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GPS Review: Garmin Oregon 450

Reviewing a GPS unit that has been around for nearly three years is a bit like writing an article about a 1977 Ford Escort (which, interestingly, was my first car and a wonderfully simple vehicle for a young man to have).

All are well familiar with it by now, its various strengths and weaknesses, and other makes and models have since been released by its maker. So why bother reviewing something we all know about?

Well, there are two very good reasons:

  1. After much consideration I finally obtained an Oregon 450 and wanted to share my thoughts about it; and
  2. My viewpoint, being someone that started caching with a Blackberry cellphone and has been spoilt because of it, is likely to be different from that of a cacher who has only ever used a dedicated GPS unit.

This review is not going to reinvent the wheel and tell you all about the various functions and abilities of the Oregon 450. If you are unfamiliar with this device, I suggest you first peruse the excellent review from Rich at GPSTracklog that he did in April last year, and then come back and read this.

So why did I choose the Oregon 450 when its bigger, badder and younger Garmin brother, the Montana, has just been released? It came down to price and Wherigo. American chain REI had a fantastic online price for the Oregon that could just not be passed up and meant that, even with postage to New Zealand, I get the unit considerably cheaper. And I really, really, really wanted a GPS unit which could run Wherigo cartridges (stop laughing) – a feature the Montana doesn’t offer.

To start with, I’m going to run through the things I love about the Oregon 450:

Mapping

The ability to place custom maps into the Oregon is a function I never thought I would use or fall in love with. My pre-Oregon geocaching experience was largely void of mapping; I used Google Maps on the Blackberry only for navigating to caches in unfamiliar areas. Otherwise, I found that between the cache description and the big arrow pointing the way I could easily hunt down each cache.

Then I got the Oregon and loaded up the NZ Open GPS Project maps and was completely blown away. Now part of this is due to the quality of these maps and the fact that I chose to install the option that has absolutely everything on it. But the sheer fact that you can install custom mapping that has topographic markers, full street details and all the interest points is brilliant. Much better than simple, old Google Maps.

And I’ve been amazed at how useful I’ve found this new tool when geocaching. That the maps auto-route along the installed tracks is helpful but the extra information they supply is very useful – not just for finding your way to the cache but in judging what effort you have to put in on the way ahead, especially picking the ups and downs along the track.

Touchscreen

Despite issues in earlier Oregon models, the touchscreen on the 450 seems to work well and certainly makes switching between screens a breeze. As a frequent user of an iPad, I get frustrated by overly sensitive and difficult touchscreens and I was pleasantly surprised to find that the Oregon’s version has a feeling of solidness behind it.

Tri-axial compass

I didn’t realise how frustrating not having an electronic compass was! The Blackberry doesn’t have one and neither does the iPad/Bad Elf or the good ol’ yellow legend (Garmin’s entry-level Etrex). The stability that comes with the compass means you don’t have to process as much information to figure out the right direction. It is an all-round nicer experience.

Interface/Profiles

Before getting my own Oregon, I had briefly played with kjwx’s new unit and, am man enough to admit, I was a little confused by the whole thing. When I took the leap to get my own, I first read the whole manual and various bits of information online to ensure I knew how to use it.  What I quickly learnt was that the various default profiles and dashboard options mean you can quickly customise the layout to exactly what you want. I immediately chose the Geocaching profile, which rearranged things a bit, and found that all was where I needed it to be.

Reception is awesome

The Oregon seems to be ready to navigate within seconds and from absolutely anywhere. I’ve got to put out there that the Blackberry’s reception seems excellent and it has very rarely let me down. But the Oregon is on an entirely different level. Tucked away inside with no clear view of the sky, it quickly snaps up the satellites. This is brilliant and very assuring that wherever you are you won’t be stressed about the ability to get a signal.

Auto-routing to caches

I’ve already mentioned the ability to do this but this function is so good that it deserves a special mention. Being able to auto-route to the cache is excellent. In the city, this means making sure you are as close to the cache as possible before having to jump out of the car!

But nothing is perfect and the Oregon certainly does have its share of flaws:

Wherigo is unstable

I knew going into it that there had been some difficulty with the Oregon not playing some Wherigo cartridges but hadn’t been given the impression that the issue was particularly widespread. Unfortunately, some of my local Wherigo caches just haven’t worked and this has been very frustrating. Having looking further into the situation since, it appears this Wherigo issue is possibly larger than I expected.

