Garmin Foretrex 701 With Applied Ballistics
Overall, I’ll give it 5 stars for quality. 3 stars for usability. 1 star for price. That’s a 3 star average but don’t let that conceal the fact that the quality of product, how reliably it does the job it’s to do, is 5 stars and that’s what you’re buying. A perfectly functioning bit of kit. Any negativity from here on out may as well be just the griping of some dude on the internet. Still there are gripes.
All in all I have the same complaint about putting AB in a GPS as I did about putting it in a Kestrel: Ballistics is a complicated business and user interface matters. You can’t shoe horn external ballistics into an otherwise simple gizmo and have a brilliant user interface. Yes, it works perfectly in every technological sense but it’s a pain to actually operate. I also think this gizmo is about the perfect confluence of form with a pairing of two functions as it pertains to long range hunters. You’ve got 1 gun, 1 load, 1 basic environment and 1 mission. You need a GPS and for it to be compact, durable and light. You should have good ballistics data too. So, good job Garmin and A.B. finding a decent pairing for purpose if not for sales volume.
If you’re my parents age you might actually remember when radios weren’t all that common as standard equipment in cars. If the wildly antique set of encyclopedias I grew up with were correct then it was some time around 1955 that they started to become common. So, you pretty suddenly had a car with a radio inside it. That was a pretty big deal at the time. Now cars are arguably more like radios that you drive around and the thing doing the job of the old school radios are much, much more than a simple radio receiver. For those considerably younger than me it might be easier to pick something temporally closer to home like when telephones suddenly lost their buttons and got big color screens, impressive processing capability and GPS. Telephones are now very sophisticated computers with telephones in them.
What that has to do with anything else here is that cars, radios, computers and phones were things that existed already and had served their purposes very well for a very long time before getting all, “You got your peanut butter in my chocolate.” The new capability mixture was not even on the same planet of use cases that the devices themselves were each originally meant to do so it was not a sure thing to change the landscape and become an absolute standard. The mixes were so far outside the old paradigms that it wasn’t known how things would settle out in the end. Things turned out interesting.
Cars weren’t things you’d expect to provide entertainment when they first came out. Cars were things you’d use to take you to entertainment. Similarly, telephones weren’t things you’d use to play video games. They were for making phone calls to your friends to arrange a trip to the arcade to play video games. Both cars and phones were for a very long time common and viable tools of social interaction. Nowadays, they seem like ways to self-separate from everyone else which is entirely the opposite situation. Both car stereos and smart phones were the initiation events of a whole new set of industries that popped up in direct response to the new consumer demands that would come from listening to anything you want to while driving or having a phone conversation and playing Angry Birds at the same time on the same device.
When someone shoe horns some new capability into a previously more single purpose widget one really does have to reserve judgement on the soundness of the decision for a long time. You can’t really tell how people will adjust to this new model. It might just be the next great thing. I mean, cars and radios go together like formerly living animals and gravy. Video games on phones are a double-edged sword if anything but are almost universally popular with consumers. Cars and Phones now enable you to ignore the world around you in general more effectively than before but they also go farther and experience more if you elect to do so.
When I saw the Garmin Foretrex 701 I wondered which side it would end up on and figured it would end up just another gadget with Applied Ballistics shoe-horned in to an otherwise high quality if pedestrian device which is only related to the topic of ballistics at one side. Applied Ballistics on a Kestrel weather meter made a ton of sense on the surface and sold like hot cakes. I don’t know if a GPS will be that natural of a pairing nor do I predict the kind of market penetration that the A/B equipped Kestrels have. We’ll see. I’ve been wrong before.
For the purposes of this article I used the little gizmo myself around town and at a desk and then my coach and I took it to a proper long range precision rifle competition and my coach actually competed using it instead of his usual notebook full of written DOPE. I tested the ballistics and GPS features against other ballistics apps and GPS’s and found everything works 100% as advertised. That is no surprise. Garmin is a recognized world leader in GPS devices. They don’t mess those up a lot. Applied Ballistics is known to deliver accurate ballistics data when used correctly because, like every ballistics app, it uses known mathematical models which very accurately reflect reality. Those mathematical models have known levels of precision and those levels are very high. That’s why we use them. So, there’s really little room for either the GPS or ballistics calculation feature to fail to work as intended. What it all comes down to then is not the steak but the sizzle.
Form is very much a personal preference sort of thing and while the Garmin Foretrex 701 is in fact quite nifty, I have some distinct complaints and some compliments. I’ll itemize the good, the bad and the ugly bits but they break down to the following areas: Manual, Display, User Interface, Flexibility, Comfort, Speed, Includes, Ruggedness.
Manual: The manual comes with a font size suitable only to teenagers and those few people that have microscopes on their desk. Maybe I’m just old. They could have nearly doubled the size of the manual and the font and still fit it in the box and old eyes like mine wouldn’t gripe (that assumes that your Y chromosome allows the reading of manuals). The manual’s size is a minor gripe.
The content of the manual is not a minor gripe. It is very frequently unhelpful while you try to figure it out because little though important details are left out and pictograms are seemingly avoided where they’d be especially helpful. They’re left out all over the place. Basically, the manual seems to assume a ton of familiarity with the device rather than being an instruction set breaking down exactly how all the little features work. Honestly, if you’ve not been trained how to use it by someone/something else, I think you’ll end up calling tech support at some point. If you’re any part a luddite, get ready for a steep learning curve.
