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Garmin’s GPSMap 96C – Color and Power for a Reasonable Price

Garmin ( www.garmin.com) has long had the relationship as the leader in airborne GPS technology. Their latest additions to the market are the monochrome GPSMap 96 and color GPSMap 96C units, both of which are perfectly sized to fit into the palm of your hand, and yet pack one heck of a punch. We managed to get our hands on one of the color versions of these hot-selling units, and tried it out to see what it could do.Garmin ( www.garmin.com) has long had the relationship as the leader in airborne GPS technology. Their latest additions to the market are the monochrome GPSMap 96 and color GPSMap 96C units, both of which are perfectly sized to fit into the palm of your hand, and yet pack one heck of a punch. We managed to get our hands on one of the color versions of these hot-selling units, and tried it out to see what it could do.

When you look at the size of the GPSMap 96C, it’s hard to imagine the power that is packed inside. The unit is equipped with a 2.6” diagonal, 160 by 240 pixel, 256 color transflective TFT display, and comes with 119 MB of built-in memory. This is more than enough room to store data from a variety of Garmin’s available MapSource (r) CD-ROM products, which can be downloaded to the system using the built-in mini USB port. The whole unit with the 2 AA alkaline batteries weighed in at around 10 ounces, and measured out at 6.2' long by 2.7' wide, and 1.4' deep.

We found that turning on the GPSMap 96C was simple and easy – all we had to do is press the red “On” button, and the unit sprang to life. Our average time to lock onto the satellites was around 20 seconds, which is pretty good for a cold start considering the last place the unit was powered up was several hundred miles away in Kansas. On power up, the unit goes through a quick self-test sequence, and is ready to navigate.

Getting from here to there with Garmin’s handheld and panel-mount products has always been easy – we pushed the –D-> Direct button, which brought up the Aviation waypoint screen. All we had to do is use the rocker key in the center of the controls to dial in our destination, press Enter, and then confirm our selection with a second push of Enter, and we were quickly on our way.

There are five “pages” that make up the displays of the GPSMap 96C. The Map page is where most people will spend their time, and shows you a map that dominates 3/4 of the screen, with 1/4 being taken up by the speed and distance-to-next fields. In the event you would like to see something different, the displayed fields are easy to change. There is also a HSI page, which provides course information, an Active Goto page to show you where you are going, as well as any flight-plan details, the usual satellite page so you can see whether the unit is optimally placed to get an accurate signal, and the Position page, which gives you the destination or next waypoint, the ETE to that waypoint, a fuel time, a flight timer, the battery timer, the time of day, your current location, and the airport you are closest to.

IFR pilots and those VFR pilots who like to critique how straight they can fly a course will like the “trails” feature which is included with the unit. This feature provides a small dashed line to show where you have been, in addition to the usual magenta line that shows you where you are going. The big advantage of this of course is you can see how well you flew a course or hold, and determine if your wind correction needs to be tuned up or tuned down for that matter.

The aviation database was filled with everything a pilot would need. This included information on all the usual waypoints such as airports, nav aids, special use airspace and intersections, as well as a safety enhancement we didn’t expect – a degree of terrain awareness that we saw with the inclusion of obstructions in the database. We were easily able to see various towers in the area on the map display, and all we had to do is hover the cursor over the obstacle to get the detailed information on what was there, including its height in MSL and AGL.

Some of the things that we found in the database that we didn’t expect but that were no less welcome were localizer-like runway extensions to help guide in pilots, one touch access to see information on nearby airports including the identifier, bearing and distance to each, and even handy features for the hang gliding and paragliding community. These features included a GPS-derived rate-of-ascent / descent indicators, glide-ratio and glide-ratio-to-target features which will come in handy for people who participate in these sports.

Garmin says their GPSMap 96C batteries will last up to 40 hours, depending on the backlight mode. We ran the unit for several hours, and felt that their estimates would be pretty accurate. Part of what made this prognostication possible was the fact that Garmin not only included a battery meter, but also included a battery timer on the data page, that tells you in a fairly accurate manner how long your batteries will really last.

TRI MODE is the buzzword these days, and the GPSMap 96C fills the bill nicely. The unit has an Aviation mode, but also comes with Automotive and Marine modes. This allows the unit to perform in all three environments if your hobbies include this need. Better yet, the unit can provide turn-by-turn directions in automotive mode, and you can even download greater road map data with the help of an accessory kit, which is available for a nominal fee.

To make things simple, Garmin includes a good package of accessories with these units. Each will ship with a good yoke mount, a 12 volt adapter, the USB cable for data uploads/downloads, a wrist strap for easy carrying, two AA batteries for initial power, and an installation CD with USB drivers and Garmin’s Trip and Waypoint Management software to help you get more out of your flight planning, as well as an instruction manual and quick-reference guide.

All in all, the Garmin GPSMap 96C offers a good variety of features and a beautiful color display for what amounts to a very reasonable price. If you are looking for a new, state-of-the-art portable GPS receiver that you could literally stick in your pants pocket, the GPSMap 96C, or its less expensive, monochrome GPSMap 96 are one way to turbocharge your flying.

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