Garmin’s new Montana series of GPS units will mostly appeal to adventurous mountain bikers who want a tough, versatile navigation device. For most cyclists, it’s probably too bulky to sit well on a handlebar, but its functions and features hint at Garmin’s thinking on outdoor GPS devices, and some of this might come to their cycling devices down the track.
We got a brief hands-on look at the Montana at Garmin's GPS Experience press camp in Austria, but we didn't have time to get seriously to grips with all its functions. Its most impressive feature is its large touchscreen. At 272 by 480 pixels this is big enough that – on first impressions at least – it's actually usable for serious navigation. We've found the Edge 800, by comparison, needs to be combined with paper maps or a pre-planned route to be really useful off-road because you just can't see enough of the map at one go.
Not only is the Montana's screen big by outdoor device standards, but it's dual orientation: turn it sideways and you get a portrait view of your map. That's handy if you're facing your direction of travel and want to see the terrain along your route. Like Garmin’s Edge 800 and Oregon GPS units the Montana has a resistive touchscreen so it works with gloves.
Speaking of terrain, Garmin have been working on new maps to go with the Montana, including routable off-road options. That addresses another weakness of previous devices – that you could head out on a bearing but the unit had no idea where the trails were or how they connected up. According to Garmin outdoor and sports product manager Andy Silver, the plan is that these maps will eventually differentiate between bridleways and footpaths for UK riding.
Garmin intend the Montana 650 for a wide variety of applications and so have included a kitchen sink of features. It’s waterproof to IPX7 standard, has a built-in compass and worldwide elevation data, and includes connections for marine instrumentation, as well as mounts for car and off-road motorbike use. It'll generate spoken turn-by-turn directions if it’s on a powered mount in a vehicle or via headphones.
A complaint sometimes levelled at standard GPS units is that their battery life – typically 16 hours of continuous use – isn’t long enough. The Montana includes a lithium ion battery pack, but will also run on three AA batteries for a claimed extra 22 hours' battery life.
Our first impression is that at about three times the size of the Edge 800 – 13.7 x 7.4 x 3.3cm (5.4 x 2.9 x 1.3in) – and weighing 275g/9.7oz, the Montana isn’t going to be sitting on many bike handlebars, even though it has ANT+ compatibility so it will pick up cadence and heart rate data. But we can see a baby version somewhere in size between the Edge 800 and the Montana being perfect for mountain biking and road bike touring, especially if it ran on standard alkaline batteries, freeing you from the need to find a power point every day or two.
The Montana comes in three models: the 600 with worldwide basemap, 650 with worldwide basemap and five megapixel camera, and 650t with worldwide basemap, 100k Euro Topo mapping and 5MP camera. UK RRPs are £429.99, £499.99 and £549.99, respectively. A bundle will also be available containing Ordnance Survey GB Discoverer 1:50,000 mapping for the whole country.