Why you don't want to buy the Gar­min 276cx (es­pe­cial­ly if you are a moun­tain bik­er or hik­er)


Dis­claim­er:

Be­sides be­ing a pri­vate cus­tom­er, I have no re­la­tion­ship of any kind with Gar­min or their com­peti­tors. I have bought all my GPS de­vices from my own mon­ey as a pri­vate cus­tom­er from re­sellers in Ger­ma­ny, with­out tell­ing an­y­body that I even­tu­al­ly would write a re­view about the re­spec­tive de­vice.

I nev­er have had con­tact with any Gar­min (or their com­peti­tors') rep­re­sen­ta­tives, ex­cept the sup­port staff sole­ly for get­ting an­swers to some tech­ni­cal ques­tions (most­ly with­out suc­cess, but that is an­oth­er sto­ry). No­body has ev­er giv­en me mon­ey or an­oth­er ad­van­tage for pub­lish­ing or not pub­lish­ing cer­tain facts or opin­ions about a cer­tain GPS de­vice.

As I am in­de­pen­dent of Gar­min's do­na­tions, I won't par­rot the stu­pid talk à la "The leg­end is back", like al­most all oth­er blogs do to keep Gar­min do­nat­ing them de­vices for "testing" or to push their own sales.


Fore­word

Be­ing a pas­sion­ate moun­tain bik­er for more than 30 years, I am us­ing GPS de­vices since about 15 years. I al­ways have trust­ed Gar­min's de­vices, al­though their soft­ware reg­u­lar­ly up­sets users all over the world, in­clud­ing my­self. But there was just no rea­son­able al­ter­na­tive. Among oth­ers, I have used the GPSmap 60cs, 60csx (the ver­sion with the Sirf­Star III), 62s, 64s, the Mon­tana 600, the Ore­gon 600, the Ore­gon 700, and the Mon­ter­ra.

While I had to re­turn the Mon­tana 600 for var­i­ous rea­sons and the Mon­ter­ra for its crap­py soft­ware short­ly af­ter hav­ing bought them, the oth­er de­vices men­tioned above were re­li­able and work­ing as in­tend­ed, ex­cept the Ore­gon 600, which be­gan to turn off it­self (and re­fused to re­boot be­fore hav­ing wait­ed a long time) just dur­ing the hard­est, lon­gest and most dan­ger­ous ride I did so far (this hap­pened in 2016, ap­prox­i­mate­ly three years af­ter hav­ing bought it, al­though al­ways hav­ing it treat­ed with cau­tion).

De­spite the re­li­a­bil­i­ty of most of my de­vices, I have nev­er been re­al­ly hap­py with them for one sin­gle rea­son: Their screens are way too small for my type of us­age. I don't care about the weight of a de­vice, and I don't care about its de­sign. I need it when I am rid­ing 10 hours and long­er in ar­e­as which are dan­ger­ous, com­plete­ly un­known to me and (in some cas­es) with no­body around for many hours. I don't care if that 10-​hour-​ride takes 5 min­utes long­er due to the de­vice's weight. In­stead, be­sides re­li­a­bil­i­ty, the most im­por­tant prop­er­ty of a GPS de­vice for me is a big screen which a) re­al­ly can re­place a pa­per map, and b) al­lows to con­ceive as much da­ta as pos­si­ble at once.

You can imag­ine how much I was crav­ing for an out­door GPS de­vice with a big­ger screen for many years, and how ex­cit­ed I was when Gar­min's 276cx came to my at­ten­tion. While this de­vice pri­mar­i­ly is meant to be used in or on mo­tor ve­hi­cles, I could very well imag­ine it mount­ed on the han­dle­bars of my moun­tain bike.

So I or­dered it in the spring of 2018. To an­tic­i­pate the re­sults of my tests, I was near­ly cry­ing af­ter hav­ing no­ticed that Gar­min one more time has man­aged to ren­der ex­cel­lent hard­ware un­us­able by mo­ron­ic soft­ware, and that I had to re­turn the de­vice be­cause it was just not us­able for me.

