DeLorme Earthmate GPS PN-20
The DeLorme PN-20 represents a new breed of GPS devices. I’ve been waiting a long time for a GPS device to show me not only a map with my current position, but show my position on aerial photography and satellite imagery. Think of this new type of GPS as having Google Earth, GPS enabled, in your pocket.
Opening the box, here is what comes with the PN-20. The device itself is nice and small, weighing just over five ounces. If you were to compare the size to the 60CSx you will find it is a similar size. It is a little thicker, not quite as tall, and about the same width. It is very light making it easy to travel with.
You also get a USB cable, two AA batteries, a lanyard, printed user manual, and a copy of Topo USA version 6.0. Inside the Topo USA product is a coupon good for 400 sq. km of aerial data packets (ADP) which is where the aerial photography and satellite imagery comes from. The lanyard is too short to allow you to use the device when wearing the lanyard.
The outer skin of the PN-20 is a rubberized material which makes the device easy to handle and waterproof. I sunk my PN-20 for about ten minutes then opened the battery case and found no evidence of any water getting in. The buttons are tall enough and stiff enough that they can be used with a medium weight set of gloves.
Inside the battery compartment is a secret slot where the SD card goes in. In my tests the battery compartment is quite waterproof as advertised and I didn’t have any trouble after submerging my PN-20 in water.
Upon starting up the device the first thing I noticed was that the screen is very bright. The screen is a similar overall size to that of other handheld GPS devices with a resolution of 176×220 pixels. I didn’t have any trouble viewing the display in bright sunlight conditions.
After turning on the DeLorme PN20 the initial fix took only about ninety seconds. Subsequent signal acquisitions have taken only a few seconds. Not too bad at all for a 12 channel receiver (STMicroelectronics) although you won’t likely get any fix indoors. The receiver is WAAS enabled. Like normal satellite views the height of the bar indicates the relative strength of the signal from that satellite. The color of the bars will change based on other information from the satellite. If the bar is red, information from that satellite is being received, but not yet used. Green means that satellite is being tracked and data is being used. Blue means the satellite is being tracked, data is being used, and WAAS correction information is being received from that satellite. You can also disable the GPS reception to save on battery life while setting up your trip on the device.
The map page is where all of the action happens on this GPS. You can choose if you want to view Aerial Photography, USGS Topo maps, DeLorme Topo maps, or Satellite imagery. There is also a base map which displays major roads of the entire world. (Nice!) You can also pick which order you would like to layer the maps if your highest priority type of map is not available in the current view.
Being able to view a variety of map types can be extremely helpful in a number of situations and I’ve been waiting for this type of GPS product for a long time. Lots of information can be interpreted from aerial photography and satellite imagery that you could not get from a simple topo.
However, there were a couple of small disappointments in the implementation. First, the interface was slow. Switching between map types was slow. Zooming and panning was slow. Overall it just seemed like the PN-20 could have used a faster processor to process the data. My second disappointment (but one that I was expecting) is that the aerial photography isn’t quite as good in many areas as other data sources. For example in my area the aerial photography used by Google Maps and Google Earth is much more detailed (and in color) than the data currently available from DeLorme. My third disappointment was that I did manage to lock up the device a few times while working with the map display. Sometimes I was panning the map, sometimes switching from one layer to another, and sometimes when just paging to the map display.
Update: I just saw the following from DeLorme regarding the quality of the aerial imagery:
By the way, we plan to offer for sale downloads of much more recent and high-res imagery for about 20 states soon. Details will be communicated here and in the Netlink tab. Oftentimes the free ADPs will be good enough for what you need but we do want to get better imagery out for sale to those who want it.
Despite those shortcomings, I’m still really excited about map views on this GPS. After-all just a couple of months ago there were no GPS products on the market like this one.
Update 2: I’ve also written an article about how/why aerial images are useful on a GPS including one real-world story with PN-20 maps and another story where I wish I had them.
Topo USA 6.0
The Topo USA software is where you will setup everything on your computer and then transfer the data to the PN-20. For example I’m planning a mountain snowshoe hike soon so I went into TOPO USA and downloaded the Aerial Data Packets for the surrounding area. I also plotted a few important waypoints (such as the trailhead location). I saved the package and then transferred the maps and waypoints to the GPS. There is also a geocache along the way so I downloaded the file (.loc and GPX both work) from the geocaching site and loaded it into the device as well. Paperless caching…. yum.
