I’ve not been a big user of GPS. I was given a Garmin Geko for Christmas a few years ago and have used it infrequently since… and then only to confirm position, albeit clumsily, when lost in the clag.
I felt that the basic GPS interface was too fiddly when being battered by wind and rain on a mountain top. Co-ordinates and simple way-marking functions didn’t seem to make use of the technology now widely available in car Sat Nav systems, either.
Enter the Satmap Active 10: a GPS that seemed to tick all the boxes above. Using OS mapping, the unit gives your position on the graphical map without the need to plot grid references on a paper.
It boasts a simple user interface making it easy to access more popular functions while providing more advanced gizmos to keep the tech heads happy.
For someone who doesn’t fall into the later category, I thought this was going to be the unit that answered my GPS requirements.After checking one out in the store, I managed to acquire one at a discount which, in effect, meant I got the OS national parks 1:50000 map pack thrown in for free in the asking price of £300. Still a lot of money.
I’ve been using the unit for six months now, and feel I’m in a position to give some feedback. The first thing you notice about the Active 10, apart from its nifty packaging and protective case, is how robust the unit feels.
All the controls feel reassuringly sturdy and with its rubberised chassis, you feel that it will take some abuse. I have used it in the rain and dropped it on a couple of occasions with no problems.
The unit ships with three Lithium AA batteries, which the manufacturer recommends. These batteries give a claimed 20 hours of use, a good couple of days on the hill.
You can buy a rechargeable battery pack, offering more consistent performance, which I now have.
This allows the unit to be charged off the mains, in your car and while hooked up to your PC via a USB port – this permits data transfer, too.
Also worth remembering on this latter point is that Satmap works via maps stored on SD cards. Therefore, it is possible to use the unit as a media player, for example, and a headphones socked is provided on the unit.
Fire up the Satmap for the first time and you become immediately aware of its first (albeit occasional) frustration. I simply could not get a signal in the back garden. I left it scanning for half an hour and still no joy.
A little peeved, I walked to the top of a nearby hill and tried again. Five minutes with no joy and then, bingo, the little signal graph started jumping and, after a couple more minutes, I got a green light that the unit was locked in.
I quickly selected the Peak District map from my map pack that covered my location. My position was plotted precisely. I started walking and it tracked my progress. Using the controls, I zoomed in and out of the map with ease and used the joystick to scan over the map as required. Impressive.
The first real test of the unit was the three peaks walk. Unfamiliar territory, I thought the Satmap would speed my progress over the 24 or so miles. After the problems of the first use, here the unit locked onto a strong signal within two minutes and, overall, it performed brilliantly.
Since this first test, I have used it in a range of circumstances and conditions and have some initial conclusions.
Like many GPS systems, the unit suffers in woodland or where a ‘good view’ of the sky is restricted. Battery life is varable too, although I have now managed to set the unit to switch off after a couple of minutes inactivity and have reduced the back light level. Both adjustments have increased the battery life considerably (also improved by the rechargeable battery pack).
I have found the 1:50,000 map pack adequate for tracking/confirming position and I use the unit in tandem with a 1.25,000 sheet if on tricky ground. The limitations of the 1:50,000 mapping is particularly apparent in Scotland,though, with its great swathes of pathless terrain.
I have used the unit on a few occasions without the back up of a map and compass. Although I wouldn’t recomend this, I have found navigating just using the Satmap is a very real and convenient option.
So, what are my niggles? First, the price. I think the unit should ship with the battery pack at least for the RRP. Second, the protective polycarbonate screen. Although laudable to provide replacements, I still haven’t managed to remove it (I know I am going to break something!). Also, I have used the Satmap with the aforementioned protective case and the screen is very badly scratched already. New screens are a (further) tenner for three. Make your own minds up on this!
Would I recommend it? Depends on how you are going to use the unit, I guess. If you are happy with the basic grid reference and waymark GPS, then I would urge you to stick with these units. They are simpler, and have lower battery drain.
If you prefer a more immediate navigation solution to accompany your map and compass, then the Satmap is a good option.
There is more to the Satmap than I’ve outlined here. I hope to get to grips with these functions and report back in due course.