In the fol­low­ing sec­tions, I will ex­plain in de­tail how the de­vice fails with my us­age sce­nar­io. Al­though I am a moun­tain bik­er, I am con­vinced that near­ly all types of users will be af­fect­ed by the flaws, es­pe­cial­ly hik­ers, but (some­what less) own­ers of mo­tor ve­hi­cles as well. No­ta­bly, the last of the is­sues men­tioned be­low will af­fect ev­ery us­er.


De­tailed de­scrip­tion of is­sues


Is­sue 1 (no or mi­nor im­pact)

Ob­vi­ous­ly, Gar­min's own bi­cy­cle watt­me­ter can't be used with the 276cx. Most of the usu­al ANT+ sen­sors can be used (e.g. heart rate, speed), but the watt­me­ter is not list­ed at the place where the sen­sors are con­fig­ured.

While this is quite in­ter­est­ing, it is no is­sue for me, be­cause I don't use a watt­me­ter any­way. But it al­ready might dis­qual­i­fy the 276cx for some of my fel­lows.


Is­sue 2 (no or mi­nor im­pact)

The stop­watch func­tions are quite crip­pled in com­par­i­son to oth­er Gar­min de­vices (for ex­am­ple, the Ore­gon). Again, this is no is­sue for me, be­cause I ac­tu­al­ly haven't used the stop­watch (af­ter hav­ing played with it a lit­tle bit at home). Oth­ers' mile­age may vary.


Is­sue 3 (mi­nor im­pact, quite ac­cept­able)

Com­pared to oth­er Gar­min de­vices, the 276cx lacks a lot of func­tions and ap­pli­ca­tions and is less con­fig­ur­able. Some will con­sid­er this an ad­van­tage, oth­ers a dis­ad­van­tage. The de­vice con­cen­trates on its core func­tions, which gen­er­al­ly is not bad. As a moun­tain bik­er, I don't need geo­caching and all the oth­er bells and whis­tles on my de­vice, so the lack of func­tions does not have an im­pact for me per se.

But at least Gar­min could have made the core func­tions more con­fig­ur­able. For ex­am­ple, the or­der in which the dif­fer­ent screens ap­pear when you switch be­tween them us­ing the hard­ware keys can­not be con­fig­ured. Al­though this is mit­i­gat­ed by the fact that there are not too many screens due to the re­duced func­tion­al­i­ty, and that switch­ing the screens is fast, pre­cise and pos­si­ble in both di­rec­tions, it is one ex­am­ple among many oth­ers.

How­ev­er, the lack of func­tions and con­fig­ura­bil­i­ty re­al­ly isn't a show stop­per for me, be­cause all im­por­tant (from my point of view) func­tions are pro­vid­ed. I didn't miss any­thing which could be es­sen­tial.


Is­sue 4 (com­plete­ly un­ac­cept­able)

This is­sue made me ex­treme­ly an­gry, be­cause it is such sil­ly and an­noy­ing, and it shows that Gar­min ei­ther does not test their de­vices while de­vel­op­ing them, or that they ab­so­lute­ly don't care about their cus­tom­ers.

The 276cx can be con­nect­ed to a WLAN. But at the place where you en­ter the WLAN pass­word (shared key), not all com­mon char­ac­ters are pro­vid­ed. While I un­der­stand that we can­not en­ter Swa­hi­li, Far­si or Chi­nese char­ac­ters here, I am re­al­ly up­set that com­mon ASCII char­ac­ters like curly braces ({}) and square brack­ets ([]) are miss­ing.

Gar­min must be bon­kers if they re­al­ly ex­pect me to change my WLAN pass­word on all of my ac­cess points and all of my cli­ent de­vices just be­cause they are too sil­ly to pro­vide a vir­tu­al key­board which con­tains the most com­mon ASCII char­ac­ters.

This is­sue on its own would have made me re­turn the de­vice, even if it hadn't had the oth­er un­ac­cept­able is­sues men­tioned be­low. Such stu­pid­i­ty is just in­ex­cus­able, and since Gar­min is well known for not re­act­ing to us­er com­plaints in any way, you can be sure that this an­noy­ing bug won't be cor­rect­ed.


Is­sue 5 (mi­nor im­pact, ac­cept­able)

At the time of this writ­ing, Gar­min claims the dis­play of the 276cx to be a "bright, sun­light read­able WVGA dis­play". May­be I am too strict here, but I con­sid­er this state­ment to be very mis­lead­ing, es­pe­cial­ly for peo­ple who have owned oth­er out­door GPS de­vices. Such peo­ple might be tricked in­to be­liev­ing that the 276cx has a trans­flec­tive dis­play.

