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Review of Delorme PN-60w w/ Spot Finder

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  • Review of Delorme PN-60w w/ Spot Finder

    Hi Everyone,

    I have been a long-time advocate of hand held GPS units while hiking the ADKs, and have also been a long time fan of the Garmin GPSmap 60CSx.

    I recently had the opportunity to acquire a Delorme PN-60w for an early Christmas present. My main reason for purchasing is I often hike alone, and the piece of mind to be able to check in with my wife via satellite text message is very nice. Up until now, I end up hiking even more slowly than I otherwise would to avoid any risk of injury, and the basic message has been "give me until 1 hour after sunset and if I am not home by then, go ahead and call the state police."

    I just wanted to pass on my thoughts on the Delorme PN-60w.

    Handheld GPS Device

    The unit I chose comes in black (the PN-60 comes in red). Compared to the Garmin, the PN-60w is a tad bit shorter. It is the same thickness, and feels a few oz. lighter. The width of the units is about the same. The screen, while not as tall, certainly doesn't detract from the viewing. When you only look at the viewable area (not including the battery life area on the Garmin or any of the user defined fields) the viewing area is about 5% less on the PN-60. Overall, the screen is about 20% less in terms of height.

    There is no "belt clip" on the back of the unit. The battery cover is accessed via thumb screws with latches. In lieu of the belt clip, I plan on using a small carabiner that goes through the latch, and attaching to my pack. I have also ordered a case which apparently has a belt clip, but I am unclear from the pictures if you can see through the case like you can on the Garmin case.

    The unit appears to be very water tight, and looks to be able to stand the elements - a must in the ADKs.

    The conventions for navigating around the device are similar to the Garmin in many respects, but make more sense in others. To advance one page, simply press the "page" button. To go back, press the "quit" button; which also works for exiting out of a given dialogue screen. However, menu items are placed more logically throughout the device. I haven't gotten myself to the point of being like, "why the heck did they do it that way?"

    There are 4 basic screens upon startup on the Delorme unit (but you can add more screens if you want to). These are: Map view; Trip computer; Compass; and the home screen with all of the other icons. To get to the home screen quickly, just press "menu" twice. Other features like sun/moon, fishing, etc. are also available, including the Spot screen that lets you type text messages and send them via satellite (more on this later). You can also adjust the order of the pages.

    The tracking screen is accessed via an icon on the home screen (but you can also create a "page" if you want). It is very easy to record / pause, view tracks. A feature that is very nice is you can see your altitude profile for your currently recorded track. On the Garmin 60CSx you have to wait to save the track before you can see the altitude profile.

    The screen's brightness is very good, and adjustable. In bright sunlight, you can see the screen without the backlight (so technically, you can just shut the backlight off during the day). Indoors, you really need the backlight. It also has an ambient light sensor and dims / brightens the screen accordingly depending on the ambient light. This saves battery life. Battery life on the unit is around 15-20 hours (a big negative by the way for the Garmin touch screen units) with lithium ion batteries. There are also "dark" modes, as well as a "night vision" mode that is black background, with red alpha numerical display, and more subtle coloration of topo features. The unit has the ability to shut the GPS off when stationary, further conserving battery life.

    Turning on the unit results in as fast, or faster satellite signal acquisition than the Garmin unit. I have always been impressed by the Garmin's ability to stay locked on even indoors (with windows) and the Delorme also seems to do well here; which is a testament to being able to lock satellites in heavy canopy.

    The compass is 3D axis, which means you don't have to have the unit completely level to get an accurate reading. The compass kicks in when you are moving under 1.5 mph.

    The unit also has barometric pressure altimeter, which has the option of auto calibrating. I use the GPS altitude though for any altitude readings (my watch has baro sensor for altitude).

