Garmin Oregon 600 Series

GPS Handheld with Camera (650, 650t)

   August 24, 2013

By: Sam Penrod

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The Garmin Oregon 650 is the upgraded model to Garmin's mid-size touchscreen unit.  The unit includes a much improved touchscreen, adding a capacitive screen with very good daytime and outdoor visibility.  There is also dual orientation, depending if you want a portrait or landscape view.  It features GLONASS capability to receive more satellite signals from the Russian system, and includes a much better camera than in the 550 model-- now an 8 megapixel camera.  It also includes the three axis electronic compass, barometric altimeter, and can be paired with an iPhone or iPad to use Garmin BaseCamp, an ios app to manage your data on newer models (new iPad, iPhone4 or later).  The 650 sells for $479.  Check discount prices here.


The package of the Oregon 650--  the Oregon 550 next to the new Oregon 650.  Basically the same size, but different form-- still uses same mounting accessories.

                                                                            Two views of the Oregon 650

The Oregon 650 brings with it the features of the Oregon x50 series, a few features from the Montana series and a couple of new features debuted by Garmin in this model, such as a dedicated tracklog page.  While the unit was announced in January, it did not start shipping until June and after more than two months of a lot of testing, here is our take on this new model.

The 650t at $549 comes with pre-loaded 100K TOPO maps of the USA-- in the past I have not recommended getting the 't' model of Garmin handhelds, because the map data was not as accurate-- However, beginning with the Oregon 650t, Garmin is using a new 100K map-- with NAVTEQ data, which is the same road data that comes in the City Navigator street mapping.  I had pre-ordered a 650, so I ended up purchasing the new 100K mapping ($99 USD) to make my unit a "t" and can confirm the data is much improved.  I would recommend the 't' model if you want the mapping for all of the US, as it is $30 cheaper than buying the maps separately and is already loaded in.  Be advised that you cannot autoroute (create a turn by turn route) and that Garmin now locks the 100K map product to one specific unit if purchased separately.  If you only want mapping for a specific region of the country, or turn by turn directions, then we recommend going with the 650 model, then adding Garmin's 24K topo mapping-- as it will autoroute and has more detail.

Back view of the 650, with camera lens, flash, mounting spine and USB connector

600 and 600t
If you don't care about the camera-- then you can save some money and go with the Oregon 600 model at $399 or the 600t for $479 if you want the 100k mapping.  These units do NOT come with the rechargable NiMH AA battery pack-- however you can purchase one for about $25 and then charge your unit via the USB-- if not, you can use alkaline, your own NiMH or the disposable Lithium AA batteries.  There is less internal memory (600t 300MB, 600 1.5GB) but otherwise the same features with the exception of the flashlight. Here is a link to a comparison table of the new Oregon models. (There is also a picture viewer in all units and you can navigate to a geotagged photo in all of the units)

I am very happy with the camera in the 650-- it is an 8 megapixel and in my opinion, takes great photos along the trail as far as posing with landmarks
or photographing the cache you found, etc.  There is no optical zoom and the digital zoom isn't much to get excited about, so long distance scenery photos are not as good, however unlike the 550, the 650 does include a flash, which can be set to off, on, or auto.  I would say the 650 camera does just as well as my iPhone 5 camera and each photo is geotagged if you have a satellite fix.  Below are few examples-- these are actual photos with no adjustments made to the image, except to size it down for this webpage.  (you should be able to download the images and look at the full file if you are interested)



Photo Viewer                                          Photo geotag-- use flag in lower right to create a waypoint from photo


The 650 and 650t have a flashlight-- which uses the LED from the camera flash.  You can adjust the brightness and also use it for signaling or an emergency with the strobe function.

Tracklog Features
The 600 supports the ability to turn tracking on/off-- there is an autostart feature and an autopause function-- The autopause at walking speed isn't as effective-- but other modes it works fine.  It is easier to customize a track-- as far as color, if you want it to always show up on the map and see the data.  The elevation plot is the same as in the Montana series-- the small graph on top lets you focus in on a particular area of the track-- for example you can look for a peak to get the elevation.  The green represents the track, the blue indicates your elevation for the location you are navigating to.  This will work for either direct routing (straight line) or if your maps autoroute, will follow the road or track.  You can also easily select a spot on the elevation graph and bring up that particular location on the map.   Examples of the screens below:  the icons on the top of the track control, allow you to (1) record/pause (save, delete), (2) see the data, (3) see it on a map and (4) see the elevation plot.



