Garmin – eMap review

handheld GPS receiver - where am I?
Photo of Garmin – eMap
Basic unit: £199 + VAT. Deluxe kit £305 + VAT

There has never been a better time to buy a personal global positioning satellite (GPS) receiver for finding out where you are and where you are going. Yesteryear’s slow, inaccurate, expensive, PC-hostile and cumbersome GPS units are definitely a thing of the past. The new Garmin eMap demonstrates how good and affordable GPS has become for a wider range of users.

By a lucky co-incidence, Garmin’s latest GPS model, aimed squarely at mass-market users rather than just sailors, aviators and anglers, arrived in the UK just prior to a much welcomed initiative from the US government. Until 1st May this year, civilian access to the global GPS system had been deliberately nobbled by the US military – after all, it is their system. Through the use of a scheme called selective availability (SA), spurious inaccuracy was deliberately introduced to the network to prevent non-US military users from getting maximum accuracy from the GPS system. When SA was shut off, for good – by presidential decree, incidentally – typical civilian GPS accuracy generally improved from +/- 40-80 feet down to as little as 12 feet. Altitude accuracy, previously notoriously unreliable, is also much improved.

So what is an ‘eMap’ and how does it compare with more traditional GPS units? An eMap is a GPS unit with a basic permanent global ‘basemap’ which can be complemented by interchangeable maps uploaded from your PC. The eMap itself looks a bit like a Palm pocket computer and runs off a pair of AA batteries.

The eMap starts at around £200 and uses proprietary flash memory cartridges to store uploadable maps provided on Garmin MapSource CDROMs. These maps are also designed to work on your PC. The range of maps covers different requirements for watersports users, hikers and climbers as well as drivers and general users wishing to navigate in and between cities.

For £300, you can buy a ‘Deluxe’ bundled package which includes the eMap unit, a serial PC cable, a UK MetroGuide CDROM map set and an 8MB memory cartridge. The MetroGuide provides detail down to house numbers in streets in metropolitan areas and most towns, as well as local sites and facilities of interest. It also shows major roads and some rail lines. Only a sub-section of the UK can be stored in the memory card at a time – the greater London area occupies the whole 8MB, for example – but 16MB cards are also available, enabling you to store two or more regions in your eMap at a time.

In use, there is a Star Trek Tricorder novelty about using the eMap. It can tell you where and how high you are and be used to find and guide you to your destination by entering details like the name of a place, even the street address or conventional latitude and longitude co-ordinates. You can mark your own ‘waypoints’, create routes and copy this information to your PC for use with dozens of free, shareware and commercial applications. The eMap will work with applications like Microsoft’s AutoRoute Express, for example. Many pocket computers will also work with the eMap, given a suitable cable and software.

Company: Garmin

Contact: 01794 519944

The Garmin eMap is genuinely useful and relatively easy to use. It's not perfect - for one thing you need a good line of site view of the sky for it to work and although the MetroGuide map is pretty good, the new-found accuracy of the GPS system does expose some remarkable inaccuracies of up to 500 feet in some maps. But it has already prevented this reviewer from getting lost on several occasions and it's fun too!