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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.


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?


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


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


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.


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.


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).


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



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.



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.



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.


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.


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


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:


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,




#126 ali 2013-10-19 01:26
Great review.
thank you very much.
#127 henry 2013-11-28 00:20
Hello Miroslav,
thank you very much for this detailed review!

Do you know if pan/zoom speed is faster with vector maps than with raster ones? I think to buy one etrex30 and use it with Openmtbmaps, but I'm a little worried about rendering speed.

Thank you
#128 Miroslav 2013-11-28 06:53
The pan/zoom speed with vector maps on eTrex 30 is fast, no issue like with the raster maps.
#129 Iggy Saturation 2014-01-17 19:19
I have an eTrex 10. I use it mostly for hiking and was looking for eTrex 20 or 30 current consumption data for comparison. Here's some info for your readers.

Basic consumption:
___GPS 46mA
___GPS + GLONASS 57 mA
___Demo mode - 80mA
___Etrex is turned off - 45uA
Additional consumption of other features:
___GPS+WAAS/EGNOS - on/off, it has no visible effect with GPS, but with GPS+WAAS+ GLONASS ON, 60mA [ 3mA more]
___half backlight +20mA [ add to your mode]
___full backlight +50mA [ add to your mode]

Measured with an Agilent 1252a on averaging mode and signal lock on satellites.

For simple tracking purposes and waypoint marking the eTrex 10 provides at 30-40% longer battery life given no color and no maps. When I need to use a map I either use paper maps, turn GPS on my smartphone on and locate myself, or refer to downloaded maps on my phone.

Enjoy and thank you for all the good data.

[quote name="Geralt"

I also made some measurments because i was interested in current comsumption of another modes and conditions then i found in review.

Pic.: Current comsumption during full brightness is totally 182mA.

Consumption was kinda pulsating +-10mA during measurment, so these values are my mean estimation.
Basic consumption:
___GPS - 73mA
___GPS + GLONASS - 86mA
___Demo mode - EXACTLY SAME as GPS (+ GLONASS), so reciever is still in full operation... I thought i could switch to demo mode for example in case i want use only map to save power... suprise nothing happens! Not a very smart way to program this GPS device, but from what i've read, it seems common for Garmin devices.
___Etrex is turned off - 71uA
Additional consumption of other features:
___WAAS/EGNOS - on/off, it has no visible effect
___map scrolling (about same for vector and raster) - about +20mA
___half backlight - about +21mA
___full backlight - +107mA !!! not kidding... so rather don't even use it
___Signal strenght have very little impact, maybe few mA. So if you are in open terrain or inside building, its about same.

I hope the pictures will be shown correctly and sry for my engilsh :oops: ...
#130 Darko 2014-03-04 12:14
Pozdrav Miroslave,
koristim eTrex 30 za bickliranje, ultra maratone, gdje se pokazao odličan zbog dugog vijeka baterija i promjene istih bez gubitka zapisa. Jedni mi je problem što nemogu koristiti rute (a to bi mi npću puno značilo) jer bilo da ih izradim u BaeCampu ili u MapSouerce on ih nakon moje izrade kalkulira po svome. To češto znaći da je promjenjena zadana ruta, a onda i nemogučnost pronalaženja kontrolnih točaka. Čak ni problem od maksimalno 50 točaka nije nerješiv jer se napravi više ruta. problem bi se mogao rješiti kada bi bila opcija de nesmije kalkulirati po svome već poštivati zadane rute, a on neda tu mogučnost već samo prokomentira "ruta je skrače" i opcija je samo potvrda OK.
Možda znate lijek :).

#131 Miroslav 2014-03-04 12:21
Nemam ga sad kod sebe, sa rutama nisam radio, no problem bi mogao biti slijedeći. Aktivna ti je neka vektorska karta koja je rutabilna (po cestama) i/ili ti je negdje postavljeno (vidi u setinzima) da kartu koristiš kao vozač auta i/ili biciklista, a ne kao pješak. Pogledaj to i mislim da ćeš tu naći rješenje problema. Poz. M
#132 Darko 2014-03-04 12:32
Hvala na brzom javljanju,
nemam ga ni ja kod sebe, a na poslu sam. Nisam očekivao tako brzi odgovor. Karte koje koristim su Garminove standardne, po Hrvatskoj Adriaroute, a za vani sam koristio odgovarajuće isto Garminove. Ultramaratoni se voze cestama, zadnji recimo London-Edinburg h-London (stavio sam izbjegavanja auto cesta...), ali mislim da sam i probao varijantu pješak, odnosno bicikl i problem nisam rješio. Kontaktirao sam dečke u Garminu, ali isto bez rezultata. Kada smo vozili u Italiji, uplodao sam njihove rute, koje su oni napravili i nije bilo problema, tako da mislim da postoji nekakova kvaka.

#133 Miroslav 2014-03-04 12:46
S rutama ne radim, ali da li si pogledao u BaseCampu i MapSorceu na računalu, tamo isto treba vjerojatno prije postavljanja rute postaviti da li radiš za pješaka ili auto ili bicikl? Drugo ne znam što bi bilo pa istražuj :). Poz. M
#134 Darko 2014-03-04 12:52
Tnx. Mučim se već mjesecima pa sam se nadao da netko ima rješenje problema. No, trase su uvijek dobro rješenje, bez noći.


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