But the op­po­site is true. Ba­si­cal­ly, the 276cx's dis­play be­haves like a smart­phone dis­play. If the back­light is turned off, it is just not read­able in bright sun­shine, and the bright­er the sun­shine, the worse the read­abil­i­ty.

How­ev­er, the back­light (and the dis­play in gen­er­al) are a mas­ter­piece. I have con­duct­ed tests with re­charge­able NiMH bat­ter­ies (low self dis­charge type, 2500 mAh). I have ful­ly charged the bat­ter­ies in a charg­ing unit, put them in­to the 276cx, turned the back­light on at max­i­mum in­ten­si­ty, and wait­ed un­til the de­vice turned off due to low bat­ter­ies.

I was ab­so­lute­ly baf­fled that I got a run­time of about 7 hours. I could not be­lieve it the first time and have re­peat­ed the test mul­ti­ple times, get­ting the same re­sult each time.

Dur­ing the test, I had turned off WLAN and Blue­tooth, but I had turned on GPS (in­clud­ing GLONASS and WAAS / EG­NOS). These con­di­tions re­flect my re­al us­age con­di­tions. While the pro­ces­sor might con­sume more pow­er dur­ing re­al us­age be­cause it moves the map over the screen or up­dates the fig­ures in the trip com­put­er while rid­ing, I don't need the back­light to be at 100%; in my tests, I could per­fect­ly read the dis­play even in the bright­est sun­shine with the back­light at 60% or 70%.

I am ex­pect­ing that the two ef­fects (CPU con­sum­ing more, dis­play con­sum­ing less pow­er) will bal­ance out more or less, so that I get a re­al run­time of 7 hours and up, which is ab­so­lute­ly ex­cel­lent for a de­vice with such a dis­play. Giv­en Gar­min's clev­er­ness in con­struct­ing the bat­tery com­part­ment (see be­low), this gives me a run­time of about 30 hours with 12 NiMH re­charge­ables, which is ab­so­lute­ly great (and, by the way, which is what I want to be pre­pared for cas­es of emer­gen­cy).

In sum­ma­ry, I am con­sid­er­ing it a bad prac­tice to ad­ver­tise "sun­light read­abil­i­ty" with­out men­tion­ing that this does not mean "trans­flec­tive". Nev­er­the­less, the dis­play is a mas­ter­piece in ev­ery re­gard. Im am still ex­cit­ed due to the great run­time the 276cx pro­vides with simp­le NiMH re­charge­ables even if the back­light is at 100% all the time, and due to the dis­play's good read­abil­i­ty with the back­light at 70% in ev­ery sit­u­a­tion I have met.


Is­sue 6 (great im­pact, bare­ly ac­cept­able)

As a moun­tain bik­er, I ei­ther want to have a trans­flec­tive dis­play which pro­vides good read­abil­i­ty with­out back­light. or I want to have the back­light turned on all the time. I will def­i­nite­ly not take one of my hands from the han­dle­bar to turn on the dis­play. There­fore, I am ex­clu­sive­ly in­ter­est­ed in a de­vice's run­time with the back­light con­tin­u­ous­ly turned on at suf­fi­cient in­ten­si­ty.

Now imag­ine my ex­pec­ta­tions be­fore I be­gan to test the 276cx's Li-​Ion bat­tery (which is in­clud­ed in the pack­age). The cal­cu­la­tion is sim­ple: If the cheap NiMH re­charge­ables rat­ed at 2500 mAh could pow­er the de­vice for more than 7 hours, the Li-​ion bat­tery, which is rat­ed at 4400 mAh, should pro­vide a run­time of whop­ping 12 hours.

For those who have nev­er seen a sim­i­lar Gar­min de­vice and won­der why we have a choice here at all: Gar­min has been ex­treme­ly clev­er when de­sign­ing the 276cx's bat­tery com­part­ment. It can take ei­ther Gar­min's pro­pri­etary Li-​ion bat­tery or three AA bat­ter­ies (or NiMH re­charge­ables). The idea is to use the big Li-​ion bat­tery un­der nor­mal cir­cum­stanc­es, but to be able to use AA bat­ter­ies or re­charge­ables un­der con­di­tions where the Li-​ion bat­tery would not be ap­pro­pri­ate or would fail. Fur­ther­more, stan­dard AA bat­ter­ies are one of the few things which you will be able to buy vir­tu­al­ly ev­ery­where in the world.

