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Garmin eTrex 30 review

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After well known eTrex Vista HCx Garmin has produced the new generation of GPS units including eTrex 30. Most of them have used touch screen technology. New eTrex xx and 62 series are the exceptions. In muddy and dusty conditions a touch screen isn't my choice. Below is the first look - review of eTrex 30.

mtb

The new eTrex 30 unit like Vista HCx is equipped with the key control buttons and thumb stick. On eTrex 30 the thumb stick is placed on the right side. The main advantages of eTrex 30 are included functions for basic fitness parameters and custom maps & BirdsEye images (kmz & jnx raster maps). eTrex 30 is GLONASS ready and can operate in GPSGLONASS mode. The provided user manual doesn't mention many important functions and details like handling of jnx&kmz maps, tracklog limitations, fitness parameters recording etc and in this review I would like to present most of them. The official Garmin data & specification are available here.

 

1. What is in the box?

in_the_box

eTrex 30 GPS unit, USB cable, Quick start manual.

 

2. eTrex 30 body is made by well and precise designed plastic material.

housing_1

3 keys (zoom in/out & menu) are placed on the left side and 2 keys (back and power on/light) on the right side. Thumb stick is placed on the front. It is a miniature joystick helping us to navigate and select the menue items. Furthermore, thumb stick can select and mark any point on the map much more precisely than the finger on the units supplied with the touch screen. On the old Vista HCx the joystick is placed on the left side. I am right handed and I prefer to handle with GPS unit by my left hand. In this case my right hand is free for the moving and doing some other important tasks.

At the back side of eTrex 30 body there are battery and mini USB connector covers. The battery cover is fixed by locking ring and by plastic slot at the opposite side.

housing_2

In comparison with the old eTrex, the additional plastic slot and the shape of the cover improve the rigidity of the cover during vibrations special in the case of MTB rides. The next good news is that Garmin no longer uses the laminated rubber on the sidewalls of the unit. The pulled back laminated rubber made a lot of troubles on old eTrex series.

New eTrex 30 uses the same bike holder as Oregon/Dakota series.

bike_holder

This holder is very simple and sturdy. Can be easy fixed on any position on the handlebar. This is the next improvement over old eTrex series.

Based on my experience with the old units I mounted the additional tubing to protect my eTrex 30. A piece of tubing prevents slipping on smooth surfaces and protects against impacts (see more details in comments section).

tubing_protection

Mini USB port is covered by rubber keeping IPX7 waterproof standard of the complete housing.

usb_connector

It is important to know that eTrex 30 uses basic USB 1.1 standard only. High speed USB 2.0 is missing. It's a pain to upload big files of the maps on the unit. USB 1.1 slows down the process when you experiment with some custom designed maps. For example to upload the map of 200MB it takes about 2-3 minutes. The option is to remove the micro SD card but in this case you have to remove the batteries too.

Micro SD card slot is placed below 2 standard  AA batteries.

back

NiMh, Alkaline or Lithium types batteries can be loaded. Each type should be confirmed in Setup - System menu.

 

3. As far as I know eTrex 30 is the first Garmin unit GLONASS ready.

gps_glonass

eTrex 30 can work in 2 modes: GPS and GPS + GLONASS. However, GLONASS ready unit helps to Garmin to sell new eTrex 30 in Russia without additional taxes.

 

4. In addition to vector maps eTrex 30 can display 2 types of raster maps: jnx maps and kmz custom maps. More details about these types of raster maps are available here.

jnx_kmz_setup

Depending of the map scale factor and active zoom each uploaded map can be displayed or not. The scrolling & zooming speed of vector maps on eTrex 30 and eTrex Vista HCx is almost the same. The scrolling & zooming speed of raster maps (jnx & kmz) on eTrex 30 is much slower than on Oregon 550. Despite low resolution of the screen the processing power of eTrex 30 is not enough for fast redraw. In this respect Oregon 550 is much faster and using the same vector map I didn't see any improvement over Vista HCx.


