Saturday, May 31, 2008

Tips on using the Garmin 76CSx

Now that I've got more experience with the Garmin 76CSx, I can provide a few tricks:

  1. Garmin Mapsource is a piece of crap. It crashes frequently, so when working with it, save early and save often. I'm unhappy that no one else has provided a reasonably good program.
  2. The site for uploading maps data is motion-based. They're owned by Garmin, but don't seem to suck too badly. There's a very cool feature, which is after you've uploaded the data, you can download the Google Earth KML file and run the tour as a fly-by view. I tried Bikely, but because it's tied to Google Maps, it doesn't know what to do with routes that might not be on a known road.
  3. Speaking of roads --- Mapsource includes most dirt roads in its database. This is very useful for planning routes, since every possible route is included, but be prepared to turn back if you don't want to ride dirt (usually, any dirt road on Mapsource is easily rideable by me).
  4. There's a battery options menu deep inside the Setup menu. Setting it correctly can grant lots of additional battery life for NiMH batteries. I don't think it actually changes power consumption profile (how could it), but the reporting gets a lot more accurate (NiMH batteries start at a lower voltage than alkaline batteries), which means that the unit runs longer before nagging you about low power. The unit is extremely good about batteries, I am extremely happy with the battery life.
  5. When routing, your best choice is to use MapSource --- it lets you pick exactly the roads you want to ride on. One thing to watch out for, however, is that the GPS unit proper can't deal with routes needing more than 50 waypoints (that's clicks on the map to you). So if you need that much, you have to split the route into multiple pieces. One alternative is to use auto-routing as much as possible (plug in the start and end points), and then insert way points to morph the route into what you want. This is very effective because the Garmin unit routes like MapSource. In fact, the few times I thought the unit didn't do so it was because of user-error --- I really did enter in a different route than what I ultimately rode.
  6. For dynamic routing, push the "Find" button, then select "Cities". The menu will fill out with cities/villages within the next 10km. Now, this option is only useful if you already have a map with you. What you want is to find the city that's on the way to a destination. The trick here is to not use big cities, as much as possible --- in fact, when you need to navigate through a big city, what you should do is to select the city in the direction of travel just after the big city --- this ensures that the GPS unit will route you through the city as efficiently as possible. (This is assuming you want to avoid the city, which is my usual mode --- obviously if you actually want to visit the city, selecting the city will take you to the city center, which is exactly what you want) One interesting divergence between road signs and the GPS is that German road signs usually count distance to the outskirts of a city, while the GPS unit will compute distance to the city center, so don't get too happy when the road signs give you a smaller number than the GPS)

All in all, I have been very pleased with the data and output I've gotten out of the unit. As always, if you want all the features of the GPS, make sure you have a Windows machine. There's now a version of Mapsource for the Mac, but given Garmin's lack of software expertise, I am not at all confident that the Mac version will provide reasonable data, or even be compatible with routes designed by the windows version. I once told Pardo that he shouldn't buy a unit because he hates both Macs and Windows, but now that I've figured out the dynamic routing trick, I think I can withdraw this recommendation --- you still have to carry paper maps, but I think you should resign yourself to doing that anyway --- the screen is just way too small to rely on to make sure that say, you're heading in the right direction for the pass you want to do. The unit does make navigating cities and big town completely hassle free now --- not that I want to use this option often, but it's there when absolutely necessary.

Is there an Edge 705 in my future? Now that there are reasonable power solutions (the link is to the kindle battery extender, but a $5 mini-usb trip will make it work with the 705), I am finding the Edge 705 less objectionable than before. However, given that the maps lock me into my current unit, I think I'll find the patience to wait to extract full value out of my current unit first.

One more thing: if you use the Garmin unit for cycle touring, try Piaw Routing and let me know what you think.
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