Com­ing back to the sub­ject of this sec­tion, I have been com­plete­ly dis­ap­point­ed af­ter hav­ing re­al­ized that the big, pro­pri­etary and ex­pen­sive Li-​Ion bat­tery pro­vid­ed on­ly 8 hours of run­time un­der the ex­act same con­di­tions where the NiMH re­charge­ables al­ready pro­vid­ed 7 hours. Again, I have re­peat­ed the run­time test with the Li-​Ion bat­tery mul­ti­ple times, and again, the re­sult was the same each time.

Of course, I could not just tol­er­ate this with­out dig­ging fur­ther. If re­al­i­ty de­vi­ates from the­o­ry so crass­ly, I am be­com­ing cu­ri­ous. I have done thor­ough mea­sure­ments with the Li-​ion bat­tery, and even have talked to bat­tery ex­perts.

The bat­tery has 4 pins which Gar­min does not doc­u­ment. How­ev­er, we have found out that the two out­er pins pro­vide the volt­age to the elec­tron­ics; the volt­age be­tween these pins was 4.072 V af­ter hav­ing charged the bat­tery with­in the de­vice via USB.

We were not able to find out what the two in­ner pins are for. Be­tween the (out­er) 0 V-​pin and both of the in­ner pins, the volt­age was about 0.3 V low­er than the volt­age be­tween the out­er two pins. This let us as­sume that the two in­ner pins are con­nect­ed to the main volt­age via di­odes. We can on­ly guess that they are used for some sort of mon­i­tor­ing while the bat­tery is be­ing charged or dis­charged. How­ev­er, mon­i­tor­ing, if any, is not per­formed as usu­al via an NTC re­sis­tor, and the mid­dle two pins do not car­ry da­ta sig­nals of a bat­tery man­age­ment sys­tem. So we have giv­en up on this sub­ject.

Any­way, the in­ter­est­ing thing is that the out­er two pins (as men­tioned above) pro­vide a volt­age of 4.072 V af­ter the bat­tery has been ful­ly charged. This shows that there might be se­ri­ous flaws in the soft­ware or hard­ware which con­trol charg­ing, or that some­thing very odd is go­ing on oth­er­wise:

The bat­tery is of type 1ICR19/65-​2. That means that it in­cludes two Li-​ion cells with Co­balt an­ode (LiCoO2) which are con­nect­ed in par­al­lel; this type is still the most com­mon type of Li-​Ion cells. For such cells, the charg­ing end volt­age (which is equal to the volt­age the cell pro­vides im­me­di­ate­ly af­ter hav­ing been ful­ly charged) should be 4.2 V. But once again, the 276cx charg­es the bat­tery on­ly to 4.072 V.

This dif­fer­ence might seem to be neg­li­gi­ble. But tak­ing in­to ac­count that (with this type of bat­tery) the last 0.1 V or 0.2 V of the charg­ing end volt­age can be re­spon­si­ble for 10% or 20% of the whole ca­pac­i­ty (the ex­act fig­ures de­pend on the lit­er­a­ture source), it could part­ly ex­plain the dis­ap­point­ing run­time which the 276cx's Li-​ion bat­tery pro­vides.

We can on­ly spec­u­late why the 276cx stops charg­ing the Li-​ion bat­tery pre­ma­ture­ly. Ei­ther this is just due to flaws in the charg­ing hard­ware or soft­ware, or Gar­min has to be ex­treme­ly cau­tious, per­haps be­cause they haven't im­ple­ment­ed a rea­son­able charg­ing (tem­per­a­ture) mon­i­tor­ing (see re­marks above about the mid­dle con­tacts of the bat­tery and the ob­vi­ous ab­sence of the usu­al NTC re­sis­tor), or be­cause they buy the bat­ter­ies' com­po­nents at the spot mar­ket and want to be safe against get­ting in­fe­ri­or ma­te­ri­al.

