With so much information literally at our fingertips these days, in the form of the internet, you can very easily become overwhelmed trying to find genuine advice on a product you may be considering buying. Nothing is more true when looking to purchase a GPS unit. So many people ask, what is the difference between a GPS that costs R1999 at Makro, and one that costs R15999 at Navworld, why can this one only do routes and not tracks, why do I need to be able to turn re-calculate route off, what is Garmin inReach? Why can't I just use Google Maps? To get answers to these questions, most people will turn to Google. While there is some fantastic information available there, what I've found these days is that you usually end up watching a 6 minute YouTube "unboxing" clip by some "influencer" that has been given a product to "test" because they have 1,1 million subscribers. I have watched so many of these videos about the new range of Garmin Montana 700 series GPS units where the host takes it out the box, shows you the new "large" screen and the nice "flashlight" but fails to actually do a proper review of the unit itself. A part of me believes that this is due to a lack of understanding of the unit they are reviewing. I've been using and working with Garmin GPS units professionally since 2004 and I often cringe at the lack of knowledge on these "influencer" type YouTube reviews. I don't often do reviews of products on our blog, but I feel the need to review the Garmin Montana 700i from a "real world" use point of view.
In this review, I will be pointing out both the positives, negatives and all the issues we've picked up using the Garmin Montana 700i. As some of you know SA Adventure conducts organized off-road adventures for 4x4's and motorcycles all over the world. Garmin GPS's are a tool we just cannot do without. We use them on a daily basis and I have in-depth knowledge of how these units function. This overview of the Montana 700i has been conducted over a 6 month period with over 28500 kilometres covered. The unit has been used to both plan new tours and navigate our current ones.
I like to deal with facts, not guesswork or hearsay, so here are the facts about this review:
I pay for my GPS's with my own money. They are not "sponsored".
I have owned hundreds of Garmin GPS's since 2004 (remember the QUEST?)
I have worked with and programmed thousands of GPS's, and I do have in-depth knowledge of how these units work!
I have conducted workshops for clients on how to use Garmin GPS's properly.
I have written a document on how to get the best out of your Garmin GPS.
This test was conducted over a distance of 28572km alongside 2 other Montana 700i units and a Garmin Zumo XT unit.
The unit was used for both navigation on our existing tours and for creating new routes as well.
All firmware and map sets are up to date, and for this test, the latest versions of Tracks 4 Africa were used.
Let's start with what you get for your money, recommended retail on the Montana 700i is 13799 South African Rand. What you get in the box for that is... a Garmin Montana 700i. You don't get the vehicle mount or motorcycle mount, they are an extra cost of around 1500 South African Rand so please factor that into your budget. The unit is rugged and comes with a removable Lithium-ion battery pack and a 5-inch touchscreen.
The initial setup is straightforward, plug the unit into the computer, connect it to Garmin Express and do all the necessary updates. After that install the latest version of Tracks 4 Africa mapset. Bolt the vehicle mount together and install it into the Prado by means of a USB charging cable and windshield suction cup. The vehicle mount is not your typical Garmin affair, it is beefy and robust, contains a speaker for voice and sounds, and comes with a USB charger. The Montana locates into the vehicle cradle with a satisfying "click".
Let's Get on the Move...
I had ordered the Montana from Malcolm at Navword, and he called to say it was ready for collection on the morning we were due to leave on our Great South African Escape 4x4 tour, so I swung past and collected it just before leaving. I was going to be using a Zumo XT for navigations on that tour, so I decided to run the Montana alongside it to compare the two units. Obviously having just collected the Montana it was not yet programmed with the tours routes or tracks, so I just decided to plug it into the vehicle cradle to charge up the battery as we drove. After about an hour, I noticed the battery would not charge fully and the battery icon on the screen had turned yellow with an exclamation mark in it signalling some sort of caution, and the battery had stopped charging at about 70%. After doing some research I found out this is built-in thermal protection for the Lithium-ion battery. Apparently, when the unit gets hotter than 35 degrees celsius it stops charging to protect the battery. Not great news for a dashboard-mounted device in South Africa... On the positive side of this, the unit also doesn't discharge when in the protective mode, it maintains the battery level at the percentage that it kicked in at.
