Magellan vs. Garmin

By Dale DePriest

This is an ongoing saga that covers the main competition in the non-mapping units from these two manufacturers of gps receivers. There are so many mapping units and mapping products that it is much more difficult to compare mapping products.

A few years back the 12 channel parallel units made their debut and the Magellan units were the 2000XL/3000XL/4000XL while Garmin introduced the G-12XL, a 12 channel version of the very successful G-45XL. The G-45XL was actually the top member of a family of products that included the G-40 and the G-38. Therefore it wasn't long before a G-12 filled the bottom of the family and later the G-48 for the top. These units seemed to take the gps community by storm. Magellan responded by making their models into 12 channel units but didn't change the model numbers which led to confusion in the marketplace. Further the [234]000XL was inferior to the newly released G-12 family. Please see my article comparing the 2000/4000XL to the G-12 family.

To combat the lagging sales Magellan introduced the tracker family which consists of two members. The Tracker was a copy of the G-12 in a lot of respects while the ColorTrak unit had an innovative pressure sensor and a color display, but the color was not bright and both were a bit bulky for handheld use. Both are still available in the Magellan stable and have avid followers. They are nice units but not the Garmin breakers they were meant to be. To combat the G-12 Magellan introduced an inexpensive model called the pioneer (later renamed to GPS-300). This was not a 12 channel parallel unit and clearly came in at the bottom of any comparison. Magellan then released a 12 channel version with similar features call the blazer 12. Please see my article on Blazer 12 vs. the G-12 for a table comparing these units.

Subsequently Magellan released a family of units consisting of the GPS-315 and the GPS-320. The major differences in these units is the addition of a case for the 320 and it comes pre-loaded with a navaid database. Both have city databases and a cdrom is available to upload city data points and "Points Of Interest" and/or more navaids. Is this family finally going to break the back of the now aging G-12 family? The rest of this article consists of a table comparing the M-315 family with the G-12 family. (Note that the G-12 family shares many features with the G-II+ and so the Magellan onslaught could topple it as well.) More details are available at the Magellan web site. In particular, look over the FAQ section.

01/3/19 Update - Garmin has countered with a new product, the etrex venture, and Magellan has countered with a more aggressive update schedule of firmware for the 315/320. I have updated the table below to match the Magellan release 3.12 and to add the new Garmin etrex product.

02/8/25 Update the competition has heated up with Magellan releasing a new SporTrak model and Garmin releasing the Model 72 (a stripped down version of their Model 76. I have updated the table to reflect these newer models. Note the 72 is really the lowest price member of the 76 family. It differs from a 76 in that it does not support an external antenna and it has a lower resolution screen.

03/3/13 now finds that Garmin has release two new non-mapping receivers in a new line called Geko. The 101 does not have any serial port and is pretty simplistic but the 201 looks like a formidable new offering. These are similar in principle to the earlier basic etrex (not shown in table, see Blazer 12 vs. Garmin).

Selected Magellan products vs. Garmin products.

