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|Reviewed - Delorme PN-40
Article written by Paul, moderator of our forums and experienced user of GPS Assisted Navigation, first on PocketPCs and handheld systems, then on AIOs and smartphones. If you have questions or comments you can use this topic of the forums.
Background: I don't pretend to be an expert in this type of equipment, though I have used off-road gps units for years. This review will mainly be from the perspective of an on-road person who gets a kick out of the occasional use of a unit such as this.
Teething troubles: When Delorme provided me with a PN-40 I was quite excited, as I had purchased my own PN-20 a while back. I found that the PN-20 had a lot of promise, but was underpowered enough that I didn't enjoy using it. However it worked fine with Topo USA 6 on my Macbook running under Parallels although I couldn't use the 3D features of the Topo USA program on the Mac. The PN-40 Delorme sent me came with Topo USA 7, and I found it was impossible for me to get the program running under Parallels. I was using the latest version of Parallels 3, and have 3Gig of memory in the Macbook, but Topo 7 would either fail to run or crash and lock up the machine. As the interaction of the PN-40 and Topo 7 are essential, I was at a loss as to what to do. I was considering returning the unit to Delorme, but then Parallels 4 came out.
Under Parallels 4 Topo 7 works just fine and I am even able to take advantage of the 3D features of the program that would not run under Parallels 3. There are still some occasional 3D glitches, but, by in large, Topo 7 runs fine. This is the background of why this review has been so delayed after the release of the PN-40.
The Package: When considered as a whole the PN-40 is quite a buy for $399. Here are the specs on the unit:
• IPX7 waterproof standard, impact-resistant rubberized housing
• Device dimensions: 2.43" W x 5.25" H x 1.5" D
• Weight: without batteries: 5.35 ounces; with Li-Ion rechargeable battery: 6.7 oz; with alkaline AA batteries: 7.00 oz.
• A dual-core processor for lightning quick map redraws, when panning or zooming
• Fast USB 2.0 data transfer to internal memory or SD card in device
• Proprietary Kalman filter for enhanced GPS accuracy
• Detailed onboard base map with major highways and thoroughfares worldwide, plus secondary and connector roads in the U.S.
• 3-axis electronic compass with included accelerometer performs when held in any position
• Sensitive barometric altimeter for reliably accurate altitude readings
• Uses 2 AA batteries (included)
• Optional Travel Power Kit with DeLorme-supplied rechargeable Li-Ion battery
• Super high-sensitivity 32-channel Cartesio chipset by STMicroelectronics for rapid signal acquisition and ConstantLock™ satellite retention, even in challenging GPS environments
• Hot start: 5-6 seconds
• Warm start: < 45 seconds
• Cold start: < 60 seconds
• Update rate: 1/second, continuous
• Position: < 15 meters, 95% typical
• Velocity: 0.05 meter/sec steady state
WAAS accuracy: Position: < 3 meters, 95% typical
Display: Sharp high-resolution 2.2" 65K-color Transflective TFT color display (220 x 176 pixels)
Memory & Storage
• 1 GB internal Flash memory (500 MB user-available)
• Supports SDHC high-capacity SD cards – up to 32 GB
• Holds up to 10 tracks (10,000 points per track), 1,000 user-defined waypoints, and 50 routes
I currently have a 4GB SDHC card in the unit and it is a pleasure to forget about memory constraints when loading the large mapsets used by these types of gps units.
In addition to the unit, the PN-40 also comes with Topo 7 USA which contains Delorme's own topo maps of the US. To make loading the unit easier, the DVDs contain pre-cut topo maps for various regions of the US. This is a huge timesaver and Delorme is to be commended for saving us all hours of map cutting. I currently have Delorme's topos for all of New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania loaded onto the PN-40, and I still have plenty of room to spare on the SD card.
Topo USA 7 is quite a package, the most complete I've seen from Delorme. It includes Delorme's own topo maps, 4 million points of interest, Street Atlas roads, and all sorts of other stuff. This makes the PN-40 a complete, stand alone unit, and, theoretically, there is nothing else you need to buy.
The key to the PN-40 is its dual core processor. One core is used for GPS functions and the other is dedicated to the display. This means that the PN-40 can easily handle overlays to the topo maps and display them in real time. The package allows you to download $40 of other maps from the Delorme servers, and in a deal that sets Delorme at the head of the pack, value-wise, for only $30 you can get a one year subscription to download as much additional data as you want. Here are the maps that are available:
USGS 7.5-Minute Quad Maps This is a bargain, to say the least.
