By: Russ Thompson

I have recently reviewed the new Magellan Meridian Platinum from the perspective of how I use GPS in the field and the features that I like to have available. I will be comparing the use of the Meridian Platinum to Garmin’s GPSMap76, which is closely matched in price and functionality.

Layout and Menu structure
I found the Magellan menu structure to be well laid out and easy to follow, making it a snap to setup the unit to my liking. I also found the Magellan text screens easier to read than the Garmins because of the fonts used. The menu logic is very similar to the Garmin’s 76 series however the Magellan has added online help tips right in the GPS unit, which is a great idea for those of us who need a little help now and then.

The keypad on the bottom of the Magellan is well spaced and easy to operate. I liked the fact that the buttons are below the screen opposed to above as on most Garmins. I did however get a bit of a thumb cramp after a lot of keystrokes, which required me to hold the unit in one hand while operating it with the other. Having the buttons below or above the screen is really a matter of personal preference and perhaps dexterity.

The size and weight of the Magellan unit is comparable to the Garmin, however the Magellan is easier to hold onto due to the rubberized/ridged wrap around bumper, especially when wearing bulky gloves. The Magellan lacks a lanyard attachment so being able to hang onto it becomes even more important.

Screen Visibility
The Magellan screen resolution is slightly lower than the Garmin Map 76, but again the fonts used made it easy to read the data displayed on all the text-based screens. I did find the map screen to be somewhat cluttered when zoomed out in an urban areas, however it was easier to read once I figured out how to shut off most of the database waypoints. Due to screen resolution I also found it a bit difficult to differentiate between the various lines shown on the compass pointer screen. I use the map screen and the compass pointer screens all the time during navigation, and find Gamin’s view of these two screens easier to read.

Base Map
The standard Base Mapping that comes preloaded into the Magellan unit is somewhat skeletal, however Magellan’s Mapsend Canada CD, which can be uploaded to the unit, is very detailed. Finally a US based GPS producer has anted up for more detailed Canadian map content. Magellan’s MapSend Canada CD has excellent detail in many urban areas (even small towns) showing individual streets with names, I also liked how the road name text label aligns (vertically or horizontally) with the road lines on the map, making it even easier to read.

With this kind of map detail it’s too bad that Magellan hasn’t packaged the Meridian unit with auto routing software that would allow the unit to calculate turn-by-turn directions like in the Magellan’s 750 series found in some rental cars fleets, who know maybe it’s coming. In comparison Garmin’s Canada Enhanced Base Map shows only the main arteries in most cities.

MAGELLAN’S MapSend Streets & Destinations Canada (Banff Alberta)

Garmin’s MapSource: Enhanced BaseMap (Banff Alberta)

1:50,000 Spectrum Digital Imaging (SDI) Topo Map viewed in Ozi Explorer (Banff Alberta)

For trips through the backcountry Magellan’s MapSend and Gamin’s Canada Enhanced Base are comparable at showing those roads typically traveled by car, RV, or pickup. However in addition to these local roads Magellan’s MapSend data also shows many 4 X 4 trails (typically shown as dashed black lines on a 1:50:000 Topo maps). It appears that while Magellan has tried to show these trails they do not show linear features such as hydro lines, pipelines, cut lines etc. The additional roads/trails shown on the MapSend base map will be useful to anyone venturing further off the beaten path, such as hikers, mountain bikers, ATV riders, hunters etc.

As a cautionary note, while you can see the different types of roads when viewing the MapSend maps on your PC, I have found (with limited field-testing) that it is difficult to differentiate between the local roads and the 4 X 4 trails on the Meridian’s map display because (at this zoom level) the same line style is used for both. There may be a way to adjust the line styles on the Meridians Map setup but I haven’t found it yet. To address this, users could easily plot a few waypoints in MapSend and upload them to the GPS to assist with field navigation. Also for those of you that carry Topo maps it’s very easy to correlate your GPS display to the roads and trails show on the maps.

Tracking your way
When it comes to the tracking I was disappointed with the limited tracking functionality currently available on the Meridian. Basically it has one active track and no stored tracks, compared to Garmin’s active track plus 10 stored tracks. In addition the Meridian’s track interval can only be set to distance rather than time or distance as on the Garmin units.

Last of all the Meridian annoyingly connects intermittent tracks together by drawing a straight line between the tracked segments in the event of the tracking (or the GPS) being turned off and then turned back on several minutes or kilometers later. Earlier Garmin models did this as well, but newer units treat these breaks (deliberate or accidental) as separate non-connected track segments, making it easy to track different trails if so desired.

I have read several articles commenting on the benefits of how the Meridian uses every single track point when you activate a Trackback. While this sounds great, in real world you don’t always have continuous GPS tracking, nor do you always want to immediately turn around and follow you track back out. Unfortunately with the Meridian you have two choices: either immediately follow your detailed Trackback back to where you started (works great if you do exactly that), or save the Trackback to a route with maximum of 30 waypoints (this could easily blow away important track details). Also in the case of intermittent tracking the Magellan would send you off on the straight-line tangent between those segments you had actually tracked.

To give a better example let’s say that you hiked into an area and then wanted to save that day’s track before setting up camp for the night. On newer Garmin units you would select save track to file which would then prompt you to choose whether you wanted to save the entire track or just the portion since the tracking was last turned on or restarted. In either case the Garmin would then reduce your active track to a stored track with a maximum of 250 points, which you could name and save for either visual reference or actual GPS navigation. If you repeated this process for next few day hikes around your campsite you could build a detailed map of all your hikes and be able to see all of them simultaneously on your GPS map screen. Also any one of these individual saved tracks could be navigated (in either direction) regardless of where you are on the ground. This is a great way to become familiar with a new area and learn how the trails interconnect.

My disappointment with the Meridian’s tracking capabilities is based on the fact that I use stored tracks all the time when using GPS for both (pipeline routing) work and for recreational pursuits. For example when going fishing in a new area I often use Ozi Explorer and SDI Topo maps to quickly digitize a desired hike, a creek centerline, or a lake perimeter, and then load these as stored tracks into my GPS. With these tracks displayed on the GPS map screen I can see the river or lake as I travel down a logging road or hike a trail, and easily find the quickest access hence more fishing time. In addition this leaves my active track capacity available for tracking new trails I encounter along the way, which I download and save at the end of my trip.

Granted not everybody uses tracking to the extent I do, but I feel it is one of the most useful GPS features, and it’s far easier to save one complex track than it is to create several complex routes. While the saved track function is not available with the current Meridian software, there is talk of a future software upgrade from Magellan that would allows you to save entire tracks to the data card which would greatly enhance the Meridian’s tracking functionality*. I haven’t had the opportunity to fully test the many other functions of the Meridian, such as the digital compass, barometer, vertical profile etc., but as far as accuracy and all basic navigation functions go the Meridian works just great. That’s all I have for now . I hope it helpful!

Best regards,

Russ Thompson