The Delorme Earthmate PN-60w updates the PN-40 with improved battery life, expanded internal memory, activities (similar to Garmin’s profiles) and the ability to link wirelessly to other PN-60w’s and the SPOT Satellite Communicator. Power management is one of the biggest improvements, as short battery life was a common complaint about the PN-40.
Note: I’ve reviewed the SPOT Satellite Communicator separately; that unit is paired with the PN-60w for sending messages from the field via satellite.
UPDATE: DeLorme has discontinued the SPOT Satellite Communicator in favor of their own product, the DeLorme inReach, which offers two-way communication and works as a standalone device or can connect with the PN-60w or with the iPhone or Android smartphones.
DeLorme PN-60w hardware
The form factor of the unit remains unchanged from previous generations. As you can see below (despite the glare), the screen size is small compared to the Garmin GPSMAP 62s (center) and Oregon 450 (right), one of the few drawbacks of the PN-60w.
You can see the thumb screws for the battery compartment in the image below. I’m not a fan of these, but fortunately improved battery life means you don’t have to mess with them so often. You can also see the data cable connection; while it is proprietary (bad), it avoids possible waterproofing issues caused by a mini-USB port (good).
The image below shows the battery compartment and full-size SD slot.
The improved battery life results from power management changes such as use of an ambient light sensor to control the screen backlight, and letting the accelerometer sense when the device is not in motion, allowing GPS tracking to be temporarily minimized or disabled. These two features are enabled by placing the device in Power Saving mode.
DeLorme PN-60w interface
The interface remains very similar to previous models, though I believe the main menu has improved graphical elements…
Here are some other sample screens:
Or check out the video below:
Maps and imagery
The PN-60w comes with a set of disks containing TOPO USA 9.0 (vector) maps of the US and Canada. It’s now very easy to pick a region and install it to the device. To download raster imagery such as aerial photos and USGS topos to the device ($29.95 annual subscription required), you still have to process them through the TOPO USA software. I covered this in more detail in my PN-40 review. Here are USGS topo and aerial imagery samples (courtesy DeLorme):
Other improvements to the PN-60 series
Other changes since the PN-40 include:
- 3.5 GB of internal memory (vs. 500 MB in the PN-40)
- Activity profiles (Hiking, Cycling, Geocaching, etc.)
- Screen rotation (lets you flip the device upside down; does not work in landscape mode)
DeLorme PN-60w performance
I tested the DeLorme PN-60w against either the Garmin GPSMAP 60CSX and 62s on various trips. Most testing was done with the units mounted on the handlebars of my mountain bike, although some testing was also done while hiking. All tests consisted primarily of out and back segments; each track from the devices was examined for track separation errors – how far each track varied on the way out compared to on the way back. I prefer this type of test because it (mostly) removes issues related to satellite constellation variability, aerial photo registration accuracy, etc. It’s merely testing the device against itself, to see how well the track matched up on the way in and then back out a short time later.
Performance was generally comparable to that of the other units. Sometimes the PN-60w performed better, sometimes one of the Garmin units. I routinely saw track separation errors of 100’ or more when biking, where high downhill speeds often produce greater errors. When hiking, errors maxed out around 40’. I think it would be overkill to post all the tracks here, but to give you an idea what I’m talking about, here is a blown up typical section of a PN-60w track…
In terms of altimeter accuracy, the PN-60w’s Elevation Climbing data field generally recorded total ascent around 10% higher than what was expected based on USGS topo maps.
I did notice occasionally delays of a second or so in response to button presses. It wasn’t often enough to be extremely annoying, but it was certainly enough to notice.
Paperless geocaching with the PN-60w
To load caches, you can transfer a single geocache directly from geocaching.com, use DeLorme’s Cache Register widget, or transfer a pocket query via Topo USA. I found the unit to be as accurate as my Garmin 62s, settling down just as quickly. The image at right was taken with the unit literally right on top of a cache!
Shown below are some more geocaching screenshots. Unfortunately you have to scroll down to get to the logs; there is no separate menu item to access them. Perhaps a bigger downside is that there is no ability to filter caches on the basis of difficulty, terrain, size, etc., a feature found in many recent models introduced by Lowrance, Magellan and Garmin.
PN-60w data management
The PN-60w utilizes a file system for data management. This has advantages and disadvantages. You can have waypoint files for specific areas and track files for specific trails, and only load the ones you need.
On the downside, you cannot load a file of waypoints and a pocket query file of geocaches at the same time. So you can’t be navigating to a waypoint and see nearby geocaches on the map. There are ways to combine data sources, and get them all into one .gpx file, but then you’re talking about extra prep time.
And you can only load one track file at a time, so if you have trails for a given area set up as one trail per track file, you cannot see all the trails. Again, with data manipulation in Topo USA, it is possible to overcome this.
