500LE Product Review
by Larry Leviton, AE9E
4 February 2007 Release 1
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
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
eXplorist 500 Review by Max Bramel and Magellan
Topo 3D USA Map Review by Allory Deiss.
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.
There are four main screens. The first main screen shows the number of
satellites. This picture shows that 12 satellites were
detected, which is pretty remarkable considering it was taken indoors.
A minimum of 4 satellites
needed to get accurate information.
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
the next screen shows, the two information fields at the top of the
screen are user
The Customize page screen shows some of the user selectable fields that
be shown at the top of the compass screen. This screen is displayed by
pressing the menu
The third main screen shows position information. It also displays a
trip odometer and the remaining
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).
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
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
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?
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
Street maps can be super imposed on the 3D topo map as
well as points of interest (POI) information such as hiking trails and
This is the same captured area as it appears on the eXplorist
The square box next to the letters CO shows the boundaries of the
Zooming in shows details of the ski resort
including streets, elevation levels and so many POIs that it is
hard to see them clearly.
Using the Format screen, I can tell the map screen to display more or
less detailed street information. Underneath the Format screen is the
The Display screen allows me to select which POIs I want to display.
Here I have selected only Topo Lines (elevation).
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.
This screen shows the best time to hunt or fish. 1:20 AM?
This screen shows solar information.
The LCD display consumes a lot of power. To save battery power, the LCD
can be set to power down during button inactivity. A display intensity
the left side also affects
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.
I get a number of emails praising or complaining about Magellan's
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.
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
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
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.
I recommend the eXplorist 500LE as a low cost navigation device.
Although only maps for the United States were reviewed, I wish I had
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?
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