The Garmin Vista HCx, brings a high
sensitive receiver to Garmin's popular line of eTrex handheld units.
It features a small GPS receiver and navigator with a color
screen you can hold right in your hand. The Vista HCx is
modeled after the original eTrex Vista, the color Vista C and the Vista
Cx, which brought expandable memory to the eTrex series. Now it
has a high sensitive receiver, although unlike other previous Garmin
units, the high sensitive receiver chip is not a Sirf product, rather a
MediaTek 3. Designed for outdoor use, such as on the trail,
hiking, geocaching, and biking, the HCx also can be used for highway
use, if you purchase the Garmin CityNavigator maps. Overall, the
operates nearly identical to the Vista Cx, with just a few minor
changes. The only feature change in the HCx
is the ability to customize the routing color. The Vista
HCx lists on the street for $299. Check discount prices here
Garmin has also upgraded its line of eTrex models with
color screens and the high sensitive receiver, including the eTrex Summit HC, which includes an electronic
compass and altimeter, the eTrex Venture HC, which does not have a card
slot, but a limited amount of internal memory and does not have the
ability to give road navigation, and the eTrex Legend HCx, which is
identical to the Vista HCx, except the Legend does not have the
electronic compass or altimeter.
The Vista HCx is the same size as its color model predecessors.
It has a color screen, a power/backlight key, a page key, map
and out keys, the find key and the joystick key. While there is
a card slot, no micro SD card is included in the
unit package. I have used a 1GB
card without any problem and you can find a 1GB micro SD card for
This provides more than plenty of room for maps.
Included in the Vista HCx package is the unit itself,
loaded with a basic basemap, wrist strap, owners manual, a USB cable for
computer use and
MapSource Trip and Waypoint manager, which allows you to connect the
HCx to a computer and manage your waypoints, routes and tracks.
It contains a similar basemap that is loaded in your unit
and does not have any specific map detail.
The most important key on the Vista HCx is the page key, which is on
the upper right hand side. This is how you bring up the different
function pages, which are summarized below. I have
found the best way to get acquainted with the unit, is to press the
menu key on every page and you will usually find more features and
functions that the HCx has the capability to do. Here is a photo of keys, starting on the right and going clockwise:
Joystick Key (Front of unit)
This will show you the status of the satellites. It will
show if it has a satellite lock by giving the lat/long. Pressing
menu will allow you to use the unit indoors by turning the GPS function
off, north or track up, blue satellite icons or multi-color, new
location,-- which puts the unit into locating satellites mode if you
have moved hundreds of miles from the last use and GPS elevation.
This pages also shows you the elevation, but according to the GPS satellites, not
Satellite page shows accuracy, current latitude and longitude and
location of satellites in the sky and which satellites are receiving
signal. 'D' indicates the unit is getting WAAS correction from a
WAAS satellite, in this case, #49.
This is the map page, and this shows optional CityNavigator detail.
The black triangle represents my position. The data fields,
which here show speed and elevation are customizable and also allow two
additional data fields, but this will reduce the size of the map
that is visible. (A screen example of the optional TOPO 2008
software is shown later on in this article when tracks are
When you create an active autoroute with the optional CityNavigator map detail, it will give you step by step
directions to your destination. You can show times to go, or
actual estimated arrival times to each leg of your route.
This is for getting to a location off road. It is not an
actual compass, but works from determining your movement. This is until you turn the electronic compass on and your
speed is less than five miles per hour, which will activate the
electronic compass. You can also customize the data files on this
page by pressing 'menu.' Remember to press and hold the
page key to turn the electronic compass on/off.
This view shows that I am heading directly west here and the red arrow
indicates the direction of my destination. The data fields show I
am 129 miles away, this is as a crow files. It also gives an ETA,
based on my distance and current speed. The numbers on the compass icon, indicate the heading. For
example from this screen shot I am heading 270 degrees, while my
destination is at about 290 degrees, as each line represents ten degrees.
This is the built in barometric altimeter page. You can calibrate
the altimeter on this page by pressing 'menu.' You will then
be prompted for either the current barometer pressure or you must know
your current elevation. You can also use the joystick key and
adjust the scale of the altimeter. Also using the joystick key,
you can use the red crosshairs that will appear, to move back and
see your altitude. It will also bring up the date and time of
this location. And when you press the joystick button in, it will
bring up the map page and show your location on the map of where you
were at, at the altitude you selected. For example, if you hike a
summit and want to see where it was on the map, you can go to the peak
on the altimeter and bring up the map page. This is discussed in
more detail just below in the 'Tracks' section of this article.
This allows you access to the setup page, as well as mark, find, and the following other features included in the unit.
