GPS: Garmin, Plain Silly

Garmin seems to me to be pretty much the market leader in GPS devices. I’d have expected the manufacturer of leading handheld GPS devices to be reasonably high-tech, wouldn’t you? Yes, of course you would. We’d both be wrong.

Santa came to me early with a new eTrex H hand held navigator. It has no mapping but, since I doubt that footpaths are on the GPS mapping systems, that seems to matter little. For wandering about off piste and telling me how far I’ve been, it looked interesting. So far  it seems reliable and quite good fun as a recording device. It did, though, quickly became apparent that entering points (waymarks) into the eTrex H to set a route to follow was possible but, not to put too fine a point on it, a very pedestrian [no pun intended] complete and utter pain in the arse. There’s no keyboard. Imagine entering “N51 56.345 W00 40.789” one character at a time using up and down arrows to scroll through the alphabet and numbers for each individual character. Ye Gods! By the time you’d entered a route of several waymarks, the sun would have set and it would be time for some cheese, Gromit. Still, entering  a single point for, say, geocaching takes about 10 minutes and, though still a complete pain in the arse, is just about doable.

Then I found a neat piece of freeware called easyGPS. Given the right cable connector between a PC and the eTrex H, this software claims to be able to upload and download navigation details. Not only that but it will save those details in a format useable by Google Earth (.gpx). Using easyGPS, it should be possible to plot some of our walks on Google Earth which would add an extra dimension of interest. One might even map some of our less well documented footpaths through the local woods.

Unfortunately, “the right cable” is where life gets silly. I was stunned to find that Garmin, bless their marketing department, wants to sell a simple connector cable for upwards of £20. Being stunned turned into being gobsmacked when I discovered that their expensive cable connects only to a outmoded RS232 serial port. My faithful but now creaking-at-the-seams desktop PC is fully 6 years old and even that does not have an archaic RS232 serial port. What on earth is Garmin thinking of selling such an ancient connector for such a modern piece of kit, pray tell? Good grief, many mobile phones come GPS-enabled these days and they probably connect via Bluetooth.

“There is a USB-RS232 converter cable”. “Er, it shouldn’t be necessary but OK.” According to the Garmin UK web site, said USB-RS232 converter cable is even more extortionately priced at a princely £33.99. Expecting people to pay over £50 for a couple of bits of wire to connect their £75 handheld to a PC is little more than an insult. Someone is having a joke, and a very bad one at that.

Enter GPSBITZ UK. Unlike the lamentably unhelpful Garmin, these helpful chaps trade on eBay as well as directly and sell a much more useful and reasonably priced eTrex H USB connector cable at £13.00 (+ £1.25 P&P – again, reasonable). For £17.00 you can have a cable that uses the fourth wire to power the eTrex from the USB port, too. These cables comes with software drivers which apparently “fake out” a serial COM port on the USB ports. I ordered one.

It arrived today and, after very little messing about, it works. Let the games commence. Well, when the snow has gone, anyway.

Garmin really should be shot.

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  1. […] in the form of a Garmin eTrex h handheld GPS device. Apart from the archaic serial cable (see “GPS: Garmin Plain Silly”) required to download the eTrex’s information to a PC, a handheld device power by two simple […]

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