Sunday, March 18, 2012

A first look at the new Garmin eTrex series


UPDATE: Read my hands on review of the Garmin eTrex 10 and Garmin eTrex 20.

I’ve been playing with the new Garmin eTrex 20 for several days now and wanted to share a few screenshots, etc. You may already know that the newest eTrex line offers GPS + GLONASS integration, but let’s look at what else it brings.

First of all, let me confirm that these models support many of the new features common to other recent Garmin handhelds:

  • BirdsEye aerial imagery (eTrex 20 and 30 only)
  • BirdsEye topo  (eTrex 20 and 30 only)
  • Paperless geocaching
  • Garmin custom maps (eTrex 20 and 30 only)
  • Advanced track navigation (I believe this is available on all three models, but have not verified it on an eTrex 10)
  • Profiles
  • Dashboards (the recreational dashboard is show in the screenshot above, at left)

I’m including a few screenshots to give you a feel for the line. The ones above show maps with and without shaded relief.

In the left image below, you can see that the menu is more of a classic type; there’s no scrolling page ribbon like that found on the GPSMAP 62/78 series. Nevertheless, the Menu button gives you quick access to context sensitive settings, as you can see on the map screen at right. Faster access that on the Oregon series!


I’ll close out with a couple of geocaching screenshots. Let me know in the comments what you would like to see covered in my full review.


About Rich Owings

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


  1. What i want most is a in deepth comparison between GPS+Glonass and GPS only (maybe with the same Unit…) How does it behave between Houses, in the woods etc.

    Screen brightness without Light (maybe compared to 62 and Oregon)

    And… I dont know. It cant do anything else wrong, cause there is nothing really new besides that.

  2. The GPS / GLONASS comparisons are arguably the most provacative and awaited comparisons between the new etrex and all other garmin units.

    I am however curious about the night mode coloration of topo lines. Are the topo lines colored white (like on the 62/oregon, simply looks a mess.) or are they light brown?

    What are your impressions of the screen size?

    Is there noticeable pixelation like on the Dakota?

  3. Cool Rich. Can you confirm you haven’t been able to find any HR or CAD support on the 20? According to this FAQ it should:

    But given that only the 30 has wireless sharing capabilities, I’m guessing the 20 doesn’t have ANT+ support.

  4. Rich,

    I’m probably the most curious about responsiveness of the unit. The one thing that kept me from buying the 62s was that it was very laggy on the menus.

    I mean, when you scrolled thru a long list of items, say, the results of a POI search, on the Vista Cx (which I have) you can scroll through sort of at “real speed”. Select down-down-down-down and press it a million times and the scrolling will stop when you stop using the rocker.

    On the 62s, you press down-down-down-down a million times and it goes down however many times it was registered… so it could still be scrolling when you walk away.

    In any case, I’m also curious to see in your review if they changed the keyboard to enter stuff.

    I’m really looking forward to your in-depth review… I make a great deal of purchasing decisions based on your info 😉


    • It seems to be quite snappy. I noticed no lags when I just went through long lists of waypoints and POIs, either a page at a time or just using the click-stick.

      • Good to hear. For me, interface lag was the Achilles’ heal of the 62s which prevented me from getting it…. well that and the fact that it was HUGE compared to my eTrex Vista Cx.

        If you do have an old Vista lying around, I’d be interested in seeing comparative pictures of size increase. The old vista is the most space-efficient device ever. It’s blocky and rock solid. The new one looks a bit bulgy towards the top rear.

        Does the new one lay flat on a table when you lay it on its back? The back appeared sort of curved when I looked the product pictures.

        Oh, another thing I’d be interested in is USB performance. Say, how long it took to load a (insert a number) GB mapset onto the unit…

        Also, does the unit support multiple mapset names (I remember recent Nuvis do). I can’t remember where I read it, but that saves time when adding say one or two maps.. don’t have to rebuild the whole freggin X GB mapset just to add in a free NZ map or something.

  5. I’m curious about real batery life, how readable the screen is under sunlight and if you can choose different map datums (useful when using old printer topo charts).


  6. hello

    seems like a great site, i am an old guy, neophyte with gps unit. i am looking for one that does not take a rocket scientist to use.

    also, you can see during the sunlight and especially at night. need a bright unit for night use.

    i just need one were i can track where i am going and back track. other options may or man not use.

    what would you recommend? thank you ed

    great site!!!

  7. Rich,

    Can you tell me whether the rubber band, which wraps around and houses the button on the sides, on the older Etrex model is replaced by a different design on this new unit? Since this unit has both an internal memory and micro-sd card, I assume that you can load two sets of maps (city navigator and topo maps) on the two memories (name both files gmapsupp.img) and switch on and off the map as needed. Can you confirm that?

    I look forward to read your full review.


    • It’s a different design, but I don’t have another eTrex, so I can’t really say how different. It certainly wraps around the front of the unit. I’ll check out map installation in my review. It’s not quite behaving as I expected (see my comment above…

      • Rich,

        Thanks for your reply. I just bought the unit at REI. The old fragile rubber band design is definitely gone,the hard plastic wrap-around feels very solid. I loaded multiple maps on the microsd card, though the card has only one gmapsupp.img file, all the other files are named as region’s name+gmapsupp.img. Amazingly, the unit was able to show them all in the map. I checked select map and found them all enabled. Looks like Garmin finally put the multiple maps concurrent rendering technology into our hands. This is a huge selling point for me.

