Gear Review: Garmin Oregon 650 Initial Thoughts

  • Updated: July 10, 2013
  • Post By: Matthew Hengst

Garmin Oregon 650 GPS

(A followup can be found here)

My habit of returning to camp well after dark has made me rather appreciative of handheld GPS units.  I had a GPSMAP 60csx that lived a good life before getting lost followed by a Oregon 450 originally intended to be a temporary solution that turned into something more permanent.

After my Garmin Oregon 450 GPS developed a habit of loosing satellites while under clear skies I ended up taking a look around at options while working my way through tech support.

I spoke to some rather helpful folks at the Garmin tech support number and they offered to ship me out a refurbished unit for $99.  Even better they would send me a unit out immediately and just charge me 2x $99 until they received my unit.  Not too bad!

Just to cover all of my bases I checked what the other Garmin models offered and saw there had been an updated Oregon released, the 6xx line.

Brighter screen?  More resistant to scratches?  Faster maps?  Better interface?  Rechargeable batteries?

It was enough to get me to drive out to an REI in the few precious hours before the next trip and throw down $500.

The Oregon 6xx line consists of 600, 650, and 650t models with the main difference being a 8 MP camera in the 650 and an included map chip in the 650t.

I briefly considered the 600 model for $80 less.  The included 8 MP camera wasn't much of a boon for me but I did like the additional 2 GB of internal memory and the included battery pack.  That was enough to sell me.

Keep in mind these are my impressions after a few weeks in the field using the device and coming from years of heavy use of a GPSMAP 60csx models and my well abused Oregon 450.

My use case is I load applicable maps from my computer along with predefined waypoints.  During the trip I have the GPS on the entire time so I can later create maps with the track and I actively use the maps for navigation while out in the field.  I also have a predisposition towards night hiking and use the GPS heavily during that.


The 650 is a noticeably nicer unit than the 450.  While I never saw anything wrong with the 450 initially the screen did prove to be incredibly easy to scratch along with the plastic case.  In addition 
to the harder plastic body the 650 has what Garmin describes as a hardened glass screen

The scratch resistant screen is certainly more durable than the 450 (which admittedly came into contact with a few rocks and such.)  I have a habit of sticking the carabiner on one of my belt loops which does expose the device to a bit more risk though I do try and be careful.

I was encouraged by a video I found online showing someone scratching a pair of pliers over the glass to no effect.  I was going to have to order a screen protector so I resolved to just take greater care on the few trips before it arrived.  Sadly even with these precautions and making sure to put the unit inside a fleece beanie in my pack when not in use I still ended up with a few light scratches despite never dropping the device.

Clip + Carabiner

The carabiner clip on the back is functionally the same as the 450.  It's solid and convenient to clip on to a pack or belt loop.  Both are far superior to the old stud + clip found on the GPSMAP 60csx which I ended up breaking and replacing multiple times over the life of the device.

The downside is the clip & carabiner has a tendency to block the camera lens so you have to pull the carabiner down in order to take an unobstructed shot or just remove the clip completely.

Get used to removing the clip as it manages to block both the USB port and the battery case in the newer model.  The Oregon 450 required a somewhat awkward move to get at the batteries where you pull up the clip and then pull up a small panel to pop off the back of the device.  It was always a bit difficult to do but could be done without removing the clip.

Now you have to slide off the clip + carabiner to access a small twist screw.  In addition seating the battery case back on the device tends to be somewhat touchy and I rarely manage it on the first go.

Also the flap covering the USB port is flimsy and rarely seats correctly for me.

So it's a mixed bag.  In general the hardware is better but the way the clip works is a downgrade from the 450.

Rechargeable Battery Pack

Between my headlamp and GPS usage I go through a distressing amount of lithium batteries over the course of an average month.  I've experimented with rechargeable batteries of various sorts but never found them to live up to expectations.

The battery is two NiMH batteries connected with a plastic sheath which hits a switch that lets the device know it can be recharged.  One pack comes with the 650 and you can buy additional packs for $25 a piece from Garmin and they work with the 600 as well. pack with additional packs being available from Garmin for $25 a piece.

One of my major annoyances with the 450 was when I'd be in a hurry and accidentally leave it plugged in to the USB cable while the lithium batteries were still in the unit.  When I'd go to get the unit the following weekend the batteries would be completely drained.

