Hands-on Gear Review
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Pros: Best touchscreen and interface of any GPS tested, ergonomic shape, fast map draws, programmable buttons.
Cons: Garmin GPS Map 62 series has slightly better reception, push buttons can be more reliable in cold temps.
Best Uses: Everything except very cold weather.
The Garmin Oregon 600 takes touchscreen outdoor recreation recreation GPS to the next level. This device is a huge improvement over all other existing touchscreen units we’ve tested, from all manufacturers. It’s easy to use and it feels modern, unlike most units that operate like arthritic donkeys. Garmin has also improved (over the 62, Dakota, and eTrex series) many other software and hardware components that make for easier navigation and general use. The changes offer striking advantages that make this our overall top rated GPS unit for all types of outdoor recreation.
Check out the complete Handheld GPS Review to compare all of the models tested.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
We tested the Oregon 650t but recommend the Oregon 600 because it offers the best value. The 650t comes with a preloaded 100k topo for the US, a camera and flash, and a rechargeable battery pack, but it costs $150 more than the Oregon 600. Most topo maps can be found free online, the GPS' camera isn’t as good as an iPhone camera, and the battery pack can be purchased separately for less than $30. Therefore, we believe the Oregon 600 offers the best value.
No GPS matches the quality of top smartphone screens. BUT, out of all the GPS units we’ve tested the Garmin’s 600 series offers the sharpest and most vibrant sunlight readable colors, and it has most responsive action of any GPS touchscreen we’ve tested. It blows other models from the company’s Montana, Oregon, and Dakota lines, and all of Magellan's and Rand McNally's units, out of the water. And this is VERY NICE; scrolling through lists and selecting objects is smoother and more precise than with other GPS we’ve tested. You can pinch and expand to zoom in and out, and twist two fingers to rotate, in the Map view—all excellent improvements. The greatly improved screen is the primary reason this unit receives our Editor’s Choice award over the GPSMAP 62sc, which held it previously. Watch the 2 minute video at the bottom of this page to see how the 600’s screen compares to other Garmin units.
Ease of Use
The better screen boosts ease of use significantly. So, too, does the 600 series' updated software interface, which operates more like a modern electronic device than an archaic Nintendo controller. Garmin made a special effort to simplify aesthetics and workflow with the 600 series and we greatly appreciate the efficiency improvements.
There are only two buttons and both are located on the upper right side of the device. A power button turns the unit on and off and activates a display brightness/lock screen window when pressed once while the unit it on. Beneath that lies a button that activates programmable one-touch shortcuts, a feature only currently found on the Montana series and one that helps to make up for the lack of other buttons. Change the button's functions by pressing: Settings > System > Configure Keys
The screen works with lightweight gloves on!! That’s right, your cold, wet hands can stay in their fleece/wool liner gloves while you navigate with the 600 series. This is a marvelous feature that allows you to be more comfortable when using the GPS in the low visibility, often precipitating, environments it’s most needed in.
Fit and feel
The 600 series is the first Garmin unit that fits in the palm of your hand in an ergonomic fashion. Its rounded bottom is comfortable and easy to grab and lets you activate the two buttons with your thumb, if held in the right hand, and pointer finger, if held in the left hand. Other square or odd-shaped units are harder to hold and therefore less easy to use.
The company finally took notice of smartphone designs and eliminated the absurd raised edges that it included on most of its other touchscreen models.
We found that the unit has excellent reception considering its size and weight. It’s not as good as the GPSMAP 62sc, which has a bulbous external antenna, but it performs very well for most applications. Note: no handheld recreation GPS is accurate to within more than 50 ft. If you want excellent accuracy you need to get a scientific unit (consider those from Trimble), and fiddle with differential correction, and ideally have a backpack antenna. But that setup is not practical for backcountry use. The 600 series is more than sufficiently accurate and it's much better than any smartphone GPS we've used.
The 600 series is quicker than most other devices, but it's not fast. For example, there’s a short display delay after rotating the device from a vertical to horizontal position- something that rarely happens with iPhones. Loading a 100k base map is reasonably fast —not instant. Loading multiple maps at once, such as a 100K base map and a regional 20k map is pretty slow (but still fast compared to other units). For fastest operation it's best to turn on only the maps that need.
The 600 has a tri-axial compasses that provides an accurate reading even when the device is not level. Compared to old dual-axis compasses, this is much easier to navigate while moving. (Recalibrate the compass after replacing the batteries.) Several other useful features include wireless data transfer capabilities that allow you to send waypoints, tracks, etc. to other wireless-enabled Garmin units, and a rail type mount on the back that can be fixed to optional bike, car, and boat mounts. The 600 series also comes with an excellent carabiner/belt clip).
The video below compares the Garmin Oregon 600 and the Rand McNally Foris 850.
The Oregon 600 weighs 7.4 ounces with two AA alkaline batteries. It is significantly lighter than the Garmin GPS Map 62sc, but also 2.4 ounces heavier than the eTrex 20. For most backpacking, skiing and mountaineering, where we primarily use a GPS as an emergency device, our testers often choose the lower weight model. However, for navigation intensive activities the Oregon 600's screen and power far more than make up for its additional weight.
The 600 series performs very well for most activities. The touchscreen and improved display make this unit one that you can pass off to friends and family knowing confidently that they can quickly operate its intuitive system. The unit’s ease of use increases versatility in a sense. The GPSMAP 62sc is more versatile because its push buttons and external antenna increase reliability and durability. However, we recommend the 600 for all but the most extreme outdoor applications.
Garmin offers its device users Basecamp, a simple and powerful free software tool used to plan routes and manage waypoints, tracks, and maps. Our testers found Basecamp to be user friendly and provided all of the basic tools we needed for planning trips and analyzing routes. Viewing waypoints and tracks in Google Earth was one of our favorite features (see screenshot of Google Earth in photos).
Three-season adventures of all types.
Garmin Oregon 600t : $479, adds preloaded 1:100,000 scale topo maps for the US.
Garmin Oregon 650 : $479, adds 2.3GB internal memory, 8MP camera, rechargeable battery
Garmin Oregon 650t : $549, the 650 plus preloaded 1:100,000 scale topo maps for the US.
The Oregon 600’s updated screen and interface make it a great deal. We think its “modern” features and screen are significant improvements that are worth paying for. Sure, the eTrex 20 costs half as much, but that unit’s design is already outdated and should be updated in the near future. The Oregon 600 is the best value in its series.
What's in the box
The $26 Garmin Rechargeable NiMH Battery Pack could save you some money over the long-term. Many other accessories, such as bike and car mounts, are available.
Garmin USB Cable, $15
A note about maps
Maps for most areas can be found free online. (GPS File Depot is one good source.) We've purchased and thoroughly enjoyed Garmin's 24k topo maps and recommend them over the 100k series because their detail greatly increases ease of navigation in steep mountain areas.
Oregon 600 Owner's Manual
How to plan routes with Google Earth
Garmin Custom Maps allow you to upload any map (marine chart, campus map, park map, etc.) your device.
Download Garmin’s free BaseCamp software to view and organize maps, waypoints, routes and tracks.
— Chris McNamara and Max Neale
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Most recent review: January 2, 2014
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