Hands on with the Garmin GPSMAP 62s
It’s finally here… The Garmin GPSMAP 62s brings a long-awaited update to the fabled and much-loved GPSMAP 60CSx, which has reigned supreme as the gold standard handheld GPS for more than four years. During that time, Garmin experimented with new interfaces, first with the Colorado series, and later with the Oregon and Dakota lines. These have been fine-tuned through many software updates, adding things like paperless geocaching and the ability to add custom maps and aerial imagery.
With the 62 series (and the boater friendly companion 78 series, which shares the same interface), Garmin has married the best features of the 60/76 models, with many of the advantages of the Oregon line.
The problematic high-resolution screens found on the Colorado and Oregon lines did not make it to the 62 series (although I should note that this problem has largely been solved in the latest model, the Oregon 450). Before we get into the details, lets look at some closely…
- Drop down a notch to the GPSMAP 62 and you’ll lose wireless data sharing, the barometric altimeter, triaxial electronic compass and the micro-SD slot; still, this one has enough internal memory to satisfy most people’s needs
- Going the other direction, the GPSMAP 62st adds pre-loaded 1:100,000 scale US topo maps to the features found on the 62s, but with all the free maps available, there’s little reason to bump up to this model
- But you might want to step up to the 62sc to add a 5MP geotagging camera
- To see how the GPSMAP 62s stands up against other Garmin models, check out my Garmin handheld GPS comparison chart
I’ll discuss the display and feature set first, then look at performance
Portions of the following were adapted from my review of the previously released Garmin GPSMAP 78s and other units with shared features.
Garmin GPSMAP 62s display
With transflective TFT screens, the greater the pixel density, the less light that can be reflected back to the user. In order to maintain the bright screen found on the 60/76 series, Garmin left the resolution (160 x 240 pixels) alone. Screen size remains unchanged too, at 1.6 x 2.2”. The 62 and 78 series do enjoy an increased range of colors that can be displayed (65,000 vs. 256 in the 60/76 series). The result is a bright display, not quite as large or as high resolution as the Oregon series, but with much better visibility in a wide range of conditions. I definitely noticed the lower resolution, but these are the tradeoffs you make. The only time the screen seems cramped to me is when I have a dashboard showing on the map screen (discussed more below).
Shown above is a photo taken in full sun, without backlight, comparing the 60CSX and 62s. It is difficult to capture screen visibility on film, but I find these two displays comparable in a wide range of conditions.
Garmin GPSMAP 62s interface
Garmin hit a home run on the interface. They did an excellent job taking the best aspects of the Oregon series and making it work on a non-touchscreen unit. I think it is actually better than the Oregon except for when it comes to text-entry, where the touchscreen excels. The 62/78 series interface makes it much quicker to navigate main menu items.
A Page Ribbon menu appears when you press the Page or Quit buttons (see image at right). Just like on the 60/76 series, these buttons advance through pages in forward or reverse order, respectively.
The Page Ribbon menu item that appears is the next screen in the sequence. After a second or two, that screen will automatically open. Or you can press Enter to go there right away, or continue pressing Page or Quit to advance to other pages in the sequence; stop on one and it will open. Page Ribbon items and their order can be customized. I prefer this interface to the old style, but you may not. In that case, you can set the unit to a classic style menu and get the old 60/76 series functionality, eliminating the Page Ribbon.
Here’s a quick video I shot, showing a bit of the interface:
Newer features on the Garmin GPSMAP 62s
The 62 series inherited a number of features from the Colorado, Dakota and/or Oregon series. These include the ability to utilize Garmin custom maps and BirdsEye aerial imagery, a tri-axial compass, new customization options, advanced track navigation, wireless data transfer and paperless geocaching. None of these were available on the 60/76 series; I’ll explore each in more detail.
Custom maps and BirdsEye imagery
Garmin custom maps allows you to put just about any map image on the 62s. Found a PDF park trail map online? Add it to your GPS! The image at left below shows a custom map — a USGS topo (raster) image. You can read more about this feature by checking out my posts on Garmin custom maps.
With Garmin’s BirdsEye aerial imagery program, a $29.99 annual subscription allows you to add aerial imagery to the GPSMAP 62s. Since I don’t yet have a BirdsEye subscription for my unit, I’m showing a Jefferson Memorial aerial image using Garmin custom maps, but hey, you get the idea.
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 and Oregon x50 series — here’s a brief video I shot of it. The compass should be recalibrated every time you change the batteries in the unit.
Customizing the Garmin GPSMAP 62s
The 62s offers lots of options for customization. I highly recommend you take the time to set up the following.
