Garmin eTrex Vista HCx, origin:

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The outstanding characteristic of the new Garmin eTrex generation is a high sensitive GPS receiver. The first review of Garmin eTrex Vista HCx already confirmed the excellent qualities of the GPS unit.

In sensitivity, accuracy and time to first fix (TTFF) the new receiver even has the same qualities as a SiRFstarIII GPS receiver.

After this first review, eTrex Vista HCx has been tested in detail while hiking, canoeing and mountainbiking. The outstanding qualities of the GPS receiver have been affirmed. In my opinion it competes with a SiRFstarIII.

Practical know-how is the focus of this review. The Vista HCx is compared to the Garmin GPSmap 60Cx, another outstanding handheld GPS receiver from Garmin.

Handling of the Vista HCx

The eTrex modells are characterized by a very compact design (4.2″ x 2.2″ x 1.2″). There is place for one in every pocket, a great plus in the outdoors. That´s one of the reason for the Vista HCx being the author´s favourite GPS receiver.

Due to the compact design the most of the buttons are found on the side. It takes getting used to operate them, but after a short it works intuitivly, even one-handed.

Mountainbiker may realize a little restriction when the GPS unit is attached at the handle bar. When riding, a GPS handheld with its operation keys on the top, offers more convenience. The keys are easier to handle in this situation.

Also, an extra key for the functions „Find“ and „“Mark“ is missing. The eTrex does fullfill these functions with pressing and holding two different keys.

Display of the eTrex Vista HCx

Compared to the GPSmap 60C series the TFT display shows two differences:

  • Because of the compact design it appears rather small (1.3″ x 1.7″), but in practice this doesn’t hinder at all.
  • A second difference is the resolution with 176×220 Pixel instead of 160×240 Pixel.

In comparison, the display of the Vista HCx appears brighter and more brilliant.

Battery Life

In practice battery life is an important criterion. Energy saver among the handheld GPS receivers may easily allow to reduce the amount of substitute batteries far from any semblance of civilsation.

Here the GPSmap 60CX was directly compared with the Vista HCx.

In the first test the Vista HCx Vista had a runnning time period of 32 hours, the 60CX only had about 20 hours.

Test terms: Handling of the equipment and even the setup were simultaneous. The tracks were recorded every minute during the whole operation time. Other tools werem´t activated, high-class batteries was inserted, tones were off, WAAS/EGNOS deactivated, illumination was off. At the Vista HCx, additionally the electronic compass has been deactivated.

In the second test on a trip over some days the Vista HCx was running about 28 hours, the 60 CX only 17 hours.

Test terms: More temporarely recorded tracks, record method: auto; interval: most often; standard alkali batteries, tones off, WAAS/EGNOS deactivated.

These results definetely favour the e Trex Vista HCx for extended outdoor use.

Recording of tracks with the Vista HCx

Logging the tracks, a particular feature of the Vista HCx (Version SW 2,30) appeared. While hiking, by comparison with the 60 CX, the eTrex marked substantially less trackpoints:

1624 entries vs 2360 entries of the 60CX ( both receivers, record method: auto; interval: most often)

This leads to a less detailed recorded track (see below; figure: blue: eTrex Vista HCx; red: GPSmap 60Cx.)

To deal with this matter, it is possible to choose another recording mode, for example to record a track every 10 meters or according to time.

track recording; Activelog; blue: eTrex Vista HCx; red: GPSmap 60CX; white: track points

Software faults of the Vista HCX

There´s a difference between the shown "Trip Odometer" in the tripcomputer compared to the actual length of track. According to Garmin, this error widely should be fixed in the SW Version 2.4.

Interfaces of the Vista HCx

The eTrex only offers an USB interface. A serial interface and an auxiliary GPS antenna connector are absent.

A serial interface would have the advantage that you can connect it to a PDA, for example. For operating the gps receiver in a camper, an external antenna terminal can be usefull. For some operations, the missing serial interfaces may be a knock-out criterion.


Even in this review, the eTrex Vista HCx shows his outstanding qualities. GPS unit, display and battery life are at its finest.

The Vista HCx can be best suited for every function of outdoor use, especially for geocaching, hiking and canoeing. It’s a handheld with all features currently available in a GPS outdoor unit.

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