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Magellan Map 330 - a wolf in sheepís clothing?

In the fall of 2000, Magellan introduced a mapping GPS receiver, the MAP330. At first glance, the receiver appears to be identical to the inexpensive, non-mapping GPS 315; the same case, the same screen, just different case colour and different markings on the keys. Appearances can be deceiving. While the MAP330 has all the good features of the GPS315, it is a completely different animal with an array of new, advanced features.

 

The screen, even though physically the same size as on the GPS315, features a high-resolution display. The menu system and operation of the receiver is as simple and logical as it is with the 315. To make it even easier for new users, Magellan introduced integrated HELP. It's simply a condensed version of the user manual that's always at the fingertips. Having previous experience with the GPS315, we did not really need to use it, but it's there if you need it. Naturally, the unit comes with a printed manual as well, but we would not be surprised, if in the future, the integrated guide would completely replace the printed versions of it.

The MAP330 features 6 basic data screens. On 4 of them, the user can select the type of navigational data being displayed.

 

 

    The satellite screen: 

It's very typical for a GPS receiver. It simply shows the locations of the available satellites along with the signal strength bars for each one. There is also a battery state meter and position solution indicator (2D or 3D).

    The position screen

This is a split screen, which simultaneously shows the geographical location in two different (user-selected) grid systems and even in two different datums if so desired. Current elevation, time, date and estimated position error is also shown on this screen.

 

  Another position screen:

This screen displays geographic position and altitude in the datum and format selected as primary. It also displays the time, date and estimated position error (EPE). When stationary, the receiver goes into auto averaging mode. That mode increases accuracy of recorded waypoints. It is greatly improved over the similar one featured by the GPS315. It does not kick in until the unit is REALLY stationary. 

User can toggle between the position screens, by hitting left or right arrow key on the cursor pad.

    Additional information featured on this screen includes a trip odometer and two additional fields that can be selected by the user from: Bearing, Distance, Speed, Heading VMG (Velocity Made Good), CTS (Course To Steer), ETA (Estimated Time of Arrival), XTE (Cross Track Error), Turn (left or right to target), Elevation, Time and Date.

 

    Navigation screen with large characters:

This screen displays the name of the GoTo waypoint (waypoint the unit is currently navigating to) as well as four data fields that can be user-selected from the same list as above. The combination of a hi-resolution screen and large data fields makes this screen easily readable in most any conditions.

 

    Compass screen.

This screen features a display of the GoTo waypoint, four user selectable data fields and a compass rose. The compass rose is NOT a magnetic compass display. It is oriented, based on the motion of the receiver. A small icon indicates the direction to the GoTo waypoint. As with the GPS315, it also shows the direction of the Moon and the Sun, so it gives the user convenient reference points for rough orientation without the need to use a magnetic compass if they are visible.  Note that "rough" is the key word here. GPS Nuts strongly recommend that a magnetic compass should always be carried in situations where the accuracy of the off-road navigation is of any importance.

    Map Screen.

Depending on the user selection, besides the map / plotter, this screen can also display two data fields of choice or the "street info" that includes the name of the street or road currently travelled and the name of the approaching street / road. The map can be zoomed in and out at will and the cursor can be moved all over the map. The screen redraw rate is the fastest we have seen thus far! Using the rocking pad, the cursor can be moved in eight directions. In the originally released firmware version, it was hard to get the cursor moving in the diagonal directions. The updated firmware version greatly improved that.  Initial movement is slow and allows for precise repositioning. If the pad is depressed for more than half a second or so, the cursor starts to move faster, causing the map to scroll rapidly. A really nice touch! When the cursor is placed over a map feature, the name of that feature is displayed.

The user, along with the option to display or hide the waypoints and the track plot, can set various levels of visible map detail. The unit can also be set to use gray fill for water or for land display.

The basemap the unit is supplied with features a very basic world map, a bit more detailed map of Canada, a relatively good road map of Mexico, and a fairly detailed map of the USA. The USA map covers major roads and highways, national parks, towns and cities, railroads as well as nice shoreline and water detail. The base map occupies 8 Megabytes of the flash memory. This means that it can be updated / replaced at a later time.  We can only speculate that Magellan plans to improve the base maps for the outside of the USA. 

Another 8 Megabytes of flash memory is available for uploading additional detailed mapping information. At the time of the review, the user can upload only maps from MapSend Streets CD. The MapSend Streets contains detailed street level maps of the entire USA.

