Tag Archives: Mapsource

Buyer Beware – Garmin UK Online Store

Over the past year or so Garmin have finally started to provide software for the Mac. One of those new pieces of software, currently in beta is BaseCamp, a tool that works with various of the Garmin topographic mapping products giving a three-dimensional view of the mapping data, similar to the view that their latest series of handheld GPS units can produce.

Amongst the mapping products I have are both Topo UK and Topo Canada, however only Topo UK was recognised by BaseCamp.

The reason turned out to be fairly straightforward, BaseCamp needs topographic data that includes Digital Elevation Model or DEM data, and whilst Topo UK includes that data, the early release of Topo Canada that I have, version 2, doesn’t include that data. Not a problem, as in the five years since I bought my copy, Garmin have updated Topo Canada to version 4, that includes the required data.

Since I’ve recently bought and registered another Garmin product, I had a discount code that offers me ten percent off products in their online store, so I took a look at their UK store, and found that they had the up to date version 4 of Topo Canada listed so I put in my order for the upgraded version.

The parcel turned up today, and opening the package, the box looked rather much like the Topo Canada packaging I already had, the computer requirements didn’t match those listed on the website – no mention of the Mac for a start – and the copyright on the box was 2004. Taking a look inside, rather than one DVD it was a four CD set, and the version number on the back of the box was version 2. Despite listing the latest software on their website, Garmin UK had sent out the same software I already had.

Not surprisingly I was not best pleased, so I gave Garmin UK a call – well three calls actually as their phone handling system cut me off mid-call twice before I got to talk to a real person. Explaining the problem , he went away and took a look and said that the only Topo Canada they had in their stock was the version 2 they had sent me.

They did try to persuade me to stick with what they had sent, but once I’d said that I already had a copy of that, and that I specifically wanted the version with the DEM data to use with BaseCamp, they said they would talk to their head office, and I’m currently waiting for a call back with their answer.

The problem of course is that although Garmin UK are currently being quite helpful, they are quite blatantly in contravention of the Sale of Goods Act in that the product their website describes – a Mac compatible version of Topo Canada – is not what they’re sending out. If they replace my copy with what I ordered or give me a refund I’ll probably leave it at that, but certainly if you’re buying map software from Garmin UK, especially if it is something pretty specialist, be aware that they are still selling off their old stock, even if it is five years old.

Back Searching the Countryside with Mapsource GB Topo

Over the past few months I’ve been thinking that I really should get some more exercise. One of the ways I tended to do that, before I worked at SSE was by Geocaching, however over my time there with the extra time I was spending travelling, plus a lot of other demands on my time our caching trips generally reverted to being on holiday only.

A couple years back I wrote about the lack of UK topographic maps from Garmin, and discussed a way around the problem. However since then, Garmin have addressed the problem with the release of Mapsource GB Topo – although subject to a number of limitations as to what the user could do with the Ordnance Survey data it contained. However it didn’t particularly help me, as it was only supported on the newer generation of eTrex units, not my first generation eTrex Vista. Anyway, since we were only really Geocaching on holiday, and Topo Canada worked fine on my old GPS, it didn’t really bother me much.

With the decision to get some more exercise, I took a look at doing some more UK Geocaching, and came across a whole raft of special offers at GPS Warehouse, including a bundle containing the latest generation eTrex Vista Cx, and a copy of GB Topo too. I couldn’t resist and put my order in. It has to be said that there was a worrying moment or two, as in the past packages from them have arrived the next day, and this one took a few days to despatch, but anyway, the new GPS arrived this week. Incidentally, if you look down the list of offers, there is quite a range, including a number of cheaper packages, however I opted for an eTrex Vista again because it includes the electronic compass. Whilst it is possible to go Geocaching with a unit without this, personally I’ve always found it is better to have a unit that correctly reads the direction in which you are facing when you are stood still – the other units, that base the direction on the direction of last movement are a bit more of a pain, especially close to the cache. However if you want a cheap and rugged GPS to get started, you can’t go wrong with the classic yellow eTrex – which you can currently pick up for £69.99 from GPS Warehouse.