    • I just recieved my etrex 30 today and I pulled out my etrex Venture to compare materials. The band you asked about seems to be made of more of a flexible plastic than rubber. The battery door is all plastic with no metal lining as the Venture. And I bent the small wing nut on the back of the battery door after putting in the batteries. This unit seems to be made some what “cheaper” than the other etrex units, but it is smaller and the soft ware has some features that make this a better unit over all.

  8. Rich,

    I have another question. How do you make advanced track navigation work on this unit? I installed Southwest Trails ( my topo map, even though the trails show up as transparent red lines on the topo map, when I do route planning (selecting two points on a trail as starting point and destination), I still get the fly-over straight line distance. Is there something missing in the trail map?


  9. I’m almost persuaded to upgrade from my Legend H. I use it a bit for geocaching and wonder if it displays geocaches at the same time a route is selected and displayed? On the Legend it doesn’t so you can walk right past a geocache if on a route and not be aware that it’s there, would hope the Etrex 20 would show the caches?

  10. Hello,

    I downloaded multiple tracks’ gpx data. Mapsource was able to read them only one at a time. If I go into a wilderness area with multiple trails, do I have to make Mapsource send the data to the unit one trail at a time ? Am I missing something here?

    By the way, I tried to make custom map out of a rocky mountain national park map (pdf) and google earth, the 9 mb and 4 mb file generated was recognized by the etrex 20 as ” too large to show on the map”. Is there a commonly used top size for custom-made maps?

    • MapSource is a pain in that it will only open one file at a time. Open a track, right-click and copy it. Open another track and then paste the other one in. Now copy both those. Rinse and repeat.

      More info on custom maps…

      • Thanks for the suggestion. I tried with Basecamp, that seems to be able to open multiple gpx files and send them over in a batch to the gps. One thing that I find annoying with the etrex 20 is that when I want to turn on the backlighting, there are only three levels ( no backlighting, 50% and 100% backlighting). In the 60csx model I am able to select the backlighting levels in smaller increments, which give me much more choices.

        This unit does not come with the Basecamp CD, nor was it loaded on its internal memory. No user manual either, just a quick start sheet.

        When are you going to post your review? I look forward to reading your analysis.


        • Tap the power button and then you can use the click stick to incrementally adjust the backlight.

          I should have my review posted in 2-3 weeks. The GPS manufacturers always introduce a lot of new units as the holidays approach, so I’m swamped. One will be posted today, but that probably leaves five more to do in the next month or so!

  11. This gps looks very promising, but,

    Do you know ANY handheld GPS unit that allows to define a short prefix for waypoint names? I want to give a three-letter prefix to waypoints reflecting the location, then auto-incrementing numbers, I believe no gps unit is able to achieve this yet…

  12. One more question: what about eTrex 10’s screen? Is it readable?
    In the product pictures they show a very white background, looks like amazon kindle’s screen, but usually greyscale lcds are more greyish.

    How does it perform in sunlight?


    • No idea and I’m not sure when I’ll get one for testing. I understand that the monochrome units’ visibility has improved since the last one I had though – the original eTrex Venture.

  13. Would be interested to know if Mapsource works OK with the new Etrex series now that Garmin have ended development, or will I (at last!) be forced to use Basecamp, as I prefer the way Mapsource works, to me it’s far more intuitive and user friendly.

    • I’ll test it for my review, but I doubt that it will fully work with MapSource. None of the new units do. Basecamp is more complex than MapSource, but learning the basics of data transfer isn’t that hard.

      • Agreed, data transfer is easy … but I find it far more of a pain to create routes etc in Basecamp, ah well, progress 🙂

  14. Hey guys I just bought the new Etrex 20 as my first unit and have used it to find a few caches but am debating exchanging for the 30 for the compass. I find it hard to navigate on the compass of the 20 and was looking for opinions on weather the electronic compass on the 30 model is worth it and would make navigating easier compared to the compass on the 20. Also is the 30 the only model with the ability to use sight n go?

    • With the 20, you have to be moving before the compass will give you an accurate reading. I believe you have to have an electronic compass, like on the eTrex 30, to get sight n’ go.

      • In your expert opinion do you think the electronic compass would make navigating much easier or is the difference trivial?This is my first unit so i have no experience with either model.

        • I use an Etrex Legend H for geocaching (no electronic compass) so like the Etrex 20 you need to be moving to get a correct bearing. TBH I’ve never had a problem with this as it kicks in after you walk a few steps.

    • With caching, is anyone else having trouble with the unit recording their finds in the calendar? Ever since the Product Support staff told me to do a master reset, my unit has FAILED to record any of my geocache finds in the calendar. It will, however, still properly log the waypoints in the calendar.

  15. And one downside to a model with an electronic compass is the need to calibrate the compass after changing batteries.