5. eTrex 30 can display heart rate and cadence.

map_screen

Like on Vista HCx on the map screen maximum 4 data fields can be set. During active tracklog both heart rate and cadence are recorded in gpx file. On 19-Apr-2012 I tested Garmin Connect and eTrex 30. Garmin Connect can detect eTrex 30. The data from the stored gpx track file can be exported to Garmin Connect via manual upload only. After that Garmin Connect can display the route on the map, speed, elevation, heart rate & cadence.

 

cadence_hr_belt_1

The optional cadence/speed sensor and heart rate belt are on the above image. The heart rate belt senzor is the old one, coming from my Oregon 550. I guess this type of heart rate senzor is not available any more. Both senzors are supplied with standard CR2032 battery. The battery can be easy replaced. My cadence/speed sensor setup uses cadence function only. Speed option is not supported by eTrex 30. On eTrex 30 speed value is recorded/calculated from GPS tracklog. I fixed the magnet & cadence sensor with tape too. This is the backup in the case when plastic strip brakes. The pairing of eTrex 30 and sensors is simple and fast. The cadence sensor can be easy mounted on different type of bikes. It's very sensitive and minimum distance of magnet isn't an issue.

 

profile_mtb_1

eTrex 30 supports different profiles for different activities. In each profile you can define different screens with different type of fields. The setup items are stored in each profile too. Above are typical map and trip screen configured for MTB activity. The profile is stored under MTB name.

 

6. eTrex 30 is equipped with sun readable screen. Below are the images of Oregon 550 (new version with better readability of the screen), eTrex Vista HCx and eTrex 30 at 0% & 50% backlight during cloudy day. Compare the size of the housing, size & readability of the screen. The scale factor is 120m on all units.

backlight_0

backlight_50

The readability of the screen under the sun:

eTrex 30, Vista HCx & Oregon 550 readability under sun

Good to know that the readability of eTrex 30 under the sun is very good. Click on the image to get the high resolution image.

 

7. The roughly current consumption measured with ampermeter.

power_consumtion

Roughly current consumption (mA) 0% backlight 50% backlight 100% backlight scrolling the map adds
eTrex 30 90 120 190 + 30 mA (raster map)
eTrex Vista HCx 90 135 190 + 10 mA (vector map)
Oregon 550 (new version) 130 165 230 + 110 mA (raster map)

eTrex 30 power consumption is almost the same like Vista HCx. Due to more processor power, scrolling the map adds more power consumption. Preliminary, Oregon 550 zooming & scrolling speed is almost x2 than eTrex 30.

 

8. eTrex 30 is equipped with 3 axis electronic compass like Oregon 550. The old eTrex Vista HCx has 2 axis compass. New 3 axis compass of eTrex 30 is slightly more responsive to direction changes than on eTrex Vista HCx.

After the calibration I compared 3 units with classic compass.

compass

The approx error of the azimuth in degrees is:

eTrex 30: 0°

eTrex Vista HCx: 1°

Oregon 550: 1,5°

Probably this is related to the compass chip and the error could be different from unit to unit on the same model......

 

9. 2D precision test

measure_place_2

Above is the image of the measuring place. The distance between Vista HCx & eTrex 30 and eTrex 30 & Oregon 550 is 4 meters under the opened sky. The direction of the placement is from south to north and the place is at UTM 33 (N) zone. I did 10 minutes GPS tracklog and 10 minutes waypoint averaging tests. Please note this is not the test of accuracy! The test were performed with firmware version 2.40. The data were imported into my GIS program and the results of precision are on below map:

karta_mjernih_rezultata2_low

Click on above image to get the high resolution image of the precision test. There is no benefit in precision from GPS+GLONASS and WAAS/EGNOS modes on eTrex30 in my zone. During the precision test Vista HCx outperformed eTrex 30 & Oregon 550. However, eTrex 30 GPS+GLONASS mode can help to speed up cold start and to increase the number of available satellites on the places with limited clear sky.

