Garmin's Colorado 400t



July 23, 2008
Article Update #3
(Current as of Colorado Firmware Version 2.60)

By: Sam Penrod

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Overview

There has been a lot of buzz since word got out about Garmin's new handheld series the: Colorado.  The Colorado was officially announced on January 4, 2008 by Garmin and was debuted at the CES show in Las Vegas the next week.  After the release of the new Oregon 400t touchscreen unit in July 2008, online dealers are currently selling the Colorado for around $500.  Check discount prices here. The Colorado 300 is the same unit, but without the preloaded TOPO maps.  You can load Garmin's TOPO 2008 software into the 300, although you are limited to the amount of map segments you can load.  (The exact number has not been released)  This article includes my initial thoughts about the Garmin Colorado handheld from a month of use in January/February 2008.  I have updated fixes made in software updates to reflect what the Colorado is currently capable of.   At the bottom of the page, in the summary, I discuss the Colorado vs. the new Oregon, and some of the concerns that Colorado users have had about technical support of this expensive handheld unit.

I like the size and look of the Colorado.  It is in between the 60CSx and the VistaHCx in physical size, yet it has a bigger screen.  It looks like a blackberry or cell phone and does not look out of place with other handheld electronic devices.

                                                                 



    
                                                        
                                                                                                                                        
                                                               
The TOPO maps with the terrain shading capability, are incredible in my opinion.    Take a look at three images of varying zoom levels.

                                                                           

Like other new Garmin products I have had in the past, there are issues which usually after a few months are all fixed through software updates.  I had expected the Colorado would pick up where the great features stopped in the 60CSx, and just add to it, but some critical options in my opinion are missing in the Colorado.  
  While there are similiarities to the 60CSx and VistaHCx, I have to keep telling myself it is an entirely different unit and many previous Garmin customers with a 60CSx have been disappointed.  Garmintold me in January that they would be issuing new software updates on average every two weeks for the next few months for the Colorado.  The updates have been very few, and slow, in coming so far.  From no updates, to beta versions, which were available for more than three months, Garmin finally posted 2.60 on July 20, 2008 with some extensive changes, and seems to have fixed the critical bugs.  There still seems to be a lot to, do to get this unit in the same range as the 60CSx series.  If you have a Colorado or plan to get one, the first thing you should do is make sure you run the WebUpdater available from garmin.com to make sure your Colorado has the latest software, which will eliminate many issues your unit may have shipped with.  (Garmin now has you plug in your unit to your computer during online registration and will automatically update your software at that time.)

The Colorado behaves like the newer Garmin automotive units, such as the nuvi, when you connect it to a computer.  It automatically switches into Mass Storage Device mode.  You can still send maps, waypoints, tracks, and routes from MapSource.   As of software version 2.51 Beta, the Colorado now offers support with Garmin's Spanner, and running this software and changing the interface in the system settings will allow you to plug it into the computer and use nRoute or other NMEA type programs.   You will then be prompted whether you want to go into mass storage mode, which is required to send/receive tracks in Garmin's MapSource.

  

The basic Trip and Waypoint software is included in the package.  
I should note that while the Colorado 400t is preloaded with US TOPO 2008, no software disk for TOPO 2008  is included in the box.   I will say the terrain shading TOPO maps look spectacular on the screen.  It really makes a huge difference, from the traditional flat view, especially in mountain terrain.    I have also loaded in CityNavigator NT maps and one nice feature is the ability to select both CityNavigator and TOPO 2008 at the same time.   What it does is give you the street (CityNav) maps but also gives you the terrain shading (from the TOPO) at the same time.  See below for an example.



My biggest frustration is the lack of ability to pan the map around and then have data such as lat/long, altitude, distance, etc. visible on the screen.  You can pan the map and hit enter for that data, but you cannot pan the map, when selecting a waypoint or POI.  You have to scroll it from where ever you are to where you want to see, which is very time consuming if it is far away from your current location.  



