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Garmin eTrex 30 Handheld GPS – Review

Posted on March 15, 2014

garmin-01Several years ago I had an eTrex Legend unit and I loved it (it was instrumental in helping me avoid getting lost in India) but unfortunately it was lost over the years and I really wanted another one. Thankfully Santa was good to me and treated me with the new eTrex 30 adding to my collection of GPS units (I also have a NUVI for the car and a ZUMO for the motorcycle). Yes I’m partial to Garmin units over some of the other ones that I’ve tested.

In the box comes the handheld unit, a USB cable and a quick reference guide to get you started. The actual user manual is stored in the internal memory of the device in various languages so you have to plug it into your computer to access that. Surprisingly, it only has USB 1.1 and not the current standard of 2.0 so uploading large amounts of data to the handheld can be a time consuming process. I was a bit disappointed that the user manual doesn’t clearly explain all of the internal functions of the device, so certain features will need some fiddling about with to figure it out. I was also disappointed that it didn’t come with some sort of strap or lanyard. It does have a small slot to attach your own though, which is what I did so I can secure it to me. This isn’t a cheap device so the idea of losing it in a lake didn’t sit well with me. There is a clip on the back of the unit but the mounts you have to buy separately.

garmin-02The internal storage is a fair 2GB which is pretty reasonable unless you’re like me and like to load in a lot of detail and lots of maps. It also has a MicroSD card slot behind the batteries, so I installed a 32GB card which is more than enough for my current mapping needs. It runs off two AA batteries and you can use either Lithium, Alkaline or NiMH rechargeables. Just be sure to configure the GPS to know which batteries you are using so the device can optimize it’s power use depending on the type of batteries you choose to use.

As with many current GPS devices, this one has a colour display but unlike it’s larger cousins, it is not touch screen. This allows for a very compact unit that can fit into most common mobile phone cases, or your front pocket. It has a water resistance rating of IPX7 and that means it can handle being submerged for up to 30 minutes in water that is 1m deep. You certainly won’t have to worry about getting water damage in heavy rain.

The Base Map that comes pre-loaded is pretty umm…basic. Personally it wasn’t good enough or detailed enough for my needs so I loaded more detailed road and street maps that are of interest to me as well as detailed topography maps and all the trails in my extended area. You can either download various maps online or purchase maps on MicroSD cards that you can install into the card slot. Be warned though, Garmin maps aren’t cheap and you need to take a real close look at which ones provide the information you want for the area you are interested in. If you spend enough time searching around online, you will find lots of goodies that may be of interest to you that you can load into your e30 GPS. Need help finding your nearest StarBucks? Not anymore once you’ve loaded them all into your Garmin.

When added to the BaseCamp software that can be downloaded from Garmin’s website (Mac or PC), you will find a wide range of features and functions when it comes to establishing waypoints, routes, or other points of interest. If you’re into GeoCaching, this is a great little device for taking your hobby to a whole new level. If you’re taking on some world travels, like backpacking through Europe, you can find lists of hostels online and load those locations into your GPS for every country you will be visiting. Be sure to load all the places of interest that you want to visit while you’re away and your e30 will get you there. This is a real perk when you can’t speak the local language.

To my knowledge, this is the only navigation unit (at this time) that combines both the United States’ Global Positioning System (that we know as GPS) and the Russian GLONASS satellite navigation systems. By combining both systems into one unit, you can be reasonably sure that no matter where you are in the world, the e30 will be able to get a fix on your location. With that added coverage, being on the ‘wrong’ side of an escarpment or down in a gorge will be less frustrating. In those situations, most other units give wildly false readings and turns into little more than an expensive paper weight. I know first hand how annoying that can be.

garmin-03At about $350, this GPS isn’t exactly cheap when compared to the e20 model which is one step down and $100 less expensive. The e30 though comes with a barometric altimeter, a 3-axis compass, wireless sharing, and the ability to be paired to wireless accessories like thermometers, speed/cadence sensors for your bike and heart rate monitors. The e2o model isn’t capable of all that. The reason I wanted the e30 over the e20 was largely due to the barometric altimeter, a 3-axis compass, both of which I’ve found very handy to have. Hey…I’m a guy and sometimes need help finding things. Remember though…guys don’t get lost! We just find alternate routes! 🙂

Choosing the right GPS for you can be a daunting task, so you will have to be very honest about how you will be using it, why you want it and what exactly you want it to be able to do. Once you’ve established that, then consider how you may use it down the road and consider features that may come in handy for that also.

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