dims the backlight even though significant NiMH power reserves remain
- Cannot pan the map and then search from that point of reference
- Can’t zoom in below 80 feet on the map
Having listed those issues, I must add that Garmin has a reputation for frequent firmware updates and has demonstrated a continuing commitment to improving their products following release to the public. You can verify this by going to the download page
for any Garmin product and looking at the change history. Garmin has already released one firmware update for the Colorado series and I’m sure more will be forthcoming.
I’m giving the Colorado series a qualified recommendation, keeping in mind the screen brightness and the fact that some firmware issues remain to be addressed.
For geocachers, if you can bear with Garmin while they improve the unit, I think it is a real winner. The paperless geocaching feature is a huge improvement.
UPDATE: I’ve decided against recommending the Colorado for backcountry navigation (hiking, mountain biking, etc.) for the time being, due to some navigation deficiencies in the unit.
More Garmin Colorado 300 reviews
- Consumers are posting their own Garmin Colorado 300 reviews at GPSNow
- And there are more consumer-written Garmin Colorado 300 reviews at Amazon
- GpsPasSion has started a thread of user-generated Garmin Colorado 300 reviews
- Here is a review comparing the Garmin Colorado 300 with the older Garmin 60CS
- Mobile Arsenal reviews the Garmin Colorado 300
- Trailspace.com posts a brief review of the Colorado 300, giving it only 2-1/2 out of 5 stars
- OutdoorsMagic.com gives a UK perspective in their Garmin Colorado 300 review
- This Garmin Colorado 300 review looks at it as a companion for a metal detector
- LetsGoMobile has also posted a Garmin Colorado 300 review
- Mapomatic reviews the Colorado 300, comparing it to the Garmin 60CSx
- Cache Mania has posted a Garmin Colorado 300 review
- LiveForTheOutdoors has posted a video review of the Colorado 300:
Other Garmin Colorado 300 resources
- The Garmin Colorado 300 owners manual in the language of your choice
- GPS Fix is a blog that focuses on the Garmin Oregon and Colorado series
- A Garmin Colorado mini-site
- Compare the Garmin Colorado 300 to other Garmin handhelds
- Compare the Garmin Colorado and Oregon series
- And another Oregon / Colorado comparison
- Compare the Colorado to the Garmin 60CSx
- An FAQ by Garmin
- Another Garmin Colorado FAQ — see GC16 for info on multiple geocaching views
- There is a Garmin Colorado message forum at Yahoo!
- And another Colorado forum /li>
- The official Garmin Colorado 300 web page
Compare prices on the Garmin Colorado 300 at these merchants:
- Find the low price on a Garmin Colorado 300 at GPS Now, where shipping is free on orders over $99 (and the upgrade to overnight shipping is dirt cheap!). Order by 5 p.m. Central Time for same day shipment.
- Check the current Garmin Colorado 300 price at Amazon.
- Buy the
Garmin Colorado 300 GPS
at REI.com, where satisfaction is guaranteed and members get 10% back on eligible purchases.
- Get the
Garmin Colorado 300 Color Hand Held GPS Navigator
at TigerGPS, where you get free shipping on orders above $250.
- Find the Garmin Colorado 300 for an amazing price on eBay.
- Check out our GPS deals site for current specials and rebates on a wide range of GPS receivers