 

 

A number of additional information screens and customisation options can be accessed from within the menu. The selection includes searchable databases of user waypoints, world cities and towns, highways, airports, waterways and national parks. With the maps uploaded from the optional Map Send Streets CD, local streets, roads, waterways and parks can also be accessed and even the street addresses can be searched! Any of the entries found in the database can be displayed on the map and the unit can be set to navigate to it.

 

        Other information that can be displayed by the unit includes a calculation of the times of Sun and Moon rise, for any date and location, moon phases, and "best times to fish or hunt". The fish / hunt calculator is based on the solunar tables. We just wish that Magellan would rename them into something like "animal activity", because that's what the solunar tables really try to predict. Such estimates may be of use not only to hunters and anglers, but also to wildlife photographers, bird watchers and generally anybody who wants to know when the animals are (typically) most active.

 

        One of the unique features of the Magellan MAP330 is the method used to name waypoints and making associated comment entries. In all of the units we have used so far, in order to name a waypoint, one had to scroll through the entire list of the alphabet, number and symbol characters to enter every single character. The M330 displays the entire character set on the screen and one just needs to highlight a character and press ENTER in order to select it. Capital letters can be entered using the SHIFT soft key. Short of a touch screen, this is by far the most elegant and efficient solution we have seen in a piece of electronics featuring a limited number of keys.

 

All in all, the Map 330 appeared to be a unit well suited for road and street navigation. When used under normal conditions, with a relatively clear view of the sky, it was locking very fast and tracking very well. We haven't done any long term scientific experiments to establish its accuracy, however, it very reliably was returning to an earlier marked waypoint to within 15 meters (yards). It was also regularly finding a previously surveyed point to within 10 meters. A mere 20 minutes of averaging was consistently giving the results that were better than 5 meters. In fact, fairly frequently, the results were in the range of 2-3 meters and better than 2 meters for the averaged positions. Still, all these numbers shall not be treated as a guarantee that the receiver will always perform like that. Due to a number of receiver independent factors, errors can still, occasionally, be as large as 20 - 30 meters or larger, so the numbers you see here are just an approximation of our experiences in open terrain. Still, the numbers were as good and sometimes even better than what we have experienced so far with other receivers.

 

With the detailed street maps, address finding feature and high-resolution relatively large screen, the Map330 appeared to be born for city / road navigation in the USA. In fact, the Map330's performance, waterproof casing, back-lighted keys, small size, and conservative battery usage gave us an impression that the unit is more than adequate for that purpose. Regardless of the unavailability of topographic maps (see Note) , the receiver itself gave us an impression that it would do very well in the great outdoors, so we took it there. We took our units into the woods and swamps of Ontario and Maryland. Again, we did no scientific tests. We just looked at it the way an average hiker / backpacker / wildlife photographer would look at it. Well, maybe a little bit more than that. After all, we are GPS Nuts, so we always had with us at least one more receiver of a different brand that could serve as benchmark.

 

During our journeys in the wild, the receiver spent most of the time in the jacket's breast pocket and only occasionally was taken out to take the readings. With body shielding half of the sky and forest canopy seriously attenuating the rest of the signals, this is definitely not the ideal place for a GPS receiver to be. On the other hand, it's a very convenient place to keep the receiver. One could expect that tracking from the pocket, when walking in the woods, the receiver would be frequently loosing the position lock and would be very susceptible to DOP and multipath errors. The recorded track should have a number of gaps in the record and it should be jagged. To our surprise, after downloading and analysing the tracks, we could hardly find any examples of such problems! The tracks had very few interruptions in the record (loss of lock) and if there were any errors that would put the track record to the side of the actual path, they were so small that they were not apparent. Frequently, the record from the Map330 was noticeably better and never worse than the record (taken at the same time) from the control receiver.

 

Because of a lack of survey markers in the woods, when checking for the actual accuracy in marking the position, we had to be content with checking it against previously marked and, sometimes, averaged waypoints. As expected, there was some degradation when the forest canopy interfered with the satellite signal reception. Still, the typical error was only sometimes larger by 10 meters or so as compared to the errors in the open terrain. There was no noticeable impact on the averaged positions. In fact, our estimates may be conservative. The positions averaged by the Map330 under heavy tree cover were always less than 10 meters off the postprocessed positions acquired at the same time with the DeLorme Earthmate. Once again, the Map 330 performed at least as well if not better than the control receivers used.

