Garmin Astro 220/DC 20

Review by Allory Deiss, February 24, 2008

From at least as far back as the GPS 12, Garmin has had a strong following with hunters. This has been primarily because hunters look for the same features in a handheld GPS as other users; affordable, durable, reliable, etc. Only recently have models appeared which break the mold in ways that offer specific advantages to a hunter over a geocacher or other outdoor enthusiast. The rino series was the first step in that direction, not only letting a person know where they are, but where their companions are. With the Astro, the companion is a dog.

It is apparent when looking at the Astro is that Garmin chose to use the GPSMap 60CSx as a base to work with. The 60 CSx has been one of their most popular models since its introduction and adapting it to a new niche seems like a good move. Since the Astro has so much in common with the 60 CSx this review will concentrate on the differences between the two and let the reader refer to Sam's GPSMap 60 CSx review for more information on the basic GPS functions.

While virtually the same as the 60, there are several differences which should be mentioned.

  • The Astro does not have an external antenna port.
  • The Astro does not have a serial port.
  • The Astro does not have the capacity to save tracks to the data card.
  • The Astro has a text based menu system, comparable to the old GPS 12.

The Details

Unpacking the box you get the impression that Garmin intended for this system to be used. The case which contains all the parts looks like it could be chewed on by the dogs or dropped out of the back of the truck and everything would still work. Included are the Astro 220 and the DC 20, a neoprene harness to attach the DC 20 to a dog and a baseplate for attaching it to an e-collar. Also in the box are both AC and 12-volt power cables for charging the DC 20, a USB cable, a wrist strap and belt clip, and a small rubber plug to keep the VHF antenna jack clean when the antenna is removed.

Using the Astro 220/DC 20

When the Astro is turned on the opening page is 'Dog'. This page gives the direction and distance to the DC 20, along with an icon indicating whether the dog is running, resting or on point. In this case 'Chip' is 11 yards south and is on point.
Pressing the 'ENT' button at this point offers takes us to the dog info page.
On the dog info page we learn more about the DC 20. Chip is still on point, 11.71 yards away. We now know how far he has traveled on this trip and his average speed. We also get details about the DC 20, including battery and GPS signal strength and the quality of the communication link. We also learn that we are updating info from the DC 20 every five seconds (10 and 30 seconds are also available) and that 'Chip' has ID: 36. Since the Astro can track up to ten dogs at a time the ability to change ID numbers can eliminate conflicts if hunting with several dogs and other hunters who are also using the Astro system.
Pressing the 'MENU' button on this page takes us to the DC 20 options page.
On the dog options menu we can do a variety of things. If we need to change communication settings or upgrade the unit firmware this is the place to do it. We can also download a detailed track from the DC 20 to view in MapSource or Google Earth. This is also the place to choose whether the dog is a pointing dog, treeing dog, or pet.
The Astro menus are strictly text-based, but includes all the functions we've come to expect from a GPS. Start new hunt automatically clears tracks for both the Astro and the DC 20 to reduce screen clutter. The items included on the main menu page, and their order, can be changed in preferences.
When there is a change in dog status there is a pop-up flag to let the user know about it.
The 'Mark' button begins the process of creating a new waypoint. Pressing 'New' brings up the standard new waypoint dialog, selecting one of the others assigns the appropriate waypoint icon.
If 'Covey' is selected for the new waypoint the user has the option of entering the number of birds in the covey and the number taken.
Just like with geo-caching, there are new waypoint types.

Most of the time that I have had the Astro the weather has been below freezing and the dogs I intend to use it with have been in Nebraska. As a result the early field checks were done with me as the dog while on my paper route. Under these conditions the unit performed well, but the route limited the test to about 1.5 miles. At that range there were no problems, even though the test area was full of buildings and electrical interferance. In typical hunting areas the reception should be at least as good.

On the Google Earth overlay the green line shows what the Astro reported as the track of the DC 20. The red line is the actual DC 20 track which was retrieved later. The grey line is the track which my Vista HCx recorded on the same walk. The major deviation by the Vista in the middle of the route is where it got stuck upside down under the paper bag. The DC 20 track is definately the more accurate.

Battery life on both units is quite good. Using the same 2100 mAh NiMH pair which gives about 13 hours in my GPSMap 76S the Astro 220 ran for nearly 24 hours. The DC 20 uses a user-replaceable lithium-ion battery. It ran for just over 17 hours before shutting down and took about 3.5 hours to fully recharge.

General Impressions/Conclusions

As a stand-alone unit, the Astro can hold its own with any of the handhelds currently on the market. With its high-sensitivity receiver the lack of an external antenna jack is not really a problem. When loaded with appropriate maps it can function as a vehicle navigation unit or as a geocaching tool. When combined with the DC 20 it makes an unbeatable training/hunting aid for a dog owner.


Comments, complaints, etc.... Allory Deiss.

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