The Garmin Oregon 550 is a compact handheld GPS with touchscreen control, a high-sensitivity GPS sensor, 3-axis tilt-compensated electronic compass, altimeter, microSD™ card slot, and a 3.2 megapixel auto-focus camera.
This Garmin portable GPS new addition sits at the pinnacle of the Oregon lineup. Memory capacity and waypoint storage have increased significantly from earlier Oregon models.
Earlier and less expensive Oregon models are still available from Garmin. The Oregon 300 features a world base map, while each variant of the 400 adds specialized mapping. The 400t is preloaded with U.S. topographic maps, 400i has U.S. inland lakes, and the 400c packs U.S. BlueChart cartography. The new Oregon 550 features a world base map.
The Oregon 550 is a small unit overall and measures just 4.5-inches tall, 2.3-inches wide, and 1.4-inches thick. With the accompanying pair of rechargeable NI-MH AA batteries installed it weighed 7.3 ounces on my scale. A USB port protected with a weather cap is located at the bottom of the case while a single on/off pushbutton is molded into the case side.
The 550 comes packaged with a USB data cable, carabiner clip belt clip, quick start guide, owners manual on CD, AC battery charger, and a pair of nickel metal hydrite 2000 MaH AA batteries. The charger ships with a variety of AC plug adapters.
The Oregon 550 comes with a basic world base map, to make this unit a viable marine navigator would require purchasing BlueChart g2 cartography for your area.
The Oregon 550 is best used while holding with one hand and pressing onscreen prompts and commands with the other free hand. This unit has a side mounted on/off switch that also brings up a screen brightness menu.
Six page icons are displayed at one time on the main menu page, several pages exist and can be shown in order by pressing the next page arrow field.
The pages I found most useful for on the water navigation were Map, Where To, Compass, Mark Waypoint, Waypoint Manager, and Trip Computer.
As you page through menu pages you’ll notice both a battery level indicator and GPS signal strength meter at the bottom of the pages.
The Map page in the test unit showed very little detail since it was equipped with only a base map. Any serious marine navigation would require the purchase and installation of appropriate Garmin BlueCharts. The Where To page offers the user a long list of places to go that includes waypoints, photos, tracks, tides, and more. The compass page features user selectable data boxes and a large compass rose.
Waypoints and Routes
From the Map page you can simply touch the screen to create a destination for navigation. When you press the screen the position, bearing, and distance to that point are shown onscreen. Pressing this field takes you to another page that allows you to go to the point. To create and save a waypoint youd need to go the Main Menu page and select Mark Waypoint. Then choose to save the point or save and go directly to the edit waypoint menu. From here you can change the name, position, symbol, or add a comment.
Routes are built and saved easily from the Route Planner page. I built a short route by touching the screen on the map page and adding more points in sequence the same way. It took just a few seconds to build a usable route. You can also choose new route turn points from a variety of lists.
The Garmin Oregon 550 has 850 MB of built-in memory and will store up to 2000 waypoints and 200 routes. By adding an optional microSD™ card the information storage capacity is increased significantly.
The majority of the 550 front face is filled with a 3.0-inch color TFT display screen. The screen is approximately 1.5-inches wide by 2.5-inches tall and boasts a 240 x 400 pixel resolution. There are no pushbuttons on the face of this unit, virtually all functions are controlled with the onscreen touch fields.
A single quick press of the on/off switch located on the side of the unit brings up the screen brightness menu. From here you can use the plus/minus fields displayed onscreen to adjust the screen backlight level.
I viewed the Garmin Oregon 550 display screen outside in bright sunlight and found it very readable. It dimmed very little when I donned my polarized sunglasses but does darken when tilted at certain angles. I am rating the Oregon touch screen a good for daylight viewing and excellent for low light and nighttime use.
Odds and Ends
One feature you don’t often see on a handheld marine navigator is a camera. Well this one has a 3.2 megapixel digital camera with autofocus and a 4x zoom. I tried it on a fishing trip and found it easy to use. Photos can be viewed on the screen or easily downloaded to a computer.
To activate the unit’s man overboard function requires the user to go to the main menu, find the MOB icon, and then select it. To do the actual navigation back to the MOB position I preferred to use the compass page. There is certainly better MOB functionality out there in some other units I reviewed, but this one does get the job done, even though it is a bit cumbersome to use.
The Garmin Oregon 550 shares a special feature with a few of its cousins, including the Colorado, Dakota, and the new 78-series. It can wirelessly share data like waypoints, tracks, and routes with another compatible Garmin handheld GPS.
Because of the touchscreen interface changing up data boxes to show different source data is very easy. Simply touch the box you want to change, then choose the data source from a menu list.
Screen redraws on our test unit were fast, however with only the base map installed not much chart information appears anyway. As Ive seen in other units in this series chart redraws slow significantly when full marine charts are installed.
The sealed AA battery compartment is accessed by flipping a latch that facilitates removal of the case back. To get to the microSD™ card slot youll need to remove the batteries. A mini USB data port is located on the bottom of the unit and protected from weather by form-fitted rubber flap.
This Garmin portable GPS is rated waterproof to IPX7 standards, meaning it can be submerged to a depth of 1 meter for 30 minutes without suffering any damage. The unit carries a 1-year warranty. The Garmin Oregon 550 passed both our dunk test and drop test with no problem, but does not float.
With the optional BlueChart cartography installed the Garmin Oregon 550 would make for a real feature packed portable marine navigator. Without the added charting software Id opt for another more desirable unit like the Garmin Colorado 400c or Garmin 78sc.