Once I arrived at the lodge, I hooked up the Montana to my Macbook and opened Garmin Base Camp to transfer the routes, tracks and waypoints for the tour. It connected easily and there were no issues with the transfer. Our typical GPX file for our tours consists of custom day by day routes, day by day tracks, each a different colour, and various waypoints such as "Stop here for a great photo" and "Make sure to turn left at the T-Junction". One great feature of the Montana is that you can turn TRACKS on or off so it will be able to display all your tracks at once, or just the ones you want to display. However please note that the default setting is tracks off, so if you want to display your tracks you need to go to the track manager setting and turn them on individually.
The next morning we hit the road and I had the Montana next to the Zumo XT on the dash of the Prado. Both units fired up and loaded the route exactly along the roads they were supposed to. We have figured out how to make sure all GPS's go the same way after many years of learning... One of the techniques to getting this right is to turn "Auto-Recalculate" off in the settings, this is a feature that not all Garmin GPS's have, but I'm pleased to tell you the feature is available on the Montana. On our tours, we preload the route for our clients so they can follow along the route using the GPS at their own pace. A big enhancement is the waypoints that pop up on the GPS screen along the way. These can be anything, varying from "Waterfall Ahead, Stop to take Photo" or "Coffee / Toilet Stop in 1km" or "!! Caution Aardvark Hole in the Middle of the Road in 500m !!" etc. As I drove along, I heard the Zumo announce that we should "Stop in 1km at Waterfall". The Montana remained silent... A kilometre later the group had all stopped at the waterfall, indicating their GPS's were all working correctly. The Montana had still not said anything. I double-checked it and I could see the waterfall waypoint displayed on the map but the Montana had not included it on the route for the day. I checked the other waypoints for the day and they were all on the map, but none were added to the actual route. BIG PROBLEM. I tried reloading the route from Base Camp, no luck. The same occurred on all of the following days of the tour. The Montana was unable to navigate our routes using the pre-loaded waypoints, it got the overall route correct, it just navigated between the start and finish points, missing out on everything in between. I was disappointed, to say the least...
On return to Johannesburg, I popped in the see Malcolm at Navworld and explain the issue I had experienced on the tour with the route. We made a "test" route on Base Camp with a start and finish point and 6 waypoints along the route. It was transferred the Montana and it did the same thing, it navigated to the finish point and missed out all 6 of the waypoints in between, however, it did route through the waypoints, it just didn't "see" or "announce" them. Over the next few weeks, I tried everything I have ever learned about GPS's and Base Camp to try and fix the problem. Nothing Worked. I tried changing the icon of the waypoint, I tried 2 other Montana units, they did the same thing, I tried hard resets, updates, different map sets, you name it I've tried it nothing fixed the issue. I did however notice one thing, if you mark a waypoint on the actual Montana itself and import that into Base Camp, add it to a route and then export it back to the Montana, it recognizes the waypoint. So I found a fix to the problem, all I would have to do is re-drive over a million kilometres all around the world following our tours routes and remark all our waypoints on the Montana and then import them to Base Camp again. Sounds like a nice road trip, but I already paid those school fees and on top of that it's highly impractical.
Back to Navworld, Malcolm and I tried a few other things, but nothing changed. I must tell you that Malcolm has been extremely helpful with this and has gone above and beyond to try and assist. He even opened a case with Garmin SA and Garmin themselves, where the issue was clearly explained and we even sent them one of our Karoo is Calling tour GPX files so they could see the problem for themselves. Garmin has reproduced the problem and acknowledged it, unfortunately, their response to fixing it has been unfavourable. FYI: since this problem was acknowledged by Garmin there have been 29 software updates released for the Montana 700i, none of which has fixed it. As a Garmin premium product, I would expect the Montana to be able to at least understand a simple imported GPX file. It fails on this major point...
One of our clients stepped backwards to get a better photo of the sunset, lost his footing, slipped and fell headfirst down a 10-meter cliff face...
One of the things I do really like about the Montana is the Garmin inReach technology. I won't go into too much detail on how it works but in a nutshell, it allows you to communicate with the outside world and get emergency services despatched to you all via satellite. There are five main features with inReach:
You can send preset messages to any SMS or email account.