The compass is a 3-axis and allows you to get an accurate reading, regardless of how you hold the unit.  As with other Garmin units, the electronic compass only activates when you slow down under 3 mph.  If you are going faster that 3 mph, it relies on the GPS generated heading for the compass arrow. You can also adjust the display colors to get a color other than red for the compass needle and can customize the data fields or use a dashboard-- such as tracklog, satellite, altimeter etc above the actual compass.  (The temperature data comes from the tempe accessory)

The unit takes 2 AA batteries-- alkaline, NiMH or lithium are options.  The 650 units come with a AA NiMH battery pack (2000mah).  I found I can get 12 plus hours with it-- charging through the unit takes 5 1/2 hours.  Lithium are the best for hiking in my opinion-- you can get the 16 hours Garmin claims, they are a little lighter too.  Unlike the Montana which has a battery percentage display while charging, the Oregon does not.

Custom Button
While the previous Oregon's were controlled through the touchscreen except for the power button, the 600 has a 'custom button' below the power key.  You can customize a function for one tap, two quick taps or holding the button.  For example, I use the first tap for screen on/off (another new feature which keeps the unit on, but not the screen) double tap for the flashlight and hold for marking a waypoint.  The power button also has a secondary option that can be customized.  I personally love this feature and it does make the unit easier to use on the go.

The power button on the left, the custom button on the right, with the mounting spine above.

The screen is certainly the best feature in the Oregon 600.  It is rugged, said to be made of chemically engineered glass-- some call it gorilla glass.  The daylight use with no backlight is just as good, if not better as the GPSmap 62s screen.  The 600 is listed as a three inch diagonal and 240X 400 pixels. It is also a capactive screen, not a resistive touchscreen as the previous Oregon models, so you can also pinch the screen to zoom in or out and don't have to use the + or - keys.  While the screen is said to be scratch resistant, I still got a Zagg invishield for my screen (using the original Oregon Zagg shield since as of this writing there is no screen for the 600 model-- you could also cut one to the size)  But other users much braver than me have tested the screen to the limit-- Here is a video on YouTube.  While the screen is strong, I have seen on the Internet at least one that cracked, so it is possible to destroy a screen, but my observation is that under normal use, you won't need to worry. 
The screen will automatically switch between portrait or landscape, depending on how you hold it.  Sometimes this is a problem when hiking, however you can switch off the automatic orientation and select either portrait or landscape.  In the setup, there are sensitivity controls for the touchscreen.


Share Wirelessly
With the ANT connection, you can transfer waypoints, tracks, routes, geocaches between other Garmin compatible units-- (Oregon, Montana, Dakota, 62/78, new eTrex, fenix) but you can now also transfer photos, custom maps and Garmin Adventures between other Oregon 600 units.  The Oregon unit can also be used for Garmin's newly announced VIRB, an adventure camera that Garmin appears to have designed to compete with Go-Pro.

BaseCamp Mobile

The new Oregons also join the fenix, with the capability to interface via Bluetooth with a newer iPhone or iPad.  So far it is only an iOS app-- but you can edit waypoint data, create waypoints in the app and transfer to the Oregon and then view waypoints and tracks saved in your GPS, on the app, and if you have internet connection to get Google maps and satellite imagery.  You can also transfer data, (waypoints, routes, tracks) you have uploaded to your Garmin Cloud account to your GPS through this app.  Hopefully more features will be added, but it is off to a good start.  I am a bit disappointed that Garmin has not made it possible to upload your data or live tracking through social media, as you can with the new biking Edge units 510 and 810, via the app Garmin Connect Mobile, or make the Oregon 600 series compatible with the Garmin Connect app-- we can keep hoping.  While some outdoor adventures take you away from cell coverage-- the ability to upload your tracklog right after your hike or after you find the cache I believe is imperative for Garmin to do with their outdoor units.  A few screen grabs below. Here is a link to more information on  BaseCamp Mobile from the iTunes store.



The satellite reception is very good with the high sensitive receiver, and also supports GLONASS capability of the Russian version of GPS.  You will see a little more battery drain, but more satellites does help in deep canyons.  The GLONASS satellites are numbered 52 and above (see image below)  There is no external antenna connector for use in a vehicle, but this is not necessary for typical use.

This is a feature first introduced in the Montana and is a great one!  You can create a one touch macro, to do several steps in navigating.  For example, you can create a shortcut that automatically routes you to a waypoint and brings up the compass page on your Oregon.  I have created a shortcut to lock the screen in one step and also to switch between screen orientation.  The possibilities are really limitless.  The shortcuts become an icon you can place on the main menu-- I created a shortcut called: Stop Navigation.  The Oregon also supports different profiles you can setup, depending on your outdoor activity-- so you can customize settings and make a change in just one step.


Configurable Data Fields
There are more data field options, such as what was introduced with the Montana.  These are available on the map page, compass and trip computer.  Our favorite is the "Vertical Distance to Destination" which shows you that while your destination may only be .25 of a mile, you are going to have to hike 1,000 feet to get there.  There is also the "GPS Elevation Data" field, in addition to using the barometric GPS altitude.  A big advantage in my mind to customize the Oregon for your own needs.  Trip computer page below.