B&W DOQQ Aerial Imagery
Sat-10 Color Satellite Imagery
NOAA Nautical Charts
High-Resolution Color Aerial Imagery
The PN-40 in use The unit fits nicely in the hand and the screen is bright and visible, even under direct sun and with polarized sunglasses. The only problem, ergononically, with the unit is that the screen is rather small, which makes it a bit tough to use when mounted on the dashboard.
The important thing about the PN-40 is that it is FAST. Screen re-draws are very quick and you can easily follow yourself barreling down the road at 65MPH, even if you are viewing the color aerial imagery at the time. This is something that the PN-20 could never do. No matter what overlay you use on the PN-40 the unit has no trouble keeping up.
Additionally, the PN-40 has an integrated compass and barometer. I don't have much use for the compass, but the barometer works just fine in calculating altitude. Once you calibrate it (which is easy for me because a topo line runs right through my house) it is just as accurate as the barometric altimeter I usually use on my Kestrel 4000.
The above picture shows the PN-40 displaying my location on Delorme's topo map. Here is a shot showing my location with the color aerial imagery:
Now, here's an image of the same location displayed with USGS topo maps:
All of these images are layered one on top of the other, and you can control the layering from one of the unit's menus, as shown here:
I don't really find the aerial images all that impressive, but the ability to jump between Delorme's topos and the USGS topos is fascinating. Of course, I could also download NOAA nautical charts if I had a need. Next time I take the ferry into NY from New Jersey I'll have one of these maps loaded to see what's going on around me as I cross the Hudson.
One of the fascinating things about having a unit such as this, especially with the detail present in the Delorme topos, is that it can show you a lot of the world around you looks like. Take, for example, this concentration of rail lines around the New York City Hudson River area:
Or take this shot, which I took while driving around. I had no idea there was something called Packanack Mountain in my area:
Even if you are not a hiker or camper you can have a tremendous amount of fun with a unit like this, especially with all the extra data Delorme makes available to you for almost a nominal charge.
The PN-40 uses the STMicroelectronics Cartesio chipset. In comparison to my SiRF III GPS units the PN-40 does pretty well. My non-scientific testing (I haven't had time to run comparisons of recorded tracks) shows that the SiRF III units are slightly more sensitive in tough conditions. For example, when driving on the lower level of the George Washington Bridge the SiRF units will loose lock a bit later, and recover lock a bit sooner, then the PN-40. However, I suspect that for the usage intended there will be no practical difference between the PN-40 and a SiRF unit.
Other usage factors: One thing I learned pretty quickly was to use lithium batteries, as the PN-40 will go through alkalines fast. I would also strongly suggest that anyone who wants to use it in their car get the optional travel power kit ($49.95) as keeping the display on 100% of the time, and at full brightness, which you need to do in the car, will deplete your batteries very quickly. You should also consider getting one of their windshield mounts ($49.95). The PN-40 is very narrow and also very thick, and even though I have a closet full of GPS mounts, I couldn't find one that was deep enough and that would close down enough to hold the unit securely.
Topo 7 Software: This is used to get data onto the PN-40. It is an extremely powerful, and complex, piece of software and, as I am not a hiker or outdoors type, I won't attempt to review it. I will say, however, that it is the weakest point of the package. Delorme has always "gone its own way" in both its Topo and Streets packages. They ignore almost every single Windows graphical convention. Even after fooling with it for years I find the software overly complex, arcane and very difficult to use. It's one of the few packages where I actually have to print out the manual to figure out what I'm doing. This new version includes pop-up "tips". However, some of these tips must have been written by the programmers, themselves, because some of them make things worse rather than better. I guess there is no point in complaining, though. Delorme has used this weird GUI for years despite all the criticism, and I don't expect they will change now.
Bottom Line: The PN-40 is a huge, huge improvement over the PN-20 and is easy and great fun to use - even if you are mainly on on-roader like myself. It is a great bargain given the low price Delorme is charging for the masses of data the unit can utilize. With the new release of Parallels, even Mac people can use the unit with no extra hassles. Even with the weird Delorme software, I can't think of a unit that has given me so much fun and intellectual stimulation. I recommend it highly, or even more than highly, to anyone who is interested in maps and the world around them.
If you have questions or comments you can use this topic of the forums