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Sunday, March 18, 2012

Magellan eXplorist 310 review

The Magellan eXplorist 310 is an entry-level handheld GPS and the newest member of the eXplorist family. The 310 is based on the same hardware platform as the popular eXplorist GC and like that model, includes paperless geocaching functionality. Unlike the GC though, the 310 also offers the features of a backcountry GPS, including the ability to load and navigate tracks and routes.

Related units

  • Drop down to the eXplorist GC and you’ll get paperless caching but lose much of the backcountry navigation features
  • Going the other direction, the eXplorist 510 adds a superior touch screen interface, larger screen and 3.2 MP geotagging camera

Magellan eXplorist 310 hardware

The eXplorist 310 hardware feels relatively solid. The screen is a bit recessed, which reduces the chances of it cracking in a tumble. The display is small, as is typical with entry-level handhelds. While plenty bright in the shade, I found the display a bit hard to read in bright light. It’s 240×320 pixel resolution is quite high, resulting in less light reflected back to the user. Like many high-resolution models, the 310 works best in hand, where you intuitively tilt the unit for the best view. Conversely, I wouldn’t recommend it for fixed-mount use, such as on a mountain bike.

eXplorist-310-front-rear

I had a hard time sealing the mini-USB port at the base of the device. No matter how much I pressed or fiddled with it, I never felt like I got a good seal. In the image below, you can also see that there is a reset button under the flap.

eXplorist-310-usb-cover

eXplorist-310-battery

Magellan eXplorist 310 interface

The 310 has a different interface than other members of the eXplorist family. The 510/610/710 models use a touchscreen interface, while the 310 does not.

You can see the main menu below at left. You access it by pressing the Back button, not the Menu button. How’s that for counter-intuitive? You get used to it, but its one of several issues I have with the interface.

eXp-310-menu-options

On the plus side, pressing the menu button brings up a context-sensitive list of options. The one above at right appeared when I pressed Menu from the map screen while navigating a track. It takes a while to get used to what may show up there under different scenarios, but it is a very helpful feature. And I do like the Pause Track function.

exp-310-waypoint-listAnother positive thing – when you change data fields, you get a little preview of the live data, as shown at right.

Finding fault with defaults

I found a couple of default settings a bit annoying. I loaded up some waypoints, went out for a hike, tried to navigate to one and the waypoint list showed nothing. I figured they didn’t transfer. So on hike two, I did it again and…no waypoints. That’s when I noticed it was set to show only Favorites. Easily remedied by pressing Menu > Sort & Search, but I imagine that is going to confound quite a few users.

Likewise, the unit defaults to auto-zoom, so that it shows you the full extent of the route or track you are following, which unless you’re doing a short hike, leaves you with very little detail. To fix this, from the Map screen, press the Menu button then Map Options > Auto Zoom.

exp-310-dashboardsInconvenient dashboards

Some screens are only available through the dashboard feature. Which means that to access them, you have to press Back, then Dashboards and then (if the dashboard you want isn’t currently selected) you need to press Menu > Switch Dashboard. Available dashboards are shown at left. This makes it very awkward to access key screens like Compass, Data, Satellite and Altimeter.

You can also overlay the compass on the map screen as an alternative way to access it, but it leaves the 310’s small screen quite cluttered.

I’d prefer the ability to page through screens rather than this approach.

A word about maps

The eXplorist 310 comes preloaded with their excellent World Edition basemap, which includes most roads for much of the world. Topo maps are extra; the Summit Series can be added and $49.99 regional editions are expected to be released any day.

Paperless geocaching

The 310’s paperless caching features offer the ability to filter and search caches, and display the description, hint and recent logs.

eXplorist-310-geocaching

Magellan eXplorist 310 performance

I tested the eXplorist 310 against itself and against the Garmin GPSMAP 62s on several out and back hikes. Tracks were evaluated to see how closely they matched going in and coming back out – a perfectly aligned track would match exactly each way. Generally speaking, the eXplorist was comparable to the 62. Both units threw errors of up to 100’, but those were rare; usually position errors topped out at around 50’. In the end I found the eXplorist to be on par with most modern GPS receivers.

When zeroing in on caches, the 310 got closer than my Garmin 62s on occasion, but was farther away on others.

Battery life is rated at 18 hours. I tested this using as worse case a scenario as I could devise while leaving the device stationary – the backlight was set for full with no timeout, active suspend and power timers were set to never, and tracklogs were set to record a point every five seconds. Using freshly charged Eneloops I got 7 hours and 44 minutes before shutdown.

I did see “Restarting device to improve performance” twice during testing, once when I hit the back button and once when trying to power down after disabling screenshots. I also experienced some lags. The only places I really noticed them was in naming a waypoint and map panning, but they were pretty annoying in those use cases.

Navigating with the eXplorist 310

Navigation is relatively straightforward, though I do have a couple quibbles there as well:

  • Distance is shown in feet after you get within one mile of your destination, so you’ll see 1100’ instead of .21 miles
  • You cannot access the GO icon on the lower right portion of a waypoint screen; instead you must select Menu > Go

Notes about tracks

Post trip, I noticed a couple of problems with tracks:

  • I had loaded a track with the name Sams Gap to Street Gap; unfortunately subsequent tracks recorded in the field prepended this name (e.g., Sams Gap to Street Gap6_v6cmjv4n.gpx)
  • Tracks appear to display GMT time rather than local time, despite Time Zone being set to auto in the settings

Magellan eXplorist 310 pros

  • Paperless geocaching features with filters
  • Backcountry navigator
  • Excellent pre-loaded basemap of roads

Magellan eXplorist 310 cons

  • Too many steps to reach some key screens
  • No topo maps included
  • Small screen
  • Screen difficult to read in bright light
  • Occasional lags in responsiveness

Conclusion and recommendation

The Magellan eXplorist 310 is a capable entry level handheld, albeit one with paperless geocaching features. It has an excellent pre-loaded highway map, although I do see the lack of pre-loaded or widely available free topos as a downside.

I found the interface clunky, which was a surprise considering how good it is on the touchscreen eXplorist 510/610/710. There are some positives, like the context sensitive menus, but not enough to make up for the bad parts.

As a result, I can’t really recommend this unit for most folks. For urban cachers who occasionally need backcountry tools, I suppose its okay. It might also appeal to Magellan fans on a budget. Otherwise, I’d say step up to the 510, drop down to eXplorist GC or look somewhere else.

More Magellan eXplorist 310 reviews

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

Other Magellan eXplorist 310 resources

Compare prices on the Magellan eXplorist 310 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.

Comments

  1. And the “you are here” icon (triangle) is too big for the screen. So far, I haven’t found anywhere I can swap it for a smaller icon.

  2. just got the maggellan explorist 310 looking for feed back while using it on water fishing any advice out there thanks hopeing to save the pennies to buy a fixed unit but hoping this will work for now

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