One of my favorite features in a GPS is the ability to be able to log
tracks, which means the VistaHCx will record your lat/long, speed,
heading, elevation, and time, providing a way for you to download it into your
computer to analyze and to save tracks so they are visible on the GPS
for future reference.
This screen shows a saved track, which you can name and customize the
color that it will appear on. You can also use 'TracBack' which
is a feature to help you follow the 'breadcrumb' trail you have
This screen, with TOPO 2008 data, shows what a saved track looks
like on the map page. The red line is a trail I hiked to get to a
waypoint. I have saved it so it always shows up on the map.
You can save a track and manually select where you want it to
start and where you want it to end. If it is more than 500-
points it will be condensed down to that size. You can also do a
lot with tracks using the included MapSource Trip and Waypoint manager,
for editing, saving, etc and then sending the track back into your GPS.
You can save a total of 20 tracks in your Vista HCx.
This is the profile screen, that you can bring up by pressing 'menu'
while on a 'saved track' page. Note the red cross hairs are
movable and when you press down on the joystick key, you will bring up
the location on the map page. See image below for example.
Cursor shows where the actual location is from the profile page.
Note the two saved tracks visible on this page, the red and the
light green, which follows the road on the map. You can also see
two waypoint locations on this page. (Round Knoll and Tent)
This is similar to what you can also do on the altimeter page.
The Vista HCx has a few other features not directly related to GPS navigation.
Sun & Moon
This page allows you to get the readout of sunrise, sunset, moonrise
and moonset. You can adjust this by date, if you want to know
sunset a month from now. You can also find the sunrise/sunset for
another location, by selecting 'location' and then using the find key
to bring up the location you want to use.
Hunt & Fish
This uses the celestial tables to calculate a prediction for wildlife
activity. You can also change the date and location for a
reading, similar to the sun/moon table.
There are a few games you can try. Some are actually for use
outside and require you to physically move around and it relies on gps
signal to work. Others are simple games you can play while
sitting down and have nothing to do with gps.
The stopwatch allows you to calculate laps, by either distance or manual use.
This is a standard calculator and also has scientific calculator abilities.
The calendar lists sunrise/sunset, as well as icons representing
hunt/fish predictions. You can save a waypoint in the calendar
and it also stores waypoints in the calendar when they are saved.
(This data is lost if you delete the waypoint however)
This is the highway page, which gives you a layout of your route.
It is somewhat of a 3-D view, and you can zoom it in and out,
however there is no other detail visible besides the purple route line.
Like all of the eTrex models, you can customize many fields, the screen
colors and the tones. I have found this to be an excellent
feature so you can make your unit operate the way you like it.
Here is a summary of your options:
This page allows you to select the GPS mode you want, from normal, to
demo mode, to battery saver. You can also enable or
disable WAAS, select the battery type, between alkaline or NiMH, the
language, including English, French, Spanish or Portguese. This
is also where you can enable the proximity alerts and pressing menu
will allow you to look at the software version of the unit and also the
high sensitive receiver software. You can also bring up the card
info page, to see how much space you have left on your memory card, and
what percentage is for maps, saved tracklogs and Custom POI's.
Display allows you to select between the daytime (bright look) and
nighttime, (reverse look) and if it should automatically switch between
sunset and sunrise, which is the default. You can also select
different color schemes here to customize the look of the screen and
set how long you want the backlight to stay on. The default for
this is 15 seconds, to help preserve battery life.
This allows you to connect your unit as a Mass Storage Device, to
transfer tracklogs which are saved to the micro SD card. You must
use your computer to stop the device and your Vista HCx will
automatically restart in a GPS mode. There are no options for
any NMEA data or other format through the interface, except for the
You can customize the tone sounds and turn them off, for a message,
pressing a key, powering the unit, and turn alerts while using the
autorouting feature. You can also specify tones for the proximity
This is a nice feature, which allows you the option of only selecting
which pages you want and which order. For example, I have my unit
set up with the satellite page first, followed by the map page, the
compass page, the altimeter and the main menu. You can add pages,
use fewer or change the order to which you prefer. You can also
access any page from the main menu, even if it is not in your page
This allows you to customize between following the road (if you have
City Navigator Maps or use the basic basemap included in the unit) or
off road, which gives you a direct as a crow flies line to your
destination. When autorouting on roads, you can select
between Faster Time and Shorter Distance. The 'faster time' will
use freeways and highways, where speeds are higher, while 'shorter
distance' will create the shortest possible route. Routing
Color setup is a new feature in the HCx and allows you to select the
color of the active route, instead of the magenta which has been the
only option in previous eTrex models. Follow Road Options allows
you to select the type of route calculation, from quick calculation to best
route as well as car/motorcycle, bicycle, pedestrian, etc. You
can also avoid U-turns, toll roads, car pool lanes, etc.
