Eagle AccuMap12 GPS Product Review

By Steve Aikens <6363@pdrpip.com>

Since questions about the GPS I use seem to come up quite a lot, and it appears a lot of folks on the list are looking at GPS's now, I guess it's time I offered my evaluation. The unit I've been testing for the past year, is the Eagle AccuMap12, made by Eagle Electronics. Eagle Electronics, as is Sea Electronics, is a product brand name of Lowrance Electronics Corporation, a leader in the sonar and GPS industry since 1957.

In July 1991, the Company introduced six Lowrance and Eagle GPS products that incorporated GPS components built by Rockwell satellite. These products offer unsurpassed plotter display capabilities with up to 20 times more detail than other GPS receivers, and at breakthrough prices.

Without getting into a long dissertation of what the specifications are and what the unit offers; that information is readily available on the internet at http://www.eaglegps.com/egps/guide2.htm; my intent here is to tell you how the unit operates in actual practice, in what some refer to as a relatively harsh environment, that being on a motorcycle.

I travel quite a bit and am an avid motorcyclist. When it's possible, I ride my R1100RSL BMW and navigate using the Eagle AccuMap12 GPS. I have a mount for it on the top of the triple clamp, where it simply Velcro's on and the power is plugged in from the motorcycle. Although vibration is non-existent where my GPS is mounted, this is a very rugged, sealed piece of electronics and I really don't think some minor vibration would be a problem. It's been in rain, sleet, snow, and lots of sun and has traveled on my bike more than 20,000 miles this year with no ill effects.

I'm often asked why I prefer the Eagle AccuMap12 to the competitive products. Although I'm certain this will appear to ramble from one point to another without much continuity, I'll try to touch on most of the differences I think are key and what makes the more costly AccuMap12 worth the extra money, IMO.

Before I travel, I normally program in the waypoints I want I manually (very fast and easy). I do think there should be a procedure in the mapping software for this task, similar to the Garmins. Whether the lack of such a link to computer mapping software is because Lowrance/Eagle is unable to work it out or the software provider is unable to work with Lowrance/Eagle is unknown to me, but I think if Lowrance/Eagle is to be competitive with the Garmin, they need to get the interface written into the most widely used mapping products. However, it's not that big a deal to program it by hand and usually takes me only a few minutes to add the needed waypoints. Once you've had the unit for a while, you'll already have XXX number of waypoints programmed in and you can simply plot your route by putting them in the route waypoint list. For example, I travel from my home to the main highway in one of four directions, following the same route every time. I have the routes saved and simply add the next coordinates when I reach the end of the pre-programmed routes.

First, the screen size (2 < X 2 <) and resolution (160 X 160) of the AccuMap12 is perfect for my use. The high resolution of the screen makes even a diagonal line look like a diagonal line, not a zigzag line. The large, square screen lets you view your route in real perspective the rectangular screen of the Garmins. The backlighting on the AccuMap12 makes the screen very easy to read at night.

Traveling down the road, the layout of the AccuMap12's 12 function buttons and their size make them easy to use to change screens, even with bulky, heated winter gloves. For me, the AccuMap12 layout works much more easily than my Garmin, but I think this is more a personal preference than a constructive criticism.

Much has been said of the detail maps and moving map plotter of the Garmin, as has some discussion of the Lowrance/Eagle units. The AccuMap12 I'm using has a code revision of 3.1. The detail is significantly improved over the Lowrance GlobalMap Sport I was using before the AccuMap12, without using the available detail IMAPS sold by LEI. For example, on recent trip to Death Valley, I compared my year old AccuMap12 (again, without the IMAP cartridge) to a one week old Garmin GPSIII and an older Lowrance GlobalMap Sport with the IMAP cartridge for the area. The AccuMap12 was the only one that identified the lake beds in Death Valley. If you own a GPS with plotter/mapping software built-in, or even with an IMAP cart., try N36.31.858, W116.53.549. That's (approximately) the lat/long of one of the lakebeds that is located adjacent to US 190. As of this writing, I've not seen that lakebed on any GPS plotter, other than the AccuMap12. Though I have little need for knowing where a dried up lakebed is, it is a good example of the added detail in the AccuMap12 over others. If it has this level of detail here, I have to believe it superior to the competition that I've seen is other areas of detail as well, and would identify more roads (or perhaps at the very least, the same) as those identified by the Garmin.

