New Garmin Montana 700 Series GPS Units with 5" Touchscreen and InReach Capable

deserteagle56

Adventurer
After my sat phone provider decided to double the yearly subscription on my phone this past summer I decided to give up the sat phone and bought me a Garmin Montana 750i. Not because I needed the camera...at the time there were no 700i models available. After 6 months of use I can tell you the InReach part of the Montana 750i works just fine, never had a problem sending or receiving a message. A year's InReach subscription is about a third of what a year's sat phone subscription would have cost me.

Initially I had problems with the 750i turning itself off. That was solved with the first software update Garmin put out. Also, the unit comes with what Garmin has named "Topoactive" maps. They are the most up-to-date topographic maps I've seen - but unfortunately, they don't show a lot of the back country roads I ride. Years ago I bought the Garmin 100k topo maps on a DVD; I loaded them on a microSD card and used them in my Montana 600. When I loaded that card into the 750i and tried using the 100k maps I had problems - not always, occasionally - where the 750 would refuse to bring up any mapsets at all until I rebooted it. After rebooting it would work fine...until the next time. Using a Garmin 24k mapset, newest version on a microSD card, did not cause any problems - it worked well. FYI, the 24k mapsets (at least for the "West" section) were updated I think in 2013 or thereabouts. I have the older version and was pleasantly surprised at how much more accurate, how much more useable data, there was on the updated version versus my old version.) Also, the 750i comes with Land Status map overlay which I've come to appreciate; it shows private versus public lands and as I ride in areas where there are a lot of both interspersed it helps a lot. The Land Status overlay will work with whatever mapset you use.

So - with the latest software update and the newest 24k mapset, the 750i works pretty darned good. I've not had the battery issues mentioned above. I can hike pretty much all day and the battery still shows 80% charge. Most of the time I use it in its powered mount, in my Jeep or side by side, so the screen is at full brightness and easily visible. Menus are not much different than with my old Montana 600 (which still works just fine, by the way) but you'll have to get used to "Recorded Activities" versus "Tracks". Just a matter of semantics and slightly different way of saving them.

I would definitely buy it again. Below shot show my Montana 750i using the included Topoactive maps. White squares are private land (Land Status overlay selected). You can see my track on there and yes, I am on a road. It just doesn't show on the Topoactive maps.

P1010747r.jpg

Switching to the Garmin 100k maps shows the roads (no Land Status overlay on this shot) :
P1010745r.jpg
 

pluton

Adventurer
inReach replaced a satellite phone for me as well. I use Gaia (on iPhone) and the Montana 700i in tandem: 2 unrelated systems, 2 sets of waypoints, etc.
If the 66i screen backlight goes substantially brighter than the Montana 700 series, that'd be an argument for the 66i. Agree with the others that, in my use, battery life on the 700i is decent. Apparently, there are adjustments on the unit that can greatly lower power consumption.
I was pretty happy with my original Montana 600 series that I bought in 2011. It showed me where I was on a map, and allowed me to mark and name waypoints. But---the touch screen was failing and the data entry (waypoint names, mostly) was excruciatingly slow compared to a modern smartphone.
The 700i improved the touch screen and operating speed, big time. However, it's not as good as the Montana 600 series for using on a vehicle dashboard during the daytime because the backlight is not bright enough. The 700i backlight is between 1/4 and 1/3rd as bright (measured with light meter) as the old Montana 600 series. Out in the sun or at night it's fine, though. If they come out with a 700i featuring a better backlight, I'll dump the 700i quick and get the new one.
 

SBSYNCRO

Active member
Just pulled the trigger on the 700i. I'm a bit nervous about the low backlighting issue mentioned a few times (I will be using this a lot in the vehicle and frequently wear polarized sunglasses).
 

WanderingBison

Active member
Just pulled the trigger on the 700i. I'm a bit nervous about the low backlighting issue mentioned a few times (I will be using this a lot in the vehicle and frequently wear polarized sunglasses).
Looking forward to hearing what you think - maybe get infirm my next decision.


