Color GPS Receiver
There are five models of
the Meridian GPS Receiver: the basic, no-frills Meridian GPS, the Gold, Marine, Platinum
and Color. The Meridian Color is the top of the Magellan line, featuring a 16-color
screen. It is preprogrammed with a large, fairly detailed map showing interstates, major
highways and streams, airports, cities and navigation aids. The receiver itself is only 6
1/2 inches long, 2 3/4 inches wide and 1 1/4 inches thick. It weighs 8 ounces (with
batteries). It's rubber-cased, waterproof - and it floats!
The Color GPS receiver is
powered by two AA batteries. Battery life is around 14 hours unless the backlight is
turned on. If it is, the batteries probably won't last longer than 6 hours, maybe
less. Under daylight conditions, the data appearing on the screen is plainly visible.
Backlighting isn't necessary - but I'll get into that later. The viewing screen,
by the way, is 2.2x1.75 inches wide.
Should the batteries become
exhausted and replacements aren't at hand immediately, relax - any data stored in the
receiver's memory is safe for at least 12 hours.
Start-up procedures are simple. Once
power is turned on, the first step is to select the language you want used from one of
nine different European lingos displayed on the screen. After picking English, the
following warning popped up on the screen:
WARNING - All data is provided for
reference only. You assume full responsibility and risk when using this device. Press
ENTER if you agree.
You'd better agree within 10
seconds or the Meridian automatically shuts down. Why the caveat? Beats me - but some
lawyers probably convinced Magellan management that it's better to be safe than sued.
So press the ENTER button so the initialization process, as the manual calls it, can
continue. That includes selecting the part of the world you're in (America), then the
state, followed by entering the local time and date. Depending on how often you refer to
the instruction manual, the entire process should take no more than three to five minutes.
The next chore is to establish the
initial position fix. Go outside and point the Meridian's antenna skyward. Press the
NAV (navigation) button nine times and the Satellite Status screen will appear. It shows
the number of satellites within range and the strengths of their signals. The receiver
requires no further instructions. As soon as the Satellite Status screen is displayed, the
Meridian begins taking bearings on several of the satellites and establishing the tiny
computer's first position fix. Once that task is completed, all the functions built
into the Meridian are ready to be used.
The instruction manual cautions
everyone that attempting to use the Meridian inside a building or wherever something solid
intrudes between the receiver and the open sky (satellites) is chancy.
To put that cautionary note to the
test, once the Meridian was operating properly, I tried to see if it would work inside the
Pointing the receiver's antenna
toward the ceiling and turning the Satellite Status screen on showed that the hand-sized
receiver was receiving three satellite's signals as compared to the seven it read
when it was outside with nothing obstructing its skyward view. Dropping down another floor
revealed that the receiver was still reading the same three satellite signals, but they
were weaker, about half as strong as they were when the receiver was on the floor above.
Still, that little test left no doubt that the Meridian's reach is much more
dependable than the instruction manual suggests.
There are nine navigational screens.
The Compass screen displays a compass dial and the traditional needle that always points
north. The large Data screen shows your heading, the compass bearing to your destination,
your speed (if you're in a vehicle) and the airline distance to your objective. The
Position screen gives the latitude and longitude of your position, its altitude above sea
level, the time, date, speed and distance traveled from your starting position. The Road,
Data and Speedometer screens, as their titles suggest, present much of the same
information in different visual formats designed to suit various travel modes.
Like many, my primary interest in
global positioning systems like the
Meridian, is finding my way back to camp or the spot where my pickup is parked, especially
when I'm roaming new or unfamiliar country. The Meridian can do that - and quickly,
too - but with a limitation: It can tell you what direction camp or vehicle is from your
present position and how far away it is - as the crow flies. It cannot designate the
shortest or easiest route to take.
Before continuing, it's
necessary to take a time-out to zero in on a definition or two. Designers of the Meridian
chose the word "Waypoint" to describe any position you want to remember. As many
as 500 different Waypoints can be stored in the Meridian's memory. If it's
decided to remove some later, that can be easily accomplished.
Once a Waypoint is saved, it is
automatically given a three-digit identification number. It's also possible to add a
code name to the Waypoint's number to help you remember what it represents and where
On the test Meridian, WPT001 is our
home. One Sunday, the wife and I drove down to the Sonoran desert. When we finally stopped
to let her photograph the fresh blooms (desert spring is short-lived but incredibly
beautiful), that was designated WPT002 on the Meridian. Pressing the NAV button until the
Data screen appeared, I learned we were 36.2 miles from WPT001-HOME. The compass heading
back to that destination was also given. Of course, we had to stick to the highway that
wiggled and curved until our truck's odometer had collected 48.6 miles before we
pulled up in front of our garage.
Magellan's Mapsend software was
also fed into the Meridian. Without it, the Map screen shows where you are in relation to
any major highways, railroads or large streams in the area. After Mapsend was added, the
screen gave access to 17 different maps. Map No. 1 displays the Meridian's (your)
location with a scale of 200 feet per screen-inch. That also includes contour lines, all
streams, wet or dry, plus any major streets, secondary highways as well as the major,
numbered ones. By pressing the OUT button, a series of 16 more maps, each showing larger
areas around your position, with scales ranging from 500 feet per screen-inch to the last
one, the entire Western Hemisphere with a scale of 3,400 miles per screen-inch.
The Meridian should be as handy as a
radar screen to boaters and fishermen. Waterways and coastal areas include navigational
aids such as buoys and lighthouses. Needless to say, there was no way to check those
capabilities in my area.
My only real problem with the
Meridian concerned the backlight that lights the viewing screen. The instruction booklet
contains several warnings against leaving the backlight on when not necessary. That can
reduce battery life to six hours or less. Consequently, the manual encourages users to dim
the backlight or turn it off while operating the Meridian.
According the manual, all an
operator has to do to dim the light is to hold the POWER button down for two seconds.
Sounds simple enough - but of the 10 times I tried that, it only dimmed the backlight
once. The other nine times, the Meridian simply turned off!
One more caution: The
Meridian's control buttons (there are 12 altogether) are extremely sensitive. Fresh
batteries were installed just before one of my field outings. I only traveled 27 miles,
but when the Meridian was started up, a battery check revealed that half its power had
already been dissipated. Apparently, I had brushed the POWER button against something
several times without noticing. Although the receiver shuts down automatically after 25
seconds, the POWER button must have touched something again and again during those 27
miles. Anyway, that taught me a lesson.
At first reading, the instruction
manual left me with the impression that learning to use the Meridian was going to be
terribly confusing and, consequently, time-consuming. In retrospect, that was due to the
fact that the receiver's capabilities are so numerous and wide-ranging. The average
user's needs, however, will only require access to a relative handful of them -
position, direction and distance to the point of departure or home, perhaps. As a result,
getting the information needed by a hunter or hiker is normally a matter of seconds. Most
users will find a Meridian simple to master. I did - and I'm a far cry from being
Numerous accessories, from vehicular
mounting brackets to external power cables with vehicular cigarette lighter adaptors, from
larger-capacity memory cards to topographic and street map CD-ROMs are available.
A Color model retails for $500. All
those capabilities and colors don't come cheap. As noted, though, there are four
other models with lower price tags. One of them should suit your purposes - and bank
account. Anyone heading for unknown territory should pack one of these handy, pocket-sized
Oh, almost forgot:
Magellan says its receivers are accurate within three meters. As a one-time ship's
navigator, I find that degree of accuracy absolutely amazing. I could never come close to
that with sextant and compass. - Al Miller