Oregon vs iPhone

I’ve now had the occasion to truly face the Apple iPhone off against the Garmin Oregon 300 whilst Geocaching. Incidentally it is very clear that the Oregon 300 draws a lot of inspiration from the iPhone. The main menu is icon based and separated onto multiple pages just like that of the iPhone; swiping your finger across the screen will flip between menu pages.

A great feature for us writers is the iPhone-like screenshot functionality which can be enabled or disabled at will in the system settings. Quickly pressing the power-button (the only button on the Oregon 300) will then take a screenshot.

Oregon 300 main menu taken on custom grey background using screenshot functionality. Actual screen resolution is 240×400 pixels; this image shows all four pages stiched together.

Whilst pretty the Garmin Oregon 300 UI isn’t quite on a par with the iPhone but it’s easy and intuitive to use.

One of the most pronounced differences between the Oregon 300 and the iPhone 3g is the source and style of the mapping data. The Satellite photography of the iPhone 3g is extremely useful for identifying landmarks, getting your bearings and getting a feel for the area in which you are Geocaching; however, the iPhone 3g requires a data connection unless jail-broken and running map-caching software.

The Orgeon 300 gives a reasonable representation of your surroundings and is much better at telling you which direction you’re facing so that landmarks are often unnecessary. Unfortunately it does not reveal well-worn unofficial footpaths in the same way that Googles ariel photography does.

Aside from local map data the Oregon 300 also boasts a far superior signal sensitivity and is able to get a fix inside buildings where the iPhone 3g doesn’t have a chance.

And in rain? A torrential downpour will see an iPhone 3g returned to your pocket in a flash before it is sent to a watery grave. The Oregon 300 will shrug off being dropped into a meter of water and left there for half an hour: at least these are the specifics of the IPX7 waterproofing designation it has earned.

The Oregon 300 certainly does survive being submerged. I threw everything I could muster at it: leaving it in a humid environment, subjecting it to heavy showers and then giving up and just dropping it under water for a few minutes. Nothing made the slightest impression; suffice to say, it’s really easy to clean the screen on this particular gadget!

In addition to waterproofedness (I know!) the Garmin Oregon 300 boasts ruggedness and isn’t afraid to show it. If it’s not clear enough from the weight when initially handling the device then removing the battery cover will reveal the lovely, tough metal construction which can shrug off the sort of torsion, compression and shock that would trash the iPhone 3g.

Obviously nobody would expect the iPhone to face up to the Oregon 300 as a Geocacher’s best friend in these early days. The Garmin Oregon 300 strikes its final blow with paperless caching support. Garmin GPS devices are currently the only ones onto which you can download Geocache data from Geocaching.com via USB using a Mac or PC. You will, however, have to pay Geocaching.com for the privilege of sending more than just the cache name and location to your device; a premium membership is required to download cache descriptions and hints. Fortunately it is only $30/year.

There is a chance that the iPhone can make up some ground with third party Geocaching software and there are early signs that this may happen; the iPhone 3g is still a very capable Geocaching device.

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