Image of a pop up screen which shows you the upcoming turn, including
distance, time until turn and the green line indicates the planned
You can set up the icons for geocaching and whether you want the
calendar to store the date of when you found a specific geocache.
The marine function allows you to set up a drag alarm, which will sound
if you drift from the user specified distance. You can also get
an alarm if you stray from the course or direction you are heading.
Both distances are user specified.
You must specify which time zone you are in, it does not automatically
update it for you. You can also select between 12 and 24 hour
time and if you want the unit to automatically update for Daylight
Savings time. The HCx units have been programmed to handle the
new dates of the spring and fall time changes.
You can customize the lat/long format, the map datum, WGS 84 is
default, between English and Metric, Statute and Nautical, and
Allows you to specify if you want Cardinal Letters, (N, E, S, W) or
numerical degrees, as well as the North reference, between True North,
This is where you can calibrate the compass and altimeter in the
VistaHCx model. You can also calibrate each sensor on the compass
and altimeter page as well.
You can select if you want the unti to autocalibrate the altimeter,
which means it will take the GPS altitude to keep the altimeter in an
approximate range. You can also calibrate the altimeter here if
you know the current pressure or the altitude of your location.
You can setup the opening screen, with your name, phone number,
address, etc, to help your unit get returned to you if it becomes lost.
This is feature to assist you in skydiving or parachuting out of
airplanes. Since skydiving is not a hobby of mine,
please consult the Garmin page on this here
, if you want to know
more about Jumpmaster.
The Vista HCx does a great job locking in satellites with the new
high sensitive receiver and its built in patch antenna. The
initial find was very fast and in my house it has no problem getting a
satellite lock. A cold start is usually about 30- seconds and a
warm start (when the unit has been on in the last hour) can be in less than ten seconds. I have noticed
significant improvement compared to my VistaCx in getting a satellite
lock and then keeping a satellite lock. I have used the HCx on a
commercial airline and after holding the unit up to the window to get a
satellite lock, was able to place the unit on the pull down tray and
keep a satellite lock. In comparison with my 60CSx it seems to
work about the same, from my own observation. In canyons and the
mountains it works great, the only satellite issue I found is mentioned below in
"Areas for improvement."
When you connect the HCx to the computer through the
USB, it will power the unit. You can also power it through an optional Garmin USB DC
power cable. There are both AC and DC type adapters available from Garmin as
The Vista HCx is compatible with Garmin's POI loader. You
can add custom Points of Interest into the unit. So far, I
have loaded 38,000 POI's into the Vista HCx. You can read more on
custom POI's, by following this link on gpsinformation.net.
can also select the type of alert you want. You can also set
proximity radius in your waypoints. For example if you want to be
alerted if you get within one mile of a certain waypoint or want
to stay away from something else and be alerted if you get too close,
use a proximity alert, which is located in the main menu.
This shows a Custom POI file which contains all of the Major League Ballparks.
I can select anyone and will be prompted to either map it, go to
it, (navigating a waypoint) or I can actually save it as a new waypoint.
Map of POI with icon loaded into the Vista HCx through the POI Loader.
Shown with optional CityNavigator map data loaded in the Vista
The Vista HCx has the ability to save tracklogs onto the memory card. The HCx records
up to 10,000 tracklog points. But in the tracklog setup, you
can save all of your tracklogs by selecting 'data card setup' which gives you the option of checking "Log Track
to Data Card" and lists all of the tracklogs, by date, for example
"20070902.gpx" represents September 2, 2007. The files are created as .gpx, which is
compatible with many programs, including MapSource. There is also a readout of
how much memory is left on the card. You also have the option to delete all the
track log files, or you can highlight one specific file to delete it. You
can also select "USB Mass Storage" in the Interface option of the Setup menu and the unit will actually go into USB
mode, until you "safely remove it" on your computer. The card will show up like
any other removable data card on your computer. You can open up the .gpx files
in MapSource, G7toWin,
Easy GPS, or other programs that will read the .gpx
format. When you are finished and "safely remove the card", the Vista HCx will
automatically restart, as it would if you turned it off and back on. Each
tracklog file size varies, depending on how many track points are recorded.
Typically they are about 60KB, but if I do a lot of driving I have seen them as
high as 150KB a day. One issue I have discovered is that if you save more than
50 days worth of tracklogs on the data card, it will only show the first 50.
However, if you connect the unit or the card to a computer, you will find that
all of the tracklog files are there, even though your most recent ones are not visible.
But again, you can only delete the tracklog files on the display, so it is not
necessary to see the newest track files on the screen, to get access to them,
only if you wish to delete them. And you of course can delete them when your GPS is connected via the USB to the computer.