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk Pro
 

SBSYNCRO

Active member
My Montana 700i arrived on Friday (its now Sunday morning). Here are my initial impressions coming from a 10-year old Delorme Inreach SE:

What a pain in the butt to set up. It is not very intuitive and took about 45 minutes tinkering with various apps and utilities. Honestly I'm not even sure what I did to get it working. Surprisingly, switching from my old device IMEI to the new one was easy on Garmin's web site. Activating the new device took 3 attempts and about 35 minutes sitting in a window with a clear view of the sky. Garmin needs to work on making the setup easier. And WHY do they need to have "Garmin Express" and "Garmin Connect" and "Earthmate" and "Basecamp” and “web updater” and “Garmin Explore"??? FFS, just put everything in one place, Garmin!

As others have noted, the unit is hefty. Feels like a military version of an iPhone (e.g. 3x the weight and thickness with less screen resolution)

Touch screen performance out of the box is very snappy. Panning and scrolling is very fast. Even with a tempered glass screen protector, it works very well.

The trans reflective screen takes some getting used to outdoors, but it is brilliant. You can literally turn the screen brightness all the way down and still use it outdoors in bright light - you just have to angle it a certain way to see it.

Base maps nearly fill the memory capacity, so if you want to run additional maps you will need a memory card (max 32GB)

The "TopoActive" maps that are included don't have any of the off-road trails (or even paved dirt roads) that I've checked. I'd say zero for 15 or so that I've checked. That does not give me much confidence in these "premium" base maps. I am now researching other map options (if there even are any).

I have not yet figured out how to to route planning on the web and upload to the device. That is the next step in my learning with this new unit.

There is a lot of POI data, including restaurants, shops, gas stations, etc. However, when I check POIs that are more 'overland' related or topographical features, results can be inconsistent, often taking more than two or three minutes to deliver results. For example, after 44 seconds "Cerro Gordo" results in one match: "Korean Presbyterian Church()". Then after another minute (1:46 total) will deliver about a dozen additional results that include "Cerro Gordo Mines", "Cerro Gordo", "Cerro Gordo Ghost Town" and "Cerro Gordo Mine" (but the Korean church still shows as the first match!). When searching you have to be patient and make sure it is completely finished searching, which can take several minutes. Oddly, in a search of "Trona" (e.g. Trona Pinnacles) the 6th result is also "Korean Presbyterian Church()" and "Trona Pinnacles" shows up as the TWENTY-THIRD result! (...?). Typing in "Trona Pinnacles" yields two results (after 2 minutes 24 seconds) both an exact match of "Trona Pinnacles". So if you know the exact spelling of something, you will get better results using the full name, but be prepared to wait several minutes for a result.

I'll post back more to this thread after I've used it for a bit (or perhaps start a new thread and re-post these comments along with additional findings). At this point, I'm having a bit of buyer's remorse because I've found the navigation features (particularly map quality) to not be sufficient to replace the iPhone running Onx & Gaia, which leaves me thinking I might have been better off with an InReach Mini + phone. (save $400 and a lot of weight).

Oh and a cool little factoid - there were GPS breadcrumbs from the factory QA process, so I can see where it was made in Taiwan!
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pluton

Adventurer
My Montana 700i arrived on Friday (its now Sunday morning). Here are my initial impressions coming from a 10-year old Delorme Inreach SE:

What a pain in the butt to set up. It is not very intuitive and took about 45 minutes tinkering with various apps and utilities. Honestly I'm not even sure what I did to get it working.
Be patient with the setup; think of setting it up as a multi-day, multi-trip process. The words "Garmin" and "intuitive" are rarely used in the same sentence.
My experience with the TopoActive map was not quite as bad as yours in the remote area I tried it (Mojave Preserve, CA). Only a few roads were missing. BTW, Gaia Topo was missing the same roads. I added a full suite of state topo maps from GPSFiledepot.com, plus the old Garmin US Topo 100K, plus the Garmin 24K West and Southwest. I might delete the City Navigator maps from the 700i.
At this point, I consider the 700i to be a backup device to the iPhone w/ Gaia, one that also---thankfully--- comes with a real satcom device built in.
Of course, if Garmin ever restores the display brightness to it's former 600-series glory, that unit will become more useful as a car dash backcountry GPS.
 