Old and New eTrex Vista

Unpacking my new eTrex Vista, it was a slight case of same yet different. You can see what I mean from the picture – the new unit, although laid out in exactly the same way as the old one is somewhat shorter and fatter than the original, I suspect because the colour screen in the new unit is a more conventional shape for other devices that are using colour screens. Hardware wise, the old style serial port has been replaced with USB – a relief as my laptop doesn’t have a serial port, and the serial to USB cable I have doesn’t like Windows Vista-64. The new eTrex Vista uses exactly the same cable as my Streetpilot i2, and so is quite happy thanks to the 64-bit support from Garmin I discussed recently. Alongside this, the new unit now makes a selection of beeps during operation, including a useful proximity alarm when you get close to a Geocache. Software wise things have moved forwards. There is explicit Geocache support – back when I first started there weren’t even Geocache icons in the default set, these didn’t arrive until a later software update for the units. The unit also takes the same sized microSD memory cards that the Streetpilot i2 takes which is useful, and the software has been expanded to include a routing mode. However I wouldn’t recommend it for road navigation as it lacks the voice directions – it only beeps to tell you of a new instruction, meaning you have to look at the screen to see the next direction. In my opinion, the most important thing for a road navigation unit is good clear spoken instructions as the last thing you should be doing is to take your eyes off the road to look at a little screen – hence what you need is a good reliable unit with spoken instructions and a simple interface, hence why to some peoples surprise I opted for the black and white Streetpilot i2, rather than a more fancy unit.

Anyway, back to the new eTrex Vista. For Geocaching, my requirements are somewhat different. I’ve already mentioned the importance of the electronic compass, but with the colour screen and the topographic maps, alongside the fact that the unit is rugged and fully waterproof, coupled with the small size, it is great for a bit of caching. So this afternoon I took it out for a spin, trying a couple of local caches.

Back when I first went out caching, caches in the UK were few and far between, indeed our Queens Oak cache was the first cache to be placed in Berkshire when it was hidden back in 2001. Now when I pulled the list of the closest 100 caches to home from the site, all the caches were between the line of the M4 and M3! Whereas for a long while our closest caches were our own, just two miles away, there are now twelve caches closer to home than those.

As I had a couple of errands to run at the Church, I opted to try the Finchampstead Microcache, and Rectory Hollow caches as these were a short walk from the car park there.

Late Afternoon Finchampstead Fields

The closest was the microcache, a 35mm film canister hidden close to the path down from White Horse Lane to the village, which as implied by the description on the page, didn’t prove to be too much of a problem to find. One of the things you pick up quite quickly when caching is there are a number of common places people will hide things – indeed one of the reasons I drifted away from caching was due to the repetitive nature of a number of the caches. However it was the first time I’d actually explored this bit of Finchampstead, and I was treated to some quite stunning views across the fields in the late afternoon sun.

Next on my list was Rectory Hollow, which was a much larger box, but also had reports of issues with the co-ordinates. The cache owners had checked several times, and usually got the right co-ordinates when approaching from the north-east – the direction from which I was coming. This one was again alongside a path, but this time the path from the Church that heads down towards the Tally Ho pub and Eversley. Oddly enough, although the GB Topo included the footpath from the Church (or at least from the point where it is only a footpath rather than the access for a couple of houses on the top of the hill, the part of the path on from where it meets the Whitehorse Lane to the Village path is missing – a common problem. According to this discussion (relevant statement is about a third of the way down the fourth page) the problem is down to the quality of the data supplied by the Ordnance Survey. Apparently the vector mapping includes only those paths surveyed by the OS surveyors – paper maps and the raster mapping generated from them include right of way information licensed from local authorities that isn’t licensed here – as the vector mapping is primarily aimed at business who have more interest in urban and city areas, the vector mapping is apparently more accurate there.

Heading down to the cache site, and trying not to look suspicious to the various dog walkers I passed, I actually initially missed the cache site as the proximity alarm for the cache didn’t sound. This was because the co-ordinates placed the cache out in the middle of the adjacent field. I tried moving out from under the trees, and trying again, but the GPS was consistently placing the location in the field, necessitating a more detailed search to try and find the box. Unfortunately I’d hit the time of day when quite a few people were out walking their dogs, so that combined with the problems with the co-ordinates meant that I decided to call it a day and head back to do what I needed at the Church. I’d got the bit of exercise, which was the point anyway, even if I didn’t find both caches. I’ll head back another day when hopefully the geometry of the satellites will be such that I can get a better fix on the location.

