The Garmin Montana 650 is one of three models in Garmin’s newest handheld series. With it’s huge 4” touchscreen, I had initially thought the Montanas were targeted to the motorized crowd (ATV’s, etc.), but after spending over a month with one, I’m convinced that a lot of hikers and geocachers will be attracted to it as well. Before we get into the details, here’s some info on the rest of the series…
- The 650t adds preloaded 100k scale topos to the 650′s feature set
- Or drop down to the 600 and you’ll lose the 650’s camera
- Note that all three Montana models have a tri-axial electronic compass and barometric altimeter
- To see how the Montanas stack up against other models, check out our Garmin handheld GPS comparison chart
NOTE: Much of the following is taken from my hands on review of the Montana 600.
Garmin Montana 650 hardware
The Montana’s 4” display, and the features that the expanded screen real estate allows, are some of the prime factors making this an attractive device. The screen is recessed, giving it an extra bit of protection. BTW, that 4” display offers almost twice the viewing area of the Oregon series (45.19 sq. cm. vs. 23.94 sq. cm.), and more than twice that of the 62 series (19.8 sq. cm.)
Visibility is better than the Garmin Oregon x50 series, thanks to a slightly lower resolution screen (relative to screen size; 2889 pixels per sq. cm. vs. 4010 pixels/sq. cm. for the Oregon series), which means significantly more light can be reflected back to Montana users. Personally, I don’t find it to be a huge difference, but it is still another incremental improvement, making it somewhat better than the Oregon 450.
The screen rotates automatically between landscape and portrait views. Interestingly enough, it only rotates three ways, not four. In the image above of another model in the Montana series, it doesn’t matter if the “Montana 650” text on the body of the device is at the top or bottom in landscape mode, but in portrait mode, the “Garmin” text must be at the bottom; the screen will not rotate 180 degrees from this position. One thing I found as a result of having landscape mode available – I can see all of long waypoint names. Nice!
Screen rotation is generally fast, taking just a second or two as long as the unit is being held at an angle approaching vertical. Hold it horizontally, flip it, and it can take quite a while to figure it out, even if you then incline it vertically. In actuality, this takes some getting used to, since many users tend to hold the device at an angle closer to horizontal than vertical.
While I did not test a model with a camera (the 650 and 650t have this; I tested the 600), I have included a picture of the camera screen (above at right) and one showing the rear of the unit with the camera lens below.
When combined with a Garmin mount that features an external speaker, and City Navigator maps, the Montana can deliver spoken turn-by-turn directions, calling out street names. I have yet to pony up for that combo (though I do plan to test it in the near future), but I have been using the Montana with Garmin’s Topo US 24K, which includes routable roads. I only get a beep, but I am getting turn-by-turn directions, using maps that aren’t locked to a single unit.
As you can see above, there is a “nuvi” mode, which will definitely give you a very nuvi-like experience. It is a true joy to be able to navigate to a cache or trailhead by car, using your handheld. Gone are the days of having to load waypoints to two units.
UPDATE: Here’s a more in-depth look at setting up the Garmin Montana for highway use.
Here’s a brief video showing some of the improvements:
I covered the items below in my “first looks” post, so feel free to skip ahead if you’ve read this already.
This is where the Montana really shines. The interface brings the best of both worlds, offering the ease of touchscreen input found on the Oregon series, and the easy access to menu items from the 62 series. But that statement doesn’t do the Montana justice; its access to features is light years ahead of my 62s.
Here’s a look at the Montana’s main menu, which is the screen you’re always greeted with upon startup.
You can drag apps between the App Drawer and the Main Menu.
If you add more than nine, you’ll lose the names and just have icons. Items in the App Drawer can be rearranged as well.
Also new is a Favorites dashboard, shown below. You can have more than three installed; they will scroll within the dashboard.
Note also the arrow icon at the left of the Favorites dashboard above. Tap it to have the dashboard slide out of sight and get a full screen view of the map. Tap the arrow again and the dashboard slides back into view. Nice!