General Notes for table.
Feature Magellan 315 Magellan SporTrak Garmin
Etrex Venture Garmin GPS72 Geko
Waypoints 500 500 500 500 500 250 500 .
Altitude in waypoints Y Y N Y Y Y Y .
Waypoint names 6 6 6 10 10 6 6 characters
Waypoint comments 20 20 16 N N N N On Magellan, only 100 waypoints can have comments
Waypoint icons 20 20 16 77 75 Y Y .
Nearest Waypoint 20 achieved by sorting the main waypoint list 20 achieved by sorting the main waypoint list 9 in a separate list from main waypoints 15 in a separate list 10 in a separate list 9 in a separate list 9 in a separate list .
Routes 20 20 20 20 20 0 20 .
Route names 12 (two waypoint names) 12 (two waypoint names) 16 13 21 NA 13 Both names can be automatically generated. Garmin can also be manually named.
legs/route 30 30 30 50 50 0 125 .
Datums 72 + 2 user defined 76 + 1 user defined 107 + 1 user defined > 100 > 100 18 + 1 user defined 100 + 1 user defined The datum list is different so one could be better in one part of the world than the other. Magellan can define a datum separately for primary and secondary displays
2D mode Anytime you wish. Anytime you wish. Only if 3D is unavailable Only if 3D is unavailable Only if 3D is unavailable Only if 3D is unavailable Only if 3D is unavailable .
Over- determined Solution Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Note 2
Warm Start 15 sec 15 sec 15 sec 15 sec 15 sec 15 sec 15 sec .
Cold Start 60 sec 60 sec 45 sec 45 sec 45 sec 45 sec 45 sec .
Waterproof Weatherproof (floats) Waterproof (floats) Y (one meter for 30 minutes) battery compartment not waterproof Y (same as G-12) Y (same as G-12) Y (same as G-12) Y (same as G-12) Watertight battery compartment on Magellan helps it float
City Database Y Y G-12XL Y Y N N Magellan and Venture, 72 are updateable
Navaid Database M-320 Y updateable G-48 updateable Y updateable Y updateable N N Magellan 320 is updateable and can be loaded into a 315
Database memory part of firmware memory 1 Meg Fixed 1 Meg 1 Meg N N Note 4
Weight (includes batteries) 7.0 oz 6.0 oz 9.5 oz 5.3 oz 8.0 oz 3.1 oz 3.1 oz G-12 weighs 8.7
Temp 14F to 140F 14F to 140F 5F to 158F 5F to 158F 5F to 158F 5F to 158F 5F to 158F Operating range
Screens 2 to 9 customizable 2 to 9 customizable 5 or 6 from 7 choices 5 from 6 - customizable customizable 4 5 Garmin screens tend to have more data on them. Magellan has more screens.
Screen Size 2.2x1.33 2.3x1.4 2.2x1.5 2.2x1.2 2.2x1.6 1.44x0.92 1.44x0.92 inches
Screen Resolution 104x160 160x104 64x100 160x288 120x160 64x100 64x100 .
Gray Scale 4 4 N 4 4 N N .
DDD.ddddd Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Lat/Lon
DDD MM.mmm Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Magellan also has DDD/
DDD MM SS Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Garmin is actually SS.s
TD Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Loran
UTM Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Garmin has UPS also
MGRS Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Military
OSGB Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Great Britain
Irish Y Y Y Y Y Y Y .
Swiss Y Y Y Y Y Y Y .
Swedish Y Y Y Y Y Y Y .
Finnish Y Y N N N N N .
German Y Y Y Y Y Y Y .
French Y Y N N N N N .
Indo So LCO N N Y N N N N .
Maidenhead N N Y Y Y Y Y .
New Zealand N N Y Y Y Y Y .
Taiwan N N Y Y Y N N .
W. Malayan RSO N N Y Y Y N N .
User Defined Grid 2 0 1 1 1 1 1 Magellan 315 has a separate user defined grid for primary and secondary displays.
Battery Life 15 14 24 20 16 12 12 Up to
Batteries 2 AA 2 AA 4 AA 2 AA 2 AA 2 AAA 2 AAA .
Backup battery > 12 hours - Magellan states it is a ten year battery Not needed 3 months - rechargable lithium with a ten year life. Not needed Not needed Not needed Not needed .
External power option Y Y Y Y Y N Y 12XL and 48 can work directly from 10V-32V without an external regulator
Dimensions 15.75 x 5.0 x 3.3 14.2 x 5.6 x 3.1 14.6 x 5.1 x 3.4 11.2 x 5.1 x 3.0 15.7 x 6.9 x 3.4 9.9 x 4.8 x 2.4 9.9 x 4.8 x 2.4 cm
Sun/Moon positions Y Y N YY N N Northfinder
Tracklog 1200 2000 1024 2048 2048 3000 10000 All tracklog has time stamps
Dis- continuous Tracklogs N N Y Y Y Y Y .
Tracklog collection Automatic or adjustable based on distance Automatic or adjustable based on distance Automatic or adjustable based on time Automatic or adjustable based on time or distance Automatic or adjustable based on time or distance Automatic Automatic .
Tracklog modes Wrap Wrap Off, Wrap, Fill (with alarm) Wrap, Fill, off Off, Wrap, Fill (with alarm) Wrap Wrap .
Saved tracklogs N N N 10 10 N 10 Venture and 72 logs are 250 pts each
Back track routes Y Y Y N (backtrack saved track logs) N (backtrack saved track logs) N (backtrack track log) N (backtrack saved track logs) Magellan can also backtrack the tracklog directly
Dead Reckoning Unknown No 30 secs. 30 secs. 30 secs. 30 secs. 30 secs. .
Project Track Y Y N N N N N .
Pan & Zoom Map screen Both w/V3.05 and above Both Both Both - dedicated zoom keys Both - dedicated zoom keys Zoom - pan log only Zoom - pan log only (i.e. you can zoom while panned)
Fish calculator YY N Y Y N Y When to fish/hunt
Sunrise / sunset YY Y Y Y N Y Magellan attempts to change time zones for remote sunrise/sunset but gets in wrong often, according to their FAQ
Position averaging automaticautomatic Y N Y N N Note 3
Time zones Manually Manually Manually Daylight Savings, Manually Daylight Savings, Manually Daylight savings and world time zones Daylight savings and world time zones .
Antenna quadrifilarquadrifilar Patch Patchquadrifilar G-48 has removable quadrifilar Patch Patch
External Antenna NN G-12XL N N N N .
Backlit lamp levels 22 3 1 1 1 1 .
Lunar phase YY N YY N N .
Trip Odometer YY Y YY Y Y .
Another Odometer YYNYY N N .
Max Speed NN Y Y Y Y Y .
Speed Limit 951951 999 999999 999999 knots
Average Speed Y (graphic display only) Y (graphic display only) Y Y 2 kindsY 2 kinds Y Y Magellan can customize averaging
Speed Filtering NN G-48 NN NN .
Trip Time YY Y YY YY .
Elapsed Time YY Y YY YY .
Compass Settings Magnetic, True
Magnetic, True
Magnetic, True, Grid North, User defined
Magnetic, True, Grid North
Magnetic, True, Grid North
Magnetic, True, Grid North, User
Magnetic, True, Grid North, User
DGPS ready YY Y YY N Y .
Remote Control of dgps beacon receiver NN Y YY NY  
download routes YY Y YY N Y Note 1
download Waypoints YY Y YY NY Note 1
download tracklog YY Y YY NY Note 1
Area of tracklog NN G-12 YY NN  
Audible Alarms YY G-12XL NY NN G-12 has visual alarms
Anchor Alarm YY G-48 YY N N .
Proximity Alarms >11 11 9 N 10 N N All Magellan proximity waypoints must have the same alarm distance
Arrival Alarms based on distance based on distance Automatic 1 minute warning or based on distance Automatic Automatic Only on track Automatic Automatic rollover to next route leg even if alarm criteria isn't met.
Simulation Mode Mainly useful for training. creates a route and runs it. You can create the route. Yes Every function can be done as if satellites were present Yes Yes Demo Demo Garmin saves battery power in this mode
Language Support 99 9 17 1 16 .
Cost (US Dollars)
All 150 170 140 150 160 120 150 .
M320 / G12XL 200 . 190 . . . . .
G48 .. 220 . .. . .

