Sunday, March 8, 2009

DeLorme PN-40 Review - Design

The DeLorme PN-40 has the same physical dimensions and outward appearance as the PN-20, but the simarities are mostly skin-deep. The PN-40 has an elongated oval shape, with a bulge at the top, a flat face, and a chubby bottom to hold the batteries. It has 7 buttons, a rocker button, and a 4-way directional pad, and that is it. With Garmin now offering a touchscreen model, some have complained that the PN-40 is not a touchscreen device. DeLorme has stated that their design choice was heavily influenced by the degradation of screen image that a touchscreen causes, due to the extra material between you and the actual screen. I agree with their choice based on those grounds, but also because a touchscreen device would be clumsy if not impossible to use wearing gloves, would constantly have mud and grime rubbed all over it, and would probably result in a screen that was easier to break, since the screen would need to be closer to the face of the device. The buttons on the PN-40 are responsive, soft-textured, and big enough to operate wearing gloves or with ham-hands like mine. They are hard to accidently press, and I've only had that happen in the DeLorme supplied belt holder.

Another area of criticism has been the screen itself. The PN-40 has a clear, sharp, bright, but small screen. DeLorme has stated given good reasons why this particular small screen was selected, including that and was the clearest and best screen they could provide for outdoor use. It also has the benefit of saving some power, and most importantly, keeps the size of the unit quite small. If you have poor eyesight the screen might present some issues (DeLorme is working on bigger fonts), but I find the clarity of the screen far outweighs the size. It is also important to note that the screen is fairly high resolution for its size.

The device comes with a lanyard, and in the bulge above the main body there is a hole for its attachment. The device communicates with your computer via a smooth "metal dot" type connector on the top rear of the device. A cable is provided that allows a USB connection via this connector, and an optional cable provides both USB and power.

The battery compartment is held in place by two screws, operated by metal loops. It is easy to remove, and seems a nice departure from many of the more confusing battery compartment schemes of old. The device holds two AA sized batteries. The PN-40 can utilize standard alkalines, lithiums, and NiMH rechargables, as well as an optional DeLorme Li-ion rechargable battery pack. While the battery life is less than what most people are used to, I can get about a day and half out of a set of Duracell 2650 batteries with the compass, barometer, and WAAS turned on, more if I turn the unit off when I'm not using it. The unit has profiles for each most battery types, and the battery life indicator is pretty accurate.

Behind the battery is a flip-up SDHC slot, which feels flimsy, and I recommend being very gentle with it. The good news is that the handful of people who broke it on their PN-20 and PN-40 units have noted that the pressume from the battery is typically sufficient to lock the SDHC card in place. The device is rugged, and is waterproof to the IEC 529 IPX7 spec. The unit is a hideous orange color, which makes it virtually impossible to lose. Actually, it grows on you in about five minutes, and the visibility aspect makes it totally worth it.
The physical design is ideal for the bushwhacker in my opinion, small enough to fit almost anywhere, light enough to not weigh you down, and well molded to the hand. The physical design suggests DeLorme had the hiker strongly in mind, and may have a bushwhacker on staff. ;)

Next: DeLorme PN-40 Review - Field Operation
Back: DeLorme PN-40 Review - Introduction

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