A Shortcuts feature is available from the Setup menu (also from the Favorites dashboard menu). Shortcuts can be added to the Main Menu, App Drawer or Favorites. This feature is a little buggy, with many shortcuts not working. I did manage to place a working shortcut to the display settings on my Favorites dashboard. Once Garmin works the bugs out of shortcuts, you should be able to access just about any feature with a couple of taps.
One of the big improvements is also one of the simplest, the addition of the menu icon (the icon with the three horizontal bars below at left).
Tap it on the map screen and you’ll see this…
A simple thing, but two less taps than it takes on the Oregon.
Here’s another menu tip.
One other note – you know how you can tap the power button on most Garmins to adjust the backlight, see the signal strength, time of day and battery status? Well you can add a dashboard there as well. My personal favorite is Shortcuts. So now I can tap the power key and get access to a few functions that would push me past nine apps on the home screen – items like Display setup that allows me to enable screen shots. Very nice indeed. Hat tip to Boyd for turning me onto this possibility.
Other recent features
I recently posted five six reasons to buy one of the newer Garmin handhelds, and the Montana series has all of these capabilities. Follow the link above for more details on each:
- Garmin BirdsEye aerial imagery
- Garmin BirdsEye Topo US and Canada
- Garmin custom maps
- Advanced track navigation
- Paperless geocaching
Garmin Montana 650 pros
- Large, bright screen
- Extensive customization options
- Garmin’s best dual-use unit
- 5MP geotagging camera
- Li-ion battery (relatively long life and you don’t have to open the battery cover to recharge)
- Much quicker access to menu items than on Oregon series
- Accurate odometer and tracklog readings
- Screen can be viewed in landscape or portrait orientation
- Easy to hide dashboards to get full screen map view
Garmin Montana 650 cons
- Relatively bulky and heavy
- Additional maps and mount required to make best highway use of device
- No carabiner clip
Conclusion and recommendation
The Montana series has some great features – a larger and somewhat brighter touchscreen that can rotate between portrait and landscape orientations, an interface that makes it much easier to access settings and switch functions, and a dashboard that can slide out of the way to give you a full screen map view. The ability, at additional cost, to set it up for a nuvi-like highway routing experience is another big plus. I love not having to send trailhead waypoints to another unit.
Garmin has done a pretty good job with this rollout. They were some bugs early on but those are slowly but surely being fixed. In the short time it’s been out, we’ve seen firmware versions 2.60, 2.70, 2.80, 3.00, 3.10 and 3.20.
I’m still not 100% sure what I think of the size of the device, but it really hasn’t seemed too big in my hand. And I’m still waiting on a RAM mount (which is due out any day now) so I can try it on my bike; I’ll be doing a new post on that subject once I’ve tested it.
Most men shouldn’t find the Montana too big; women will smaller hands might be another story, nor is it likely to suit lightweight hikers and backpackers. Yet it should appeal to some other hikers and geocachers, and certainly the motorized crowd (ATVs, snowmobiles, 4WDs, etc.). I guess the clearest statement I can make about size for now is this – if you’re attracted to the feature set, the benefits may well outweigh any concerns about size.
More Garmin Montana 650 reviews
- Consumer-authored Garmin Montana 650 reviews have been posted at Amazon
- Consumer reviews of the Montana 650 are also being posted at GPS City
- Just Trails has posted their own review of the Garmin Montana 650
I’ll be posting more hands on GPS reviews as they appear, but in the meantime, here are some…
Other Garmin Montana 650 resources
- The Garmin Montana 650 owners manual
- To see how the Montana stacks up against other models, check out our Garmin handheld GPS comparison tool
- A Garmin Montana wiki
- The official Garmin Montana 650 web page
Compare prices on the Garmin Montana 650 at these merchants:
- Check the current Garmin Montana 650 price at Amazon
- Get a great deal on the Garmin Montana 650 at GPS City
- Check out the deal on the Garmin Montana 650 GPS at REI.com, where satisfaction is guaranteed and members get 10% back on eligible purchases
- Find the Garmin Montana 650 for a great price at Eastern Mountain Sports