Laps

Active member
@SBSYNCRO: Good initial evaluation. Having owned multiple Garmin units over the years, including an aviation dedicated Garmin, I have become comfortable with their platform. I now own a 700. I certainly agree about the land based mapping features. I certainly wish there was a more detailed and accurate map source for the 700 other than having to pay $100 for the 24K regional Topo maps. I encourage you to proceed with starting a new thread and would be interested in your findings.
 
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clintium

New member
I was given a Montana 700i as a present around Christmas (lucky me). It's my first piece of equipment like this. I have watched so many youtube videos. I think the reality is I just don't really know how to use GPS maps in general. I've struggled doing anything useful with the 700i. I like the elevation and profile maps. WikiLocs is pretty cool.
Navigation seems completely worthless. Whether for offroading/exploring or just finding a gas station. Seriously, am I an idiot? When I search for 'gas' or 'camping' I just get a list. No ability to view the results on a map. You have to lead each one individually. No context or explanation to what it's found. I know it's not google maps or anything, but I just don't see how this is useful for anyone. If I was totally in the middle of nowhere with no other options and I just searched 'gas station' I do think it would get me to a gas station.

All this talk of the 100k maps and 24k maps definitely illuminates some of my blind spots. Though it seems like the TopoActive is supposed to be an updated version? Not sure.

If anyone feels like helping me understand what I'm missing, or wants to point me to some info, I would be grateful. I've read this entire thread and I'm going to use it for a baseline of understanding what's going on.

Worst case, it's still got the inreach for emergency and communications. But damn if that's all I was going to use it for there are a lot of options for about half the price.

My use case is off-roading, car camping, hiking, and general exploration around the southwest US.

I haven't used it in a while so a lot of my thoughts aren't fresh. I'll update this after my next trip.
 

deserteagle56

Adventurer
I was given a Montana 700i as a present around Christmas (lucky me). It's my first piece of equipment like this. I have watched so many youtube videos. I think the reality is I just don't really know how to use GPS maps in general. I've struggled doing anything useful with the 700i. I like the elevation and profile maps. WikiLocs is pretty cool.
Navigation seems completely worthless. Whether for offroading/exploring or just finding a gas station. Seriously, am I an idiot? When I search for 'gas' or 'camping' I just get a list. No ability to view the results on a map. You have to lead each one individually. No context or explanation to what it's found. I know it's not google maps or anything, but I just don't see how this is useful for anyone. If I was totally in the middle of nowhere with no other options and I just searched 'gas station' I do think it would get me to a gas station.

All this talk of the 100k maps and 24k maps definitely illuminates some of my blind spots. Though it seems like the TopoActive is supposed to be an updated version? Not sure.

If anyone feels like helping me understand what I'm missing, or wants to point me to some info, I would be grateful. I've read this entire thread and I'm going to use it for a baseline of understanding what's going on.

Worst case, it's still got the inreach for emergency and communications. But damn if that's all I was going to use it for there are a lot of options for about half the price.

My use case is off-roading, car camping, hiking, and general exploration around the southwest US.

I haven't used it in a while so a lot of my thoughts aren't fresh. I'll update this after my next trip.
Boy, I don't even know where to begin with all your questions.

I'll start with this - don't ever ask the GPS unit to direct you to a certain location if that location is not a recent address in a populated area. That's how people end up on the news, with search crews trying to find them.