It would be fair to say that if you’re after a unit on which to play Wherigo cartridges, then you would be better served by a smartphone. But what else can you expect from a company now directly in opposition to Wherigo’s creator, Groundspeak, toward this little-loved category?

Paperless caching? Get a smartphone

Yes, the Oregon does have paperless caching, or rather it provides enough info with each waypoint for you to get by. From the start of my geocaching career, I have been a paperless cacher – using my Blackberry and the CacheSense app(formerly CacheBerry) as my software of choice. The genius of CacheSense is that it is essentially a database with an excellent set of navigation features (not to mention a whole heap of other toys packed in).

So for me paperless caching is not only about having the cache details there, it’s also about being able to manipulate that data to get what you want or need. The Oregon is not a database of caches with navigation functions, it’s a navigator with a bit of cache information.

One of the obvious differences that stood out is that child waypoints do not appear to be clearly affiliated to their parent in any particular way – which makes puzzles and multi caches harder than they perhaps need to be. I’m certainly used to being able to look at cache details in CacheSense and not only be able to see a list of child waypoints but also be able to navigate to them from that point. This is an unbelievably useful thing to have as it stops you from having to run off in search of information you know is there somewhere.

Writing logs is like trying to sign a nano – painful

Again, I have been spoilt by having a smartphone with a qwerty keyboard and being able to write notes or logs at lightning speed. Trying to write anything in the Oregon is like having your teeth pulled one by one with a pair of very small pliers. Enough said.

Selecting points on the touchscreen takes a bit of work

Yes, yes, I have already commented that I like the touchscreen, but this is a point worth noting. If you don’t have dainty, wee fingers like myself you might find that selecting of points on the map takes a bit of work. You generally have to zoom right in and then take a few stabs to pick it up, whereas I’m told in other GPS units with actual buttons, it highlights them with ease. Not a major problem (for me, anyway) but something worth keeping in mind.

Uploading geocaches

I felt like I was returning to the stone age when I first tried to load caches into the Oregon. Over the years I have become accustomed to emailing myself a pocket query and racing out the door. I also have the official Geocaching.com apps and, of late, the development of Groundspeak’s API has allowed software such as CacheSense (which, as you might have picked, I’m rather fond of) to access the information directly. With CacheSense, the mere press of a button will update the cache info in your database. Out of your database area? No problem, just press another button and all the nearest caches come up.

So you can imagine how returning to the labourious effort of uploading caches to the Oregon felt. The day a GPS manufacturer brings out a unit that has wifi and 3G I’m in … which makes me lament the fact Garmin didn’t stick with its Garminfone.

In Summary …


After all that, you may think I was a bit lukewarm on the Oregon 450 but I’m actually not. In my view, it is a fantastic ‘dedicated’ GPS unit that has all of the functions, usability and power to put it amongst the top handheld GPS units. With the Oregon, you know that it is going to do the job and do it well (if you’re not planning on trying a Wherigo).

No, it doesn’t do some of the stuff that smartphones can do, but if I was deep in the bush I would rather have the Oregon there to get me out, than my beloved Blackberry. It may well be that the perfect town geocaching unit is a smartphone, whilst the perfect bush unit is a dedicated GPS such as the Oregon. And so, without the two being married together at this point, I would highly recommend the Oregon 450 as your out-of-town caching tool.

4 comments

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  1. Sarah

    I have both a smartphone (Android) and an Oregon 450 – and I use them just as you suggest – the phone for town caching, or impromptu unplanned caching away from home. The Oregon for longer hikes, anything out in the countryside, anywhere it might get dropped or get wet. Perfect combo.

    1. kjwx

      Me too, Sarah – though I’ve recently ditched my Android in favour of an iPhone. To my mind, the Oregon is perfect when under heavy tree cover but the iPhone wins hands’ down for urban convenience.
      Check back early next week for a review of a waterproof Phone Safe to protect your device.

  2. Rich Owings

    Thanks for the kind words and link love!

    As far as selecting a point on the map goes, try this… Tap the map to get the pin to show. Now drag the map to the pin. The pin stays in place, but you can move the map around. Neat, huh?

    1. Cumbyrocks

      Thanks for the hint Rich. I had tried that but still found it tricky compared to others. Perhaps i just have fat fingers!

  1. The Best Handheld GPS (2016) | The Smart Consumer

    […] GPS Review: Garmin Oregon 450, It’s Not About The Numbers, October 19, […]

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