    Spot Device

    Many of you have probably seen this in Outside magazine as a unit that can communicate SOS signals (along with your precise location) to satellites; providing security in areas where there is no cell coverage. Delorme and Spot have teamed up, and the Delorme PN-60w unit communicates wirelessly with the Spot via a bluetooth connection. This combination allows you to send simple text messages (other than just SOS / critical) like, "Made it to the summit, heading back," or "running late, everything is ok." etc., using the hand held to type these messages. While you can type anything you want up to a character limit, you can also setup your most commonly used messages ahead of time so you don't have to type out messages say in the cold. This feature, along with your contacts are all set up at Spot's website after you create an account. Having this account is $100 / year. If you want someone to be able to follow you while hiking (locations sent every 10 minutes) that is an additional $49.95 / year. Text messages are .50 each, and are ONE WAY (which means you can't get into a textathon with your friends while hiking - who would want that anyway?). The Spot unit works by itself for SOS (so if the GPS unit runs out of batteries, you can still use it). When you send a text message, it can be sent to cell phones, email addresses, or social media pages like Twitter and Facebook. When you setup your account on Spot's website, you create "groups" so when you are sending your message in the woods, it goes to everyone simultaneously. You cannot create email addresses on the handheld. These have to be done ahead of time on Spot's website; which is then synchronized to the handheld through a plugin works via your browser and needs to be installed.

    The message contains the text message, along with your lat / long coordinates, and two links. One to view your location on Spot's online maps, and other to view your position via Google maps. You can also give your friends a link to your page (which can be password protected) and people can get your updated status (map location, etc.) every 10 minutes.

    Pairing the units was fairly easy, but I first had to upgrade the firmware on the PN-60w. The only way to do this is via the software below. However, I had problems with the initial installation of the software on a windows 64-bit machine (see below). The installation on a 32-bit Win XP machine went without a hitch. Once paired, the two units worked flawlessly, and were perfect when I tested them 3 times.

    (continued)
    "Try to understand the true nature of things. Remember that time of death is uncertain. Think about the deeds you do. Make efforts to benefit others."

    -Nagarjuna

  • #2
    Maps and Software

    Delorme has always had a solid reputation for excellent maps. For $29.95 a year, you have unlimited access to their maps, including high res aerial imagery, USGS 1:24 maps, and high res digital globe maps. However, the topo maps that come with the software (5 individual DVDs to cover the entire country) are VERY good, and clear. For example, the trails in the high peaks are very prominently displayed. Visually, these maps look better to me than the Garmin topo maps I had for the Garmin unit, and include lots of shading features to help better gauge topography, in addition to just the contour lines. These topo maps came with the package and were not extra cost, nor was the Topo 9.0 software for North America.

    Installation of the software was a bit problematic. I run a Windows 7 64-bit machine, and after installing the software, all I got was the basic window, with no menus, tabs, buttons, etc. I tried installing, un-unstalling twice and was not successful. I then tried to install on a Windows XP computer, and everything was fine.

    UPDATE: I followed the step by steps on how to do a clean install found here: http://support.delorme.com/questions.php?questionid=2 and I was able to get it to work on the Windows 7 machine. Apparently I had a ton of temp files that were corrupting the installation.

    The Topo 9 software is somewhat clunky for my tastes, but once you get the hang of it, it works fine. For example, there is no way to "grab" the map with the mouse and pan. This is done by clicking towards the end of the map and it will re-center at that point.

    UPDATE: This I found out to not be entirely true. If you bring the mouse to the end of the map, it will enable you to grab the map and drag it.

    There is basically two screens - the left is the 3D view, and the right is the 2D view (with nice topo / relief features). I was able to successfully import a .gpx file I found on the internet of someone who had hiked Macomb / Dixes and subsequently load it onto the handheld with little difficulty.

    Getting the maps from Delorme, again, could be an easier process. You get online and purchase the subscription and a message tells you that you will be notified when the maps are ready for download. So you are watching the NetLink tab where it says, "news and info" and you expect to see your "number of downloads waiting" here. But is just says "0." Somewhere in my fenagling around, I saw that I had new maps in the "Map Library" drop down. So I selected one of these and then wondered what to do next. I finally figured out that you now have to select "grids" that you then submit the the server. Once you do THAT then you get the "# of downloads ready = 1" etc. Once this is done, you can then transfer these files to the GPS.

    One of the annoying things is that for the really high res stuff with Digital Globe, you can only select like 10 tiles at a time. There are other aerial image maps you can work with that let you select up to 200 tiles to download, so the high res stuff is only for places you have a really high interest in. Don't expect to have high-res images for everywhere available for viewing on the device. Another annoying thing is the zoom level you need to select tiles is a little too much for seeing the entire ADK high peaks area, so you have to keep zooming in and out to select the tiles.

