Garmin GPS 78sc Review

August 16, 2013

I’ve owned this GPS for two and a half years, and am happy with it.  It’s relatively easy to learn the basics–even without looking at the manual–and has been reliable.  It offers far more features than I will ever use, but if you want to get that far into this unit prepare to crack open the manual.  The UI is not as intuitive as people have come to expect in the age of smart phones.The Blue Chart mapping is great, but the display is pretty small.  No complaints.  This is a handheld, after all.  When you zoom in to see chart details, which you have to do because there is little detail otherwise, the subject area is pretty small.  For planning it’s still easier to use full-sized charts.  In fact, maybe I’m weird but I still prefer looking at full-size charts.  So what do I use the Garmin for?  Well, it’s great for determining the effects of currents.  I also use it to check my position against my DR plot.  I use the tracking function, which shows your real tacking angles when beating against a current.  I use it at night pretty often for position checks.  I use it in the middle of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and whenever else I can’t see a landmark, to compare my track with my compass course.   I’ve only used it once for what I consider to be a critical navigation problem.  We were entering the Port of Edmonds, at night, in horrible weather.  Almost no visibility.  I used the GPS to aim for the harbor entrance and crossed my fingers.  At the last minute the lights showed up, right where the GPS said they would be.  Whew!


It’s basically a good unit, but I can’t stand that the buttons are on top.  Every time I pick it up I orient it upside down, and then fumble with it to get the buttons back on top.  This doesn’t affect the functionality in any way, but it bugs me.  The buttons on phones are on the bottom, and I suspect most people get accustomed to that.  Garmin, hear me!  Put the buttons on the bottom!  The screen is hard to read in daylight without the backlighting.  Also, unless you use lithium batteries it really eats the AAs.   I bought the wiring to mount this one below using 12V power from the house battery.  I guess that defeats the purpose of a handheld, but lately, in good weather, I’ve actually been using my iPhone more anyway.  I want to stress that there is nothing wrong with this GPS.  In bad weather I always use the Garmin because it has–so far–been indestructible.  Also, the backlighting makes the Garmin easier to see in sunlight than the iPhone.  And I don’t use the iPhone for anything I consider to be critical.  Maybe it’s capable, I don’t know.  I just trust the Garmin more.

I give the Garmin three Captain Kev stars.  If it sounds like I don’t like it, well I actually do.  It’s a solid unit, with far more features than I will ever need, and you won’t go wrong buying and using it.  I took off two stars for things that probably only bug me.  Garmin, call me if you want some design feedback for future models.

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