Handheld Dilemma

So here’s the situation. This old Luddite is thinking of going medium-tech. We got ourselves totally lost last year SW of Amarillo after twisting and turning to avoid a vicious hail shaft. First time in 18 years of chasing. Total cloud cover, no horizon, no landmarks, no people around. Finally took a guess and ambled down a county road until we hit a recognizable highway. Wrong guess. We had been driving AWAY from out target town — Hereford — instead of toward it.

So this year, why not spring for a handheld GPS? I’ve been looking at the Magellan 200 and 210 models. The 210 plugs into my laptop, but I don’t really need all the geocaching features the ads keep touting.

So, question 1) How good are the maps in these handhelds? Are they down to county level? If our radio gives us a tornado or severe TS warning for, say, Custer county, can I key it in and get an instant fix, without my partner unfolding a map, flopping it about and trying to find the county in question (although we have all the counties in all the Great Plains states pre-circled for easy spotting)?

Question 2) Are there better buys? I’ve been reading Dave Drummond’s comments on the Delorme package, and the discussion about the Garmin. I’d love to have a storm system pop up on my laptop via a handheld, but at what cost?

Question 3). Yeah, costs. The Magellan would run maybe $150-200. This Delorme gizmo sounds a lot pricier (not to mention the Garmin). And how much to add adequate maps if the one supplied doesn’t give me what I need? Something better than major highways and routes, certainly, although we don’t really need street-level capability in a GPS. By the time we need that, we’re in a town, the chase is over for the day and we can always ask a cop (or look at a real map).

Any ideas or suggestions?

Signed:
Lost in the Panhandle
 
How good are the maps in these handhelds? Are they down to county level? If our radio gives us a tornado or severe TS warning for, say, Custer county, can I key it in and get an instant fix, without my partner unfolding a map, flopping it about and trying to find the county in question (although we have all the counties in all the Great Plains states pre-circled for easy spotting)?[/b]

That really depends on several things, available memory, what maps have been imported and what GPS you buy specifically.

The higher end GPS devices allow you to use memory sticks, Mini SD memory cards are becoming very popular with GPS, cell phones and MP3 players. The new SD cards offer between 1 and 5 Gig's of storage, although above 2 gig's not all devices are compatible with the cards (keep this in mind).

If you are pleased with MS Streets on a county road level (the resolution), then with 1 or 2 gigs of memory you should be able to import most of your chase area to the GPS device.

Now about keying in locations, the answer is yes and no, it really depends which model of GPS you buy and/or what you are willing to do. I would suggest the Garmin GPSMAP 60CSx, you have the ability to do searches but lets say for some reason county searches were not possible, you could create a way point marking all the counties you are interested in before hand, import the waypoints to the GPS and then when a warning is issued you just find the waypoint which is named after the county and the GPS will connect the dots for you so to speak.

Are there better buys? I’ve been reading Dave Drummond’s comments on the Delorme package, and the discussion about the Garmin. I’d love to have a storm system pop up on my laptop via a handheld, but at what cost?[/b]

Sure there are, it is cheaper in my opinion to use a low-cost handled with a laptop than an expensive handheld without a laptop. While I do have fancier GPS's for my 'expeditions' I just use a Yellow Garmin E-Trex for chasing with some rechargeable AA batteries. The batteries will last a continuous 12 to 20 hours in the GPS (bring a few spare pairs), but there are cables you can buy which will charge or supply power to the GPS when plugged into a laptop. Sometime the cable will be split, USB/Serial with a second wire that fits into your cars electric port (cigarette lighter) so it does not drain your laptop battery or in the event the serial cable provides no power to charge (which most serial cables do not).

You will always have far more flexibility using a GPS + Laptop than GPS alone, for one laptops can store more information and you can use programs such as Xport to emulate your GPS on multiple ports so that as many pieces of software as you would like can use the same GPS signal.

A cheap GPS unit + cable + some batteries = $200 <- and that is an overestimate!

