Magellan 315 Review
The Magellan 315, released in 1999, is definitely NOT a toy. Despite its small size, our testing proved the 315 to be a very powerful GPS unit, with many features for its price range (<$150 USD). It also has the option of allowing the user to purchase a computer connection cable (≈$40 USD) and a CD ROM (≈$40 USD) that contains about half a million Points of Interest (POI) that can be uploaded to the receiver.
Going into the review process, we were aware of some of the complaints from the sci.geo.satellite-nav newsgroup about previous Magellan units such as the 2000XL, 3000XL, 4000XL series. These dealt with problems such as:
1) In order to connect the computer cable to the receiver, you had to take out the batteries.
2) When the batteries went dead, you only had a limited time to replace them before losing all of your stored data.
3) There was almost no 3rd party software that was compatible.
4) Lack of sufficient coordinate systems and datums available.
After using the 315 for a couple of months, it becomes obvious that Magellan has addressed all of these problems it had control over.
1) The computer cable now connects with a four point plug that screws into the back of the receiver forming a secure connection. It is above the battery compartment.
2) A Lithium backup battery is now used that will give 10 years of data backup, regardless of the AA battery status.
3) The mapping programs SA 6.0 (via a patch), OziExplorer, and Fugawi (except for track uploads) are compatible with the 315. We were not able to personally confirm the compatibility with Topo 2.0, or any other software offerings.
4) There are now 12 different Coordinate Systems and 77 Map Datums to choose from.
The Magellan GPS 315, 315A and 320 are physically identical units. They share not only the case, but also all the innards, therefore this review is equally applicable to all these units.
Including the antenna, the case measures mere case measures a mere 6.0 X 2.0 X 1.3 inches (158 X 50 X 33 millimeters) and it’s appearance is dominated by a high resolution (104 X 160), 4 gray shades display. When fitted with 2 AA batteries it tips the scale at 7 oz. (199 gram).
The lanyard attaches to an eyelet on the screw that secures battery cover. The cover incorporates a rubber gasket design to keep water out of the compartment.
There was at least one report on the sci.geo.satellite-nav, that the cover was distorted thus not sealing properly. At first glance, after tightening the cover screw, there is a visible gap between a raised portion of the unit's body and the top side of the cover. Closer examination revealed that the visible gap was not in the sealing surface area.
The units examined by us seemed to have properly sealing covers. Being a GPS Nut and hoping that Magellan would forgive him if anything went wrong, Andrew decided to give the 315 some swimming lessons. After five minutes in the swimming pool, the battery compartment did not have a single drop of water in it. After that, the “lesson” was repeated with the battery cover not tightened. The unit still floated, even with the flooded battery compartment. It floated in the upright position, with the antenna sticking out, so it was no surprise that it maintained a good satellite lock.
Magellan states that the unit is equipped with a 10 year lithium backup battery. Again, there was a report on the News Group from a user who lost all the waypoints and routes after replacing the main batteries. We did not have 10 years to confirm Magellan’s claim, but leaving the unit overnight with the batteries removed, did not affect anything. The memory backup was doing its job properly. However, leaving the unit for few days with the batteries removed caused the reset of the internal clock and the unit had to be re-initialized after the batteries were installed. It is possible that storing it for longer periods of time without the batteries, could cause the loss of user waypoints.
Battery life is a topic of many discussions. In this respect, the 315 can hold its own. With the sound set to alarms only (no beeping with every key) and infrequent use of the backlight, a set of two regular AA Duracells lasts from 11 to 12 hours. The “low battery” alarm is triggered surprisingly early, 2 – 3 hours before the batteries actually run down. It may be considered a nuisance by some and a benefit by others – it will depend on how far one has to walk to get a new set.
Magellan used an innovative power / data connection design. It utilises 4 contact points on the back of the unit. The connector of the external power cable attaches directly to the back of the receiver, or can be mounted to a bracket. If the bracket is
used, the unit can be simply “snapped” into it and the connection is automatically made. Magellan’s power / data cable contains a power regulator and can accept 9 – 16 VDC.
It is possible to use a home made cable, however in such a case one has to assume responsibility if anything goes wrong. Information provided by Les Nagy may be helpful in such an endeavor. A link at the end of this review will lead you to this info.
The 315 is equipped with audible alarms. The sound level may not be satisfactory to some users. It can be heard in the car, but it is not loud enough to overpower a 30 year old Johnson on a fishing boat.