You can transfer your data to either the internal storage (75 MB) or onto an SD card (up to 2 Gb). I highly recommend the SD card option for two reasons. The first is that the transfer goes much faster when copying onto an SD card than it does into the internal memory, especially with larger maps. The second reason is that you will likely run out of room in the internal memory fairly quickly.
Another handy feature for my snowshoe hike was the elevation profile. Is the route I’ve picked up the mountain realistic in the winter? An elevation profile gave me my answer and provided me with a preview of how difficult certain sections of the hike would be.
One disappointment is that Topo USA can create three types of routes, direct routes, trail routes, and road routes. Only direct routes and road routes are currently supported on the PN-20 so the trail route I created for my snowshoe trip was converted into a direct route. DeLorme has told me that they hope to address this issue in the future.
On another note, I’ve had no trouble using the DeLorme PN-20 and Topo USA on my Mac via Parallels. Everything runs very smooth and I never encountered any issues running everything from my Mac.
I really like the “find” function. When traveling to new areas the PN-20 can be used as a great travel guide. For example on a recent trip out of state I clicked the find button, asked it to show ‘Natural Features’, and then selected ‘Geologic Formation’ for the category. A list of nearby POIs matching that query displayed and I found some interesting new spots to navigate to.
There are tons of other features worthy of being mentioned. You can store up to 10 tracklogs with 10,000 points each. I tested this out by watching just how many circles I ran around in while trying to find a geocache the other day. Tracks can be recorded by distance or by time. There is also a screen which shows sunrise, sunset, moonrise, moonset, and the stage of the moon. I’ve used this type of information frequently in the past to figure out if I can make it to a certain destination by sunset. There is also a tides page which will show a nice graph of the tide times and heights for locations nearest you. I’ll certainly use that while kayaking in the ocean this summer.
Update: A few people have asked about certain fields or pieces of data to see if they are available. Here is a list of the data/fields you can view:
Back on Course, Battery Life, bearing, Coordinates:primary, Coordinates:secondary, Course, Distance to Finish, Distance to Next Stop, Distance to Next Turn, Elevation, Elevation Max, Elevation Min, ETA at Finish, ETA at Next Turn, ETA at Next Stop, Finish, GPS Accuracy, GPS Status, Heading, Moonrise/Moonset, Next Stop, Next Turn, Next Turn Arrow, Odometer, Speed, Speed:average, Speed:maximum, Speed:Moving Average, Sunrise/Sunset, Time/Date, Time to Finish, Time to Moonrise/set, Time to Next Stop, Time to Next Turn, Time to Sunrise/set, Trip:Odometer, Trip:Time Moving, Trip: Time Stopped, Trip:Time Total, Velocity Made Good, Vertical Speed.
You can customize which of those fields you would like displayed on various screens.
Price and Options
The PN-20 comes in a few different configurations. There is the standard configuration as I’ve described for $379. There is also a “Power Travel Kit” which includes a rechargeable lithium ion battery for $410. I highly recommend this option instead of constantly replacing AA batteries. You can also charge that battery from the USB cable attached to your computer.
And finally there is the “Deluxe” bundle for $450 which includes the lithium ion battery as well as an SD card reader and 1 GB SD card. If you don’t have an SD card and reader already I highly recommend this option because as noted above the map transfer speed directly to the internal memory on the PN-20 can be slow.
Overall, this is a fantastic device and it leads the way in a new breed of GPS devices which can display aerial photography and satellite imagery. For people who have dreamed about having a Google Earth type product in a handheld device…. this is it. My biggest complaint about the device is that the map display can be sluggish, but the type of activities where this device will be most commonly used (hiking, geocaching, biking, kayaking, etc) are not “fast” activities themselves and thus the interface speed won’t likely interfere with your activities much.
Lots of people often ask me “what do you do with all of the GPS devices after you’ve tested them?” Some I purchase and then sell, some are on loan from the manufacturer and get sent back, and some I purchase and keep. I’m keeping my Earthmate PN-20… you can’t have it.
Video: A Maine news organization recently ran a story on the PN20, you can view the video where they take it geocaching.