That at least is a thing of the past.  Now when the unit is hooked up to the computer the rechargeable battery pack is being charged.

The downside seems to be there isn't a dedicated charger being offered or else I'd have bought two extra packs already.  Instead you have to put the rechargeable into the device then plug it in to a USB port or the provided USB wall charger.

As it stands the battery pack usually lasts until late into day 2 at which point I switch back to AA lithiums.


I'm quite happy with my trusty Sony TX20 which has survived enough abuse and comes to hand so quickly I'm in no hurry to get rid of it.

Having said that I did try out the camera on the 650.

Honestly the pictures are passable outside of those obstructed by the previously mentioned clip + carabiner issue.  The nice thing about the GPS is the images come out geotagged and appear in Basecamp at the exact spot you took them.  I can see potential for this as far as narrating trips or taking pictures of significant landscape features.

Pictures can be copied off from the file system like any other file.  When you plug the unit in it mounts the camera storage as another drive.

Note that initially the camera came set to the 5 MP setting so make sure to go and switch it to 8 MP for the best results.

Also as I mentioned earlier the carabiner and clip on the back tend to block the camera lens.


One of the things that always annoyed me greatly with older Garmin units was the inability to show both elevation gain and distance traveled on the same screen.  Instead you had to go into the elevation screen to see how much gain you'd done then back to the stat screen to see the odometer.

The 6xx line fixes that as the stat screen can show elevation gain / low, distance, and a large amount of other statistics and it quite flexible about letting you show more / less.  Damn simple thing to fix but it made me immensely happy after living with the previous limitations.

The main screen consists of a customizable list of apps and a dashboard.  I've found the Recreation dashboard to be quite useful as it shows current elevation and time until sunrise / sunset.

I've had two major problems with the interface.  First off is the fact it's easy to inadvertently change things.  There is a lock functionality (be default click the upper side button twice and poke the lock) and you need to get very used to setting this else you'll come back to an unfamiliar dashboard and a paused route track.

Second is it's difficult to determine if you have the unit turned off or just have the screen deactivated.  I've had a number of nights where I swear I had the thing turned off only to find it powered on with the screen off the following morning.


While I've yet to find anything to fully replace the hole in my workflow caused by National Geographic discontinuing the Topo! State Series the Garmin Basecamp product has really impressed me as a replacement for the old inferior Mapsource.

Having said that there really isn't any difference with the 650 vs the 450 when using Basecamp.

(Note that I have copies of the Garmin 24k South and Southwest products and that without these Basecamp isn't near as useful.)

Issues I've Had

I have had 2 or 3 occurrences of the device freezing up.  It's happened on the map screen and caused everything to become unresponsive requiring me to remove the back of the case and pop out the batteries before I could power it back on.  This is using firmware 2.70 and Garmin has a history of extended updates.  I'd say it's usable now and bound to improve.

The bigger issue I've been having has been telling if the device is off or not.  Without a dedicated power button your supposed to hold down the top button to power off the device.  I've had multiple times when I went to power on the device the next morning only to show track stats that seemed to indicate it had been on all night.  In one case this had run the batteries down completely and trying to power the device on resulted in screen tearing.  I was briefly afraid I was going to have to return the unit before I tried switching the batteries to a fresh set.


The above issues aside I have to say this is the best Garmin GPS I've used.  My switch from the GPSMAP model to the Oregon 450 was somewhat of a fluke but I've found I far prefer the touchscreen interface to that of the GPSMAP rocker for quickly getting things done.

Other than a few niggling details about the body I'd recommend this unit over any of the other options currently out there.

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  1. Thanks for your review. Now that a bit more time has gone by, has the issue with freezing stopped? Wondering if the firmware upgrades have resolved this -- it's keeping me from buying the unit, as lot's of other reviews say the same thing. Not looking forward to removing batteries often!

  2. Thanks! I actually have a followup post I'm hoping to get up in the next day or two now that I've been running around with this thing in the Sierra and beyond for a few hundred miles.

    Basically the freeze issues seem to have gone away and I'm still convinced this is the best unit on the market. Most of my complaints are actually around how the back panel is removed.