Garmin Dakota 20 Waterproof Hiking GPS Review

Garmin Dakota 20 Waterproof Hiking GPS
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After losing a Garmin etrex vista hCX which I loved, I decided to go with the Dakota 20 (D20). I will be comparing the two in the review.
Maps and Storage:
The D20 comes loaded with a basemap, which has most major highways, but no streets. So for your purpose, you can choose City Navigator (required for auto navigation to work), or Topo 2008 (shows mountain countours & most lakes). Luckily, I had both Topo and City Nav on my computer.

Since the D20 comes with 850mb of internal memory, it's enough for self selected regions in Topo 2008 and/or Inland Lakes map, but not for City Nav. I put in a 4gb microSDHC card, which handled the 1.2gb .IMG file of the city navigator map. What might trouble some is that the D20 does not come with Mapsource(a great program for making custom maps, and upload trails and routes) or any kind of software. The hCX comes bundled with Mapsource. Although if you purchase the City Navigator, it comes with Mapsource.
When combining multiple maps onto the device, the D20 is much more convenient as you simply add the .IMG files (must have different file names) into the Garmin folder. D20 will automatically detect the maps and enable them. In the hCX, you had to merge all of the .IMG files into one or use seperate microSD cards, which was a toll. The D20 stores the saved tracks individually as .GPX files, whereas the hcx clumps all the trails into one file(named by date).
Auto Navigation:
I didn't find much info about Auto Navigation for the D20 before purchased, so I wasn't sure what to expect. After trying it a few times, it's definitely a step up from the hCX. There's an Automobile mode for navigation, where the map is tilted so you can see the turn coming from farther ahead. The directions text is noticeably smaller on the D20, which might be hard for some to read, but luckily you can adjust the text size of the directions. You can also customize what information you want to see (i.e-distance to destination, odometer, etc.). The D20 gives almost the same beep as the hCX when turns are approaching(no voice of course). The D20 navigation overall is more pleasing to the eye.
Battery Life:
The hCX wins on battery life 25 hrs vs 20 hours on the D20. There is a battery save mode on the D20 that definitely improves battery life. How it works is the screen will turn off in about 15 idle seconds to save power, and you simply touch the screen to see again. On D20's regular battery mode, I noticed the battery drains very quickly -definitely less than 20 hours. Recharcheable NiMH AA batteries are a must since you'll be going through them quickly. I use Sanyo Eneloop and Rayovac Hybrid. Be sure to change the Battery type under Setup>System to get the correct battery meter.
This has been the biggest complain by some, but I found the visibility/brightness on the D20 to be suitable for most types of lighting, including in the sun and in the dark. You can adjust the backlight (although brighter means less battery life). I'll admit it can be harder to see in certain angles of sunlight, but this hasn't been a problem during auto nav or regular use. The hCX is slightly brighter, but it's not a significant difference.
During initial use, the satelites weren't detected on the D20. I had to walk outside before the Satelites could lock on. The D20 has three modes for Satellite: Normal, WAAS, and Demo. I've had the most accurate luck with WAAS as i'm assuming it's using the new satelite technology. On the D20 i've gotten accuracy as close as 10 ft, whereas on the hCX 20ft was usually the closest it would ever get. In general though, the satelite signal on the D20 is about the same as the hCX.
GPS Interface:
This is where the D20 far outshines the hCX. You navigate through all of the menus by touch. This is such a relief from using hCX's mini joystick and side buttons. What's nice about the D20 is you can move the map around by sliding your finger on it, whereas on the hCX joystick you have to sluggishly go at an angle. The D20 works much faster in operation. For example, it refreshes the maps considerably faster than the hCX. This equals less headaches when trying to pinpoint a location.
The layout on the D20 is very straight forward. The main menu contains all of the icons (Map, Where to, Track Manager, Setup, etc.) and you can scroll through all of the features by the arrows on the bottom corners. The hCX has a higher learning curve as you have to manipulate multiple buttons to get somewhere.
GPS Use:
I use the D20 for fitness activities: kayaking, jogging, cycling, and hiking. I can easily plot my map with distance and tracks(breadcrumb trails) onto websites that map .GPX files(Mapmyfitness, Motionbased). I use it too, of course, for auto navigation. The hCX is capable of doing all these things as well, but its not nearly as modern and simple as the D20. Resetting the track took me a few minutes to figure out, but it's simply Setup>Reset>Reset Trip Data. You have to use this command right before you go jogging, biking, rowing, etc. -otherwise your new track will mix in with the prior/current track. It'd be nice to have shortcuts on the D20, but no biggie.
Profiles and Customizing:
A nice feature on the D20 is the ability to create profiles. I have a profile for driving, and one for exercising. It keeps the settings and maps you want selected automatically saved into the profile (i.e- City Nav for auto, Topo for exercising). You can also rearrange or get rid of buttons in the main menu, specifically for each profile. This is extremely useful in having all the features you need in one or two screens. With the hCX, you can customize the features, although it is not nearly as simple to rearrange as the D20. The hCX does not have profiles.
While it was quite unfortunate I dropped the hCX in the lake, the D20 has proven to be a suitable upgrade and replacement. The D20 and hCX both have their strengths and weaknesses, but i'm definitely enjoying the experience of the user friendly D20. I have yet to determine it's true ruggedness, but will post updates if anything else should be mentioned.

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Outdoor navigation meets touchscreen simplicity in Dakota 20. This rugged, palm-sized navigator combines touchscreen navigation, high-sensitivity GPS with HotFix satellite prediction, barometric altimeter, 3-axis electronic compass and microSD card slot in one affordable, power-packed punch.

Touchscreen navigation for the great outdoors.
Touch and Go Dakota 20 makes outdoor navigation effortless with a tough, sunlight-readable, 2.6 inch color touchscreen display. The interface is easy to use, so you'll spend more time enjoying the outdoors and less time searching for information. Both durable and waterproof, Dakota 20 is built to withstand the elements: bumps, dust, dirt and water are no match for this rugged navigator.
Get Your Bearings Dakota 20 has a built-in 3-axis electronic compass, which shows your heading even when you're standing still or not holding the device level. Its barometric altimeter tracks changes in pressure to pinpoint your precise altitude, and you can even use it to plot barometric pressure over time, which can help you keep an eye on changing weather conditions. And with its high-sensitivity, WAAS-enabled GPS receiver with HotFix satellite prediction, Dakota 20 locates your position quickly and precisely and maintains its GPS location even in heavy cover and deep canyons.
Find Fun Get into paperless geocaching with Dakota 20 by quickly downloading up to 2,000 caches, with information such as location, terrain, difficulty, hints and description--no more paper print outs and manually entered coordinates. Visit our geocaching pages for more information.
Explore the Terrain Dakota 20 comes with built-in worldwide basemap, so you can navigate anywhere with ease. Adding more maps is easy with Garmin's wide array of detailed topographic, marine and road maps, available on microSD card.
Share Wirelessly With Dakota 20 you can share your waypoints, tracks, routes and geocaches wirelessly with other compatible Dakota, Foretrex, Oregon and Colorado users. Now you can send your favorite route or geocache location to a friend easily. Just touch "send" to transfer your information to similar devices.
What's in the Box Dakota 20, Lanyard, USB cable, Owner's manual on disk, Quick start manual

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