Pleasant Surprises

1.  I was pleasantly surprised with the Rock and Roller control function.   From the photos, it looked awkward to me, however I really like it.  You really can operate the Colorado with just one hand and even though I am right handed, it is easy to use with my left hand too.  The user interface is different, but has similarities to the 60CSx and VistaHCx series, so it is easy to figure your way around after a few minutes.  Here are two screen examples.

           

2.  The high sensitive receiver (which is Garmin made and not a Sirfstar) seems to work fairly well.   Some users have discussed in the forums, that they have encountered drifting issues and some have even reported the so-called odometer problem, of failing to record speeds below 2.0 miles per hour, which the VistaHCx has struggled with.  Overall I have found good reception both outside and inside.   There are a couple of bugs involving the need to AutoLocate the receiver, after moving some distance with the unit off, or having the unit fail to get a satellite lock.  Garmin Tech Support claims they are aware of these issues and the engineers are working on a fix.  The temporary fix I have found is to turn it off and back on again.

3.  When in Automotive mode, the street and highway maps while driving, have that 3-D style look similar to a Garmin nuvi or StreetPilot automotive unit.  I had not expected this, but it looks good.   It is a higher angle than the StreetPilots and Nuvi, but much better than the 2-D flat look.  See below for example along with active route screens.

                                               

4.  While I have lost interest in Geocaching the last couple of years, the Colorado has renewed my interest.  The Geocaching mode is very helpful if you are a premium member of Geocaching.com, because you can get the cache information, including the last few logs and the hint automatically loaded into to your Colorado.  If you don't subscribe, you still get difficulty and terrain information.  You can also sort it by either the actual cache name, or waypoint name, ie: "GC8Y90P" style name.   The geocaches are stored separately from your waypoints, which keeps them from cluttering your waypoints, something I like as well.   The ability to be able to send or receive a waypoint or track wirelessley in the field between two Colorado's, is a great feature whether you are caching with friends or meet new friends out on the trail.   The Whereigo feature is intriguing and I look forward to trying it out.  
Garmin has fixed some issues with the Geocaching and many geocachers report on the forums they are very happy with these improvements and hopefully more are on the way.  When you register your Colorado at garmin.com, you are eligible for a 30- free premium membership to geocaching.com.  The following images show geocaching and the far right is a WhereIgo image.

                                               
 Cache Description, with recent logs                        You can see the cache hint                                    An image from WhereIgo feature


5.  In the trip computer you can change one of the data fields to 'Air Temperature.'  This is a nice idea of having a built in thermometer, however if you are holding it in your hand, it will dramatically raise the reading.  My experience has been that the thermometer is not close to being accurate, in fact Garmin has eliminated this feature in the new Oregon series.



6.   I was able to load in some digital pictures and use the Colorado as a picture viewer.  You can zoom in and pan the photo around to fit the screen how you want it.  Overall the photos do look pretty good.  This is a shot of my old Garmin V, and the TOPO look is the background image while in Recreational Mode, however you can customize between several background images.



7.   While it can take a few seconds to draw maps, because of all of the map detail, including the terrain shading, I was initially worried the processor was too slow.  However, I am now of the opinion it is very fast, as I have calculated routes in the automotive mode with City Navigator maps.  An average route of one hour is calculated in one second!   The Colorado calculates auto routes faster than any other Garmin I have ever seen.   And it recalcuates routes, instantly.

8.   The Colorado supports NMEA capability.  I had not expected this at all, as it is not listed in the specs.  
But there is absolutely no information how this works and how you can interface it for marine or APRS ham radio use.  Also there is a bug involving the USB to serial cable which Garmin sells.   If your batteries are not full strength, even with three bars showing, the unit shuts down when you plug in the Garmin cable.   Apparently there is an issue involving the unit thinking the cable should power the unit and I have spoken to Garmin Tech Support about this.  I have successfully got the NMEA to work with APRS for amateur radio.  What I did was buy Garmin's USB to serial cable, and a serial cable to mini plug from Blue Hills Innovations online store.  (You have to use a null modem adapter to connect the two cables)  The Colorado sent the location data to the radio and also received waypoints from the radio. Again the battery issue with this, means you are constantly changing batteries and hopefully Garmin can work this problem out.  What Garmin has still not fixed is the ability to delete waypoints by symbols, which makes it difficult to keep your waypoints from filling up from APRS stations coming in.