Most of us who travel the outback, in remote areas we are unfamiliar with, use GPS "tracks". A track is simply a highlight on a map, same as if you have a paper map and you highlight the roads you want to travel to a destination. Using Garmin's Basecamp, or some other software program, you can create a track to a destination and then load that onto your GPS unit. Then, when you are out there in the middle of nowhere with unmarked roads/trails running every which way, all you have to do is make sure you are driving the highlighted road you chose. The map on your GPS unit will scroll with you as you drive and all you have to do is make sure you stay with the track. If you decide to explore somewhere not on the track, the GPS unit WILL NOT direct you back to the track. It's up to you to find your way back.

Here is an example of a track I created in magenta color (you can choose any number of colors to suit yourself):
P1130362r.jpg

The gray lines in the above photo are roads; the magenta is the track (road highlight) I created; as you drive the line you just covered becomes a cyan color automatically as the GPS unit creates a track of your current activity. Remember that no matter where you are you can always follow that cyan line back to where you started.

As far as maps, you'll find the Topoactive maps on your unit are fairly up to date - but they don't have very many primitive roads/two tracks on them. I've found that the Garmin 100k and 24k topo maps have many more of the primitive roads shown than the Topoactive.

There are any number of good tutorials out there. That's an excellent GPS unit you have - it can do so many different things, provide so much good information - but unless you learn how to use it, its worthless. Do some research - lots of help out there. Here's a video that can help:
 

SBSYNCRO

Active member
As a follow up to DesertEagle's post, I'll chime in and add a few comments after several weekends of playing with the unit:

1. Garmin's user interface and general approach to usability is some of the worst I have seen in my entire life. I am a 30 year veteran of the software business, having spent 10 years of that time running Product and Product Marketing, and I can tell you that it seems like Garmin is a land of 1,000 tribes, all of whom get to throw crap on Garmin devices, but don't coordinate efforts in the least. There is a horrific number of redundancies, feature overlaps, naming convention conflicts (Track vs. Route vs. ActiveTrack, what "tracking" really means, etc). There is no consistency across the various areas of use.

2. As noted, using the Montana for navigation will work, but reminds me of a 1990's Magellan unit I had. Painfully slow, turn-by-turn instructions are beeps and boops, and aren't always accurate. We are all spoiled by Google or Apple Maps (or Waze). This is not a good use of this device

3. I still have not figured out how all the various apps are *supposed* to be used with this device. Garmin Express, Garmin Basecamp, Garmin Connect, Garmin Explore, Garmin MapInstaller, Garmin MapUpdater (and I think there are more that I am forgetting). It is ridiculous. See point #1 above. Supposedly you can use Basecamp to plan trips, but after a couple hours of playing with it, I feel like I'm trying to learn a CAD program designed for Windows 3.11 in 1995.

4. I was able to install some public domain OSM Maps for the Western USA onto the device (which takes literally two hours to copy to the SD card). They showed up after I renamed the file to *.img. Then after some more fiddling with the device, I could no longer access the map. Still troubleshooting that issue. But the map did look very good and better than the "ActiveTopo" maps that come with the device. See the YouTube videos from "Hiking Guy" for some good tutorials.

5. I cannot figure out whether the automatic tracking that this device wants to do is also laying down InReach breadcrumbs (what used to be called "tracking" on my old InReach Explorer) or is it just putting a trail on a map so that I can backtrack the route? (even using those terms "track" and "route" is confusing). Every time you turn the unit on, it starts "tracking" by default. AS a result I have a "track" that circles around my house for the last 6 days and includes a drive to a hiking trail, along with the 8 mile hike I did. User error I'm sure, but at some point when something is this hard to figure out, you can't blame the user...