Navigating with the PN-60w
Navigating to waypoints and geocaches, and following routes, functions pretty much as expected. I’ve been spoiled by Garmin’s advanced track navigation feature though, and was disappointed not to be able to display the distance to waypoints along a track. The image at right shows a track being navigated. You can display the distance to the end of the track, but not to waypoints along it. I am told that there are improvements on the roadmap in this regard, although I’m not sure exactly how those will be implemented.
On the road
One advantage the PN series has is the built-in ability to do highway navigation. Unfortunately, this is compromised by the small screen, difficulty entering an address, and limited database. I would not suggest using this as your primary auto GPS, nor would I depend on it to get me to a job interview in a strange city. However, hikers, geocachers and others may find it useful for getting them to the trailhead locally. It is probably best used in conjunction with POIs, waypoints or geocaches on the device, as opposed to addresses you have to enter. Don’t expect to be given directions to a specific address either; in looking up an address with a street number of 789, I was given a 10 block range (414-1498) as the best choice for a destination. Screenshots below…
“…users are going to be able to create wireless networks with other PN-60w owners and see everyone’s locations on their device. Current testing has shown an average range of around half a mile with results varying by terrain and line of sight. We are very excited to do more testing with this new functionality as it will be a great way to keep track of friends while fly-fishing or teammates while cycling! Friends will be able to see each other in real-time while skiing or snowmobiling. We hope that anyone with the need to see the location of others in their group will take notice of this new feature when it becomes available. Along with being able to see the location of other PN-60w users, it will be possible to exchange waypoints, tracks, and routes through the wireless network—allowing users to share geocache locations or a mountain bike trail with friends at the trailhead.”
DeLorme PN-60w pros
- Works with SPOT Communicator
- Improved battery life
- Bright screen
- File management system allows you to selectively load your data
- Can load aerial imagery, USGS topos and NOAA charts (subscription required)
- Topo USA vector maps easy to load
- 3.5 GB internal memory
- Uses a full size SD card, rather than a micro
- Built-in highway navigation capabilities
DeLorme PN-60w cons
- Small screen
- Battery compartment thumb screws are a pain
- Limited track navigation functionality
- Proprietary cable
- File management system limits you to one file (per type) open at a time
- Weak highway navigation capabilities
- No geocache filtering for difficulty, terrain, etc.
Conclusion and recommendation
Highly recommended for backcountry adventurers wanting the SPOT/PN-60w combo, and for previous DeLorme Earthmate owners looking to upgrade. The PN-60w is a powerful device, with an extensive feature set and capabilities. Nevertheless, I find myself reluctant to recommend it beyond this, partially due to its small screen. I also have concerns recommending it for first-time handheld GPS owners. It isn’t any more complicated than earlier Garmin units, but that company has made some strides with their Dakota/Oregon/62/78 series interfaces. Nevertheless, folks upgrading from a different brand shouldn’t have too much trouble learning the PN-60w.
Now that the caveats are out of the way, I can’t say enough good things about the PN-60w + SPOT. It’s a game changer and, at this point, the only game in town. As I said in my review of the SPOT Communicator, it’s:
“almost a must have for those of us venturing far off the beaten track. The more risky your adventures (off-trail, solo, etc.), the harder it’s going to be to pass this one up.”
More DeLorme Earthmate PN-60w reviews
- Consumer-authored DeLorme PN-60w reviews have been posted at Amazon
- TotemLake reviews the PN-60w + SPOT
- Cham’s Adventures reviews the DeLorme PN-60w and SPOT Communicator
- National Geographic Adventure named the combo in its gear of the year list; meanwhile Popular Mechanics list it as one of their top products of 2010
- A first impressions review of the PN-60W + SPOT from GpsPasSion
- A user review of the PN-60w/SPOT combo from the Adirondacks High peaks forum
- The PN-60w + SPOT combo garners an Editor’s Choice award from Backpacker magazine
- TechGrid reviews the PN-60w/SPOT combo
I’ll be posting more hands on GPS reviews as they appear, but in the meantime, here are some…
Other DeLorme Earthmate PN-60w resources
- The DeLorme Earthmate PN-60w owners manual
- The DeLorme PN-60 message forums are excellent resources
- My DeLorme RAM mount review (this is the mount I used for testing the PN-60w)
- The official DeLorme Earthmate PN-series web page
- A getting started video tutorial:
Compare prices on the DeLorme PN-60w at these merchants:
- Check the current Delorme Earthmate PN-60w price at Amazon
- Get a great deal on the DeLorme Mapping Earthmate PN-60W Handheld GPS with SPOT Satellite Communicator at J&R Computer/Music World
- Check out the DeLorme Earthmate PN-60w GPS with Spot Satellite Messenger at REI.com, where satisfaction is guaranteed and members get 10% back on eligible purchases
- Get the DeLorme PN-60w + SPOT at Cabelas.com