The unit has no provisions for connecting an external antenna, however if one considers it a must, a reradiating antenna could be used. The built-in quadrifilar antenna, coupled with a sensitive 12 parallel channel receiver proved to be sufficient in all the situations encountered during our 2 months of testing. The units lock very fast and hold the lock with a vengeance, whether inside the car, in the house or under a forest canopy. In the rough conditions they may be switching between a 3D and 2D lock, but a complete loss of track is very uncommon.
The firmware of the originally reviewed units was Rev. 1.03. It is software upgradeable, and the upgrades are available for download from Magellan’s website.
There is little point in reviewing the features commonly encountered in the GPS receivers of various brands. What’s interesting is that the unit hosts an array of less common functions. Some of them are found only on much more expensive units and some of them are unique to the Magellan brand of GPS.
Just to list some of them:
North Finder - Sun and Moon relative positions are shown on the compass rose.
Fish and Hunt calculator - a modern version of the solunar tables which predict periods of the highest activity in the animal kingdom.
Course projection indicator - a line, displayed on the plotting screen, extending from the current position, along the current course. The length of the line is based on the current speed and time set by the user.
Average speed indicator.
Audible Anchor, Arrival, Proximity, Cross Track alarms.
Not only name, but also a comment of up to 20 characters can be attached to each waypoint.
One of the Nav. screens displays data in HUGE characters, easily readable in any conditions.
In between other info, there is a digital turn indicator. It tells the user to turn Left (or Right), by a specific number of degrees, in order to correct the heading. A real treat for mariners.
Most of the screens can be customized.
Current position can be displayed in two different coordinate systems and datums at the same time.
Waypoints can be sorted by nearest (20 is displayed in such a case) or alphabetically.
Altitude information is saved with the waypoints.
The unit can be forced to work in 2D mode, calculating the position based on user entered altitude. According to some reports, it may significantly improve the horizontal accuracy of the displayed position. Our testing also seemed to indicate that there was an increase in accuracy in 2D mode with user-entered altitude.
IV Points Of Interest
Possibly the most significant feature of the GPS 315 is it’s POI database capability. A regular 315 comes from the factory loaded with a database of cities from around the world. There is nothing uncommon in that. There are other units in the price range, which came preloaded with such a database. What sets the 315 apart from these units is that, unlike its competition, there is no need to replace the unit in order to change or update the database. The GPS 315 has an unmatched capability to be uploaded with the information from the DataSend CDs.
The CD's contain volumes of POI's (Points of Interest). We were able to test the unit with the "Americas CD". That CD contains lots of information from around the world – over 500,000 various POI’s. It has over 150,000 cities, town and villages and more than 90,000 various NavAids. More specific to North America are locations of well over 15,000 campgrounds, over 15,000 golf courses more than 5,400 marinas as well as many other POIs like tourist attractions or places to rent boats and canoes or get hooked on diving or snorkeling.
Travelers in the USA can benefit from locations of highway exit ramps, gas stations, hotels, ATM's and medical facilities. More than 37,000 restaurants and 12,000 (get rid of the red comma) car repair shops are shown. The list could go on and on. It's really amazing.
It's worth noting that NavAids cover fairly well all of the coastal waters around the world as well as the Great Lakes in North America. In fact, the NavAids coverage of the Canadian portion of the Great Lakes as well as coasts of other countries, puts to shame Garmin's and Lowrance's databases.
The uploadable POIs contain not only the location, but also complete street addresses and phone numbers (where available). The little wonder can be uploaded with nearly 20,000 of such POIs at one time.
The POIs are stored on the CD as simple database files. Just about anybody with good computer skills could customize them. I expect that pretty soon we are going to see (from Magellan or computer wizards) programs that will allow doing that easily.
V. Third party software.
Vendors recognized that Magellan is making a very strong comeback into the recreational GPS market. All of the popular mapping programs with GPS interface, currently support Magellan receivers. What’s important for the outdoor enthusiasts, scanned map programs like OziExplorer and
TTQV2 are fully compatible with it. Waypoints (with comments), Routes and Tracks can be up and downloaded without a problem. The 315 treats uploaded info as it’s own to the point that it is even possible to Backtrack an uploaded track.
VI Nothing is ever perfect.
