The Garmin eTrex Vista HCx portable GPS is one of the newer additions to the Garmin lineup. It’s a compact design and one of the smallest and lightest Garmin handheld GPS units on the market.
The ‘HCx’ in the model designation means this unit has a removable memory card, high-sensitivity GPS receiver, plus a built-in altimeter and compass.
It measures only 4.2 inches high, 2.2 wide, and 1.2 thick and weighs in at a miniscule 5.1 ounces with a pair of AA batteries installed on my scale.
Five pushbuttons and a joystick control this advanced eTrex. Three buttons are side-mounted on the left, with two on the right, and the joystick on the front panel.
I found the unit fit nicely in one hand and after some practice was able to operate it single-handed without having my fingers block the screen.
Symbol labels for the pushbuttons are molded into the plastic and located just under each button or in case of the arrow keys on the button. I didnt like the black on black color scheme as it offers little contrast and made seeing the labels in low light conditions difficult.
A couple of directional indices for compass use are printed on the case front too.
The front panel mounted joystick adds a new dimension to the control and operation of the eTrex Vista not seen on older Garmin handhelds. It functions as both a four direction rocker switch and a dual function pushbutton.
One really handy tool built into the joystick software allows the user to make a waypoint at the current position anytime by simply pressing and holding the joystick button in.
The first time we turned on the unit it took about a minute to locate our position. On subsequent uses it locked on in a few seconds.
The Garmin eTrex Vista HCx features Garmins easy-to-use software package that allows the use of most functions via four main pages. Each sequential push of the page buttonthe upper button on the right-hand sidetakes you to the Map, Compass, Altimeter, and Menu pages.
The Map page displays a basic land and road map but had no coastal details in the areas we checked. This unit does have a microSD card slot and can use Garmin preformatted Bluechart cards to store additional chart data. You can also load optional map data to a blank microSD card by purchasing a Garmin MapSource CD.
On the Compass page you’ll find a compass rose with rudimentary markings at the cardinal headings covering the lower two-thirds of the page. The electronic compass sensor is turned on or off with when on the compass page by using the joystick push button. You should calibrate the compass before use. Above the compass rose you’ll find data boxes, you can display two, three, of four boxes with user selectable data points.
The altimeter page uses a graphic and data boxes to show your altitude.
The last main page is the menu page with sub-menus for Mark, Waypoint, Route, Tracks, and Setup. The page list and sequence is adjustable by the user.
The Garmin eTrex Vista HCx uses a 2.2 inch (on the diagonal) 256-color TFT screen in portrait layout that carries a very respectable 176 x 220 pixel resolution This combination makes curved lines and small fonts sharp and easy to read.
The only issue we noted was how small some of the text actually was, people with less than perfect near vision may have some trouble reading details.
We found the screen easy to see view under all lighting conditions. Ten different color palettes are available for both daylight and night viewing. No pushbutton backlighting is provided.
Odds and Ends
Access to the battery compartment, USB port, and microSD card slot are all located on the case back. The microSD card is inside the battery compartment.
This unit ships with the Garmin MapSource Trip and Waypoint Manager CD and USB cable to allow transfer of waypoint, route, and track data between the Vista HCx and a personal computer.
The Garmin eTrex Vista can store up to 1000 waypoints and 20 routes. It carries a one-year warranty and is rated water resistant to IPX7 standards. That means it can be submerged to a depth of 1 meter for 30 minutes and not be damaged. It passed our drop and submersion test but be aware it does not float.
I liked the Vista HCx for its excellent color display screen, user friendly software, and electronics compass sensor. To make this unit a real asset to boaters requires the addition of Bluechart data.