You can type your own message and send it to any SMS or email.
You can hit the SOS button on the unit to dispatch emergency services to your location anywhere in the world.
You can set the unit to drop a tracking point at preset intervals and family and friends can see exactly where you are by logging onto your personalised Garmin Track webpage.
inReach weather, live update on the weather in your immediate area, from NASA!
The inReach function is easy to set up via your Garmin Explore account. It obviously is not free, but there are various different packages available starting from 270 Rand per month which is way, way cheaper than having a satellite phone. With our tours, especially the adventure motorcycle ones, we have always carried a sat phone in case of emergencies, but with inReach, I feel we have more options.
I recently saw a forum post asking if it is really necessary to have a satellite phone when travelling into the wilderness. Some of the replies were shocking: "Don't waste your money" and "There is always cell phone signal" and "I've never used my sat phone". No one has ever used their sat phone until you need to use your sat phone. Anything can happen at any time unexpectedly. We recently did an off-road tour to Botswana and we travelled to Kubu Island, which is literally in the MIDDLE OF NOWHERE, and one of our clients stepped backwards to get a better photo of the sunset, lost his footing, slipped and fell headfirst down a 10-meter cliff face. At that point, I thought it would be the first time the Garmin inReach would be used by us, but luckily our tour medic was on the scene and attended to the client, who miraculously escaped the fall with only minor cuts and bruises. Garmin inReach tech makes it affordable for everyone who is travelling into the wilderness to have a way of satellite communication on hand.
The other issue I have picked up with the Montana is the altimeter. No matter how many times I recalibrate it to a known altitude it either over reads or under reads. Not by a small amount either... I have never been 56 meters under the sea. The unit was recalibrated at sea level (a known altitude when standing on the beach at Mbotyi Lodge) and still insisted I was 56 metres under the sea... The Zumo XT in my other hand told me I was 3 meters ASL, which seemed far more accurate...
The sun and moon rise and set feature is also very useful and if you are into Geocaching, the live download of geocaches in your area is very cool, you can even upload your found geocaches with a comment right from the device itself... The big issue for me with the Garmin Montana is the fact it can't read waypoints. It's a huge issue that Garmin need to sort out ASAP.
To end off, I have made a list of pros and cons of the Garmin Montana 700i. Please note that these are only my opinion and experiences with using the Montana for the past 28572 kilometres:
What I like about the Garmin Montana 700i:
The rugged, tough case and design.
The screen is large and clear to read.
You can set up different user profiles.
Large internal storage as well as an external SD card slot.
Customisable trip data fields.
The Garmin inReach technology.
Garmin inReach weather from NASA.
You can turn tracks on and off individually.
Very easy to mark and edit a new waypoint.
Can set a Prefix waypoint name to avoid confusion when transferring to Base Camp.
It has an "auto skip" waypoint function.
The Geocaching live app.
The Garmin Virb Action Camera remote control.
The sun and moon set and rise app.
Customisable menus and apps that can be downloaded.
Auto Recalculate can be turned off. (possibly the most important feature when looking to buy a GPS)
What I don't like about the Garmin Montana 700i:
Obviously the waypoint issue is disastrous. There is no excuse for this Garmin!
The altimeter cannot be trusted.
The battery thermal protection that kicks in at anything above 35 degrees C.
The fact you have to buy a separate vehicle mounting system.
The brightness of the screen could be better.
It will only speak street names when set to the "American Jack" voice.
Birdseye maps won't display no matter what I try.
There is no speed limit warning or speed camera information.
The unit has, on more than one occasion, inexplicably turned itself off, and the only way to get it to turn on again is to remove the battery, replace, and restart it.
The music control is useless.
I found the touch screen is slow and has a bit of a lag.
The icons are way too small and cannot be set any larger.
If you have any questions regarding the Garmin Montana, or any other Garmin GPS device, please feel free to get in contact with me and I'll do my best to assist you.
I would love to hear your experiences with the Garmin Montana and if you have experienced any of the problems that I have, or any others, so please leave a comment below...
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Stay Safe, Big Love, the SA Adventure Team!