Garmin eTrex Legend HCx

In mid-July, Garmin released an update to their eTrex Legend line with the eTrex Legend HCx, which is basically a Legend Cx with a high sensitivity chip. Garmin isn’t using the SiRFstar III in this unit, instead, they’ve gone with the MediaTek MT3. You can see a comparison of the two chips here. Basically, the MediaTek chip provides better accuracy while requiring less power. A real win for portable devices like the eTrex line.

eTrex Legend HCx

I knew going in that Garmin has horrible support on both Linux and OS X. In fact, basically the only thing you can do on OS X is upgrade the GPS receiver’s firmware. On Linux, well… don’t even bother. What I didn’t anticipate was the difficulty I’d have figuring their software out once I had it installed in Parallels on my Mac. While I got it working eventually, this isn’t something I’d expect my parents to figure out. What’s more, Garmin’s GPS receivers that use USB interfaces (like the Legend HCx) don’t output NMEA data streams. And of course, it’s a closed spec, so don’t expect to hook your GPS up to anything besides Windows and get a data stream. So yeah, Garmin ignores everyone who doesn’t run Windows. Those of us who have been free of it for a while are used to that though.

How does the unit actually perform? That’s the important thing. Simply put, the reception is amazing. If you need to know the exact position of your toilet in a windowless bathroom to within 3 feet, this is the unit for you. The reception is great, the only place I’ve been with it where I can’t get a fix on my location is the basement of an 8 story building. That’s no surprise though as it is basically a concrete bunker. It handles my car, the woods, valleys and even canyons remarkably well. Besides spelunking, I wouldn’t hesitate to take it anywhere with me.

What about battery life? It’s pretty good as well. The Legend HCx runs on two AA batteries (I use rechargeable NiMH ones) and Garmin says you get 25 hours on a set. I’m seeing closer to 30 hours per charge, but I’m using 2650 maH batteries.

Storage isn’t a problem either. While the unit doesn’t have much built in, the microSD card slot in the battery compartment means effectively unlimited storage space for maps, tracks and routes. You’ll definitely want to take advantage of this storage to put better maps on the unit. The Legend HCx basemap is incredibly sparse and only shows major highways. Features on the landscape are often out of place as well… more than once the GPSr claimed I was walking in Lake Superior as I drove along the highway.

Auto-routing with the unit is pretty good… though it has it’s moments of sheer frustration. On a recent trip to Green Bay, the GPSr really wanted to route me over a particular bridge. There was only one problem… the bridge had been torn out to be replaced. I obviously couldn’t drive over it and the Legend HCx doesn’t have a way for me to tell it the bridge is gone (like on a Tom-Tom). So, I backtracked, drove to another bridge and crossed the river, at which time the Legend recalculated my route… and directed me back over the bridge. Luckily traffic wasn’t heavy at the time and I was able to use the street maps on the device to navigate my own way the last few miles. Beside that one incident though, the unit has been spot on using maps from Mapsource Metroguide (Garmin’s mapping software). Once a newer version of City Navigator is out, I’ll put out the $150 for that.

eTrex Legend HCx

All in all, I’ve found the Legend HCx to be a good product, and it is probably one of the best GPS receivers I’ve ever used. Garmin’s interface is easy to learns, the auto-routing is pretty good overall and it’s performance under cover (outside and in) is outstanding. This is a solid win for Garmin. For those considering buying one solely for auto-navigation: look at a Tom-Tom, you’ll probably be happier with one of those.

10 thoughts on “Garmin eTrex Legend HCx

  1. Pingback: Adding GPS Coordinates to Photos' EXIF data in OS X at Kyle Schneider

  2. Does it auto-route when using the Metroguide maps? I’m kinda new to the whole GPS scene, and have a Legend HCx on order, and was under the impression that Metroguide offered no auto-routing capabilities? If it does, what is the difference between Metroguide and City Navigator?

    Thanks in advance :)

  3. I just purchased the Legend HCx; I have had the old Legend for years and loved it. I could connect the Legend to my laptop and it would feed data in the NMEA in/out mode to MS Streets and Trips.

    The HCx would not do that. I called Garmin and they linked me up with Spanner, which emulates a port that exchanges NMEA data. Spanner installed fine … but it cannot find my HCx. Says it finds a device, but the device is not transmitting the right kind of data. Says to set my Garmin to “Garmin” or “Host” mode–but I cannot find any such selectable function.

    Any help?


  4. Fook Autorouting will only work using the basemap I’m afraid.. City Navigator has more points of interest and I think is a bit more updated.

    StanYeah, unfortunately, Garmin’s USB units don’t output in NMEA unfortunately. I was really bummed when I found that out too. I can’t really help you with Spanner as I don’t currently have a windows machine to set it up on, but I think the GPS unit is in “Garmin” mode by default unless you’ve got it connected as a mass storage device.

    From Garmin’s site on Spanner:

  5. Spanner allows you to use your GPS 18 USB with most NMEA 0183-compliant mapping programs. It adds a virtual com port interface to your GPS 18 so that you can send NMEA data to other programs.
  6. Spanner works only with GPS 18 software version 2.90 or later. Be sure to load the latest GPS 18 software before using this program.
  7. My guess is that the software only recognizes the GPS 18 and not the Legend HCx. However, GPSFAQS seems to indicate that it does.

    In short… I really don’t know. SOrry.

  8. You might like to know gpsbabel is pretty good for fetching tracklogs, waypoints and such from USB Garmins.

  9. Is this gps unit good for going out in the woods where there are no roads and maps? I want to use it to map the old trails, and mark where good berry picking spots are.

  10. Steph, it will work really well for that, you’d be hard pressed to find a GPS unit that wouldn’t though.

  11. have a look at gpsbabel, and qlandkarte. the former is very mature and quite famous ;), and i just finished uploading some maps to my vista hcx with the later (it is able to read, display and so on maps in garmin format, i think it will be useful for trip planning and such). the only quirk is some usb permissions for users on linux, see this link for more help:

    garmin really has no merit in all this afaik (all was done through reverse engineering and guesswork by some good people out there), but the oss community effectively made their devices the most desirable gps units on the market. shame on them, hopefully they will see the light.

    hope this helps

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