 

10. Elevation

The altimeter of eTrex 30 can work in automatic or manual mode. In automatic mode altimeter/barometer is calibrated with GPS elevation data. The details about automatic calibration are not available in the operating manual. After several runs and comparison of recorded elevation data  I can confirm that my eTrex 30 has less spikes than Oregon 550 and even less than Vista HCx. The main issue is that eTrex 30 calculates a fake total ascent value. I did the test with firmwares 2.40, 2.50 & 2.70. The total ascent value is 5-12% more than on Vista HCx. Hope Garmin will resolve the issue in the next firmware upgrade. The good point is that total ascent value can be displayed even on the trip screen. This option is not available on Vista HCx and Oregon 550. I tested total ascent value with firmware 2.80 and the issue of fake total ascent calculation is resolved. I removed the issue from (-) list.

 

11. Below is short video - demo how fast are eTrex 30 (firmware v2.70) & Oregon 550  (firmware v5.50) in scrolling & zooming of the same jnx map (raster map).

 

The redraw speed is improved since firmware v2.60. It's better but still not like on Oregon 550. See below comments.

 

12. My conclusion

Like some other Garmin models eTrex 30 includes some important characteristics for outdoor activities: standard AA batteries, IP protection, good outdoor readability of the screen, altimeter with barometer option etc. eTrex 30 offers many standard navigation functions. You can use them with vector routable and non routable vector & raster maps. Geocaches support is available too. Due to the size of the unit and available functions, eTrex 30 could be very popular for hiking and MTB.

During last few months I have compared Garmin eTrex 30 with Vista HCx & Oregon 550. Just few (+) and (-) are below:

(+) raster maps compatible (not available on Vista HCx),

(+) ready for heart rate & cadence option (not available on Vista HCx),

(+) 3 axis compass (2 axis only on Vista HCx),

(+) improved body materials and much better bike holder (better than on Vista HCx),

(+) fast cold start time (better than on Vista HCx),

(+) instead touch screen eTrex 30 is equipped with key command buttons and a thumb stick. In muddy & dusty conditions and with glows on my hands I prefer this setup. The same is on Vista HCx,

(+) total ascent field is available on trip & map screen (on Oregon 550 & Vista HCx total ascent is available on elevation profile screen only). Total ascent value is direct proportional to fatigue so this value is very important parameter for long rides or long hiking routes,

(+) different profiles can be set like on Oregon 550 (not available on Vista HCx),

(+) huge internal memory of 1.7GB can be extended with external micro SD card,

(-) very bad operating manual (nothing new from Garmin),

(-) slow redraws (zooming & scrolling) of the maps on the screen (Oregon 550 is much faster, no any improvement over Vista HCx, see above video at point 11),

(-) for precision no benefit from GPS+GLONASS mode (at least with firmware 2.40 and in my UTM 33N zone),

(-) slow USB 1.1,

 


 

Comments  

 
#1 MiVa 2011-11-05 13:14
Great review !!
Etrex 30 will be, most probably, my next GPS, after 4 years using etrex vista CX
Will wait four next review. Thanks for your great job !!
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#2 merk 2011-11-05 14:29
A very good "first look". I am looking forward for a in depth review. I own a Legend Hcx and I am now interested in a new gps unit with electronic compass function; this could be the etrex 30. Thank you.
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#3 Miroslav 2011-11-05 22:06
Thanks. I am short with time. Hope the review will be continued within next 10 days.
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#4 Francois Viljoen 2011-11-06 12:04
I got an eTrex 30 two weeks ago.

It's great, but sometimes it just randomly switches itself off. It's very annoying, especially if I'm navigating somewhere and it happens just before I need to make a turn.

I think it is a fatal crash, because when I start it up again immediately after the crash it searches for satellites (i.e. it doesn't do a hot start)

Have you had any similar problems?

I've got firmware version 2.1 installed on mine.
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#5 Miroslav 2011-11-06 12:27
Hi Francois,

I got eTrex 30 with 2.10 too. I upgraded to 2.30 before the test and I have no experience with 2.10. Up to now I haven't noticed any crash. Comparing with Oregon x50 series it seems new eTrex 30 firmware is very stabile. Try with 2.30 and I hope you will resolve the problem.
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#6 Francois Viljoen 2011-11-06 21:42
@Miroslav

Thanks for responding.

