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Garmin eTrex Summit GPS receiver Review

28th September 2003

 Garmin GPS receiversReviewed by Dave Burrows


What do you get?
The Garmin eTrex Summit receiver is priced at around £170 including VAT and comes complete with an eTrex Summit Hiking Companion, a wrist strap, a user guide, and of course the Summit Receiver itself.  The summit due to it's pricing doesn't come with a PC data cable, so if you want to hook the eTrex Summit up to your PC, you will need to purchase this separately.  Garmin currently sell the PC data cable for around £25 or £45 for a USB to Serial cable, so you have to think about factoring this into the cost of the receiver, hence why it's cheaper than other receivers like the eTrex Vista we previously reviewed.  Another thing the Summit comes without is batteries.  Not a major problem, but you do get batteries free with the more expensive Garmin's.  I think this is something Garmin could have included for what batteries really cost.


The eTrex Summit as it's primarily for Hiking doesn't come with a base map of any sort, so again this is something you need to factor in if you're looking for maps.  The eTrex Summit is great from a hiking point of view, because you can create tracks and use the track back facility.  The Summit comes with no memory for map data, so you cannot load any Garmin MapSource maps onto it.  If you're looking for a handheld GPS with a map, then you will really need to look at the eTrex Vista or GPSMap76 which comes with 24mb of RAM.   Garmin's MapSource comes in various flavours, the one we have tested previously was the Europe MetroGuide which comes on a double CD and provides management software and map data for the Garmin courtesy of NavTech Maps.


The cable set used connecting the Summit to the Pocket PC was provided by PC-Mobile and comes in a number of modular pluggable cables which can be set into a number of configurations or you can by a new adapter for another Pocket PC without having to by a complete lead set.


Garmin eTrex Summit Specification
The manufacturer's specification are quoted here.


Navigation Features
- Waypoints/Icons: 500 with name and graphic symbol

- Tracks: Automatic track log; 10 saved tracks let you retrace your path in both directions

- Routes: 20 reversible routes with up to 50 waypoints

- Trip computer: Current speed, average speed, time of sunrise/sunset, resetable maximum speed, trip timer, and trip distance

- Map datums: More than 100

- Position format: Lat/Lon, UTM/UPS, Maidenhead, MGRS, Loran TDs, and other grids


Electronic compass features
- Accuracy: ±2 degrees with proper calibration (typical); ±5 degrees in extreme northern and southern latitudes
- Resolution: 1 degree

Barometric altimeter features
- Accuracy: 10 feet with proper calibration (user and/or automatic calibration)
- Resolution: 1 foot
- Range: -2,000 to 30,000 feet
- Elevation computer: Current elevation, resetable minimum and maximum elevation, ascent/descent rate, total ascent/descent, average and maximum ascent/descent rate
- Pressure: Local pressure (mbar/inches HG), 12-hour automatic pressure trend recording

GPS Performance
- Receiver: WAAS not supported, 12 parallel channel GPS receiver continuously tracks and uses up to 12 satellites to compute and update your position

Acquisition Times:
- Warm: approx. 15 seconds
- Cold: approx. 45 seconds
- AutoLocate™: approx. 5 minutes
- Update Rate: 1 second, continuous
GPS Accuracy:
- Position: 15 meters (49 feet) RMS
- Velocity: 0.1 knot RMS steady state

Dynamics: 6g's
Interfaces: RS232 with NMEA 0183, RTCM 104 DGPS data format and proprietary GARMIN
Antenna: Built-in patch

- Size: 4.4"H x 2.0"W x 1.2"D (11.2 x 5.1 x 3.0 cm)
- Weight: 5.3 ounces (150 g) with batteries
- Display: 2.1"H x 1.1"W (5.4 x 2.7 cm) high-contrast LCD with bright backlighting
- Case: Waterproof to IEC 529 IPX7 standards
- Temperature range: 5°F to 158°F (-15°C to 70°C)
- Data storage: Indefinite; no memory battery required
- Internal Memory: None

- Source: 2 AA batteries (not included)
- Battery Life: Up to 16 hours (typical use)


The Garmin eTrex Summit Receiver

The first thing you notice when you take the Summit out of the box is just how tiny it really is.  It's about the size of a regular Nokia mobile phone in height and it's very light weight!  The battery compartment is situated on the back and comprises of 2xAA batteries (not supplied).  Although you could put rechargeable NiCad or NiMh batteries in there, the Summit tends to prefer alkaline, and bear in mind that rechargeable batteries supply 2.4 volts as opposed to 3 volts.


Like a lot of the Garmin range, the Summit has a rugged waterproof case and it shows with rubber seals to keep water out of every nook and cranny.


The Summit sits nicely in the palm of your hand, and is designed so that you can operate all the buttons single handed so you can keep your other hand free, and this works well.  The display is a four level gray LCD screen with backlight.  It has a low resolution screen of 128 by 64 pixels (not has high as it's big brother the eTrex Vista).


On the back of the receiver there is the quarter turn battery locking mechanism hiding the two AA sized batteries.  Also on the back located behind a rubber gasket is the Garmin proprietary interface connector.  It is this connector that allows the Garmin to be interfaced to either a PC or more importantly your PDA.



You'll see from the photo above how small it is.  The eTrex Summit is placed in the middle of a Samsung flip clam shell mobile phone (left) and a HP iPAQ 2210 (right).