    UPDATE: I found a workaround for this issue by going into Options / Display / 50%. This has the effect of making everything smaller and thus, smaller tiles that you can select without having to zoom in / out or pan.

    I found the scanned USGS 1:24 maps lacking clarity. Other than that, all of the maps were as advertised, and for the aerial image maps, I ended up using the Sat 10 (10 meter resolution) and the Digital Globe (60 cm) for the high peaks region. For the Digital Globe, I had to split in into two downloads (due to limitations above). For topo, I will be using the standard Topo that came with the product.

    One of the selling points of the Delorme is that you can see all of these maps (Topo Aerial, etc.) in "layers." And you can specify the order that you see these in as you zoom in and out. Very cool. You can also see your track, route, waypoints, etc. superimposed on these images. If you want to keep it simple, there is a simple, "menu / turn off imagery" function you can use.

    Customer support:

    I called Delorme twice today and both times they were very helpful. One issue I had was I couldn't import a text file of a route from Andrew Lavigne. They just told me that you needed a .gpx file. I found a .gpx file substitute, imported it, and all was good. The second question was how to delete the little icons that the Spot system leaves on the map everytime you send a message. Both questions were resolved with little hold time, and an English speaking, friendly person on the other end that didn't require 20 pieces of information (after being on hold for 20 minutes) before we could discuss my problem. Nor did they try to upsell me anything.

    Overall impression:

    It took me the better part of a day to get everything installed, accounts created, firmware updated, maps downloaded, etc. All of this I think could have been made much simpler, and less arduous. It is all quite doable (especially if you don't waste time installing the Topo 9 software on a machine that has Win 64-bit) but it takes some time. Do not expect to get a unit that works out of the box with the high res aerial maps, etc. Expect to take 3-4 hours getting everything working and operational.

    Once set up, everything works as it should, and I can see this unit offering significant (even life saving) advantages over the Garmin GPSmap 60CSx. I have not had a chance of getting my hands on the new Garmin 62st, but in the side by sides I have checked out on the internet, the Delorme PN-60w compares very favorably even with the newest generation Garmin.

    I would recommend the Delorme:
    • If you hike alone
    • Want cheap access to very good maps, including high res aerial images
    • Have prior experience getting a GPS setup and are somewhat computer savvy (initial customization, map downloads, etc.)
    • Are looking for the latest generation handheld GPS


    Price paid:

    $549 from LL Bean, $100 rebate

    Includes:

    PN-60w GPS
    Spot finder device
    Topo 9 software
    5 DVDs of topo maps for North America
    4 Energizer Ultra Lithium batteries
    3 Lanyards
    1 computer cable (proprietary)
    $40 dollars of "free downloads"

    Does not include:

    1 year subscription to Spot ($100)
    1 year subscription for "follow me" feature on Spot (49.95)
    Text messages are $.50 each

    Final caveat: Always bring a compass and a regular map (and know how to use them!)
    "Try to understand the true nature of things. Remember that time of death is uncertain. Think about the deeds you do. Make efforts to benefit others."

    -Nagarjuna

    Comment


    • #3
      I just got some insights from the forum over at Delorme on my frustrations with the Topo 9 software.

      To pan the map right and left there are three options:

      Use the controls on the right hand side of the screen
      Click on the edge of the map
      The zoom took turns into a "hand" tool when you get at the edge of the map and you can now drag / pan the map

      To see smaller grids (and thus to have more grids on the screen at once) select "display" under "options" and switch to 50%.
      "Try to understand the true nature of things. Remember that time of death is uncertain. Think about the deeds you do. Make efforts to benefit others."

      -Nagarjuna

      Comment


      • #4
        Check Amazon, I think they are offering this for $408, with maybe a couple less lanyards.

        I think Delorme website is offering this for same price you quoted, $449.

