Garmin Montana 650

I’ve had a Garmin Nuvi500 GPS for years… Loved it! Did fine duty in a couple of 4X4’s that we’ve owned as well as on a bike or two… At a pinch, it worked when hiking – not brilliantly but rather adequately. And then, one day quite recently, I dropped it and that took care of that. No amount of pleading, fiddling and thumping managed to coax any life into it. I tried removing the battery, connecting it to a computer and various permutations of switching it on can off. Nothing, niks, nada! This happened over a weekend so first thing Monday I got hold of Garmin SA. Ahhh, they said, a fantastic little GPS but now it is classified as an “unsupported unit”. This is manufacturer speak for, “it’s a very old unit and we no longer have spares for it so we don’t even want to see it let alone try fix it”. And strangely, I understand that! No hard feelings at all Garmin SA.

Buying a new GPS was not on the radar. Not even close. But, c’est la vie… The big problem now was what to replace it with? Garmin have some really excellent automotive units – the Drive60LM looked very nice as did the Zumo range and their Nuvi models like the 2689LMT. But these were automotive and motorbike units… What about when we are hiking or in remote areas with no roads etc? It was then that Ebraheem down at Cape Union Mart in Pietermaritzburg suggested the Garmin Montana 650. It seemed very suitable and they were on special. Very tempting.

The Garmin Montana 650. A largish beast but very capable.
The Garmin Montana 650. A largish beast but very capable.

Back home I jumped onto the internet to do some more research. The Montana 650 forms part of Garmin’s “outdoor” series but seems equally at home in a car on on a bike (mountain bike or motorbike). It has a 4inch (100mm) colour touch screen (way better than the Nuvi500) that flips, depending on how you’ve orientated the GPS and has a built in 5Mp camera (more about that later!!). It has a built in compass, the choice of using 3 penlight batteries or a rechargeable lithium-ion pack and a wonderful range of features and guidance options, including geocaching that can be fun. Back to Ebraheem at Cape Union Mart…

Overall, I must say that I’m rather chuffed with it. It works like a dream in the car routing my Tracks4Africa beautifully. I used to have the Garmap SSA Steetmaps on the Nuvi500 but it seems that you are not able to transfer the maps to another unit. Frustrating! (Imagine if you were not able to transfer your computer software to a new machine!). This means purchasing the City Navigator South Africa NT at R1079-00 or TOPO Southern Africa v3Pro (my preference) at R1399-00. Not the end of the world I suppose but I have already purchased the SSA Streetmaps and it would be rather nice if I could use them in my new unit! Not both units – just the Montana 650…

The customisable display of the Montana 650 is large and clear, even in strong sunlight.
The customisable display of the Montana 650 is large and clear, even in strong sunlight.

Of course, having bought the GPS unit, it now needs to be mounted in the car. The windscreen mount that handles the voice guidance for the Montana 650 (it is unable to do voice guidance on its own) was another R1400-00 😳 and I still needed something to mount it onto the dashboard on my Honda CRF250L (check out more on the dashboard here). I stared at the Montana, its mount and my old Nuvi500 mount for a long time, a glass of the Swartland’s finest at hand lest this all just become too much for me! Eventually an idea popped into my head and it worked like a charm. The ball on the Nevi Mount and the Montana mount seem to be the same size so I chopped off the “sucker” part of the old mount which I drilled and tapped so that it would take a M6 bolt. I epoxied the bolt in the threaded mount and then sawed off the bolt’s head. It fits the dashboard perfectly and works like a dream.

The Nuvi500 mount modified and fitted to the CRF's dashboard.
The Nuvi500 mount modified and fitted to the CRF’s dashboard.

Then there’s the camera… Now the idea of adding a camera to a GPS unit like this is brilliant! No more having to haul out the iPhone or point-and-shoot camera to grab a quick pic – that involves taking off gloves and undoing zips and things. With the GPS, you just unclip it, select camera and bam! And you can do it with gloves on… But. (You knew there was a but coming, didn’t you?). The quality of the 5Mp images is really not good at all. I tried shooting some and then putting them through Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop and despite my best efforts I couldn’t get them anything like the images I got from my iPhone 5, let alone the 6s! Now, the newer units may very well have better cameras but this one is not good at all. Pity, it would have been so very useful.

As a GPS unit the Montana is brilliant. I love it! Alas, it is let down by the camera and the fact that I have to buy new mapping software. So instead of a full 5 Jerry Can rating it must, unfortunately, only get a 4.

Roger de la Harpe

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