  16. Hey again guys I decided to pick up the 30 as well and used them today to try to locate a cache and the 30 was off a bit while the 20 led me right to it ,is this normal to have discrepancies between accuracy of two (almost) same units? I am still debating which to keep and which to sell but on both trials the 20 was more dead on .I do find the electronic compass helpful when narrowing down a cache as I dont have to be moving so i can stop and get a reading easily. Let me know what you guys think

  17. Can’t think of any reason why the 2 should be different like that. In any case I think you’ve answered your own question as to which one to keep … if the 20 ‘was more dead on’ and ‘led you right to it’ why pay more for the 30?

    • True you are even though i do like the compass on the 30 ,but now i am kind of curious and might compare on a few more outings to see the outcome.

  18. Is it possible the 30 had not been on for long and hadn’t had time to download the full satellite almanac? Did both have the same settings re: use of GPS, GLONASS and WAAS?

    • Rich, they were both on for the same time and the settings were both the same, the 30 seems to wander when standing still while the 20 does not,kind of strange . Any other ideas as to why this is the case? I am kind of intrigued and maybe this weekend will do some more comparisons in the field to see if it is true in more situations. As i’m new to the GPS are there any other reasons this could be from? I thought the weather was a issue but then the 20 was pretty much dead on in the same weather

      • You might want to check and see if they are running the same firmware version (Setup > About).

        Was the 30 off in distance or direction? And was the compass recently calibrated?

        • the 30 was off in both distance and direction and yes the compass was calibrated the previous evening (outdoors). I’ll check on the firmware in a bit and let you know. Is it normal to have wandering?

          • Yeah, it’s not that unusual. I’m seeing some cycling on the eTrex 20, where the distance fluctuates up and down and then back again and again. Used to be a problem with some other Garmin handhelds when they were first introduced. The new chipsets continue to bedevil their engineers. There must be a lot of tweaking that needs to be done with each new hardware design or something.

          • Just checked the firmware same 2.10 on both.Strange that one is different than the other in regards to accuracy. Which would you keep if you were in this position the 20 with less features or the less accurate 30? But like I said I will do some more comparisons and keep you informed of what I find.

  19. If I was heavy into geocaching, I’d keep the more accurate one.

    You might want to try updating to 2.30.

    Any chance you calibrated the compass while standing next to a large metal object, like a car? Supposedly that will throw it off.

    • I dont think i was near anything but I might try to calibrate it again to rule that out. I’ll try that this evening and then try it out again to see if it helps. By the way thanks for the help, I really enjoy looking through your site ,how did you get into GPS?

      • A lifelong love of maps and the outdoors, combined with a weakness for tech toys. I got into using mapping software and cobbling together GIS data for the isolated area I was mountain biking in. There wasn’t much info out there on how to do it, so I was researching disparate sources online. I’m a writer and had been saying I wanted to do a book sometime, so I ended up writing one on GPS Mapping. Started the website to promote the book, but the site took on a life of its own.

        • Thats pretty cool ,i’ll have to check out the book ,it’s good to be doing something you love to do and are interested in.

          • Yeah, I definitely enjoy it. Life’s too short not to be doing something you love. The book is technically out of print (though there are used copies for sale online), and as a 2005 publication, is getting quite dated. There’s no plans for a revised edition, as this site has become more of a focus for me now. I keep meaning to get the original up as an eBook. Maybe this winter. Glad you’re enjoying the site.

  20. another quick question, with the electronic compass turned off on the Etrex 30 will it still function as the one on the 20,by using the gps signal to determine direction?

  21. Cant get the compass calibrated on the 20. Direction say select compass, then press menu, then press Calibrate Compass > start, but when I select compass and press menu, “calibrate compass” isn’t an option. Anybody break the code on this?

  22. You don’t have to calibrate the compass on the 20, that’s for the electronic one on the 30.

  23. Hi,

    I read on the groundspeak forum that the eTrex 30 draws charts “painfully” and “ridicolously” slowly. (zooming/panning)

    Could anybody affirme it or deny it?

    I don’t care about raster charts, only vector charts are important to me. I’would use topo maps for mountain biking, and city navigator on morcycle.

  24. I’ve had no trouble with vector or raster maps on my 20. I too have seen the comments on the forum, but have no idea why some are seeing problems

  25. Michael LeBlanc says:

    I am almost too embarrassed to ask this question.
    I’ve never owned a GPS unit before and bought a Gramon xTrex 20 yesterday, so, am still at the basic learning stage. I purchased and downloaded a TOPO ‘elevations’ map but it does not look at all like the one typically featured in all the advertised xTrex 20 imagery – with the colour rendered 3-D look. What maps are being used in those pictures ?


    • Which map did you buy? And can you send me a link showing the type of image you were expecting? Also, since you’re new to this, I recommend reading this series:

      • Michael LeBlanc says:

        Hello Rich,
        I downloaded TOPO Canada – East. The elevations are fine and the details are accurate for the areas I am familiar with. I’m satisfied with that but am perplexed about the coloured imagery.

        I am not sure how to create a list but the kind of image I thought I might expected is that found in virtually all of eTrex 20 ads for the GPS and is on the eTrex owner manual’s cover.

        Thanks for your attention to my question



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