6. The screen is a love-or-hate depending on the situation. In bright sunlight (like hiking or hunting) the trans reflective screen is AMAZING. Much better than a brand new iPhone. The screen is also very good if it is dark outside (or semi-dark). *But* if you are using it in your vehicle during daylight, the ambient brightness will be too high for the backlight in the unit to make it bright enough to see, but you won't have any direct sunlight to utilize the trans reflective screen. MAJOR FAIL since this unit is ideally suited to vehicle use (off-roading/overland exploration). It is largely useless in a vehicle unless it is dark outside.

Bottom line, at this point, I think I wish I'd have saved $350 and bought the Inreach Mini and just paired it to an iPad mini in the car. That would give me a user interface that I can understand (Gaia maps on the iPad) and a portable unit that is much better suited to cycling, hiking and backpacking. I may change my mind, but right now I have pretty significant buyer's remorse. In fact I'm thinking of just getting the Mini, crying a bit about the $700 loss and sticking it in a drawer until I have a few weekend of stormy weather to figure out how to use it.
 

deserteagle56

Adventurer
5. I cannot figure out whether the automatic tracking that this device wants to do is also laying down InReach breadcrumbs (what used to be called "tracking" on my old InReach Explorer) or is it just putting a trail on a map so that I can backtrack the route? (even using those terms "track" and "route" is confusing). Every time you turn the unit on, it starts "tracking" by default. AS a result I have a "track" that circles around my house for the last 6 days and includes a drive to a hiking trail, along with the 8 mile hike I did. User error I'm sure, but at some point when something is this hard to figure out, you can't blame the user...
By default, every Garmin GPS unit lays down a track as you use it. Yes, as you say, it is putting a trail on the map that you can backtrack on. I believe the tracking feature can be disabled.

With the 700 series, once you are done using it you must give the power button a quick push. That will bring up a screen showing "Recorded activity" (used to be called tracks in older Garmin units). If you want to keep the track it just created, tap the SD card icon and then give it a name in the following screen. If you want to clear the track and everything associated with it off the unit, tap the trash can and it all will disappear. You can find your older tracks (excuse me, Recorded Activities) and either delete them also or rename them and keep them.
 

SBSYNCRO

Active member
By default, every Garmin GPS unit lays down a track as you use it. Yes, as you say, it is putting a trail on the map that you can backtrack on. I believe the tracking feature can be disabled.

With the 700 series, once you are done using it you must give the power button a quick push. That will bring up a screen showing "Recorded activity" (used to be called tracks in older Garmin units). If you want to keep the track it just created, tap the SD card icon and then give it a name in the following screen. If you want to clear the track and everything associated with it off the unit, tap the trash can and it all will disappear. You can find your older tracks (excuse me, Recorded Activities) and either delete them also or rename them and keep them.
Does this also post updates to the Inreach Mapshare? Thats the part I haven't taken the time yet to test... no
 
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pluton

Adventurer
The 700 units, while much slower and kludgier in the UI and OS departments, do have one thing in common with the modern smartphone: They have many, many functions. Like the first smartphone one experiences, it takes time to muddle through all of the controls in order to learn to use the functions one wants and turn off the functions that one doesn't want. You can't be in a hurry.
It took me a while to figure out how to turn the goddamn track recording off . For those odd occasions where I actually want to record my movements, I placed the 'Begin Recording ' (or whatever they call it) control where I can access it quickly on the home menu. I hate things that are turned on by default.
I too use the unit for camping, backroad exploring, and occasionally hiking if in an unfamiliar area. However, I have never created a route. Maybe my trips are less complicated than others do.
With the exception of the weak backlight, the 700i works for my purpose of seeing where I am on the map, marking/naming waypoints of interest, and occasionally recording my movements when desired.
Since there is no comparable unit on the market, and the operating speed of the UI on the old Montana 600 series is much slower than the 700 series, I am conditionally satisfied with my 700i until something better comes along.
I just started working on home-brewing a low-cost front illuminator for the dim screen when mounted on the car dashboard in the daytime. If I make something that actually works, I'll show it here.
 
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