This screen shows what to select to get access to tracklogs saved
to the data card. The checkmark at the top must be enabled to
save the tracks to the microSD card. The Green and 62% indicates
how much total card memory is occupied by maps, custom POI files and
Unlike the VistaC and Cx, the Tide Station data is not included in the
HCx model. However if you load in TOPO 2008 software for the specific area
of the ocean you plan to visit, it will include the Tide Station data
Garmin says the average battery life in the Vista HCx is 25
hours. Using WAAS will reduce this some as well as extensive use
of the backlight and enabling the compass. There is also the
option of using NimH and Lithium, which can be changed in Setup, under
"System." I believe the battery life under normal use is closer
to 18-20 hours from my experience.
The VistaHCx is a rugged unit and can handle the basic conditions of
the outdoors. It is 4.2 inches long, 2.2 inches wide and 1.2
inches thick. The screen size is 1.7 inches by 1.3 inches.
With two AA batteries, the unit weighs 5.5 ounces. The
display is a 256 color TFT and is 176x200 pixels.
To connect the Vista HCx to transfer data, connect it to
the USB port on the rear of the unit. The Vista HCx acts as a "Mass Storage Device"
and this means that the first time you connect it to your computer, it will have
to recognize the Vista HCx and install it. If you use it in USB mode, you must disconnect it
("Safely Remove Hardware") from your computer. However if you use it in Garmin
mode for MapSource, WebUpdater, POI Loader, xImage, this is not necessary.
is a backlight available. and you can vary the length it remains on and
the brightness level. You can also adjust the level by a quick press of the
power key and using the slider to adjust it to the level you want.
The Vista HCx
is compatible with xImage
which allows you to grab screen images, including those in this article. You can also create custom
waypoints symbols and send them to the VistaHCx as you can with
other Garmin handheld units. For a link to xImage from
garmin.com, click here.
There is no external antenna
options on the eTrex series, although since this is a handheld unit
along with the high sensitive receiver this should not be an issue.
Garmin has made some improvements to the VistaHCx during our testing,
including upgrading the GPS chipset, issues regarding failure to
properly calculate distance with the odometer and a few other issues.
We suggest you make sure you have the latest unit software,
available for free from garmin.com. Use Garmin's WebUpdater
or follow this link
Is there 3-D map view capability with the VistaHCx?
No, all map views are the traditional flat, 2-D view only.
Can I get a latitude /
longitude reading and altitude information.
Yes, by accessing the satellite page.
Is the Vista HCx waterproof?
to IPX7 standards, which means in one meter of
water for up to 30 minutes.
Is there NMEA in/out data
Is there a card slot for
Yes, there is a micro SD card slot for additional memory, although no card is included with the unit.
The Vista HCx comes preprogrammed with only a basemap.
Is the unit powered when connected
to the computer via the USB connection?
Yes, the Vista HCx is powered when connected to the USB port, which is for data exchange.
As of software version 2.40, which was released in September of
2007, it seems all of the problems with the initial release of the
Vista HCx have been fixed except for one. I have noticed on
several occasions that when you attempt to get a satellite fix in a
downtown area, canyon or when the unit is in 'locating satellites' mode
there is a big issue. What happens is that the unit will struggle
to get a satellite lock and when it does, the unit will not correctly
show your location and give you an incorrect lat/long and show the
wrong location for where you are actually at. This is
usually off by more than a thousand feet. The best
indication that this is problem is happening is that the GPS accuracy
on the satellite page will be a higher number than usual, somewhere
between 60 and 100 feet and not go down to the normal range of 10-20 feet accuracy. The problem is that if you don't know
where you are at, you will be led to believe you are somewhere you are
not. I have discovered a simple fix to this issue is to
simply turn off the unit and power it back up again. It should
get a satellite lock very quickly and upon restarting, have an accurate
lat/long. This is a problem which we hope Garmin will remedy in a
future software update. Another improvement would be on the
owner's manual. The manual is much briefer than it
could be and I think it should be. While Garmin appears to
be keeping it simple, there are functions that users may not know
exist, except to find them on their own. You can download the
Vista HCx manual from garmin.com to look it over for yourself by
following this link.
The VistaHCx seems to have
brought the eTrex series to full features currently available in a
handheld outdoor unit, which is also capable of routing on
highways. It is also similar in features to the Garmin
60CSx, which has a bigger screen and different shape as well as
quad helix antenna. Having used all of the etrex models that have
evolved into this one, I have found the HCx is a handy small GPS unit,
with all of the features that seem to be on the market right now.
I would say it is best suited for geocaching and outdoor use such
as hiking, etc. It does well with road navigation if you
the CityNavigator software, however it not as easy to operate in a car
as the touchscreen navigators and the VistaHCx does not offer any voice
directions, only an audible alert when to turn. What I like about
the VistaHCx is the small size, and I don't feel like I am giving up
Questions: Visit the gpsinformation.net