Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Satmap Active 10 Review

As I've now had this piece of kit a while I thought it might be useful for some of you looking at possibly getting your palms on one of these to read what I (or in fact anyone) objectively feel about it by scribing some words for a kind of review. I've also included a couple of tips that I've come across to get the best out of the Satmap.

When I attempted to walk up A' Chailleach and Carn Sgulain in thick snow we found it pretty heavy going both from a perspective of being overly soft and from a navigational point of view as reference points such as streams and the like are all draped in white. In thick snow it's hard to gauge distances. As I wrote in my post on that walk, the day was getting on and stood on the plateau on the approach to the first summit I had little clue how far it was to the top so called in a day and headed for home.

Once home I thought how having a handheld device could have pinpointed where we were at that time and how far from the top we'd been! With this revelation in mind I started the research trail. There are so many different devices to choose from but with a bit of help of one of the boys at trailblazer in Pickering my attention turned to the Satmap active 10.

At around £270 it is by no means the cheapest piece of kit even less so when you consider the costs of the maps that you have to buy in addition to the unit itself (but are comparable to the Garmin equivalents). But, that said the mapping is incredible and it's clear on a large screen that doesn't leave you squinting like you've just emerged from a very deep cave after a winters worth of hibernation in order for you to get all the info you need. The maps are Ordnance Survey in either 1:25k or 1:50k (although there is a vast difference in price) so are easy to peruse for anyone literate within the mapping world. The buttons and joystick are easy to use with or without gloves on and it seems pretty waterproof (it's fine in heavy rain although I've not taken the liberty of taking it for a dip as yet.

Planning walking routes is as easy as 1,2,3 as well. Simply a case if scroll with the joystick and enter. No need of planning the waypoints on the pc and uploading them as you must with some devices.

There are a couple of drawbacks with the Satmap however. There have reportedly been a number of problems with the software in this unit which has caused it to crash and it can't be restarted until the batteries are disconnected. On a walk this would be virtually impossible due to how fiddly this task would be. This naturally means you have to take a map as well but that said I would never consider heading out tooled up with a map of the area and compass to go with. I will add though at this point that I never suffered this software shortcoming and no doubt it has now been rectified with the software updates which you download from their site and upload straight onto the Satmap.

Problem number two is the battery life when used with AA batteries. It is pretty rubbish and if you're actively using the unit for navigation (which is what you buy it for of course) then the batteries die quicker than a fleeting grouse amidst a Sunday shoot. I did contact Satmap directly regarding this issue requesting advice at the time on more than one occasion, no response whatsoever which is exceptionally annoying. There are settings that you can tweak to reduce the drain on the batteries. By updating you position every 3 seconds rather than every second the batteries are a lot more resilient with regards to the power drain so too are they if you set the screen to turn off after 15 seconds say (although be careful not to set the Satmap to turn itself off). This does make things better although I still feel it leaves you with a disappointing battery life. You can buy a separate rechargeable battery pack (for around £50) that you fit permanently in place of the AA battery housing which probably adds around an extra 50% to the battery life. This does have the obvious bonus of getting rid of the necessary expense of buying batteries too. There can be charged by USB, conventional plug or cigarette lighter which is a good touch and does give you versatility if you're camping allowing you to charge in your car.

Sadly I haven't got anything to compare this against otherwise I could make justified comparisons lacking that I've just got to make a judgment on my experience and the experience of waiting for it to find a signal which, at the outset, was quite tedious. There is a knack to this though and you need to have the Satmap Active showing the satellite screen and hold it vertical so that the top is pointing to the sky. This works a treat and you can see the Satmap registering satellites in no time.

Despite the above annoyances this is a versatile handheld OS map which incredibly easy to use with regard to route planning, locating your position and monitoring and saving your walk details.

So after all that waffle I think it's awesome for day walks but is really only half the piece of kit without the extra battery pack. It would therefore not be much use for an extended trip unless you were only planning to use it occasionally to pinpoint your position in this case though it seems a bit pointless burdening yourself with the extra weight. I would only ever consider the Satmap to work in conjunction with our old fashioned map and compass and never to replace them.

+ easy to use without need for computer
+ good battery life (when used with separate battery pack)
+ OS map format
+ screen size

- really poor battery life (when used without extra battery pack)
- expensive extra maps
- aftercare from Satmap themselves is totally non existent

All told I think this is a great piece of kit although the lack of after sales care is a bit frustrating. It is fairly easy to operate on the whole however so there will for sure be someone out there that could throw you a lifeline I'm sure if you really needed one.


Sophie Easterbrook said...

Interesting review. I used this on my jogle and found the batteries lasted just about two days walking - less if I used it regularly...I have bought the rechargeable battery pack also but have yet to try it.
I had a problem with the unit on my hike and Satmap were great - they immediately sent a demo unit to me to replace mine while they repaired it (I later realised I'd mixed up old and new batteries which could have been the problem - oops!) so it's disappointing to hear they let you down with customer service.
Great blog!

The Weekend Dude said...

Cheers Sophie,

Knowing what I know now I think I may have had the settings wrong ie screen on for too long after use etc. so these battery issues I speak of may actually be down to user error (ie me). It does seem to be much better now though with the rechargeable battery pack. Sounds odd but possibly the temperatures I was in didn't help, I know from history that batteries (like some people I know) don't like the cold?!? Pleased that I am an isolated case with regards to the customer services too, it would be a shame for a cracking piece of kit like this to be marred by poor aftersales.

Ray Wilkes said...

As of late 2013 I have found after sales care superb. A rechargeable battery lasts an full day and can be recharged overnight. If camping you would need a solar charger.
Map prices are now much cheaper. Very useful device for hiking. Manual could be better

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