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Sunday, March 18, 2012

Garmin Oregon 450 review

Garmin-Oregon-450-review

Hands on with the best Oregon yet

UPDATE: This model has been discontinued and replaced by the Oregon 600.

The Garmin Oregon 450 is one of the newest members of the touchscreen Oregon family, featuring the latest improvements such as better visibility, a tri-axial compass, custom dashboards, advanced track navigation features and the ability to load custom maps and BirdsEye aerial imagery. I’ll delve into those details shortly, but first I want to clarify the differences between the Oregon 450 and some closely…

Related units

  • The Oregon 450t adds pre-loaded, 1:100,000 scale topo maps of the US to the 450’s feature set (see the next section for reasons not to spend the extra money!)
  • The Oregon 550 adds a 3.2 MP geotagging camera
  • Going the other direction, dropping down to the Oregon 300, you’ll go back to an earlier generation (less legible) screen and you’ll get a standard electronic compass
  • To see how the Oregon 450 stands up against other Garmin models, check out my Garmin handheld GPS comparison chart.

Save your money

The 450t’s pre-loaded topo maps of the entire U.S. may appeal to those who travel a lot, but there are few other reasons to step up to that model. The reason? There are better quality 1:24,000 scale topo maps available for free for most states. GPS File Depot is a great source for such maps.

Custom maps and BirdsEye imagery

Then there is the recent introduction of Garmin custom maps. Basically, this allows you to put any map image on your Oregon. Found a park trail map online? Add it to your GPS! The image at left below shows a custom map — a USGS topo map (raster) image. You can read more about this feature by checking out my posts on Garmin custom maps.

Custom map and BirdsEye Garmin also recently announced their BirdsEye aerial imagery program, a $29.99 annual subscription that will allow you to add aerial imagery to the Oregon series. The image at right, above, shows a screenshot.

Now that we have that out of the way, lets look at some of the other new features in the Oregon line, which are all found on the 450…


Oregon 450 touchscreen display

All of the newer generation high-resolution GPS screens suffer a bit when it comes to visibility. The 550 series is slightly better than the x00 first generation, but the newer 450 series seems better yet. As a matter of fact, it’s the first Oregon I’m going to recommend for fixed mount, non-powered use, such as bike handlebars. In the past, I’ve recommended Oregons primarily for handheld use, where you will intuitively tilt it for the best view.

Let me back up a bit and share what I saw when testing the Oregon 450. The first time out on my bike, I was surprised by the visibility, but when I took the 450 off my handlebars, and held it side by side with my 400t, I couldn’t tell much difference looking at them straight on. Once I tried different angles though, it became clear to me that the 450 was viewable over a wider range than the older model. I don’t recall seeing this when I tested the 550t, so I asked Garmin if there had been changes between the 450 and 550 series in regards to screen technology. Here’s the response I got:

While the most notable enhancement in our Oregon screens was from the x00 to the x50 lineup, customers may notice other improvements that are a result of various hardware and software improvements.

The difference is seen in sunny, bright conditions only. I could not detect much difference in shade. And regardless, in at least some conditions, the 450 still isn’t as bright as older units that don’t have such high resolution screens (e.g., the 60/76C and eTrex C series). But the huge number of improvements the Oregon series is accumulating leaves me with little reservation in recommending them over previous model lines. With the recent improvements in screen technology, visibility just isn’t a deal killer, even for bikers. Even so, I still recommend that users create sun and shade profiles to improve visibility (discussed a little later in this review).

Portions of the following are taken from my Oregon 550t review.

Oregon 450 tri-axial compass

Having a tri-axial compass means you don’t have to hold the unit level while navigating. The downside is that the calibration process is more complicated than that for a two-axis electronic compass. It’s the same procedure that is used on the Dakota 20 — here’s a brief video I shot of it. The compass should be recalibrated every time you change the batteries in the unit. Like most GPS receivers with an electronic compass, the 450 also includes a barometric altimeter.

Garmin Oregon 450 Interface

Handheld GPS receivers typically offer lots of options, and can be overwhelming for a first-time user. Even so, the Oregon is about as intuitive as they get, and I love the touch screen menus. The main menu is spread across five screens (as shown below); these can be customized, so if you don’t need “Man Overboard”, you don’t have to display it.

Oregon 450 menus 1

Oregon 450 menus 2

Oregon 450 menus 3

Customizing the Garmin Oregon 450

Take the time to do some additional customization and it gets even better. Here are some tips:

Use profiles – There is a “Change profiles” item on the main menu, and you can create a new one via Setup > Profiles. Tap the new profile to give it a name. Now start changing various preferences. Want track up when geocaching and north up when biking? No problem. The possibilities are nearly endless.

Rearrange the main menu – Set this different for each profile. I make extensive use of the Track Manager, so that gets moved to the first main menu screen for my hiking and biking profiles.

Create sun and shade profiles – A great use of this tool is to create separate sun and shade profiles (perhaps even one for each activity). Create a Sun profile and then go to Setup > Maps > Advanced Map Setup. Set Shaded Relief to Do Not Show to enhance visibility in bright light. If you’re in an area with lots of national parks and forest, you can also improve visibility by getting rid of the green background. Go to Setup > Map > Advanced Map Setup > Zoom Levels > Land Cover and set it to Off. Credit GPS Fix with originating these tips for sun / shade profiles.

Dashboards – The map screen can be set up to show 0, 2 or 4 data fields, or to display a dashboard. Choices for the latter are recreational, automotive, stopwatch, compass, large data field, geocaching (nearest or active) or elevation plot. I’ve included screenshots showing the last two below.

