Garmin Monterra outdoor GPS pictures and hands-on

Some will see the Garmin Monterra as a life saver, whereas others will look at it as a redundant, overpriced brick that's clamouring for relevance in the smartphone era. But the Monterra isn't a smartphone, nor is it trying to be: this is a top-spec outdoor GPS device with a specific, niche audience in mind.

Such polar viewpoints - and we admit we're on the fence between the two - are all about experience and demands. Trying to find your friend-of-a-friend's party on a Friday night using Google Maps and a data connection is one thing, but trying to find the friendliest descent from a rocky hilltop using Garmin's built-in mapping are two different tasks. A smartphone isn't going to be particularly adept at the latter whereas the Monterra's complex maps - including a 3D MapMerge facility to overlay multiple map formats - is far more cut out for the job and doesn't, indeed cannot, utilise a mobile data connection as there's no 4/3/2G.

 

What throws the Monterra into a state of confusion - by reading of its specs, anyway - is that it runs Google's Android operating system. A huge portion of smart devices do too, and so the Monterra almost accidentally throws itself in among the masses. But this isn't a smart device in the usual sense, so it's hard to judge it under the same unbrella and yet, in the same breath, it's impossible not to. The Android interface does bring familiarity and, importantly, access to certain apps worth forking out some extra cash on like, as Garmin cites, PeakFinder - so it certainly makes sense in the context.

In the hand the Monterra's 4-inch transflective LCD screen looks, quite frankly, horrid by today's standards. It's low resolution and we had a hot pixel after just one day of use. But it's a transflective screen designed for use outdoors and while reflections are apparent they don't disrupt the visuals - it's still possible to see the screen. Low power consumption also comes to mind - the Monterra's screen is the product of a "safety first" approach if you will - and there are both day and night options which reverse black backgrounds and white text depending on the option selected.

Touch-wise the screen is responsive enough to all the swiping, double taps, two-finger pinches and usual Android gestures. However navigating the built-in maps application is glitchy: screens are often left hanging, while zooming in/out using the plus/minus buttons on the screen can suddenly ping your position away - we found ourselves resurfacing over to the Kara Sea a number of times for no apparent reason.

 

But the Monterra has a whole lot of mapping on board, with 1:100,000 scale European maps on the version delivered to Pocket-lint's offices. The US spec version will come with 1:100,000 TOPO US maps with Navteq roads, while we believe other purchase territories will provide alternative relevant map coverage. All models come with global Basemap which marks out oceans, rivers, lakes, principal cities, major highways and country/state borders and it's possible to add on additional mapping as required.

New to the Monterra is 3D MapMerge which allows two maps to converge - sources such as TOPO, Basemap or BirdsEye Satellite Imagery - and be viewed in a three-quarter 3D point of view where terrain is also shown in three dimensions to give a heightened sense of relief. Add altitude markings, points of interest, terrain types and there's little else that can compete with this level of detail.

But given the Monterra's £599 asking price (it's $699 in the US) we'd expect no less. If anything we might expect more, like a whole globe's worth of mapping.

 

Elsewhere the chunky Monterra is IPX7 waterproof rated, includes a rechargeable li-ion battery and can facilitate AA batteries for those emergency back-ups. There's dual-band GPS for signal in even the trickiest of places, GLONASS when GPS won't cut it, Ant+ to sync up with other devices, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi to plug into available networks and download apps/maps/info - don't forget the full Google Play Store is at your fingertips, so whether browsing using Chrome browser or playing Solitaire, it's all here - an 8MP camera, three-axis compass and altimeter. There's even a barometer and the built-in radio can plug into FM frequency as well as NOAA for weather-related broadcasts and alerts. Phew, pretty exhaustive then.

The Garmin Monterra sure ain't pretty - but then it'll be a life saver for some. Assuming, of course, they have very deep pockets.



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