Ad­di­tion­al­ly, if you over­charge a Li-​ion bat­tery of this type even by the small­est amount (for ex­am­ple, 0.1 V), very bad things can hap­pen (that means: the bat­tery can over­heat or ex­plode in the worst case), so per­haps they didn't trust them­selves and im­ple­ment­ed that low charg­ing end volt­age by in­ten­tion.

What­so­ev­er, even if we are ex­treme­ly (un­re­al­is­ti­cal­ly) op­ti­mis­tic and as­sume that we could get 20% more ca­pac­i­ty if we could charge the bat­tery to 4.2 V, that would still on­ly be about 10 hours of run­time; two hours would still be miss­ing. At this point, since we have jobs be­sides moun­tain bik­ing and GPS de­vices, we had to give up on the sub­ject.


Is­sue 7 (great im­pact, bare­ly ac­cept­able)

Gar­min does not of­fer a charg­ing unit for the Li-​ion bat­tery of the 276cx. How am I ex­pect­ed to charge the bat­ter­ies if I have mul­ti­ple of them? There are two op­tions:

1) The 276cx can charge the Li-​ion bat­tery when con­nect­ed via USB. I def­i­nite­ly don't want to do this for the fol­low­ing rea­sons:

a) The rub­ber tip which pro­tects the USB con­nec­tor (and thus is a key part in mak­ing the de­vice com­pli­ant to IPX7) is a pre­de­ter­mined break­ing point. This is not due to a bad de­sign by Gar­min; rather, rub­ber of that sort will break af­ter hav­ing been bent away and back sev­er­al hun­dred times.

Ad­di­tion­al­ly, I don't know the num­ber of mat­ing cy­cles the USB con­nec­tor will stand, but I doubt that it will be more than some hun­dreds.

For that rea­sons, I am re­fus­ing to pull off and re-​in­sert the ca­ble and the rub­ber tip all the time just to charge the bat­tery.

b) Charg­ing the bat­tery in the 276cx takes a lot of time. If I'd like to charge three bat­ter­ies, that al­ready would take near­ly a whole day (this means 24 hours).

c) Charg­ing mul­ti­ple bat­ter­ies in the de­vice forc­es the bat­tery com­part­ment to be opened and closed mul­ti­ple times. Al­though the com­part­ment cov­er and the parts in the com­part­ment are sol­id and leak-​proof, their wear will in­ev­i­ta­bly in­crease ev­ery time the cov­er is re­moved and re-mounted again, which might af­fect wa­ter and dust re­sis­tance over time.

Of course, I am aware that I have to open the bat­tery com­part­ment any­way when I have to change the bat­tery (or bat­ter­ies) while rid­ing. This is in­ev­i­ta­ble; there is no tech­ni­cal so­lu­tion to it. But this in no way is a rea­son for in­creas­ing the bat­tery com­part­ment's wear even fur­ther by open­ing and clos­ing it all the time just for charg­ing the bat­tery, be­cause there is a simp­le so­lu­tion to that prob­lem: Gar­min should of­fer an ex­ter­nal charg­ing unit for the 276cx's Li-​ion bat­tery.

2) The 276cx (prob­a­bly - I did not test) can charge the bat­tery when placed in a spe­cial (mo­tor­cy­cle) mount­ing. The 276cx has mul­ti­ple elec­tri­cal con­tacts at its side, and ap­pro­pri­ate mount­ings typ­i­cal­ly in­cor­po­rate the re­spec­tive coun­ter­parts which pro­vide volt­age (and oth­er sig­nals which are not of in­ter­est here) to the de­vice. For this to work, ca­bles which are com­ing out of the mount­ing in turn must be con­nect­ed to an ex­ter­nal volt­age source (in most cas­es, some ve­hi­cle's on-​board pow­er sup­ply).

While charg­ing the bat­tery that way would solve prob­lem 1a), prob­lems 1b) and 1c) would still re­main. Fur­ther­more, since I am in moun­tain bik­ing and hik­ing (and not in ATVs, mo­tor­cy­cles and the like), I def­i­nite­ly will not take a mo­tor­cy­cle mount­ing or a car bat­tery with me just to be able to charge the 276cx's bat­tery.

To sum­ma­rize this is­sue, it is ab­so­lute­ly in­ex­cus­able that Gar­min does not of­fer a sep­a­rate charg­ing unit for the 276cx's Li-​ion bat­tery.


