While at OR show this summer I figured out which top-end Magallan GPS might work for WildSnow purposes. Thus, sitting on our doorstep a few weeks ago like an early teaser from Santa: Triton 2000. Since then, I’ve used the Triton for multiple days that included everything from land surveying to 4-wheeling — all with the long view of how this unit would work for ski mountaineering.
– Proprietary data cable, yep, one-more-cable to carry in the travel kit. 2.2 ounces and bulky. Groan.
– Battery door is attached to unit, won’t flit away like a sparrow the next time I change batteries in a “breeze.” Nice
– Uses National Geo Topo! maps. Big deal, a bunch of out-of-date scanned topo maps that blur out when you enlarge enough for detail work.
– Two megapixel camera. Yawn.
– Built in flashlight. Could be useful.
– BIG LCD. Definitely useful.
– Media player. Nice, but I’d rather have a GPS that didn’t crash (see review below).
– Control lock. Essential. In fact, this is why I got interested in this unit.
– Weight 8 oz., compare to Garmin Etrex at 5.2 oz, really not a bad tradeoff considering Triton screen is 31% larger for 2.8 ounces more. And wow, you get a camera in the deal (just joking about the camera)!
First thing for me: Get familiar with the menu system. This unit has a touch screen — and button controls. Latter essential, as trying to operate a touch screen with bulky gloves on is like driving with your arms tied. The unit’s button layout had us wondering how to back out of menu screens, until we discovered the camouflaged “escape” key located below the control panel. Some designer obviously got off on a tangent with this, I mean, it’s a button, why not just locate and mark it like all the other ones? Is there something evil about the “escape” key that makes it necessary to hide?
Next challenge, try to get some maps from the TOPO! software into the Triton. I’ve never been that impressed with TOPO!, which simply uses a scanned set of dated USGS topo maps which loose significant quality when when viewed or reproduced in larger sizes (due to their low initial resolution). What’s more, the TOPO route drawing tool is so difficult to use one can only imagine it was programmed by a kindergarten student between graham cracker and milk breaks. But, in big bold letters on the Triton box it says “First GPS compatible with TOPO!” So I figured I’d better at least give it a shot and see what the maps looked like on the LCD screen of the Triton.
After a somewhat difficult time getting TOPO! and Triton to communicate, I proceeded to create and download some maps. As it turned out, using TOPO! with the unit is frustrating because you can’t just install a map set for say, a whole state. Instead, you have to mark out a map with a cropping border while in TOPO, then download to the unit. I suppose you could do this for the whole state if you had a year to kill… So I eventually got frustrated, gave up on using maps from TOPO!, and downloaded some decent topographic maps designed for GPS use. Now I just use TOPO as reference and for GPS coordinate storage and conversion.
A good test of any GPS is try and do some basic stuff you’d have to do if you use the unit much. For example, if you’re messing around with maps and field work, you can end up with a huge confusing list of waypoints in the unit. So how do you delete ALL those pesky waypoints in one swoop? If you go through the Triton menus for this, you’ll find it’s incredibly non-intuitive. What you do is hit “Menu” then “GoTo” then “Waypoint,” then you have to highlight a waypoint and hit the “Menu” key again. After that, you’ll finally have a menu with the option to “Delete ALL Waypoints.”
But wait, try deleting ONE waypoint. After almost an hour of messing around I simply could not figure this out. So I found a manual on the Magellan site. By following the written instructions, I had no success but got closer, then finally did figure out how to delete a waypoint. The solution involved knowing what some arcane icons on the screen did. Which brings me to another take. The Triton interface is based on both text menus and icons. This can be a mind numbing combination, as you get in the habit of seeing text menus, and your eyes just pass over any tiny icons that actually might do something. That’s why I couldn’t figure out how to delete a waypoint. Does this mean I’m stupid? Varied opinions on that.
Okay, using menus is really a minor issue because constant use will inculcate any goofy stuff into your brain and you’ll eventually be good to go. So onward to something important — the touchscreen.
While a touchscreen is a truly nice way to scroll a map on a small LCD, touchscreen on a GPS is mostly a liability for real world use. Reason: If you’re in rain, snow (or dust), you have to wipe off your screen so you can see it. As mentioned above, Triton at least has a control lock so every brush of the screen doesn’t whack out your settings or scroll your map to Africa. But what do you do when you need control of the unit to make waypoints, scroll the maps and so forth, but have to wipe junk off the screen? Basically, you will find that in this situation any GPS with a touch screen becomes nearly useless and possibly even dangerous if you are depending on it in full conditions weather.
In the case of Triton, if you’re using it in bad weather and need some control, but have to clean the screen off and so forth, you may find yourself flipping the control-lock button back and forth. Problem is, the lock button is under a waterproof flap that one has to assume is there for a purpose. But in bad wet weather, the flap gets in the way so you end up leaving it open or even cutting it off. Catch 22?
The only solution for this: Magellan should build simple control-lock options into the firmware. For example, you should be able to turn OFF the touchscreen but leave the front panel controls active (the Triton manual control lock turns off everything.) I have to admit that after seeing all the foo they stuff into this unit (camera, music player, and so on) I was personally miffed that they couldn’t have worked on the firmware a bit more. Honestly, one gets the impression these things are built so a salesman in a store can wow a customer, rather than built with real-world use in mind.
Considering all of above, while my overall impression of the Triton is that it’s a good try by Magellan, a couple of things were deal breakers for me. First, during a couple of critical moments (needing a quick decision on a route in the desert) the unit crashed, gave me an error message, and needed to be restarted. During one such instance, it took me two reboots to get back up and running. (The interface software of the Triton is said to be Windows Mobile, so is crashing any surprise?) I can’t imagine having this happen at 18,000 feet on Denali in a whiteout, so I won’t. But more importantly, I found the Triton LCD very difficult to read in bright sunlight. This was true while summer hiking in Colorado and 4-wheeling in Utah, so I simply do not see how the Triton 2000 would be functional in an environment such as a high altitude glacier, or even for backcountry skiing at high altitudes in Colorado.
At $399.99 MSRP, the Triton 2000 is pricey. If you can survive without a sub-standard digital camera, electronic compass and altimeter. Triton 1500 is a better deal, but still has the problematic touch screen. Perhaps their model 400 with no touch screen is the solution? It has a smaller LCD and no control lock, so who knows.
In summary, this is the latest in my ongoing epic of GPS testing. Presently, I’m so underwhelmed by what’s out there in the handheld GPS world that I’d go back to 100% map and compass if it wasn’t for those couple of things a GPS can do that nothing else can: mainly, locating your exact spot on a map or guiding along an exact route in a whiteout or darkness. For those reasons, I’ll keep the faith. But in my experience today’s GPS units, including the Triton, have some evolution to do before they live up to their marketing hype.
Addendum: A few days later, I’ve got the unit sent back and am de-installing the Magellen Vantage Point mapping software from my netbook. I’m 10 minutes into it. Every time I do a “remove” in Windows, I get a message that says “Some files that need to be updated are currently in use.” And, “The following applications are using files that need to be updated by this setup,” “VantagePoint Lite.” So, all I could think to do was go into Vantage Point folder and manually delete Vantage Point Lite. (I of course tried re-starting the computer.) I did the manual file delete, and I still can’t remove this software from my computer using the Windows de-installer. I tried it twice! Nice, well programmed software that’s efficient and easy to use…