I'd recently purchased a Garmin Geko 201 GPS receiver, and thought I'd share my experiences with the device.
To understand this review you need to understand what's important to me. I'm a keen hiker and outdoorsperson. Everything I need has to fit into my backpack. Consequently the size and weight of the GPS is crucial, because I have to carry it along with a lot of other stuff. Performance of the unit under a tree canopy is also vital. Large memories with internal maps is not important because I'll always carry a paper topographic map anyway: they're just so much easier to read. I simply need my GPS to tell me where I am on that map.
I've owned and happily used a Garmin 12XL for more than 3 years now. It's proven to be an excellent unit. But when the Geko came out at half the size and a third the weight, with WAAS accuracy to boot, I just couldn't resist. I had to get one.
Rather than reinvent the wheel, take a look at Jack Yeazel's excellent feature-set overview, at: http://gpsinformation.net/geko-201.html. In addition his Geko 101 page at http://gpsinformation.net/geko.html has a photo of the unit sitting beside an eTrex. You can see just how tiny the Geko really is.
I've put the Geko head-to-head against the 12XL under tree cover. And I've been impressed. The Geko is every bit as sensitive as the 12XL, despite its far smaller size. It generally aquires the satellites and determines a position more quickly than the 12XL as well. This makes the Geko a better performer than some of the eTrex units I've used. I've had little trouble getting good signal lock under most conditions. Where available the WAAS signals was well received as well, giving even greater positional accuracy. Despite its diminutive size the Geko is a very solid performer. Containing all the map datums and position formats you'd expect from Garmin, this little unit provides positioning on par with, or better than, any other handheld I've worked with.
Garmin claims up to 12 hours on a pair of alkaline AAA's. I haven't seen quite that, but it's close. I've seen my unit run for 10 hours continuously before the batteries ran flat. In the manual Garmin also mentions that lithium AAA's can be used. I've never been able to find asupplier of such batteries, and I've tried. So if anyone knows of a source, please let me know.
The Power Switch:
Every silver lining has a cloud, as the twisted proverb goes. And currently the power switch is the Geko's Achilles' heel. To switch the unit on, you press the power button. No surprises there. On the 12XL a simple tap of the power button doesn't do it; you have to hold down the power button for a second or two. This is to ensure that GPS cannot easily be switched on accidentally. No such luck with the Geko. The briefest of taps will switch the Geko on. Taps such as may be encountered in your pack, in your pocket, in your briefcase, in your bag, just to mention a few.
Once the unit switches itself on (with ease), there's no auto-off feature. Ironically enough, switching the unit off does require an extended press of the power button, thereby eliminating any happy possibility that it might switch itself off. Once it's on, it remains on until the batteries run flat.
It's been remarkable to me how easily this happens. I've had the unit switch itself on numerous times, in a variety of different situations. Even once in a hard-shelled case where I was quite sure the power button would be protected. But I was wrong and it still managed to turn on, draining a brand-new set of alkalines overnight.
Aside from the very significant risk of having a dead GPS a couple of days into a week-long backcountry trip, there are some other side-effects of this "unwanted switch-on" behaviour. One is that the contrast of the LCD screen is very easily adjusted. The first time the Geko adjusted it's screen contrast to "full black" I thought the unit had broken. Black screen is a failure mode for some LCD types. Then I realized the unit had switched itself on and maximised its contrast. By holding the screen at just the right angle against a bright light I was able to read the display sufficient to restore the contrast to its normal setting.
Another side-effect can be the loss of personal settings. For example the unit allows you to input your name and other text for display at power-on; a handy feature. Critical settings like the map datum, timezone, screen configurations, magnetic declination, etc are also user-defined. Normally these settings are retained even when you change the batteries. But once the unit switches on, random bumps on the buttons will send it into all manner of selection menus, including the "clear settings" option. In that particular instance I discovered my Geko had dead batteries and all my settings were wiped out as well. Not a happy experience.
Hopefully Garmin will update the Geko firmware to require an extended press of the power button for power-on. Then this problem will disappear. In the interim I've discovered that a short but very thick elastic band, wrapped around the unit next to the power button, helps a great deal in reducing the number of unwanted power-ons.
Anyone used to other Garmin units will find the Geko very easy to use. The page button flips through the various screens, including configuration menu screens, with the up & down buttons allowing navigation within those screens and menus. Very intuitive. You might need to open the manual for functions such as routes and waypoints, but even then it's quite straightforward. When the unit is switched on the power button controls the screen backlighting. With my thumb I found myself turning on the backlight a lot, due to the proximity of the power and page buttons. A future menu option to disable the backlight would be a nice feature, albeit a relatively minor one.
The unit appears to be quite rugged. It's completely sealed up against water, and claims to be waterproof down to 1 metre. A claim I have not tested. Due to it's light weight I wouldn't be suprised if it floated, but again I've not tried that. It has a rubber-like rand around the perimeter of the unit and generally feels to be quite solidly made. I have no fears when I put it in my pack.
If you're looking for the smallest, lightest, decent-performing unit on the market, the Geko has to be it. In such a small package there's no room for large mapping features or other databases, but as a basic GPS it performs very well. The Geko should be seriously considered by anyone who needs a lightweight unit for hiking, climbing, backpacking, or any other self-propelled activity. The unwanted switch-on problem has been a source of great frustration; the elastic band has helped, but for anyone not in a great hurry it might be worthwhile waiting until Garmin fixes this problem. If you need map databases, large screens and the like, the Geko is obviously not for you. But for the lightweight crowd, give it a serious look.
Small size, light weight , Extensive list of map datums, WAAS support, Reasonable battery life, Low cost
The power switch.
Return to main GPS Information page