Improved and updated in 2011, the eTrex range is currently one of the most highly regarded and popular GPS units on the market. And deservedly so. They offer proven reliability, ease of use, and fantastic value for money.
The eTrex 20 is the mid-spec model in the range and, in my opinion, gives you the very best value for money. It shares its styling and basic functionality with the eTrex 10, (the features of which I have detailed in a review available on this site), but has the added features of colour screen, micro SD card slot and 1.7gb of internal memory. Weighing only 5oz, and fitting easily into your hand, it is one of the smallest and lightest unit on the market yet manages to maintain reliable and efficient operation in all conditions.
Fast and reliable GPS positioning
Incorporating the brand new GLONASS system with a WAAS enabled GPS receiver, eTrex devices are currently the only ones available that can track using both GPS and GLONASS satellites simultaneously. This increases the number of satellites they have access to, and therefore enables them to “lock on” to a position approx. 20% faster than using GPS alone.
The eTrex 20 can therefore be relied upon to locate your position quickly and precisely, and maintains its signal in areas of dense cover (woodland , beside tall buildings etc) and even indoors.
Clear, easy to use screen and controls
The eTrex 20 comes with a manual, USB cord, colour screen, micro SD card and 1.7GB of internal memory. Simply insert 2 AA batteries (rechargeable NiMH or Lithium are recommended) and you’re ready to go. The screen displays an easy to follow menu which has been adapted so you can now customise it to switch between different profiles (Geocaching, Fitness, Automotive etc). This is convenient as it allows you to have the options most applicable to your current need foremost on the screen as you turn the unit on.
The device is then operated by use of a joystick on the front and 5 buttons spread on either side, and is designed with one handed operation in mind. The unit is small enough to fit easily into the palm of your hand, allowing you to operate the Zoom and Menu buttons on one side with your index and middle finger (if you’re right handed), and your thumb working the Back and Power buttons on the other side. Whether you prefer buttons or a touchscreen is a matter of personal choice- though in dusty or muddy conditions, button operation can make life much easier.
It comes with a lanyard on the back and can be easily attached to clothing or rucksacks. The casing has been improved from the old eTrex models so it feels more sturdy, and it is compatible with all Garmin spine-mounted accessories making it simple to attach to the handlebars of bikes etc.
The device feels sturdy and robust in your hand, and is built to withstand the bumps and bangs it will inevitably receive, including being accidentally dropped in water. The screen is bright, has a good depth of colour, and works well in all weather conditions. Even in bright sunshine it compares favourably with its main competitors. It has a backlight which is a useful feature, but just note that this does zap battery power so it may be best to switch this feature on only when you need it. The screen may be on the small side (measuring 3.5 x 4.4 cm) but it is easy to read and considering the fact that the lightweight, compact nature of the machine is one of its advantages, this, I feel, is a small price to pay.
Included is a preloaded worldwide basemap. Don’t expect too much from this however as any detail (including road systems) is non-existent. You will want to add higher scale maps.
The eTrex 20 contains a micro SD card slot, and comes with a standard 1.1 USB cable. You therefore have a choice of whether to purchase maps of your chosen area on a micro SD card, or download them from your computer. It should be noted that the lack of high speed USB 2.0 means that downloading can be slow so you will have to be patient if you’re dealing with big files.
Ordnance Survey maps, such as Garmin’s GB Discoverer (or Blue Chart for the water or City Navigator for roads) are available on micro cards. These add a significant cost (approx. £120-200 depending on the region chosen), but provide either 1:25K or 1:50K scale and allow you to dispense with a paper map with complete confidence.
The eTrex 20 is fully compatible with Garmin’s BirdsEye products – a map download service that provides aerial imagery and lets you download premium raster maps of a small chosen area to your device and integrate them with your existing maps. Again this involves a small extra cost but makes for an interesting and potentially very useful addition.
Also compatible are Garmin Chirp for dedicated geocachers, and Garmin Connect for sports and fitness enthusiasts.
The eTrex 20 has 1.7 GB of internal memory which allows you to save 2,000 waypoints and 200 routes on the machine (the track log which records where you have been, will store 10,000 points on up to 200 tracks). This should be plenty to keep you going but it is worth noting that there is a memory expansion slot should you need it.
If you’re wanting to use the device for geocaching, probably the most useful of all the updates on the eTrex range is the ability to download information straight from sites such as geocaching.com or Opencaching.com. This eliminates the need for manual entering of coordinates, or paper print-outs. eTrex stores and displays all the information you need, location, terrain, difficulty, hints and descriptions so you’ve got everything at your fingertips.
Excellent battery life
Garmin advertise running time as being 25 hours in battery life. In reality this is probably nearer 20 hours (particularly if using the backlight feature on the screen) but this is still more than enough for a long day out, so there’s little danger of running out of power half way through your trip. This is an advantage over the use of Geocaching apps on a smartphone, which, although convenient, do tend to eat up power, and can leave you short before you’ve found your chosen cache.
A compass and altimeter are not included (you would need the eTrex 30 for that), but you do get an awful lot for your money with the eTrex 20 and it makes an incredibly good buy. It’s one of the smallest and lightest devices on the market, making it easy to handle, yet is tough, durable, reliable and very efficient to use. The screen is easy to read even in bright sunlight (a feature that lets down some of its competitors) and battery life is excellent.
Comes very highly recommended.