Garmin 650 Followup Review

  • Updated: December 19, 2013
  • Post By: Matthew Hengst

My initial look at the 650 was positive but I had a few concerns.  This follow-up is both to address those and share what I think the actual strengths and weaknesses of the device after having spent a few hundred miles hiking with the device.

I have the Oregon 650 but most of the items below apply to the entire 600 series.  The Oregon 600 has less memory, lacks a mediocre camera, and doesn’t come with the rechargeable battery pack the 650 gives you.  The Oregon 600t and Oregon 650t are the same as the base unit but include a chip with maps preloaded.  I opt for buying the Garmin 24k topo maps and loading them by hand since the chips only have 100k maps.

The Oregon 450 is an inferior unit and I wouldn’t recommend anyone get it.  The money you save isn’t worth how much slower the unit is moving around on maps and how frustrating the touch screen is.

How I use it

I’m a long time user of Garmin GPS’s and have extensive experience owning a GPSMAP 60csx, an Oregon 450, and now the Oregon 650.  I’ve also had experience helping friends with their newer model GPSMAP 62 as well.  I’ve periodically used an iPhone as well but always returned to the standalone unit.

The trip reports I write for this site always include tracks so I keep the GPS on the entire time (as opposed to some folks who only power it on when they need to see where they are)  I also tend to carry it even if it’s a trip I’ve done before / know well.

In addition to tracking I use the unit for navigation with the on screen maps though I usually have a paper map along as well.  I do end up hiking after dark fairly often and then the unit becomes my primary means of navigation.

I also do trips across the western half of the United States so the version that includes a map chip wasn’t sufficient.  Instead I have the Garmin 24k products and I selectively load maps on my device using Basecamp.

I do a lot of trips that span multiple days with the longest this year being 9 days and it is not uncommon to have 15 hour days here and there.  As a result battery life is always a factor.

I bought the Garmin made case and usually have the unit clipped to one of the backpack arm straps unless I’m climbing something precarious in which case I’ll stow it in the top of my pack.

Issues I talked about before

Freeze issues (or non-issues)
The good news is I haven’t had any more issues with freezing that I saw initially.  There’s a steady stream of updates that get pushed by Basecamp and that seems to have fixed the rough spots I’d found.

The screen
The screen is slightly resistant to scratches but not as invincible as certain videos I’ve seen online would have you believe.  If you have it out and clipped on your belt / pack (which is how I used to carry my now heavily scratched Oregon 450) you’re going to scratch up the screen.

Maybe I’m just spoiled by my Gorilla Glass Apple devices but I expected the screen to be more resistant than it is.  Buy a screen protector and I’d strongly recommend the Garmin case (or similar solution)

The rechargeable battery
I toyed with rechargeable batteries but as much as the growing pile of spent lithiums pain me I haven’t found they last long enough to use. Instead I buy AA lithium (Ultimate or Advanced though I usually go for the former) in bulk from Amazon and I always carry several spares.  This is convenient as my oft used headlamp uses the same type. I seem to get 2-2.5 days of battery life if I keep the backlight usage to a minimum.

I am currently looking at the Eneloop XX rechargeables to see if these last long enough to be practical.

Touchscreen vs the GPSMAP Rocker control
The touchscreen vs the rocker control is the major factor between picking an Oregon vs the GPSMAP line.  I do occasionally wish I had a rocker control when I’m trying to select a waypoint (which can be a bit finicky on the touch screen and I occasionally have to zoon in to accomplish it) but it’s far outweighed by how much easier it is to scroll around the map, search for existing waypoints, and label new ones.

Continuing Annoyances

Is this thing off?
This is a piddly thing to complain about but I’ve had numerous times I thought I’d turned the unit off at night only to find it either still on or out of batteries the following morning.  To turn it off by default you hold down the power key and the screen goes off.  If you just press the same key the screen goes blank.  The only way I’ve found to tell if the unit is actually off is to pop out the batteries or power the thing back on.

I’d kill for a hardware on off switch or at least some sort of power indicator.

The bloody back panel
I hate the back panel.  The 450’s back lever could be a bit hard to pry open at times but it was a far cry better than the twist peg on the 650.

On the back of the 650 there’s a small wire twist level.  When you twist to the left the panel can be pulled off.  Easy enough.

Until you have to put it back on.  Seating it to put the back panel back on is finicky often requiring an unnatural feeling forcing of the bottom flaps.  This isn’t helped when you’ve just hiked 17 hours, it’s now dark, and there’s a cold howling wind buffeting you as a frustrated group jumps up and down waiting for you to finish swapping your damn batteries.

You’re supposed to align the peg and press the back on but it never seems to seat on the first try so I usually have to work it a bit.  And if you have the peg 180 degrees off the unit won’t close.  This annoys me constantly and the hole the peg goes into is showing some wear from bad attempts at getting it closed.

Also the rubber cover for the USB port can come off rather easily.  I lost mine a few months back.

The camera:  Ehhh
I bought the model with the camera because I wanted the larger on unit memory (for maps) and I wanted to play with the rechargeable battery it included.  I already carry a Sony TX-20 so the camera was more of a curiosity.

The clip on the back interferes with the camera lens so you either have to really pull it to the side or just take it off (which is quick)

Quality wise it’s an 8 megapixel camera but a disappointing one.  If you have a half decent smart phone from the last few years that’s going to serve you far better.

The geocoding is rather nice but that feature is available in a number of camera or cellphones with a lot better picture quality.

And in closing...

So I stand by the thought that the 650 is the best Garmin hiking unit in the market and a solid buy even at the high cost. I’d strongly recommend the case and a screen cover.

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  1. throughout this review you mention "550" this a typo or are you saying you prefer the 550 over the 650 you are reviewing?
    I am torn between the 600 and 650...overall, it sounds like you don't think the rechargeable battery pack and camera are worth the extra money. As far as the extra memory, couldn't you just add a microSD chip to get more space? I'm just wondering if that would serve the same purpose as the extra internal memory you get with the 650 if the camera and battery pack don't make it worth the extra money.
    Just trying to get as much info as I can. Thanks!

  2. Oops! I fixed it all to say 650. Thanks!

    As far as the camera and battery, no they aren't worth it. I've since switched to using eneloop 2500mAh rechargeables which you can buy in a 4 pack with their own charger.

    The camera just isn't up to snuff with even a soso current camera phone and I have a Sony TX camera I carry along with a iPhone 5S I sometimes have.

    In the GPSMAP series adding a memory card wasn't the same as having extra internal memory so I've always shied away from that option. I can't tell you offhand how the 650 uses it.

  3. Hi Great review. I also had the freezing issues but i think they were related to the SD card that i was using.
    I have configured the user button to "long press screen off" this way its easier to tell if the unit is completely off or just the screen just by pressing the user button to wake up the device.

    1. That's how mine is set up now too. You can usually give it a quick poke and see if it wakes up but I've still had very occasional issues and it's annoying to loose a battery you were counting on. I'd just be a lot happier with a physical switch and some sort of power indicator.