Garmin Vista-64 Support

Updating the GPS from Mapsource on Vista-64

Although I’ve been running a 64-bit operating system on my laptop since new, one of the big annoyances is the general lack of support that hardware manufacturers have shown towards the 64-bit platform. As a result, I’ve had to keep a 32-bit install of Windows around for a number of tasks, one of the main ones being to keep my Garmin StreetPilot i2 up to date. To be honest, since it was such a pain keeping two Windows installs around, I haven’t much bothered.

However recently, my i2 announced that the maps were out of date, and directed me to the Garmin website where it offered me an update to the latest version of the maps – more than that, whereas the unit shipped with only UK coverage, the update would contain coverage of the whole of Europe, pretty useful for our summer holiday to France. By this point, I had updated the laptop to Vista-64, and to be honest I was expecting it not to work, but then I came across this post on the Garmin Blog on Vista Compatibility which claimed in the second half of February, Mapsource, and more importantly the USB drivers for the GPS units will be compatible with both 32-bit and 64-bit editions of XP and Vista. Checking the download area, this month, there were indeed drivers that said they were Vista compatible.

I dutifully downloaded both the latest Mapsource and Drivers, and installed them. Then when the update for the GPS arrived yesterday, I set that going. Here is where the hassle started, when at the relevant point in the City Navigator 9 install I plugged in the GPS, it refused to recognise the unit. I sent a support e-mail off to Garmin, and experimented some more. After reinstalling the Mapsource and USB drivers from the download, the unit was now recognised – however every time I tried to use the update on the DVD, it failed to recognise the unit again – it seems like despite the downloads being newer versions, the update DVD is overwriting the installed versions with it’s own versions – a bit of pain really. It’s not too much of a problem though, as I installed the map data onto my PC, and then did the map update manually – the process that is pictured above.

Aside from the annoyance with the install on the DVD, it seems to work pretty well flawlessly with Vista-64 – all from a single install too – none of this 64-bit/32-bit downloads. Certainly there are a number of other manufacturers of hardware who are still working on compatibility – Philips for example – who don’t support their SPC900NC camera on Vista at all currently – so it’s good to report that the Vista driver issues are starting to be fixed, particularly for those of using the 64-bit version.

UK Topo Data for Garmin GPS

After the release last year of Magellan MapSend Topo UK for Magellan GPS’s, I was keeping my fingers crossed that Garmin would strike a similar deal and produce a similar product as part of their Mapsource line for my eTrex Vista. Taking a look at the selection of countries with Topo coverage that their third-party programme had provided it was starting to get quite odd that there was no UK coverage.

For those people not aware of the situation in the UK, the government does have an agency that has a complete digital topographic map of the UK, the Ordnance Survey. Aside from the well known printed maps in 1:25000 and 1:50000 they do a variety of digital maps well above the level of detail needed for a consumer GPS. The big problem, as always comes down to money. Whilst there are quite a few products such as MemoryMap Navigator that are based on some of their raster data (although note the lack of complete 1:25000 coverage), the vector data needed for handheld GPS units is only available at a significant premium. Whereas Garmin can obtain the relevant data for the United States and Canada the official response to enquires about a UK Topo product from Garmin is that the licensing cost is too much. For a UK resident this is particularly annoying as we’ve already paid for the mapping to be done by way of our taxes!

Anyway, I recently came across talk of a page by the Scottish Mountaineering Club which was hosting a set of UK contour maps produced from the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission by another disgruntled Garmin GPS owner who wanted topographic maps for his GPS. The solution is a somewhat manual process, but the result is a contour map for the whole of the UK and Ireland that can be loaded into a Garmin GPS. I downloaded the maps this afternoon, and within about 20 minutes had them all loaded into my copy of Mapsource.

Of course there is a certain irony to the fact that whilst through my taxes I’ve paid for the Ordnance Survey to keep an accurate digital map of the UK, but I’m having to load data paid for by the US taxpayer, but available for free onto my GPS!!!

Update: It looks like the link is now long since dead. Having said that, in the intervening time, Garmin have now produced an official topographic mapping for the UK.

Update 2: There is an update of this post with the much wider selection of options now available for Garmin GPS owners here.