The 600 is compatible with the Garmin TOPO and City Navigator road  maps.  There is an "automobile" profile that will give you a similar look as a Garmin nuvi unit, with the 3-D view, although you will have to rely on tones, not spoken directions-- this does require CityNavigator maps. Garmin's 24K TOPO will also give turn by turn directions but the data is not updated regularly.  You can also search the web for other maps-- at GPS file depot some are even free.  There are settings for direct routing (as a crow flies) automobile routing, hiking routing etc, that you can select in the setup.


"nuvi" automotive view, showing routing and auto dashboard       Garmin 24K topo maps with terrain shading      Garmin BirdsEye aerial imaging with TOPO map overlay

Garmin Custom Maps
A great feature to the newer Garmin units is Garmin Custom Maps.  It allows you to create your own maps, scan in existing maps or even aerial photos and georeference them to be able to add them to your unit.  My personal favorite is to use is ExpertGPS, as I believe you can get good images georeferenced, which are highly accurate.  There are plenty of other ways out there and you can do it yourself using Google Earth.  Garmin's own explanation is very good, so I am linking to it so you can get an idea of what these can do.  One problem I have noticed, that it can be hard to take a map of an amusement park for example and georeference it accurately, because many paper maps, are not to scale.  The USGS maps, seem to be much better.  You can also select if you want the image to cover other map data or if you want to see the map data already in your GPS over the photo images, such as roads, streams, contours.  You can learn more here.

Other Observations

The accessories, mounts, cables, etc, used with the earlier Oregon models, the 62, the Dakota, the new eTrex 20, 30 series are all compatible.
When using the autopause feature, I didn't get an accurate distance at all while hiking in the trees-- I suggest you leave this off while hiking.  It is a nice feature if you are on a bike, or boat, but the unit seems to have a hard time at walking speeds determining if you are moving.
My biggest complaint involves the dashboards.  While I love the ability to customize and change dashboards on any page, there needs to be a setting to lock the dashboards, similar to locking the data fields, because if you put the Oregon in your pocket without locking the screen, count on a new dashboard being selected.
There is an icon for "Trails"  You have to buy data for this feature apparently--  Garmin has a Pacific Trail or Applachian trail map you can buy.   Garmin no longer sells the regional "Rails to Trails--" so the trails icon could be in advance of more trails you can buy from Garmin in the future???
The USB battery cover binds when connected to a USB cable-- mine has already torn off-- hoping Garmin will send me a replacement.
Owner's manual-- this is an ongoing concern-- while Garmin clearly likes to keep it simple, I would prefer to see a better balance of information in a manual or an optional more detailed manual.  However, you can learn a lot from Garmin's TrailTech blog--- while it seems to have been discontinued, there are several posts that are very insightful and we strongly suggest you take a look as it will help.  Here is a link-  you will then have to scroll down the"Additional Posts within TrailTech"  to get them all.

Bugs, Glitches
Garmin was slow in releasing the Oregon 600 units, compared to when previous units have been announced and then available-- some have speculated Garmin has made more of an effort to keep early buyers from being 'beta testers' and spent more time working out the bugs.  Regardless, as a typical early buyer of new units, I have seen fewer issues-- but there are a still a few-- the most frustrating for me--shutdowns when accessing the elevation page in landscape mode while navigating to a point-- the unit going into Mass Storage Mode when connecting to a USB power cable regardless of the interface setting and trouble transferring waypoints, tracks, etc wirelessly through the ANT connection.  As always we suggest that you make sure you have the latest firmware by using the WebUpdater or the new Garmin Express updater-- here is a link to page for the latest firmware with the versions and their improvements
or check Allory's "What's New" page for immediate notification of when those updates are posted.  He is also on Twitter: allory_d
You can also use Garmin Express to add vehicle icons beyond the standard triangle-- an option in the Oregon 600 series.

View of screen with no backlight-- oval shaped opening in lower right of device is for lanyard


The Oregon 650 is a very nice improvement over the past five years of the previous Oregon models-- 
For the diehard Garmin user, it is a nice upgrade you will want-- but if you already own an Oregon you will have to decide if it is worth it.  The price seems steep in this era of smartphones, but I am still a believer that a dedicated GPS unit is worth the price in the outdoors, because you can change the batteries, it is more rugged, and has more features than an app will give you.  The screen visibility in the 600 series is improved over previous Oregon models and I like the shortcut and tracklog features.  The official Garmin Oregon page where you can see all of the specs on the 600's is here.  To review the manual, a .pdf can be downloaded here.  And there is a Garmin Oregon 600 Wiki you can find here.

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