Is­sue 8 (great im­pact, not ac­cept­able)

The 276cx be­gins track­ing (that means re­cord­ing the track and feed­ing da­ta in­to the trip com­put­er and odom­e­ter) im­me­di­ate­ly af­ter hav­ing been turned on. Many users com­plain about that; it is a great prob­lem for the fol­low­ing rea­son:

Sup­pose you are fly­ing 5000 km with your 276cx and your moun­tain bike, and that you turn on your de­vice af­ter hav­ing ar­rived. In that mo­ment, you'll have a new track on your de­vice the length of which is 5000 km. Of course, that track can sim­ply be delet­ed, but the prob­lem is that 5000 km now have been added not on­ly to the trip odom­e­ter, but to the gen­er­al odom­e­ter (which re­cords the whole length of all tracks to­geth­er) as well.

This is ex­treme­ly stu­pid and a re­al prob­lem for me as a moun­tain bik­er. Like near­ly all of my fel­lows, I am re­set­ting the gen­er­al odom­e­ter when the sea­son be­gins (once per year), and when the sea­son has fin­ished, I want to know the whole dis­tance I have trav­eled rid­ing my bike dur­ing the sea­son sim­ply by tak­ing a look at the gen­er­al odom­e­ter.

The be­hav­ior de­scribed above makes this im­pos­si­ble. Ev­ery time I turn off the 276cx, then take it with me in the car, the train or the air­plane, it adds the re­spec­tive dis­tance to the gen­er­al odom­e­ter as soon as I turn it on again.

At least, it tries to do so. There seem to be two ways to work around the prob­lem, but both are not a re­al so­lu­tion be­cause you can eas­i­ly for­get to per­form the nec­es­sary steps at the right mo­ment, and if you do so even one sin­gle time, you will in­ev­i­ta­bly suf­fer from the prob­lem and can't re­vert the mis­take.

a) When hav­ing fin­ished the pre­vi­ous trip, set the de­vice to "Use with GPS off". I didn't have the time to test thor­ough­ly, but I hope that this is a per­ma­nent set­ting which sur­vives re­boots (please drop me a mes­sage if you can con­firm or de­ny this), and if this is true, the de­vice should not be able to track or re­cord any­thing any more.

When you want to be­gin track­ing and re­cord­ing again (that means: af­ter hav­ing trav­eled the dis­tance you did not want to be re­cord­ed), turn the de­vice on again and dis­ab­le track­ing and trip re­cord­ing, us­ing the ap­pro­pri­ate menu item. There will no time pres­sure at this stage, be­cause the de­vice still op­er­ates with GPS off and thus can't do any­thing stu­pid while you are busy with op­er­at­ing the men­us.

Af­ter hav­ing dis­abled track­ing and trip re­cord­ing, make the de­vice use GPS again, us­ing the ap­pro­pri­ate menu item, and wait un­til it has got a rea­son­able po­si­tion fix. When this has hap­pened, re-​en­able track­ing and trip re­cord­ing.

This meth­od should keep the de­vice from un­want­ed­ly track­ing and re­cord­ing cer­tain dis­tanc­es and add­ing them to the odom­e­ter. If an­y­body has tried this, please let me know. I didn't have the op­por­tu­ni­ty to test it.

b) When turn­ing on the de­vice, you could try to be fast and to dis­ab­le track­ing and trip re­cord­ing be­fore the de­vice has got a po­si­tion fix.

Both meth­ods are er­ror-​prone, and the sec­ond one will gen­er­ate a lot of stress in just that sit­u­a­tion where there should be re­lax­ation and pleas­ant an­tic­i­pa­tion.

To make things ab­so­lute­ly clear: On the 276cx, you can dis­ab­le track­ing and trip re­cord­ing us­ing the ap­pro­pri­ate menu item. But this set­ting is not per­ma­nent, mean­ing that it does not sur­vive re­boots, mean­ing that the de­vice will track and re­cord again im­me­di­ate­ly af­ter hav­ing been re­boot­ed re­gard­less of the pre­vi­ous set­ting.

There­fore, we must use work­a­rounds like those men­tioned above.

