DeLorme PN40 Review - Part 2 - Functionality

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In this part of the review, I'll cover the basic functionality with only passing references to geocaching.  Part 3 will cover the specifics of geocaching.  I'll reserve part 4 to answer any question in a consolidated form, if they come up and if needed. 

The PN40 is fairly unique in many of its functions.  It looks and acts like a Garmin GPS60 in some ways, but then adds several unique functions.  With the latest beta firmware, it offers full paperless geocaching, very similar to the Garmin Oregon series, but then added the ability load a huge variety of map types onto the unit, incluing SAT10 imagery, Hi-Resolution Color Aerial Imagery DOQQ, USGS 7.5-Minute Quads, NOAA Nautical Charts, USGS High-Resolution Cities, and Black & White Aerial Imagery and almost all of this covers the entire US.  Multiple map types can all be simultaneously loaded on the unit and then selected on the fly as needed in the field. 

As I stated in part 1, the unit also comes with Topo 7 which includes road data, POI data, and vector topo data for the entire US.  Further when you get the unit, it includes the Topo 7 Windows application with all the data that allows you to fully customize any and all uploads to the PN40, but it also includes 3 DVDs that are 'pre-cut' which essentially means that the data on these 3 additional DVDs requires no additional processing and can be directly loaded onto the PN40 by simply drag and drop operations to the PN40's SD card.  This allows MAC and Linux users to easily add maps as needed to the PN40. 

The additional map data (that is the other map types beyond the Topo 7 data) can be loaded from the DeLorme website.  Currently DeLorme has a subscription for all you can eat at $30/year.  This is an incredible bargain, IMO and allows anyone to have very high quality imagery from almost anywhere in the country. 

Initially, downloading the additional map data required that it be downloaded via Topo & and then 'cut' that is processed and customized prior to uploading to the PN40.  This essentially meant that you HAD to be running Windows, either directly or on a Virtual Machine of some sort of by dual booting, if you were a Linux or Mac user.  DeLorme has recently made available a new facility which allows pre-cut (already properly formatted and selected data) to be directly downloaded from their website and directly installed on the PN40.  This allows Linux and Mac users to completely bypass Topo 7 if they want to. 

Topo 7 is an interesting and extremely powerful product in its own right.  It is essentially a very powerful mapping and drawing tool with full US road and topo data.  With it, you can easily route, draw details, edit roads in a routable way, edit hiking trails and make them routable, add waypoints, do projections, offer 3d views if you have a capable video card, etc, etc, etc.  Like I said, very powerful.  However, it does come with its share of detractors as some deem it 'not user friendly'.  I don't agree with this viewpoint.  It is a very powerful program and has many arcane features, but I find it no harder and possibly easier than CAD software, sophisticated spreadsheet use, etc.  I think that the issue is that it has a LOT of functionality and some of it is quite complex therefore it has a steep learning curve.  However, once you're familiar with it, it is fast to use and you can get done with it what you need to.  It's also worth mentioning that there's an update to Topo 8 coming out in May.  DeLorme offers a 6 month grace period to upgrade for free for previously purchased versions. 

Batteries and battery life - The unit uses qty 2 AA batteries.  DeLorme also offers a LION rechargeable battery pack and there's a 3rd party LION battery pack now available for it that has increased capacity.  I personally use high quality, properly conditioned and charged NiMh batteries.  I get about 8 to 10 hours out of them.  Common wisdom suggests NOT to use standard alkaline AA batteries as it eats them like candy and there have been a few reports of lockups when the AAs abruptly fail.  The high capacity LION batter is reported to go up to 14 hours or so, but I've not personally tried one yet.  This battery life is obviously NOT as good as a Garmin GPS60 series, but is about on par for what I understand the battery life of an Oregon to be.  Much controversy and hate and discontent surrounds the use of batteries in this unit.  I get along fine with my high capacity NiMh batteries, but use a high quality LaCrosse BC-900 charger and discard any batteries that start to get weak.  A fresh set of batteries always last me an entire day out caching or driving and I simply carry a freshly charged set of spares with me while out.  I am happy with what I get with respect to battery life. 

Routing - The PN40 offers to modes of routing, hiking (also referred to as direct mode) and driving mode.  Routes can be created in Topo 7 and uploaded to the unit and selected there or they can be created on the PN40.  The hiking route created on the unit is essentially straight toward the objective, but if its created in Topo, it can be a winding, twisting path as needed.  The driving mode is very similar to any standard GPS unit.  However, I'm not that impressed with the PN40 as a driving type GPS.  I've got an old Garmin 2610 auto unit that I've compared it to.  The PN40 works OK for short trips to/from caches, but for long trips, I think that a standard auto unit it much better.  Dedicated auto units have voice, a MUCH larger screen, and generally do a faster job of routing.  The PN40 will beep at you for upcoming turns and indicates the direction of the turn, but it's simply not comparable to a dedicated auto unit.  The hot ticket really would be a cheap Nuvi for your car and the PN40 for while on foot or on the bike. 

Ruggedness and reliability - The PN40 is a very rugged unit, fully waterproof and certified to IPX7 standards.  It is impact resistant and I've proved that on several occasions!!  I've had zero issues with mine, so I consider it very reliable, but on the web forums I have seen reports of people reporting lockups that they claim have been unrecoverable.  However, I'm not sure that they know how to do the various resets available, as others have reported similar conditions, but report that they have been able to recovery the functionality with one of the various resets available.  I can only tell you what I've experienced which is perfect operation so far. 

Status - This unit is new, in fact very new.  Since I've had it, there have been 2 official firmware upgrades and two beta upgrades.  The unit has had major functionality enhancement in the 5 months since I've had it with respect to its receive sensitivity and WAAS performance and with its geocaching functionality.  I suspect the receive/WAAS upgrades are now almost completed, but I suspect a fair number of additional geocaching enhancements are in the works, in fact I know so!  I wanted to mention this as you need to be comfortable with doing upgrades if you purchase the unit now.  The upgrades are easy to do and are easily reversible, but I wanted to mention them.  Also be aware that many people are NOT aware of exactly what's out there in beta land and don't understand a lot of the new geocaching functionality.  In fact, the last update was this past Friday and I've just done the first day's geocaching with it today!  Worked good!! 

Next installment - Geocaching - Finally!! 

Hopefully I'll get that up tomorrow. 

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