I upgraded to Software Version 2.40 and did about 100kms of navigating today without a single crash so it seems to be fixed.
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#7 Miroslav 2011-11-06 22:10
Francois, thanks for the note. I will upgrade to 2.40 soon. The list of changes is available at www8.garmin.com/support/download_details.jsp?id=5553. Most of the changes is related to geocache features.
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#8 Tej 2011-11-07 17:00
Excellent review. Looks like etrex 30 stacks up very well against its brothers. I didn't realize how small it was until u lined it up against vista hcx. The screen looks much more readable than its predecessors.
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#9 Tej 2011-11-07 17:08
One question which I hope you can answer is regarding the 3-axis compass so that I can justify the 100$ cost difference over the etrex 20. The electronic compass on the Vista HCx wasn't that good even after calibration. It was not very responsive to direction changes while standing still and I frequently found myself guessing the map orientation even with the compass enabled. How sensitive is the compass on this unit? does it respond well to direction changes?
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#10 Miroslav 2011-11-07 19:02
Thanks. I will try to compare compass within next 10 days. Preliminary, new 3 axis compass is slightly more responsive to direction changes than on Vista HCx. Anyway eTrex 3 axis compass works better than 2 axis Vista HCx. I would like to compare eTrex 30 with Oregon x50 and classic magnetic compass too.
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#11 Tej 2011-11-08 05:26
Great. Looking forward to the results.
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#12 mitko 2011-11-08 09:53
What about graphic performance(Lags and redraws) between etrex 30 vs Vista HCx?Is 30 is much better?
And is better accuracy compare etrex 30 vs Vista HCx?
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#13 Miroslav 2011-11-08 10:06
Hi Mitko. I will continue with the testing during the next weekend. I can do this in my free time only. Please be patient. Thanks!
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#14 Miroslav 2011-11-12 18:39
I add some text and images related to: sun readability, compass and zooming & scrolling speed. Will be continued......
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#15 Johan 2011-11-12 21:46
I noticed temporaraly lower speeds (-5km/hr) biking under threes using WAAS and GPS+GLONASS. In open skies no problem. Have to test withour WAAS and GPS only in my setup.
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#16 Tej 2011-11-14 06:35
Thanks for the review. Just got my Etrex 30. As you said the compass is slightly more responsive. The screen looks a bit fuzzy to me, i'm not sure if its because I was using the Vista Hcx for so long. Can you post a high resolution picture of the screen with some text so that I can make sure it is not just my unit?
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#17 Miroslav 2011-11-14 18:14
@Johan
In my area WAAS/EGNOS option means more or less nothing :(. I will post the results soon.

@Tej
Did you turn off Shaded Relief option in Map Setup menue? Higher resolution image is available here:
http://www.takeadventure.com/images/stories/My_images/Reviews/GPS/etrex_30/sun_disp_hr_3.jpg
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#18 Jeroen 2011-11-14 22:57
Thanks for this review.
Together with some other reviews it will be of help when choosing our first GPS apparatus ever :-)
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#19 Tej 2011-11-16 16:57
I've turned off relief, but I think it has to do with new font system. Some of the menu settings on the etrex 30 are harder to get to than the vista hcx. Not sure if I like the new map render system either and the compass is only marginally better vista hcx.

Overall, I would not recommend etrex 30 for people coming from Vista HCx but if it's your first GPS definitely go for it.
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#20 merk 2011-11-16 21:56
Thank you! I am very interested in compass function, and your comparative test seems good!. Hear you soon.
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#21 Tomas 2011-11-18 10:35
I saw it in polish shop: http://www.sklepgarmin.pl/product-pol-114918-Garmin-eTrex-30-010-00970-20-.html

~ 270 Euro !

what do you think ?

Pls help
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#22 David Santos 2011-11-18 19:14
I bought mine at a store in Portugal named ciclonatur for 209€.
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#23 merk 2011-11-21 23:12
good! Thank you.
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#24 Miroslav 2011-11-22 17:54
The review is updated. I mentioned the benefits of profiles, maximum 4 data fields are available on map screen and total ascent field is available on most of the screens (on Oregon 550 & Vista HCx total ascent field is available on elevation profile only).
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#25 mig 2011-11-23 20:00
"(-) slow redraws (zooming & scrolling) of the maps on the screen (Oregon 550 is at least x2 faster) ,"
what about 30 vs Vista HCx?
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