Magellan eXplorist 500LE Product Review
by Larry Leviton, AE9E
4 February 2007 Release 1

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The Magellan eXplorist 500LE is a hand held GPS receiver. It is identical to the eXplorist 500 except for a lower price. Get latest prices here. The only difference is that the kit does not include a Li-ion battery or AC adapter. These can be purchased later or you can use three AAA batteries.

The eXplorist is small enough to fit in a pocket or purse and is ideal for hiking, biking, boating, geocaching and tourist travel. It is waterproof and has tracking capability to show where you've been. It can be used in an automobile as a moving map but lacks a touch screen, voice announcements and cigarette plug. For automotive use, a personal navigation device (PND) such as the Magellan RoadMate series would be better.

The receiver is very sensitive, surprising since it uses 2004 technology. The eXplorist comes with pre-loaded highway maps, but detailed maps must be downloaded into the eXplorist from a personal computer. This is a somewhat time consuming process. The eXplorist includes 8 MB of flash memory for storing detailed maps. This is enough memory for one major metropolitan area. Additional flash memory can easily be added by the consumer and SD flash cards are inexpensive these days. Maps are limited to 128 MB each and it takes over 2 GB to store the 50 United States.

The eXplorist 500 is a mature product and several good reviews have already written about it. See the Magellan eXplorist 500 Review by Max Bramel and Magellan Topo 3D USA Map Review by Allory Deiss.



eXplorist 500LE Kit

The eXplorist 500LE kit comes with the eXplorist 500 GPS receiver, several easy to read paper guides, User Guide CD (which I have yet to read), MapSend DVD (contains detailed map), a USB cable, and a 3 cell AAA battery holder.



Satellite Screen

There are four main screens. The first main screen shows the number of detected GPS satellites. This picture shows that 12 satellites were detected, which is pretty remarkable considering it was taken indoors. A minimum of 4 satellites are needed to get accurate information.


Compass Screen

The second main screen shows a compass. The black arrow indicates the direction of motion and is accurate after moving only 10 meters. Notice the yellow dot just above the black arrow. That's suppost to indicate the position of the sun at this time of day. At night a moon appears. As the next screen shows, the two information fields at the top of the screen are user selectable.


Different Headings

The Customize page screen shows some of the user selectable fields that can be shown at the top of the compass screen. This screen is displayed by pressing the menu button.



Lattitude & Longitude Screen

The third main screen shows position information. It also displays a trip odometer and the remaining battery power.


Map Screen

The fourth main screen shows a map, which can be zoomed in or out using the zoom in and out buttons. You can also pan around (up, down, left, right) using the joy stick. The squiggly black lines shows my last trip (tracking information).

MapSend Software

The part of the review I dreaded doing the most, reviewing the MapSend software, turned out to be the most fun. Please bear with me. I know you are eager to learn more about the eXplorist 500LE, but its the software that makes the eXplorist fun to use. The MapSend DVD contains detailed topo, street, and marine maps, but they are not usable until you pay a fee and obtain an unlock code from Magellan. A special offer came with my kit and may or may not be available in the future. I was able to instantly obtain the unlock code for the 3D Topo USA maps over the internet using a credit card and the special discount code. Sorry, Canada is not included.

It took a while to figure out how to use these maps. To capture a map you draw a square box around the area you are interested, then save it to a file. Typically a metropolitan area occupies 7 MB. These maps are then downloaded to the eXplorist using the USB cable. It took me about an hour to figure it out. On-line help is available.

What was mind-blowing was the 3D capability of these maps. I was able to see elevation levels in 3D down to the one-foot level. Being that my home is next to a flood plain I was very interested in looking at the elevation levels around my home. It cost me hundreds of dollars to hire a surveyor and prove to FEMA that my house was not in the flood plain. The 3D topo maps matched the elevation data provided by the city and my surveyor. I wished I could have shown FEMA those maps.

I am not going to bore you looking at the flood plain around my home, but rather show you a picture of a very famous ski-resort. Can you guess where it is?



3D Topo of Aspen Colorado

This is a picture of a 3D topo map on my computer screen. The green squiggly lines are elevation lines. The 3D topo map can quickly be rotated to any three dimensional position. Street maps can be super imposed on the 3D topo map as well as points of interest (POI) information such as hiking trails and rivers.


Colorado Regional Map

This is the same captured area as it appears on  the eXplorist 500LE. The square box next to the letters CO shows the boundaries of the detailed map.



Aspen With All Details

Zooming in shows details of the ski resort including streets, elevation levels and so many POIs that it is hard to see them clearly.


Detailed Format Screen

Using the Format screen, I can tell the map screen to display more or less detailed street information. Underneath the Format screen is the Display screen.



Mark Only Topo Lines

The Display screen allows me to select which POIs I want to display. Here I have selected only Topo Lines (elevation).


Aspen With Topo Lines Only

Same detailed map screen as before, only now it is more readable because only topo lines are displayed. The bottom of the screen tells us that this location is 1013 miles west of my home.


Fishing Screen

This screen shows the best time to hunt or fish. 1:20 AM?



Sun & Moon Screen

This screen shows solar information.


Light Timer

The LCD display consumes a lot of power. To save battery power, the LCD display can be set to power down during button inactivity. A display intensity button on the left side also affects battery consumption. There are three intensity levels: bright, medium, and dark. Bright is sunlight readable. It is also bright enough to be used as a flashlight at night. Medium is best for a cloudy day. Dark is ideal for night use. It lights the display just slightly.

Built-in Help Screens

A couple of times I had trouble finding the correct menu screen, but built-in help screens made them easy to find.

Customer Service

I get a number of emails praising or complaining about Magellan's customer service. At the time of this writing Magellan has shut down their internet customer service site. Customer service over voice telephone is still available. Wait times range from 3 to 20 minutes. In some cases Magellan customer service has bent over backwards to help customers. In other cases customers were making unreasonable requests (in my opinion). My major concern is the 30/90 day warranty. I feel that customer service is good enough that Magellan will honor the warranty should the unit fail within 90 days and the customer can show proof of original purchase from an approved retailer (not eBay). Devices like this either fail within the first few days or never at all.

Neck Strap

The eXplorist 500LE comes with a hole for a neck strap but no neck strap is provided. I guess their legal department was worried about customers falling out of trees and hanging themselves.

eXplorist 500LE Versus eXplorist XL

The eXplorist XL is a larger version of the eXplorist 500LE. The hardware is completely different but operational use and software are identical. The eXplorist XL has a much larger screen and is more expensive. Get latest prices here. For hiking and tourist use I prefer the eXplorist 500LE because it is smaller and fits in my pants pocket. For applications requiring screen use more than an arms length away, such as mounted on a bicycle, I prefer the eXplorist XL because the screen is larger. The eXplorist XL uses four AA batteries, making it heavier and it feels more rugged. Both have passed the drop test.

Summary

I recommend the eXplorist 500LE as a low cost navigation device. Although only maps for the United States were reviewed, I wish I had had the eXplorist 500LE with European maps when I was in London during a subway strike. It took me 3 hours to find my way back to the hotel. European streets can be very curvy and on foot local residents didn't seem to know their way around any better than most tourists. I did get to met a lot of beautiful women walking around London late at night though :-)

Questions? Comments? Suggestions?
Email LARRY

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