In this con­text, I can­not help crit­i­ciz­ing Gar­min's sup­port. Hop­ing that I had missed some­thing, I called them to ask if it re­al­ly is im­pos­si­ble to dis­ab­le that mis­be­hav­ior. As usu­al, it took at least 30 min­utes in the wait loop to get con­nect­ed to a re­al per­son.

Now the first sur­prise was that the sup­port staff told me that they were not au­tho­rized to an­swer any ques­tion re­gard­ing the 276cx. In­stead, they would write down my ques­tions and con­tact da­ta and for­ward them to an in­ter­nal de­part­ment of spe­cial­ists, who then would call me back; need­less to say that they need­ed over a week to do so al­though I had made clear that the sub­ject was ur­gent for me (I had to de­cide if I would re­turn the 276cx or not, and the dead­line wasn't too far away).

The sec­ond sur­prise was how in­com­pe­tent they were. Need­ing sev­er­al days for an­wer­ing such a simp­le ques­tion is just ridicu­lous. Then, when call­ing back, they told me that this be­hav­ior was de­sired. They tried to ex­plain that it would not im­pose any prob­lem be­cause the track­ing would not start un­til the de­vice would be moved (that is, on­ly mov­ing the de­vice would trig­ger the track­ing), so I could eas­i­ly avoid the prob­lem by dis­abling the track­ing and re­cord­ing be­fore mov­ing the de­vice af­ter hav­ing turned it on.

This is one of the most id­i­ot­ic state­ments I ev­er have got from the sup­port staff of a com­pa­ny. This stu­pid ass who is con­sid­ered a spe­cial­ist by his em­ploy­er ob­vi­ous­ly nev­er has used a GPS de­vice. Oth­er­wise, he would know that ev­ery GPS de­vice, when pow­ered on, needs to get a po­si­tion fix first, and af­ter the first fix, the sub­se­quent fix­es will be­come more and more pre­cise with­in a short time. The po­si­tion fix will first be sev­er­al dozens or even hun­dreds of me­ters off and then will con­tin­u­ous­ly be­come bet­ter un­til it is sta­ble

Giv­en that, it should be clear that the po­si­tion the GPS chip re­ports to the de­vice heav­i­ly fluc­tu­ates dur­ing the first sec­onds (in some cas­es, min­utes) af­ter hav­ing boot­ed. From the de­vice's point of view, a fluc­tu­at­ing po­si­tion of course means a move­ment, un­less in­tel­li­gent soft­ware knows about the prob­lem and takes spe­cial coun­ter­mea­sures.

The soft­ware on Gar­min's de­vices, in­clud­ing the the 276cx, ob­vi­ous­ly is not that in­tel­li­gent; hence, the 276cx, im­me­di­ate­ly af­ter hav­ing boot­ed, be­lieves to be moved and be­gins to track and re­cord im­me­di­ate­ly and not on­ly when it is ac­tu­al­ly moved.

I can very well imag­ine that not on­ly moun­tain bik­ers or road bik­ers, but all types of users are af­fect­ed by this prob­lem. For ex­am­ple, ATV driv­ers may be in­ter­est­ed on­ly in the dis­tance they have trav­eled in the wild (and not in the dis­tance which is be­tween their home and the wild), and there sure­ly are much more oth­er ex­am­ples.

As a fi­nal state­ment, please note that I am lo­cat­ed in Ger­ma­ny; the qual­i­ty of Gar­min's sup­port might be bet­ter in oth­er coun­tries.


Is­sue 9 - the fi­nal deal­break­er (com­plete­ly not ac­cept­able)

For a moun­tain bik­er, there is on­ly one rea­son to put a GPS de­vice as big as the 276cx on­to the han­dle­bars: We want to con­ceive as much in­for­ma­tion as pos­si­ble at a glance. The big screen of the 276cx is the main rea­son to buy it, isn't it?

So I ex­pect­ed that I fi­nal­ly had a de­vice which would be able to show me all mo­men­tary (for ex­am­ple, heart rate, cur­rent speed and so on) da­ta and all trip da­ta (for ex­am­ple, dis­tance, as­cent and so on) I am in­ter­est­ed in on one page (screen). The 276cx pro­vides three dif­fer­ent views to pres­ent such da­ta (see screen­shots be­low):

The first one is called -sur­pris­ing­ly enough- "Trip Com­put­er". This view wastes a lot of screen space for da­ta which prob­a­bly is ir­rel­e­vant for most users, at least in part. Un­for­tu­nate­ly, ab­so­lute­ly noth­ing can be con­fig­ured here.