GPS Satellite Fixing
After experiencing the strength of the Garmin GPSMap76, and being spoilt for choice, we were kind of expecting the same excellence in signal strength.  One thing to note is that the antenna's on the Summit and GPSMap76 are different, the GPSMap76 sports a quad helix antenna where as the eTrex range has a patch antenna.  This does show, and performance isn't as great as Garmin's using the quad helix, but still the performance is more than acceptable compared to most GPS receivers. 


The Summit in our tests seems to receive more signal when horizontal or at a 45 degree angle, where as Garmin's with the quad helix tend to see more signal strength when held vertical, which is corroborated from views of other GPS users.


The Satellite screen shows up to 12 satellites it knows are in the sky, and shows which ones have complete ephemeris data for and which one's its currently getting this from, to the right you'll see a 4 satellite 3D fix.


The average fix I seemed to receive was around the 50 second mark, although I did have some longer fixes of around the 2 minute mark when it failed to download a complete set of ephemeris data in the allotted time period.


One thing I do like on the Garmin's, is leave them for a few minutes and they'll bleep at you and come back telling you they couldn't receive a full fix, would you like to continue ? or initiate a cold/factory fix ?, which I really do think should be something that should be added into most Pocket PC GPS Receivers, or at least the applications.  This would help diagnose TTFF problems and help people see there's a problem quicker rather than dumbly sit there waiting for a fix.


Holding a fix is just as important as getting the first fix, and the Summit was certainly able to do that, however compared to the GPSMap76, we did notice the signal bar's jumping around quite a bit whilst using the Summit for in-car use.  I think this would have been where the quad helix antenna would come in better, but adding support for this inside the Summit would increase it's size substantially.

Comparing the Summit to it's big brother the Vista, you do lack some of the extra applications that the Vista holds like a Calculator and a Calendar. 


These aren't really essential applications for a GPS, but you do see these on more and more mobile phones now a days, so you can really do without them on a handheld GPS Receiver if you do carry a mobile phone around with you.


A further welcome edition not seen in many of the lower spec Garmin's is a compass that not only works as a compass should, but to be able to tell you what direction to travel towards for your next waypoint.  This is a very neat feature, and is not tied to GPS signal, so you can quite happily use this if the Global Positioning System signals were blocked or not available for whatever reason.

Something you see on most Garmin's now a days is the barometric altimeter that gives you the distance and maximum elevation plotted to a graph.  Something that is lacking on the Summit compared to the Vista is you don't see a Sun and Moon screen which will give you sunrise, sunset, moonrise and moonset times for your current location.  You are also lacking a Hunt & Fish screen, but I always wonder how effective this screen usually is.


Summit Setup Menus

The Summit doesn't have the new Garmin Click Stick, so you have to navigate the menu's on the Summit using a page through button, and up and down selectors with an enter button. 


It's good to see everything is accessible quickly without having to wade through countless menus.


On the main setup menu you have everything you need here from setting the time formats from 12 to 24 hours, the time zone you're currently located in, any UTC offset and whether you are currently in Daylight Savings Time.


The date and time will be set when you acquire your first fix, and on future fixes as this is synchronised as part of the NMEA sentence received.  One thing that is important on gray scale screens is a contrast control, depending on whether you're in shade, or in the open bright sun, you may need to tweak contrast and the Summit like other Garmin's has a 4 level gray scale control with a backlight facility that you can set to a timeout of 15 seconds up to 2 minutes in length before the backlight will turn itself off.


As in previous Garmin's, Garmin offer a rich serial data format comprising of Garmin's own proprietary format, Garmin DGPS for Differential or WAAS data, NMEA In/NMEA Out which is the standard that most people would use when connecting to a PC or Pocket PC, Text Out, RTCM In, RTCM In/NMEA Out, RTCM In/Text Out.  This gives users of the Summit a vast amount of export options allowing for both WAAS and NMEA data transfer. 

You can also change the units that are displayed on the Summit in the Position Format and Garmin offer a large selection of Map Datum Support for nearly all Map Datum's in existence.  WGS 84 is the default selection which corresponds to World Geodetic Survey 1984 and is the most commonly used.


As Garmin have included full magnetic compass support in the Summit, you have a function to automatically switch off the compass over a particular speed.  This is handy because the Compass does use up a lot more battery power, and one thing Garmin do stipulate is to not have the Compass turned on all the time.



Connecting the Summit to a Pocket PC
This can be done very easily with a cable set supplied from PC-Mobile.  All you need to do is set the Garmin Summit interface to NMEA In/NMEA Out, and connect it up to your Pocket PC and use any GPS package set to COM1 and NMEA 4800 and you should start receiving the NMEA data stream.


This can be verified by using WinFast Navigator which is available on our downloads page, or G7To CE which is also available from our downloads page.



Strengths and Weaknesses
The unit tested is an affordable GPS system.  The receiver doesn't support WAAS or loading of Garmin's own map products. If you want something with a few more features over it's little brother the eTrex, then the Summit will probably be okay, however if you want to add support for maps, then you really should look at the eTrex Vista or GPSMap76.  Garmin and others do produce cheaper units for just over £100 which compare favourably in price to sleeve and Compact Flash GPS Receivers.  Another thing to bear in mind is that the resolution is lower than that of the eTrex Vista.





Manufacturers Website


Suppliers Website http://www.gpsw.co.uk

Pocket GPS Reviewer

Dave Burrows

Pocket GPS Reviewer Website








Overall Rating 92.5%

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