GPS Device: Now with WiFi, Android OS (same as a smartphone)

It costs more than many notebook or tablet computers. But for $649 Garmin thinks it has “taken the outdoor GPS to a whole new level” with its Monterra, announced today.

The top-of-the-line rugged device is WiFi-enabled and runs on the Android OS, the same operating system ubiquitous in untold millions of smartphones. It comes to market in the fall.

The Monterra is Garmin’s first WiFi-enabled outdoor handheld GPS. This feature lets you sync the GPS device with a wireless network to download device updates, Android apps, route data, and also to transfer files from the device’s internal memory to a folder on a computer or online.

Users can access the Google Play Store and download apps through a WiFi connection.

(See higher-res images of the Monterra on page 2 of this post)

Software advancements are balanced by hardware improvements like a waterproof body and a “sunlight-readable” screen. The screen is made of glass that ostensibly lets sunlight help it to “glow” more in the daytime. For the night, there’s an LED backlight.

To sum it up, Garmin cites the Monterra as combining GPS “location and mapping capabilities” with the versatility of the Android operating system. Additional features include:

> Touchscreen control

> FM radio

> NOAA weather radio

> Compass with accelerometer and gyro sensors

> Barometric altimeter

> Built-in UV sensor (so users can monitor the intensity of the sun)

> 8-megapixel camera

> 1080p HD video camera

> 8 GB of internal memory

> MicroSD slot (for extra storage)

> Rechargeable Li-ion pack (included)

> Works with AA batteries as well

> ANT+ and Bluetooth wireless compatibility

The unit will ship this fall to stores at a suggested retail price of $649.99. A $699.99 version comes with preloaded topo maps.

Will GPS junkies put down the serious cash for this serious device? We’re drooling over the Monterra’s feature set and love that Android is now incorporated in a device category that has long been proprietary and closed to open development.

Garmin notes that developers are “free to create new apps that are ideally suited for the rugged, waterproof, and sensor-loaded handheld device.” Should be fun to watch and see what software designers and GPS geeks come up with as devices like the Monterra begin to grab hold.

—Stephen Regenold

(See higher-res images of the Monterra on page 2 of this post)

Stephen Regenold

Stephen Regenold is Founder of GearJunkie, which he launched as a nationally-syndicated newspaper column in 2002. As a journalist and writer, Regenold has covered the outdoors industry for two decades, including as a correspondent for the New York Times. A father of five, Regenold and his wife live in Minneapolis.