A major complaint I had with the GlobalMap Sport was the removable antenna. Two thumb wheels had to be unscrewed to remove the antenna for remote mounting. They were very difficult to use. The design has been changed in the AccuMap12. Simply grasp the antenna and shift it to the right and lift it off the unit. Very simply to remove and replace, although you must fiddle with the compressible rubber "boot" to get it back on straight so it will again seal the antenna from moisture and dirt. The change in design is such that if you previously owned the GlobalMap Sport remote antenna kit, you must upgrade to the new kit because the design change doesn't allow the antenna to be pressure fitted in the mount.

The 12 channel receiver locks on fast. One thing I notice though is when moving fast through tree lined canyons, the AccuMap12 GPS looses lock fairly easily. This is an irritant when using the system to monitor ground speed and elevations, but not a real problem. It's not a real problem because if you are walking (or stopped) in the same locations you lost the lock, the receiver maintains its' lock with the satellites. The only explanation I have for this is as you rapidly move through the tree cover, the trees must block just enough signals to prevent the system from updating properly so the system drops the lock. On a recent trip to Colorado, I explored some back roads the system pointed to in the mountains. When I stopped to gawk, I took the GPS with me to keep it from being stolen and was surprised to find the system locked-on to the satellites as soon as I powered it up on batteries and tracked fine along the track I had just ridden up and lost the lock. As soon as I got back on the bike, the GPS grabbed the satellites right away, but lost lock again as soon as I was under way. Paying close attention to the GPS, I noted that it would lock-on fast in some areas and then loose lock again in the more densely tree lined canyons. One area between Estes Park and Granby on US 34, I've traveled a couple times and recall the GlobalMap Sport (5 channel) didn't seem to loose the lock as fast in a couple areas, but took much longer to recover. The AccuMap12 recovers really fast. Coming out of a tunnel, it's locked-on as soon as you see daylight.

Another thing I want to briefly address is accuracy. With S/A, most of us realize the GPS is only a "relative position" tool. Even using DGPS, we're relegated to the locations of the beacons for any real accuracy. What I have noticed is the AccuMap12 seems to track more closely to where I actually think I am. As illogical as that sounds, when I zoom in to .1, I can see which side of a divided four lane I'm traveling on. If I travel back the same way, I see three lines, one is the centerline or the road, and two are my actual plot trails, one North, one South (or East-West). However I think this may be more associated to the higher resolutions of the screen than to any real increase in accuracy. But it is something to consider along with any comparisons to the accuracy of some other units.

Some features I'd like to see, and I understand some are available with the Garmin GPSIII but I can't confirm that, are the ability to look back and see what maximum ground speed (GS) was, what maximum and minimum velocity made good (VMG) were, what maximum course deviation (CDI) was, what maximum elevation was and what total time in route was.

Overall, I really like the Eagle AccuMap12 and it's ease of use. I found the learning curve (when I first tried the GlobalMap Sport, same basic layout) was minimal and the intuitive design easy to navigate. Where it took some time to become accustom to the interface of my Garmin when I first got it, the AccuMap12 seemed to be easier for me to get from one step to the next in understanding "what button do I push next to get to ?", from the beginning.

I'd be interested in hearing about the success, or lack of, with the soon to be offered Garmin Street Pilot (I think it called) when they come out. I understand they will have maps available for major city streets, but wonder how useful that will be if the screen resolution remains about the same as the GPSIII. I'm also wondering if Lowrance/Eagle is intending to release a like mapping cartridge for the AccuMap12 and GlobalMap12.

I highly recommend anyone interested in a high quality, top of the line GPS look at the Lowrance GlobalMap12 and the Eagle AccuMap12 units before spending your money. They do cost a bit more than some of the others, but I really think the product you get is worth the small difference.

I also thank Arno Jones for spending the time with me, seemingly a very long time ago, to help me get a foothold in understanding enough of the basics of GPS to persue it and getting me tied up with Lowrance/Eagle.
I don't suffer from insanity.....I enjoy every minute of it!

Steve Aikens, Clovis, New Mexico

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