Garmin GPS comparison

Back in 1997 I bought a Garmin GPS 3. It was high tech back then. It had a small monochrome LCD screen and rudimentary mapping information. After our Colorado bike trip I upgraded to a GPS 5. It had a higher resolution screen and a line of display. In 2006 I bought a used StreetPilot III off Ebay. It has more mapping and routing capabilities and a nicer colored screen.

For the most part the GPSs were used as electronic maps. You could see approaching exits and turn offs. Handy and entertaining. When I picked up my Goldwing in Virginia I put a route into the StreetPilot and used the GPS to guide me. It was helpful. I decided an even more modern GPS would be fun so I picked up a refurbed 2610 on Ebay. I loved it's features but when I put it on the bike a problem became obvious...screen glare. After some research I bought a 276c on Ebay to hopefully solve the screen glare problem.

These last three GPSs are similar, but different, so I decided to post a comparison of them. Might be helpful to someone.

Garmin 276c, StreetPilot 2610, StreetPilot III mounted on my bike for road testing.

StreetPilot III

StreetPilot 2610

Memory 256MB max Garmin memory card
2GB Compactflash
(can store all North American maps)
512MB max Garmin memory card
Track points 2000 2000 10,000
Power External or batteries External only External or proprietory battery
Antenna connector BNC MCX BNC
Locking mount? No Yes No
Touch screen? No Yes No
Affected by glare? Somewhat Yes, horribly Not really
Screen comments Not very customizable Lots of info, very customizable, blurriest of the three Best resolution, very pleasing detail, customizable
Map type Non NT Non NT NT
Informational screens 2 2 5
Informational tabs Fixed Most customizable Customizable

Accuracy - All three GPSs reported the same accuracy.

Each of these GPSs uses a different type of power cord. I really wish Garmin would standardize their power cord...and their mounting brackets...and their antenna connectors.

Route generation - The StreetPilot is a little slower than the others, but fast enough.

Touch screen - Sometimes the touch screen is nice, sometimes it isn't. I like the dedicated 'In' and 'Out' buttons better for zooming.

Motorcycle use - Avoid the 2610. Glare, glare, and more glare. I used a glare screen which didn't help much. The 276c screen is by far the best. The dedicated buttons feel easier to use with gloves. I'll be putting the 276c on the Goldwing.

Automobile use - I'd recommend the 2610. Tons of features and memory. The 2610 will be going in the Jeep.

I think the 276c married with a Compactflash port would be the perfect GPS. A locking (theft-proof) mount would be nice for motorcycle use.

StreetPilot III - A good solid unit. Not fancy but will do anything you need it to. Uses Garmin proprietary memory up to 256MB. The screen is not as susceptible to glare as the 2610. Can run on batteries for hiking, biking, etc. If you're getting into GPS this would be a good starter to pick up cheap on Ebay.

StreetPilot 2610 - The most modern and coolest GPS of the bunch. Unfortunately, the matte touch screen allows glare to kill the viewing on sunny or even bright cloudy days. The touch screen makes it quick and easy to change settings. However, I don't like the touch screen for zooming or making selections where the print is small...such as getting a waypoint from a list. It seems to choose the next one due to my gloves. The 2GB CompactFlash capability is very nice. This unit is very customizable with display and routing informational tabs. The locking mount is a nice touch also.

276c - The first time I turned it on I fell in love with the screen...wonderful resolution, color, and the biggest of the three. The menu system is easy to use. The informational tabs aren't as customizable as the 2610, but good enough for 99% of the users. I like the buttons on this unit. I think the buttons are easier to use on a motorcycle. There is no problem reading the screen even in direct sunlight. Uses Garmin proprietary memory up to 512MB and this is really the only negative I have about this GPS. I'd rather buy a $20 2GB CompactFlash card and have everything than spend $140 on Garmin's proprietary memory. This unit also has another personality as a marine unit, but I don't use that part. Another nice feature is the 10,000 point track. The other's have 2,000 tracking points which seems to be good for about 400 miles. On a long day you lose some of the 'where I've been' tracking information. Another handy feature of this GPS is the internal battery is charged whenever it's hooked to an external power source.

Mapping software - The GPSs come preloaded with a basic, bland mapset. If you want to do routing, have any kind of map detail, or find places you have purchase more detailed mapsets. The StreetPilot III came with City Navigator V6 (version 6) with a free upgrade to V8. The StreetPilot 2610 came with City Navigator V7 with a free upgrade to V2008. The mapping software is licensed and will only work on the GPS it is registered to.
The interface program between the mapping software and the GPS is Mapsource, which is downloadable for free from Garmin. Mapsource allows you to create routes, define waypoints, etc. to load to/from the GPSs. Mapsource can have different versions of the mapping software loaded into it for programming different GPSs. You just have to make sure you have the proper version for the GPS you're trying to program. On our last trip to Pigeon Forge I tried to load routes into the 2610, but it would not accept the maps associated with them. I eventually figured out the reason. I only had City Navigator V6 and V8 loaded into the laptop (for the StreetPilot III) so the 2610 wouldn't accept them since it's licensed for V7 and V2008.
When I bought the 276c I planned to purchase an additional license for it to use the City Navigator V2008 I already had. This is when I found out the 276c uses a different (NT) version of the mapping software. This is a more compressed version...not a bad deal since I can get more info on the proprietary memory stick. I just have to purchase a full mapset now.

Update 2010 - In 2009 I upgraded to a Garmin 376c with its radar displaying capabilities. In 2010 I upgraded to a Garmin 478...very similar but with the memory capability to store all North American maps. No need for a memory stick.

Update 2014 - I'm still using the Garmin 478. Unfortunately the size of the maps has exceeded the memory of the 478 so now I can only load partial maps. I'd love to find a newer GPS with the wonderful 478-quality screen but more memory and a larger screen. Garmin currently makes a GPSMAP 620 that comes close but people report when you put it in automotive mode you lose a lot of good features. Why do you do that, Garmin?

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