Thursday, January 28, 2010

Garmin's Oregon 550


Garmin's latest handheld GPS receiver, is the new and improved Oregon 550 series. It picks up where the Oregon 200, 300 and 400 left off, adding a built in 3.2 megapixel camera, with automatic geocoding of where the photo is taken, a three axis compass, giving accurate readings regardless of how the unit is held and what Garmin says is improved visibility with the touchscreen. The 550 and 550t model, which adds preloaded 100k topo maps of the United States, also benefits from the firmware improvements made to the original Oregon units. In addition to the camera and three axis electronic compass, the 550 has a barometric altimeter, and the ability to share wirelessly between other compatible Garmin units. The 550 lists for $499 and the 550t for $599. Check discount prices here.

The Oregon 550 comes in a similar package as the previous Oregon models. It does however, include an NiMH battery charger (does not rapid charge) which will charge four batteries at a time. However, the package only includes two rechargable batteries. The 550 also supports operation with lithium or alkaline AA's. There is a very brief quick start guide and the owner's manual comes on a CD-ROM. However, it is a manual for all of the Oregon models, 200 through the 550t. It is not as detailed about the features as I would have liked.

First, the Oregon 550 has the same recent feature updates in the Oregon series. Waypoint averaging, waypoint edit, Sight-n-Go and even the ability to custom name a map file, with the .img extension is available. As of November 2009, Garmin released its Garmin Custom Maps, which adds incredible versatility to the unit. In December, a beta update introduced dashboards to the compass, map, elevation pages, adding even more ability to customize the Oregon. We suggest you check the Garmin WebUpdater on regular basis for these updates. I am focusing on the camera, geotagging, touchscreen and compass, since these are the main changes in this unit.

This is the main menu page, with my
own custom photo added for the
background image.

The camera is 3.2 megapixel and the images it captures are much better than I expected. (I had feared nothing more than a cell phone type camera) You have the option of setting the resolution to 3.2MP, 2MP or 1 megapixel, which will vary the file size of the image. For the 2 megapixel images, they average about a 500 KB file. For 3.2, expect about a 750 KB file per image. The camera seems to do pretty well, even for up close photos, however there is no macro function available.