        Thanks for the review, been checking into this.
        Never look down on anybody unless you're helping him up. ~Jesse Jackson

        Comment


        • #5
          Thanks for the detailed review, I found it very helpful. I have thought about a device to send messages to concerned non hiking parties and it sounds like this is an effective but perhaps not inexpensive method of keeping in touch with location as an added bonus. I have a question, are the routine messages stamped with location coordinates in the absence of the $49.99 "follow me" plan?
          "Commitment is doing the things you said you'd do, long after the mood you said it in has left you"
          Bear Grylls' Mom from The Kid Who Climbed Everest

          Comment


          • #6
            As nice a system as these two are in tandem, it seems the spot (or spot-2) is as much as a stand alone product for those with a non delorme GPS. I am unsure of the advantage of the two together as the spot has a GPS and can be utilized with the follow me feature in the absence another GPS unit. It looks like the start up cost is about $150 for the unit, $100 for registration (is this a yearly or one time charge?) and $50 per year for the follow me service. Reviews on Amazon are generally good but mixed.
            "Commitment is doing the things you said you'd do, long after the mood you said it in has left you"
            Bear Grylls' Mom from The Kid Who Climbed Everest

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by skidoc View Post
              As nice a system as these two are in tandem, it seems the spot (or spot-2) is as much as a stand alone product for those with a non delorme GPS. I am unsure of the advantage of the two together as the spot has a GPS and can be utilized with the follow me feature in the absence another GPS unit. It looks like the start up cost is about $150 for the unit, $100 for registration (is this a yearly or one time charge?) and $50 per year for the follow me service. Reviews on Amazon are generally good but mixed.
              I would say that the main advantage is the ability to type / send custom messages other than SOS, etc. from the handheld unit. With your online account, you can setup as many messages as you like (everything is fine, just running late, etc.); and as many contacts as you would like; and then sync them to the handheld. With the handheld you can also send any other text messages depending on your situation. You can also send these messages to different groups via the hand held.

              The message that you send shows up in your friends' email, or on their phone as a text message, with the link to your location on Google Maps, as well as Spots' own map.

              You do not have to have the other "follow me" service for this.

              The deal I got at LL Bean included a $100 rebate, as well as a $40 dollar rebate for downloads. So that was around $400.

              Keep in mind that this includes the Topo 9 software that is really a step above Garmin's software, and topo maps (very good ones) for all of North America. All of these things were sperate for me when I got my GPSMAP 60CSx.

              Access to Delorme's high resolution satellite imagery maps and other USGS maps is an all inclusive $29.95 per year (again a better deal than Garmin where you often spend almost $100 for a set of maps for the GPS).

              Digital globe maps are an additional $29.95 per year.

              Another advantage of the Delorme PN-60w is there is WAY more storage on the unit, and takes up to a 32GB SD card - so you could essentially have the entire ADK park available as a digital globe map, overlaid with Topo information (or one or the other). The handheld itself allows you to store 3.5 GB of information. So that is a total of 35.5 GB of storage space.

              Compass is 3D as well.

              You probably noted that my review was "mixed" but this isn't in how the unit(s) ultimately work together, but in the setup. You really do need to be a bit computer savvy to get it all working together.
              "Try to understand the true nature of things. Remember that time of death is uncertain. Think about the deeds you do. Make efforts to benefit others."

              -Nagarjuna

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by WestportHiker View Post
                Hi Everyone,

                I have been a long-time advocate of hand held GPS units while hiking the ADKs, and have also been a long time fan of the Garmin GPSmap 60CSx.

                I recently had the opportunity to acquire a Delorme PN-60w for an early Christmas present. My main reason for purchasing is I often hike alone, and the piece of mind to be able to check in with my wife via satellite text message is very nice. Up until now, I end up hiking even more slowly than I otherwise would to avoid any risk of injury, and the basic message has been "give me until 1 hour after sunset and if I am not home by then, go ahead and call the state police."

                I just wanted to pass on my thoughts on the Delorme PN-60w.

                Handheld GPS Device

                The unit I chose comes in black (the PN-60 comes in red). Compared to the Garmin, the PN-60w is a tad bit shorter. It is the same thickness, and feels a few oz. lighter. The width of the units is about the same. The screen, while not as tall, certainly doesn't detract from the viewing. When you only look at the viewable area (not including the battery life area on the Garmin or any of the user defined fields) the viewing area is about 5% less on the PN-60. Overall, the screen is about 20% less in terms of height.

                There is no "belt clip" on the back of the unit. The battery cover is accessed via thumb screws with latches. In lieu of the belt clip, I plan on using a small carabiner that goes through the latch, and attaching to my pack. I have also ordered a case which apparently has a belt clip, but I am unclear from the pictures if you can see through the case like you can on the Garmin case.

                The unit appears to be very water tight, and looks to be able to stand the elements - a must in the ADKs.