Unwelcome Surprises

1.  The Colorado goes through batteries much faster than older Garmin units.  My experience has been the Nimh are the best, as you will be changing batteries more frequently.  I use Lithiums when going hiking, because they will last the longest.   If you want to use external power, you must either buy the cables listed as official accessories and sold by Garmin or set the unit to be in 'spanner' mode in the system interface.  This will allow older Garmin USB power cables I have, that work with the 60CSx and Vista HCx to power your Colorado.   I did go for the Colorado auto kit which includes the cable and a suction cup mount, which from my experience works very well.   Some early Colorado units apparently were faulty and had battery issues.  If you are getting less than eight hours of battery use, then you should contact Garmin Tech Support and see if they will exchange your unit.



Backlight adjust screen indicating battery strength and GPS signal.  Backlight is adjusted using the Rock and Roller wheel.

2.  The Colorado's screen is very dark if you are not holding it in the sunlight and requires the backlight on to use it indoors or outside when it is cloudy.  This seems to be the result of the higher resolution screen.  
When the batteries get below half capacity, the backlight seems to dim dramatically, even if you have it turned on full.  The backlight level has to be set each time.  

3.  I like the fact there are five different user profiles, including Recreational, Geocaching, Automotive, Marine and Fitness.  You can also create your own. Garmin as of 2.60 has now fixed an issue with the profiles.  Your settings change as you change the profile, but does stay the same on common settings such as Time zone and others which you should be able to adjust just once for all profiles.

4.  The ability to save a track to the data card, like in the 60CSx is a favorite feature of mine, primarily it helps when geocoding digital photos.  It is a much different system in the Colorado, where it appears that when you archive tracks, it saves them as a file.  Apparently the unit will automatically archive your current tracklog when you approach 10,000 tracklog points.  You can store up to 20- saved tracks.  I tried sending some older tracks to the unit and as of now, you can only view the entire track on the screen and cannot pan the map around to see a specific leg of the track.  This is frustrating to me and I think the track feature still needs some major work.  The tracklog system is much better in the new Oregon series and Garmin would be wise to update the Colorado to the same tracklog system.

5.  The manual is too brief and would be a great 'quick guide.'  Some information is so brief that it's hard to know what the Colorado is actually capable of.  Even with my extensive use of previous Garmin models, I have spent a lot of time guessing and experimenting with simple items that should be documented somewhere, even if it is online.  Here is a link to garmin.com for a .pdf file of the manual.

6.   Garmin has fixed an issue with a slow startup, when you power on the Colorado.  It takes now takes about 20-25 seconds to get to the satellite page.   The Colorado does seem to be acquiring satellites during this time however, as I usually already have a satellite fix by the time the startup mode is finished.


7.   I would say I was disappointed that the Colorado is missing some of the freedom of being able to customize it like you can with the 60CSx and Vista HCx.  Primarily involving more control over what you see on the map page, instead of very general options.  

8.   The worldwide shaded relief basemap is great, for North and South America.  Even though there is shaded relief for the entire world, I was very disappointed to see that outside of the America's, there is no information available.  For example, you can't even see big cities like London or Paris on the map.  It's is limited to a much lower quality of shading with border lines.  That is all you can see, it does not even list the names of countries!  

9.   No ability to control tones.  Either off or on.   This includes key tones as well as routing tones all controlled by a single tone control.  Garmin has separated the tones for the alarm.

10.  The 3-D view quality is not the quality I had hoped for.  It is pretty good on a wide scale, but if you try to zoom in, the graphic look appears more like a video game from the 1980's. (see far right image)  Again I think the terrain shading in 2-D mode looks great!  Four examples of 3-D views are below, the two on the left with City Navigator Street maps, the two on the right show a canyon area, the far right image is overzoomed.