An­oth­er view is called, "4 Big Fields"; as the name im­plies, it shows four da­ta fields with gi­ant let­ters or dig­its, re­spec­tive­ly. Each field can be con­fig­ured free­ly by choos­ing its con­tent from a long list which prob­a­bly con­tains ev­ery­thing you will ev­er think of. How­ev­er, this view is of no in­ter­est to me be­cause I need about 16 da­ta fields in­stead of 4, and my eyes are not so bad yet.

The third view is called "2 Col­umns (Small)". Here, the screen is ver­ti­cal­ly split in­to a left and a right area. In the right area, there are up to 10 da­ta fields which can be free­ly con­fig­ured (as with the "4 Big Fields" view). So far, so good.

But I was re­al­ly shocked when I no­ticed that the left area (which is half of the screen) can­not be con­fig­ured in any way. Again: The left half of the screen can­not be con­fig­ured. To cap it all, the in­for­ma­tion shown there is com­plete­ly ir­rel­e­vant to me as a moun­tain bik­er, and to be hon­est, I can­not imag­ine an­y­body who needs it (see screen­shots be­low).

This def­i­nite­ly is the fi­nal deal­brak­er. It is in­ex­cus­able, and there is no work­a­round. So Gar­min's soft­ware de­vel­op­ment has man­aged to do a thing which ev­ery oth­er sane de­vel­op­ers would have been un­able of: To com­plete­ly de­stroy the ben­e­fit of the big and ex­cel­lent screen. This is in­con­ceiv­able.


Sum­ma­ry

The 276cx is an ex­cel­lent piece of hard­ware. Sad­ly, Gar­min's soft­ware de­vel­op­ment team is fa­mous for brick­ing good hard­ware by in­fe­ri­or soft­ware. With the 276cx, they have out­done them­selves one more time.

If Gar­min would change the soft­ware so that you ac­tu­al­ly could use the whole screen for a con­fig­ur­able trip com­put­er, and so that the de­vice would not be­gin track­ing im­me­di­ate­ly af­ter boot­ing, I would rec­om­mend and buy it de­spite the oth­er dis­ad­van­tag­es.

But with the cur­rent soft­ware, I would strong­ly dis­cour­age buy­ing the 276cx. Al­though I am a moun­tain bik­er, and al­though this might have slight­ly bi­ased my anal­y­sis, I am pret­ty sure that many of the flaws de­scribed above af­fect all types of users.

Un­for­tu­nate­ly, none of the oth­er re­views I have read (and this a lot) did men­tion the is­sue with the im­me­di­ate track­ing, that you can't con­fig­ure a rea­son­able trip com­put­er view, or the miss­ing charg­ing unit for and the prob­lems with the Li-​ion bat­tery.

Ei­ther they are slop­py, or they didn't no­tice it, in which case they are not the ex­perts they claim to be, or they have just been cor­rupt­ed by Gar­min's do­na­tions.

I hope that this re­view will keep po­ten­tial cus­tom­ers from a mis­pur­chase, and on the oth­er hand will put some pres­sure on­to the sub­ject. But giv­en Gar­min's long his­to­ry of ig­nor­ing cus­tom­ers' com­plaints, I don't ex­pect any­thing.


Screen­shots


4 Big Fields

Screen "4 Big Fields": Field con­tents can be con­fig­ured free­ly, but 4 fields are not enough for me, so I won't use that view.


Trip computer

Screen "Trip Com­put­er": Ab­so­lute­ly noth­ing can be con­fig­ured here, and the in­for­ma­tion shown is ir­rel­e­vant to me to the great­est part, so I won't use that view ei­ther.


2 Columns (Small)

Screen "2 Col­umns (Small)": The con­tents of the da­ta fields in the right area can be con­fig­ured free­ly, but the left area can­not be con­fig­ured in any way and wastes the whole space for in­for­ma­tion which is com­plete­ly ir­rel­e­vant to me (and to most oth­ers, I sup­pose). This is the fi­nal deal­break­er.



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