Page sequence – You can customize the page sequence by choosing Main Menu > Setup > Page Sequence. This will allow you to select which pages appear in the page sequence and their order. The Page and Quit buttons move forward and backwards (respectively) through pages. I usually put the map screen as my first page and the trip computer last; this way I can toggle between them with the page and quit buttons.
Profiles – The 62s comes with recreational, geocaching, automotive, marine, fitness and classic profiles. You can switch profiles by going to Main Menu > Profile Change. Or create a new one by going to Main Menu > Setup > Profiles. Select the new profile to give it a name. Any changes you make in menus or other settings will be retained in that profile. So start changing things! Want track up when geocaching and north up when biking? No problem. How about a separate profile that just shows USGS topos or aerial imagery? The possibilities are nearly endless.
Data fields – You can change data fields on just about any screen that has these; simply press Menu > Change Data Fields.
Dashboards – Instead of data fields (and in some cases in addition to), you can select a dashboard for the map, compass and trip computer screens. Choices (depending upon page) may include automotive, stopwatch, small or large data field, recreational, compass, geocaching or elevation plot. I’ve included screenshots showing the last four below. For the trip computer and compass pages, you access this via Menu > Change Dashboard. For the map screen, choose Menu > Setup Map > Data Fields > Dashboard. The one downside here is the small screen on the 62 series; using a dashboard can significantly reduce map real estate.
With the GPSMAP 62s, you can select a track to navigate and a route will be created. Waypoints are automatically generated for major high and low elevation points, and start and finish; these 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. Screenshot at right.
The 62 series is a nice GPS for geocaching, as it is set up for full paperless support, meaning you can see the description, logs, and 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, map with geocaching dashboard, recent logs.
Wireless data transfer
The GPSMAP 62s is capable of wireless data transfer with other compatible Garmin units. You can transfer waypoints, tracks, routes and paperless geocache details.
Other features of note
Most of the following aren’t that new, but they are worth mentioning anyway:
The GPSMAP 62 series has excellent route, track and waypoint management tools, including:
- Waypoints – The ability to project a waypoint, average location, set proximity alerts, and to reposition a waypoint at your current location.
- Tracks – You can choose to hide or show multiple tracks on the map, view an elevation plot, and give them a custom color (17 colors are available). The image at the right shows a track in red (a record of a previous trip). The color of the active track may also be changed. There’s a good thread at the GPSMAP wiki that delves more into track archiving and storage. The 2.44 beta firmware update brought additional archiving improvements; hopefully this will make it to a non-beta release soon.
- Routes – You can view a map of the entire route, edit the route, reverse it and view an elevation plot.
Ability to utilize free maps
One of the most awesome things about Garmin mapping units is the huge number of free maps available. My favorite site for these is http://gpsfiledepot.com where you can find 1:24,000 scale vector topo maps for most states. You can see a sample in the bottom two screen shots below. If you want shaded relief though (shown in the first two shots), you’ll need to go with Garmin’s own product, either Topo US 100K or their new 1:24,000 scale series.
While I would prefer the Oregon 450 as a dual use unit, due to its touch screen (which is significantly larger too), the 62 series is capable of giving turn-by-turn directions when loaded with City Navigator maps.
Under the flap and inside
Under the protective weather cap is a mini-USB port and MCX external antenna connection. Just so it doesn’t trigger questions, I’ll mention that the item beside the antenna connection is a screw. Inside the battery compartment is a micro-SD slot for additional map and data storage.
One hardware note here. The battery holders can be very tight with rechargeable NiMH batteries. I actually had to pry the batteries out of one unit I tested, though my wife could remove them with her amazingly strong fingernails! The batteries popped out of the other test units with a good slap, and I expect that even tight ones will loosen up over time.
Carabiner and mounting system
A rail mount on the back of the unit allows the included carabiner to slide onto the device (shown below). This is the same system used on the Colorado, Dakota and Oregon lines so the related accessories are interchangeable. I’ve heard some people say they don’t trust the carabiner mount, but after using it on my Oregon for a couple of years, I can say that I’ve never had any problems with it. Personally, I really like it and find it very convenient for clipping onto my pack.
Garmin’s bike mount uses the same system, as shown below. I didn’t like this at first, since it’s just a zip tie system, but after a reader suggested using pliers (to pull the zip tie tight) and a screw driver (to press against the base of the zip tie slot), I’ve found that I can get it quite tight. I’ve never had a unit pop off the mount, though it is possible to slide it on incorrectly, so be aware of that. Also, low profile mounts such as this one seem much safer to the rider, in case of a crash, than ones that protrude.