Oregon 450 dashboards

Shown below are the compass and trip computer screens. The data fields can, of course, be customized, as can the background. The trip computer screen can be also switched to show fewer (but larger) data fields. The top section of each can be modified display one of the previously mentioned dashboards.

Compass and trip computer

Finally, here’s a random interface tip… When you select a location on the map, a push pin appears. You can now slide the map around underneath the pin, and zoom in as needed, to fine tune the selected location..

Route, Track and Waypoint management

Oregon 450 trackThe Oregon series has excellent route, track and waypoint management tools, including:

  • Waypoints – The ability to project a waypoint, and to reposition one at your current location.
  • Tracks – You can choose to hide or show  tracks on the map and give them a custom color (17 colors are available). The image at the right shows a track in light blue (a record of a previous trip).
  • Routes – You can view a map of the entire route, edit the route, reverse it and view an elevation plot.

Track Navigation

The Oregon 450 features some recent improvements in track navigation. Select a track to navigate and a route will be created. Waypoints are created for the high and low elevation points and any user waypoints along the track are added to the route. I’m a heavy user of track navigation. If I head out for a trail I’ve never traveled before, I do a search online for tracks (favorite search terms are .gpx, gps, trail name, and park name) and load the track to the device. One advantage of this new track navigation feature is that, unlike typical backcountry route navigation, you’ll get an estimate of actual trail distance rather than “as the crow flies” mileage.

Geocaching with the Oregon 450

The Oregon 450 is a nice GPS for geocaching, as it is set up for full paperless support, meaning you can see the description, logs, and the hint, and you can log your attempt (find, DNF, etc.) for later transfer back to geocaching.com. Speaking of which, full access to these features requires a premium membership at geocaching.com. Shown below, clockwise from top left: Closest geocaches, geocache description, menu for a specific cache, and custom map using a USGS topo.

Geocache list description

Custom topo and menu

Wireless data transfer

The Oregon 450 is capable of wireless data transfer with other compatible Garmin units. You can transfer waypoints, tracks, routes and geocache summaries (paperless caching details cannot be transferred).Dual-use-GPS-Oregon

Garmin Oregon 450 in your car

The Oregon 450 makes an excellent dual-use unit, though you’ll probably want City Navigator and a car kit if you want to use it as a turn-by-turn navigator in your car. If I wanted a single unit for trail and road, an Oregon plus City Navigator (screenshot at right) would be my top choice.

Garmin Oregon 450 performance

The Oregon 450 performed very well for me in testing against multiple units including the Garmin GPSMAP 60CSx and the Magellan eXplorist GC. I noticed no significant differences in accuracy at ground zero when geocaching.

Multiple tracklogs were collected, comparing the Oregon 450 and the Garmin 60CSx. Tracking was set to collect points every five seconds while mountain biking. Steep terrain ridden in both directions, combined with frequent stops to record notes, resulted in good testing environments. In the images below, the Oregon 450 tracklog is in blue, the 60CSx is in red. I’ve compiled these four tracks in a single .gdb file, which you can download and open in MapSource or BaseCamp for closer examination.

In one test, shown below, the 60CSX wandered a bit more than the Oregon in a few spots, while the Oregon track separated more at one point on the uphill and downhill runs. This test was a draw.

OR 450 Rocky Fork

In the test below, the Oregon significantly outperformed the 60CSx. I’ve labeled a geocache at one point, because I moved around a fair bit there. Still there were two other points where the 60CSx wandered significantly. Each unit had a single instance of track separation on the uphill and downhill segments.

OR 450 Cherokee Mtn

Battery life is rated by Garmin at 16 hours. In my testing it ranged from 10 hours, 27 minutes (backlight always on) to 16 hours, 51 minutes (backlight timeout set for two minutes, battery saver mode enabled). Battery life tests were conducted with the unit stationary, using Eneloop low discharge rechargeable batteries.

One other performance note — I’ve always been very impressed with how accurately my 60CSx reports overall elevation gain, and disappointed with the inaccurate numbers generated by my Oregon 400t. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the Oregon 450 is extremely close to my 60CSx in terms of reported elevation gain. I hope to do some more testing before I send the review unit back to Garmin, and will post a full report here.

UPDATE: Well, I set out on the trail to test this out and to my surprise, the 400t, 450 and 60CSx were all within 2% of each other. Perhaps Garmin fixed this on the Oregon x00 series in their most recent firmware update. Go figure!

Garmin Oregon 450 pros

  • Tri-axial compass
  • Barometric altimeter
  • Great touch screen interface
  • Ability to customize display and menus using profiles
  • Excellent track management and routing tools
  • Paperless geocaching support
  • Availability of free maps
  • Accepts Garmin custom raster maps
  • Accepts Garmin Birds Eye imagery
  • Improved visibility over previous Oregon series

Garmin Oregon 450 cons

  • Somewhat poorer sunlight visibility than eTrex and GPSMAP color units

Recommendation and conclusion

Highly recommended. The Oregon 450 is a great workhorse, at a reasonable price. The  interface is very user friendly and it has a lengthy feature set. It is an excellent choice for nearly any outdoor activity, including geocaching and hiking. This is the first Oregon I’m recommending for bikes too, due to the improved screen visibility, which makes it more appropriate for fixed-mount use.

More Garmin Oregon 450 reviews

I’ll be posting more hands on GPS reviews as they appear, but in the meantime, here are some…

Other Garmin Oregon 450 resources

Compare prices on the Garmin Oregon 450 at these merchants:

 

About Rich Owings

Rich is the owner, editor and chief bottle-washer for GPS Tracklog. Connect with him on Twitter, Facebook or Google Plus.

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