Other specifications are similar between the two brands.

Note 1: Both units have 3rd party support for upload and download. Garmin also has a product but the 3rd party tools are better. Magellan has a version of Chicago Maps software that will work with the 315.

Note 2: Overdetermined Solutions - Magellan does not advertise that they use an overdetermined solution but in the manual they state that they use all of the satellites mentioned in the GSA NMEA sentence. In checking the GSA sentence there are more than 4 satellites listed so some have assumed that they compute an overdetermined solution. I checked with Magellan technical support and they indicated that Magellan does use all of the satellites in a solution.

Note 3: Automatic Averaging. Automatic averaging is a nice feature to ensure that the position data you are observing is as good as it can be at that point in time.

Note 4: Magellan database capacity drops when firmware is updated and is currently about 18,000 points. There are third party tools that can edit DataSend data and update these poi's.

Navigation Data in both units is the same - They compute BRG, DST, SPD, TRK, XTE, CTS, VMG, TRN, ETE, ETA, Trip distance, Time, Altitude and Position. However, the display of this information is different between the units. This is one of the major differences in using the units. Garmin tends to emphasize the big 4 data items, BRG, DST, SPD, TRK while de-emphasizing ALT and Current time. Magellan emphasizes BRG, DST, Time, and Altitude. Magellan has two position screen so two grids can be displayed and they have a large text screen for distant viewing. Magellan restricts route information to the next waypoint while Garmin provides some data about future waypoints in the current route.

I own a G-12 and have never used a Magellan 315 family unit. The above comparison was made from web page data and news group information. Corrections and clarifications solicited. This is preliminary data. I intend to add a lot more stuff as I collect the information. I intend to compare navigation and other screens directly. In general Magellan has the ability to customize their screens more but Garmin has more data on a screen with some customization possible.

First published: 99/6/14
filled in gaps from user input 99/6/21
Added more stuff 99/6/23
Correct a few items based on user feedback. Added some links. 99/6/30
Added grid data and some navigation data 99/7/1
Corrected elapsed time, added external power option 99/8/18
fixed error in waterproof comparison 99/9/6
Added discussion on overdetermined for Magellan 99/11/17
Updated discussion for overdetermined solution and averaging 99/11/22
Added information on user defined grids and datums. 99/12/22
added 100 limit comment on Magellan 00/2/2
Added changes for Garmin 12 software revision 00/3/7
Added changes for Magellan 3.05 software revision 00/4/20
Added Garmin venture and updated for Magellan 3.12 01/3/19
Corrected Venture tracklog errors 02/8/23
Added SporTrak, Garmin 72.
Corrected some M315 things.
Added Geko 03/3/18.

Dale DePriest