Auto mount kits that utilize this rail mount connection are also available.
Garmin GPSMAP 62s performance
UPDATE: The issues discussed below seem to have been resolved, and I am now very happy with my own 62s.
A tale of three units
I requested a GPSMAP 62s from Garmin and immediately put it on my mountain bike and went out for a test run. I was pretty shocked at the tracklog errors I saw. The unit also exhibited some abnormal behaviors just sitting still under open sky, with a lot of cycling between low and high readings. I talked to Garmin support, tried a hard reset – everything I could think of, but still saw these problems. At this point, I assumed I had a defective unit and arranged for them to send me a replacement…
Unit # 2 was better, but I still saw high accuracy readings (80’+) and some tracklog errors when mountain biking. I was seeing no such problems reported in GPS forums, so what was going on? Unlike the first one, the second unit appeared to be a pre-production model, further muddying the waters. I was beginning to feel pretty unlucky. Had I really received two dogs in a row? The sister unit, the GPSMAP 78s, had been so good. What in the world was going on?
Third unit and a theory
So I decided I needed another unit to test and, suspecting that Garmin might take a dim view of sending me a third unit, I went down to REI and plunked down my own money’; I figured I’d end up buying one anyway. When it gave me less than stellar results, a theory started forming in my oh too slow gray matter.
I never tested the 78s on my bike, because it didn’t work with standard mounts. Could it be that these new models had problems under canopy, at speed? While I was seeing wide swings in accuracy readings, the tracklogs looked pretty good except on downhill runs. After a couple of weeks of struggle, I had a theory to test. So lets break down performance by use and environment:
Mountain biking (speed + canopy)
Notes on methodology – Tracks were set up to record points every five seconds, WAAS was enabled. The 62s and my 60CSX were both mounted on opposite sides of my handlebars, in a position closer to horizontal than vertical.
The image below shows a portion of the 62s tracklog from a representative out and back trip. On the downhill run there are numerous places where the track doesn’t match well with what was recorded on the way up. In one place the error approaches 250’.
However, the 60CSx exhibited much worse spidering / scattering at rest stops, up to 150’ at one point, shown below (60CSx in blue, 62s in yellow).
Enter the beta
In my final round of tests before posting this review, I installed the 2.44 beta firmware, which also updated the GPS firmware to version 4.52. You can see in the 62s track below that these wild errors appear to be gone. I did see track separations of up to 110’ on the uphill and downhill runs, but nothing as large as the previous errors.
On the same ride, the 60CSx also showed track separation errors of around 110’, and once again exhibited significant spidering/multipath errors when stopped.
It appears that the 2.44 beta has significantly improved performance for mountain bikers and others who use their GPS receivers under canopy at faster than walking speeds. Except where indicated, the remainder of the tests discussed below were made using non-beta software.
Hiking under canopy
Here I used the same methodology I did when testing the 78s:
Recordings were made out and back, on foot, with the 78s in my right hand, and the 60CSx in my left. This meant that one unit may have been closer to a cut slope on the trip up, but the other unit was in this position on the trip down.
Tests were made in multiple locations. Basically, I saw more instances of tracklog separation with the 62s; these were in the 35-50’ range. I saw less of these with the 60CSX, but it threw larger variances, up to about 80’. And again, the 60CSx exhibited much more “spidering” when stopped.
Speed or canopy?
So going fast under canopy was problematic in my early testing, but going slow under canopy wasn’t so bad. How about speed alone? To test this, I stuck both units on my car’s dashboard and recorded tracks while driving. Both performed very well, though the 62s went off by about 70’ at one point. The issue appeared to be more about the combination of speed and leaf canopy, than about either alone, but again, it looks like the recent beta has largely fixed this.
I did some geocaching testing, but it is much harder to draw a conclusion here. Generally, the 62s put me a little closer and tended to settle down significantly faster than the 60CSx. One time, when standing 3 feet from a cache, it showed me 2’ away, with the compass pointing almost directly to the cache. Impressive! But alas, I am at the whims of the accuracy of the published coordinates when geocaching.
I tested battery life using freshly charged Sanyo Eneloop batteries with the backlight off, and left it sitting under light canopy, undisturbed until the unit shut down. The unit was set to collect trackpoints every 30 seconds. The tracklog and total time data field showed that the unit ran for 17 hours and 59 minutes, a couple hours shy of the rated battery life of up to 20 hours.