Recently, Magellan started to offer free firmware upgrades that can be downloaded from their website. The latest firmware versions offer a number of significant improvements and some bug fixes. In our original review of the GPS 315, we submitted that there are some things that, in our opinion, should be addressed by Magellan as a priority. Our pet peeve was that the inability to zoom in or out when in the “Pan and Scan” mode seriously undermined the usefulness of that mode. It was easier to find POI information from the list than by pointing to an icon on the plotter screen. It was especially annoying when navigating on the water and trying to find info about a buoy that was in a close proximity to other NavAids, but still a couple of miles away from the current location.
We are happy to report that now it is possible to zoom in the "Pan and Scan" mode. Other improvements include user-selectable language and more importantly, the ability to record and download time and elevation information pertaining to the track plot.
We can only hope that the development will not stop and that future upgrades will lower the speed at which the unit switches to Auto Averaging mode. The current threshold is so high that at slow walking speeds, the unit thinks that it is stationary.
Another improvement we are hoping for is a distance display with better than 10 meters resolution. The 10 meter limit was acceptable at the time when Selective Availability was in effect, but now, it just places unnecessary restrictions on the users.
Less importantly, the unit would benefit from a simulation that could be started at a position of any of the POIs or waypoints.
Some of the names in the original city database are misspelled, however all of them had the spelling corrected in the database uploaded from the CD.
As with any map, there are some errors in the database. For example, the town of Dundas, ON, Canada is not shown in the correct position in the original database (thanks Les Nagy for the tip). The position of it is also wrong on the DataSend CD database.
Correcting the information in the uploadable database was easy. Surely, just like any other mapmaker, Magellan will be correcting such errors so we would like to encourage everybody to report them (to Magellan, not to us).
Although the list of POI's is impressive, for some categories they tend to cluster only around the interstate highways. If you are traveling even slightly off the beaten track, you might not be able to find some of the POI's that you need.
In the Maryland area, for example, if you look at the gas station POI list, it will very neatly map out I-95, I-83, and I-70. The southeastern half of the state, however, has zero listings for gas stations. The same is true for the following
categories: restaurants, medical facilities, hotels & lodges, auto repairs & service, and ATM machines. Since most traveling is done on or near interstates, this might not be a serious drawback for the majority of users.
VII Summary and personal, subjective opinions.
Till recently, my experience was largely limited to Lowrance units that utilize a different menu structure and interface, yet I found the 315 very handy and easy to operate. I have no hesitations to recommend this unit to anybody looking for an inexpensive, handheld receiver. In fact, the only units which I consider to be better for my needs are mapping units, but these do not fall into the inexpensive category. The 315 totally redefines what I expect from a universal, non-mapping unit. I had the pleasure of taking it on the water (into it as well), onto the roads, into the urban canyons and into the woods of Northern Ontario. It never failed to get a lock when I needed one. Other than the navigational info, it provided me with hours of enjoyment. It showed me some places in the old world that I almost forgot that existed. Yes, the Americas DataSend CD has locations of some really small and obscure towns and villages in Europe. I also must compliment Magellan on recognizing that there is more to Canada than Toronto. Aside from many golf courses, camps, tourist attractions and so on, Magellan is the first to list NavAids on the Canadian side of the Great Lakes.
When writing the original review, I wrote: On a scale of 1 to 12, I give it 10 satellites (got to leave some room for improvements;-) Many electronics become obsolete within a year or so. Revising this review in April 2001, I rate the GPS315 at 9 satellites. Not because it became
obsolete. Today, it is as current as the day it was released. I even added 1 satellite for Zoom in Pan and Scan, however I had to subtract two satellites for Magellan neglecting to lower the Auto Averaging threshold limit.
I must confess that I went into the testing with a preconceived notion that this small bundle could not deliver the level of performance that I had grown accustomed to with my Lowrance GlobalMap 100 mapping receiver. Other than the lack of maps, I was pleasantly surprised, if not stunned, at the performance level and features of the 315. Even without the DataSend CD/POI option, I feel the 315 is at least the equal of any other handheld GPS unit in its price range today. When you throw in the ability to upload 1000's of POI's for the whole world, the 315 looks very attractive. I give this little powerhouse two thumbs up!
Originally posted June 27, 1999
Revised April, 2001
Follow this links to more information about the GPS315 and DataSend
DataSend supplementary review.
Les Nagy’s information about connecting to the GPS 315.
Magellan’s website: http://www.magellangps.com/
Magellan vs. Garmin By Dale Depriest Note that the table may not reflect the latest firmware revisions.