The one big disadvantage is flexibility of the GPS unit, if your laptop dies you are limited with what you can do with a simple GPS compared to a more complex one but again, it is a price balancing issue. I suggest spending at least $350 - $400 for a good GPS if you intended to use it in place of a laptop, if you want something to work with a laptop more so than be a standalone unit, then bare bones is 200 or less, if you want the best price plus most flexibility go for something in the 250 - 300 range. The of course you could go all out, but an amazing handheld and still use it with your laptop, but expect to pay well lol.

Yeah, costs. The Magellan would run maybe $150-200. This Delorme gizmo sounds a lot pricier (not to mention the Garmin). And how much to add adequate maps if the one supplied doesn’t give me what I need? Something better than major highways and routes, certainly, although we don’t really need street-level capability in a GPS. By the time we need that, we’re in a town, the chase is over for the day and we can always ask a cop (or look at a real map).

Any ideas or suggestions?[/b]

Walk into a GPS dealer and start asking questions, ask what they have, tell them the resolution you need etc. Many companies (Fugawi - Garmin - Magellan) make their own maps to be imported and again that depends to a large degree on which GPS unit you buy.

Your best bet is to go into a GPS store (a real GPS store) and get as many opinions as possible and look at as many units as possible.
 
The Earthmate USB GPS receiver with the StreetAtlas 2006 software is only $100. If you have a laptop that's the cheapest way to go. I'd think a handheld also might have problems getting a signal inside a car. I usually have to put the GPS receiver on the dashboard (with a clear line-of-sight to the sky) for it to get a reliable 3d fix.

Plus, laptop-based software has tons of features and functions that you won't get with a handheld, not to mention the large color map display you get on a laptop. And no batteries to worry about.
 
If what you are wanting is to determine direction of heading and location on a paper map, just about any of the gps systems with a small screen will work for you. They will be able to store maps down to the state road level for a huge area and show your position pretty accurately (if you sit still, most will get down to within feet). That will get you back onto the paper maps if needed. The Garmin Etrex is good for that. If you decide you want to upgrade and incorporate the laptop into the equation, you can by one of the mapping programs and connect the gps to your laptop. It will show your location on a larger map. Accuracy can vary at times when you are moving, but they are pretty impressive for the price.

With my Etrex, I can type in the town name and it will find the town. I don't think it does county searches, but I haven't tried.

Getting the storm data on top of the gps data is a game i've not gotten involved in yet, but there are lots of options for solving that issue as well.
 
The DeLorme Bluelogger can run for most of the day without a power connection. With a bluetooth compatible handheld you can get all the function of a specialized handheld GPS, Street Atlas software, plus all the other functions of a palm computer for about the same or less money than a decent specialized handheld GPS. Plus you can bond the Bluelogger with a laptop mapper and download the log at the end of the day for a permanent record of your trip. There's no computer tether so you can put it anywhere on the dash, back window ledge, or use an external mag antenna for complete flexibility. It's a nice feature that it keeps going and ready to connect whether your computer is on or not.

Note: I've yet to run with it in full chase mode, but my road tests have all gone ok. FWIW.
 
The DeLorme Bluelogger can run for most of the day without a power connection. With a bluetooth compatible handheld you can get all the function of a specialized handheld GPS, Street Atlas software, plus all the other functions of a palm computer for about the same or less money than a decent specialized handheld GPS. Plus you can bond the Bluelogger with a laptop mapper and download the log at the end of the day for a permanent record of your trip. There's no computer tether so you can put it anywhere on the dash, back window ledge, or use an external mag antenna for complete flexibility. It's a nice feature that it keeps going and ready to connect whether your computer is on or not.

Note: I've yet to run with it in full chase mode, but my road tests have all gone ok. FWIW.
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Thanks for all the good info, guys. Now I have to decide whether to get the laptop involved for personal trips in my own car. The laptop seems to be the best option for storm chasing in a rental car, but then I couldn't take just the handheld with me on simple recreation jaunts. Oh well, I knew it wasn't going to be easy.
 
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