Display: The monochrome LCD displays are not high resolution. In fact, they have a dot pitch which is pretty coarse and the display is pretty small at about 2.5x the size of a postage stamp. This makes it so that old guys like me have to hold it at arm’s length to see some bits and right close to see other bits. What we see on the display isn’t visually appealing or always easy to digest either. I suspect it looked better on the story board. It just doesn’t read quickly in most views. The backlight really helped with up-taking the data for me. Somehow it was vastly easier to sort through and digest the info with the backlight running in the broad daylight for both me and my coach. Your mileage there may vary.
User Interface (UI): First off, the UI for all AB integrated products I’ve ever held has been simply horrid. That’s a personal opinion and should be salted by the fact that I’m a geek in my day job and have to deal with UI’s of varying usability all the time so I’m kind of hard on them. The LCD UI is simply about the least intuitive and most tedious I’ve encountered in any device since that all-in-one copy machine was put into my office that nobody has so far figured out how to use. The user interface is as un-intuitive as all get out. It took me nearly an hour to get all of my inputs in and there are several annoying little idiosyncrasies about how the UI works that drove me up the wall. One big annoyance: If you hold down on an arrow button adjusting a value it’ll start slow, then picks up a little then after a seemingly very long time it suddenly goes to warp speed. There’s no reason to have to hold down the button for so long for fast scroll to start working or for it to be quite that fast. 2-3 seconds is plenty. Warp speed is so fast that adjustment overruns were constant. What it amounted to in the end was a lot of time wasted adjusting up after adjusting down went too far too fast. Thankfully once set, it’s set and you won’t mess with it again.
Flexibility: Not bad really if you constrain that assessment to flexibility for very small changes. The tedious first-time setup still takes entirely too long, though slightly modifying a couple inputs isn’t too bad. I originally set it up for my PRS match load to verify that it would give exactly the same data as the calculators that I publish (BallisticXLR/BallisticPRS/BallisticDLR). That initial setup took entirely too long but altering the 2 inputs that changed for my coach’s gun/load combo though was reasonably fast and easy taking about one minute. If the differences in the loads had been more substantial (the loads are 200fps different and he uses MOA while I use MIL) this assessment would change because the UI is so slow to use for large change sets or large changes in a single variable.
Comfort: The non-elastic wrist strap that it comes with was apparently sized in Lilliput. I have small wrists, like really small, and the velcro strap was less than an inch from being insufficiently long to work on me. My coach has hefty wrists for a sub-6-footer and was barely able to get it on his wrist. It had to be pretty tight; tighter than one would wear a watch. Thankfully there’s an extension with elastic stretch to it in the box.
There is also simply no way that you can put this gizmo on your non-firing wrist and use it from a properly set up supported prone position. Once you reach for the toe support bag the Garmin is out of view. Putting it above your bicep is an option but not a great one as the viewing angle is then hard to read. You can’t set it so it sits on the side of the wrist stably either. The normal wrist card location simply doesn’t work well because the thing has a flat bottom. On the upside, the strap didn’t make wrists excessively sweaty or itchy which was appreciated. All in all, it’s actually quite comfortable to wear which I think back country hunters will appreciate. It’s just not easy to use while in a firing position.
Speed: Speed of use is not really there. It has a range card which requires you to scroll to get more than a handful of data rows. The scroll function isn’t super slick visually either. Using the GPS features on that screen was to me, infuriating. I think I do better with a large field of view, detailed views, terrain data and such that come with a much more advanced screen or a plain old paper map. If you were to want to use the ballistics functionality to calculate for a specific long range shot then I hope your target is dead already. If not, your target is going to get bored and wander away. Yes, the data presented will be accurate but it takes entirely too long to get there for really long shooting, especially if you’re wanting to adjust for non-standard conditions.
Includes: This one irked me. For a $600 gizmo, it doesn’t come with batteries. It only takes AAA’s so it’s not like they’re a big investment. Garmin could easily drop in a couple lithium ion AAA’s in the box and still make margin. Or if they’re feeling cheap, just a couple knock-off brand alkaline AAA’s. But none at all? Who thought that was a good idea. My wireless mouse came with batteries. The mini-flashlight you buy from the impulse purchase bucket at a gas station comes with batteries. My wireless security camera came with CR123 batteries. A $600 Garmin GPS with Applied Ballistics doesn’t? Ok, moving on… It is reportedly compatible with night vision goggles though which is pretty slick and suggests military use is already happening. Speaking of which:
Ruggedness: As I gather, it’s got a MIL-Spec rating for thermal, water & shock resistance so I think we can just stipulate to the ruggedness. Coach and I had that thing out in the sun all day bashing it against barricades and burying it in the finest of powder fine dirt and grit. It was subjected to recoil and a not gentle ride to the range in my gear box. I don’t know about the little twist lock for the battery compartment. I don’t know how that’s going to hold up long term but it very reliably keeps that battery door closed right now. The buttons appear to be meant to be water resistant however in the interests of not destroying something I was loaned to review, I didn’t dunk it in water to find out. I will bet a crispy dollar bill that’ll work in any machine that it’ll survive a long dunk and should have exactly zero problem with torrential levels of rain.
All in all, the thing is ferociously expensive and it works perfectly. That said, I’ve not hunted in a long time and even then, it was mostly under at rock throwing distance and almost all under 100yrds. For almost everyone else into long range hunting/shooting, this is probably a better idea than the Kestrel with Applied Ballistics by a long way. The average hunter isn’t going to change elevations on the order of several thousand feet but they will change position and distance from target. As much as this doesn’t get my juices going or excite me it does seem to make a ton of sense for hunters who even MIGHT take a long range shot on game. I think I would be superficially pretty excited if a model with a UI that was enormously better was available but the costs to that in reality in terms of battery life, durability and reliability would make me probably hate owing it. Rock, meet hard place.