 

One of the toughest challenges for a GPS receiver is to provide the user with accurate information as to the present direction of travel. It's normally not a problem when the receiver moves at higher speeds, but at slow walking speeds, the compass rose (remember it's not really a compass) can go wild and be totally unusable. It is caused by the fact that the direction of the travel has to be calculated from the change of the position. If there is no significant change over time, over-filtering used in the position solution can lead to the unit indicating that it is stationary. On the other hand, under-filtering can result in the position solution error change having significant impact on the direction of travel calculation.

 

Sounds convoluted? Just take our word for it. Unless your receiver has a built-in magnetic compass, at slow walking speeds the compass rose displayed is usually next to useless. That is, unless you have the Map330! As we mentioned before, Magellan receivers display on the compass rose the relative positions of the Moon and the Sun, so it's possible to get rough bearings when the Moon or Sun are visible. What is really different with the Map330 (as compared to all other units we used so far) is that the designers fine-tuned the filtering enough to provide usable readings even at very slow walking speeds. In our tests, the Map330 never failed to show a fairly accurate course after just a few steps and it quickly adjusted it after changing the direction of travel. Even considering the fact that itís next to impossible to walk in a straight line in the woods, the course information given by the receiver was accurate enough that it made using a magnetic compass virtually unnecessary.

 

Nothing is ever perfect:

When we first started to use Map330 receivers, they were using firmware revision V1.05 Shortly after that, Magellan offered through their website a few revisions to the firmware and to the base map. As we are writing this review, the current firmware version is 1.34 and the basemap is version 1.03

The firmware updates, especially, provided some significant improvements in the Map330's functionality. We can only hope that Magellan will continue to provide further improvements to the unit and rectify the few shortcomings that we did not like about the receivers.

  1. The ON / OFF switch is used for backlight control. A short push turns the unit ON or OFF. A longer push cycles the backlight through ON dim / ON brighter / OFF . A number of times we managed to turn the unit off when attempting to turn on the backlight. It is really annoying, especially when done in the dark! It would be much more convenient if the short pushes were controlling the backlight and a longer push was required to turn the unit OFF.
  2. Detail and accuracy of the Canadian basemap is actually a step back as compared to earlier offerings from Magellan. It has virtually no impact on usability of the unit in the wild, where proper topographic maps are the best. Still, we would like to humbly suggest that even incorporating the freely available vector data from the DCW (Digital Chart of the World) would greatly improve the current base map of Canada and would result in the unit being much more appealing to the Canadians who like to use their receivers on the roads.
  3. The receiver is WAAS capable. At this time, Magellan decided not to enable this capability, since WAAS is still officially at the developmental stage. We would like to see the option to use or not to use WAAS left to the user.  (see note 2)
  4. Track record would be more useful if the timestamp and altitude record was retained and downloadable.  (see note 2)
  5. Ability to save more than one track record and an option to record the track at fixed (user selectable) time intervals would be a very welcomed addition. 

During our tests, we successfully used the units not only with Magellan's MapSend Streets software, but also with such programs as: OziExplorer, TTQV2, Microsoft Streets and Trips and Delorme Street Atlas. You can find links to some of these programs in our Favourites and Canadian Digest sections. The only incompatibility we came across was that the icons used by the programs did not match the icons used by the receivers. In each case, the interface worked fine within each program's inherent limitations - for example Streets and Trips allow only for real time tracking. OziExplorer and TTQV2 allowed for uploading of all the data except for the maps itself.

All in all, in our opinion the Magellan Map330 is a receiver worth serious consideration by outdoorsman and city slickers alike. Itís a wolf in sheepís clothing.

For the marine oriented users, the newly released Map330M may be of more interest. In addition to having all of the features of the Map330, the "M" model also includes a database of NavAids, marinas, and obstructions like wrecks and rocks.

GPS Nuts

April 21, 2001

 

Note 1:

 Only a few days after publishing the review, we learned that USA topographic maps for the Map330 will become available in June. See the press release here.

 

Note 2: (June 18, 2001)

 Since the release of software v1.56,  #3 and #4 are no longer a problem. Free software upgrade available from http://www.magellangps.com/downloads/software_upgrades.htm provides these and more!

For more information and opinions about the Map 330, try http://joe.mehaffey.com/mag-330.htm

For the official spec sheets, firmware updates and product manuals check Magellan's website www.magellangps.com

Magellan 330 user forum can be found at: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/m330/

 

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