In my most recent tests, with the 2.40 and 2.44 firmware, I found total ascent readings to be very accurate, on par with the 60CSx, which has always been my most reliable indicator of elevation gain. I was pleased to see this, since the Oregon series has bounced back and forth between accurate and inaccurate readings, depending upon firmware version.
Creaks and bugs
There have been a lot of reports on message boards about units that creak when pressed on opposite sides of the case. I have seen, um, heard this on each of the three units I tested. On the first, you could hear it when powering the unit of and off. It wasn’t as bad on the other two I tested. Whether this portends other problems over the life of the unit is unknown.
With new handhelds, you can typically expect some bugs in the early firmware. The 62s certainly has these, but many are minor or esoteric. One of the more common and unresolved complaints I’ve heard is that the reported battery level stays on full, and then drops to 3/4 charge shortly before the battery dies. Until this is fixed, when the battery level shows any drop, it’s nearly time to change to a new set!
Garmin GPSMAP 62s tips
I imagine there are more, but here’s a few tips:
- Use the zoom buttons to jump a full page in a menu
- When entering a name, the zoom buttons will switch between keypads
- You can create a custom startup message (e.g., if found, please call…) by connecting it to your computer and editing the Garmin/startup.txt file
- The 60 series header showing battery status is gone; you can check the 62 series battery level by briefly pressing the power button, but you may also want to dedicate a data field to it.
Garmin GPSMAP 62 pros
- Excellent menu system; fast access to features
- Bright screen
- Ability to load Garmin custom maps and BirdsEye aerial imagery
- Paperless geocaching
- Tri-axial compass
- Extensive customization options
- Advanced track navigation
- Wireless data transfer with compatible units
- Accurate total ascent readings
- Generally accurate tracklogs, especially with latest beta firmware
Garmin GPSMAP 62s cons
- Small, low resolution screen
- Text entry more difficult than on a touchscreen Oregon
- Relatively heavy (compared to Oregon series)
- Most units seem to sport a creaky case
- Firmware still seems a bit immature
Conclusion and recommendations (updated)
Updated to reflect my testing of production (non-beta) firmware version 2.50.
Recommended. Garmin has nailed the user interface, and the improved performance under the 2.50 firmware has eliminated my previous reluctance about tracklog accuracy. Is it as good as the 60CSx under any and all conditions? Possibly not, but it does show a lot less multipath error when standing still. And it seems to settle down a lot quicker. Those two factors alone could make this a great unit for geocachers.
The 62 series models are some of the best handheld units available today. If you’re sitting on a 60CSx and have been wanting to get a Garmin with new features like BirdsEye aerial imagery, custom maps, advanced track navigation, and paperless caching, it’s probably time to pull the trigger. The performance of the new models is pretty darn close to the 60CSx. You might want to wait for the price to drop a bit, but if you’re holding out for firmware nirvana, I can almost guarantee that when (and if) that day comes, there will be something newer and shinier waiting in the wings, with all the troubles we typically see on new units.
More Garmin GPSMAP 62s reviews
- Consumer-authored Garmin GPSMAP 62s reviews have been posted at Amazon
- GPS Information reviews the GPSMAP 62s
- A comparison of the 62s and the older 60CSx
- CacheMania reviews the Garmin 62s
- A New Zealand geocacher has posted a Garmin GPSMAP 62s review
- Free Geography Tools tackles the 62s in a three part review: Parts I, II and III, with conclusions
- A very short 62s review from a marine perspective
- A long distance biker reviews the Garmin 62s
- Using the 62s while sightseeing in Europe
- FellFinder has posted their own Garmin GPSMAP 62s review
- The Wirecutter reviews the GPSMAP 62s
I’ll be posting links to more hands on GPS reviews as they appear, but in the meantime, here are some…
Other Garmin GPSMAP 62s resources
- Trying to decide between the 62 series and the Oregon 450? Maybe this will help
- The Garmin GPSMAP 62s owners manual
- Use this chart to compare the 62s to other Garmin handheld GPS models
- There are links to more handheld GPS reviews in our buyers guide
- A Garmin GPSMAP 62 and 62 series wiki
- The official Garmin GPSMAP® 62s web page
- A video comparison with the older and now discontinued 60CSx
- And a video comparison of the 62s and eTrex 20:
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- Check the current Garmin GPSMAP 62s price at Amazon
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- Get a great deal on the Garmin GPSMAP 62s 2.6-Inch Handheld GPS Navigator – World Wide at BuyDig.com
- Check out the deal on the Garmin GPSMAP 62S GPS at REI.com, where satisfaction is guaranteed and members get 10% back on eligible purchases
- Get the GPSMAP® 62s direct from Garmin
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