                        

                 

11.    There is no welcome message capability, to add your name or phone number on the screen.  There is also no night time capability, to reverse the screen color when it is dark.

12.   There does not appear to be any ability to average a waypoint, something that has been standard in Garmin handhelds going back at least to the Garmin V.  Hopefully this will be added in the future.

Other Observations

Waypoint Icons
There are a few new icons in the Colorado, primarily several hunting related ones, similar to what there is in the latest version of MapSource.  However the ability to use Custom waypoint symbols is not an option, in fact the Colorado does not appear to be compatible with Garmin's image program "xImage" meaning no custom waypoints can be installed.  I did discover that if you press and hold the right handed 'soft'  key for a few seconds, it will save the current screen shot.  You can then access this bitmap image by connecting the Colorado to your computer and finding it in a folder called 'scrn.'



Built in Maps
The Colorado 400t has built in maps and the version is listed as: US TOPO 2008 maps.  It is a file that is about 2.7GB which is loaded on the unit.   I also loaded in National Parks 24K maps and it is really incredible to see, especially with the shaded relief.  The higher detail maps seem to be why, which shows us the Colorado is capable of good things.

                                   

National Parks 24K detail with shaded terrain                    Routable Trail capability with National Parks 24 K Mapping

Memory Maps
I put a 2GB SD card into the unit and it appears to be fine with CityNavigator NT maps for all of North America and Garmin's 24K National Parks for the west as well as WorldMap.   I also have loaded some other Garmin mapping programs which are all discontinued, including US Topo, Roads and Recreation and Metroguide USA and they all seem to work just fine, although there is no terrain shading or 3-D views available with these legacy products.

Proximity Points
No such thing as proximity alerts in the Colorado, as far as using Waypoints.  Custom POI's now support proximity capability, such as speed alerts.

Satellite Page
The satellite page shows the GPS generated elevation right on the screen and updates on the screen.  You do not have to select the menu to see GPS elevation as you do in the 60CSx or VistaHCx.

Compass Page
It is similar to the 60CSx and Vista HCx.  To turn the compass on or off, you must go to Setup, then select 'heading' and switch compass between 'auto' and 'off.'  You have to hold it level for a correct reading and if properly calibrated, the unit will indicate 'hold level' if it is not getting a good reading.



Pressure Trend Recording
This feature involves the built in altimeter, which was present in the 60CS and VistaC and then was removed from the 60CSx and VistaCx and HCx models.  It's back in the Colorado.  The alarm clock has also returned.

Hunt/Fish and Sunrise/Sunset
Here are screen images for the hunting and fishing page and sunrise and sunset page

               


Summary

After owning a Colorado for six months, I can say I am 'satisified' with the way it is working after the release of 2.60.  But I am not thrilled, as in my opinion more could be done to get this unit working even better.  Colorado owners have had to endure few software updates for the first six months, to get this unit working they way they want it to.  Some Colorado owners have been disenfranchised with the announcement of the new Oregon series, which is the younger brother of the Colorado with a touchscreen interface.  The release of the Oregon was a well kept secret and units were on the streets within two weeks of the announcement.  What troubles many Colorado users, is that it seems that Garmin has been focused in on the Oregon, instead of fixing the Colorado first.  Garmin can probably win some forgiveness, if they will maintain the Colorado with the same software features as the Oregon, except when it comes to hardware limitations.  Some Colorado users feel they have been the beta testers for a unit, that after six months, is already not the 'latest and greatest' anymore.   We can only hope Garmin will keep making revisions, improvements and adjustments to the Colorado firmware.  In the meantime, we will have to wonder why they didn't get more things right with the Colorado in the first place, especially when they have been selling it for a premium price.  Garmin has a mini site up for the Colorado, which is a colorful advertisement for it.  You can find a link here and the official Garmin Colorado page where you can see all of the specs is here.
  There is a webpage out there compiled by those on the Groundspeak forum which is keeping a running list (it keeps getting longer) of problems and issues with the Colorado, that you may want to consult if you are wondering what issues others have found.  Here is a link.

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