                The conventions for navigating around the device are similar to the Garmin in many respects, but make more sense in others. To advance one page, simply press the "page" button. To go back, press the "quit" button; which also works for exiting out of a given dialogue screen. However, menu items are placed more logically throughout the device. I haven't gotten myself to the point of being like, "why the heck did they do it that way?"

                There are 4 basic screens upon startup on the Delorme unit (but you can add more screens if you want to). These are: Map view; Trip computer; Compass; and the home screen with all of the other icons. To get to the home screen quickly, just press "menu" twice. Other features like sun/moon, fishing, etc. are also available, including the Spot screen that lets you type text messages and send them via satellite (more on this later). You can also adjust the order of the pages.

                The tracking screen is accessed via an icon on the home screen (but you can also create a "page" if you want). It is very easy to record / pause, view tracks. A feature that is very nice is you can see your altitude profile for your currently recorded track. On the Garmin 60CSx you have to wait to save the track before you can see the altitude profile.

                The screen's brightness is very good, and adjustable. In bright sunlight, you can see the screen without the backlight (so technically, you can just shut the backlight off during the day). Indoors, you really need the backlight. It also has an ambient light sensor and dims / brightens the screen accordingly depending on the ambient light. This saves battery life. Battery life on the unit is around 15-20 hours (a big negative by the way for the Garmin touch screen units) with lithium ion batteries. There are also "dark" modes, as well as a "night vision" mode that is black background, with red alpha numerical display, and more subtle coloration of topo features. The unit has the ability to shut the GPS off when stationary, further conserving battery life.

                Turning on the unit results in as fast, or faster satellite signal acquisition than the Garmin unit. I have always been impressed by the Garmin's ability to stay locked on even indoors (with windows) and the Delorme also seems to do well here; which is a testament to being able to lock satellites in heavy canopy.

                The compass is 3D axis, which means you don't have to have the unit completely level to get an accurate reading. The compass kicks in when you are moving under 1.5 mph.

                The unit also has barometric pressure altimeter, which has the option of auto calibrating. I use the GPS altitude though for any altitude readings (my watch has baro sensor for altitude).

                Spot Device

                Many of you have probably seen this in Outside magazine as a unit that can communicate SOS signals (along with your precise location) to satellites; providing security in areas where there is no cell coverage. Delorme and Spot have teamed up, and the Delorme PN-60w unit communicates wirelessly with the Spot via a bluetooth connection. This combination allows you to send simple text messages (other than just SOS / critical) like, "Made it to the summit, heading back," or "running late, everything is ok." etc., using the hand held to type these messages. While you can type anything you want up to a character limit, you can also setup your most commonly used messages ahead of time so you don't have to type out messages say in the cold. This feature, along with your contacts are all set up at Spot's website after you create an account. Having this account is $100 / year. If you want someone to be able to follow you while hiking (locations sent every 10 minutes) that is an additional $49.95 / year. Text messages are .50 each, and are ONE WAY (which means you can't get into a textathon with your friends while hiking - who would want that anyway?). The Spot unit works by itself for SOS (so if the GPS unit runs out of batteries, you can still use it). When you send a text message, it can be sent to cell phones, email addresses, or social media pages like Twitter and Facebook. When you setup your account on Spot's website, you create "groups" so when you are sending your message in the woods, it goes to everyone simultaneously. You cannot create email addresses on the handheld. These have to be done ahead of time on Spot's website; which is then synchronized to the handheld through a plugin works via your browser and needs to be installed.

                The message contains the text message, along with your lat / long coordinates, and two links. One to view your location on Spot's online maps, and other to view your position via Google maps. You can also give your friends a link to your page (which can be password protected) and people can get your updated status (map location, etc.) every 10 minutes.

                Pairing the units was fairly easy, but I first had to upgrade the firmware on the PN-60w. The only way to do this is via the software below. However, I had problems with the initial installation of the software on a windows 64-bit machine (see below). The installation on a 32-bit Win XP machine went without a hitch. Once paired, the two units worked flawlessly, and were perfect when I tested them 3 times.

                (continued)
                Nagarjuna rocks
                "There is pleasure when a sore is scratched
                But to be without sores is more pleasurable still
                Just so, there is pleasure in worldly desires
                But to be without desires is more pleasurable still"

                -Nāgārjuna (150-250 AD)

                Comment

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