Garmin Alpha 200i REDUX

The first Garmin Alpha 200i I received, and about which I wrote my initial review, was defective: the compass would not calibrate properly and the pointer sometimes literally spun in circles on the screen when I tried to find my pointing dog. Worse than useless. I spent hours testing and recalibrating the compass on that unit, calling Garmin’s tech support (typically worthless), and finally reached out to Gun Dog Supply for help. GDS is awesome and their staff know way more about Garmin dog products than Garmin does, which is why I buy all our dog stuff from them. They suggested some things to try that Garmin didn’t, and when I got back to them that their suggestions didn’t work and that I thought the unit was defective, they sent me a replacement immediately.

I’m happy to report that the replacement Alpha 200i works as it should (I’ve now used it on three chukar hunts in extreme terrain and the compass works as well or better than my trusty old Alpha 100). So, phew, this thing does work for locating my dog, which has allowed me to look at the other things that might make it worth upgrading from the Alpha 100 (or Astro):

  • Bigger, brighter screen: so far no trouble reading it in any kind of light
  • inReach: a great safety tool, and better than SPOT or other PLBs in the same price point. When hunting alone outside of cell service, I can send texts home that include a link to my location on a map (Leslie appreciates this, especially when I’m done hunting and send her my preset “I’m heading home” message, which takes just a few seconds)
  • I can track Leslie’s Alpha 100 on my compass screen, so it’s easy to see where she is when we lose sight of one another, which happens a lot in chukar country

Things that I’m not convinced are better, which Garmin marketed as big improvements over the Alpha 100 are:

  • Physical buttons: the Alpha 200i has three physical buttons on the upper right of the unit, which can be used to toggle between functions and dogs. I don’t like them because I accidentally hit them all the time. It’s possible I could get used to them, but I never had any trouble with the touch-screen control on the Alpha 100, even with gloves (and — unlike the 200i — the Alpha 100 does not require “tech finger” gloves to work the touch screen; my solution for the 200i was to get a pair of tech finger gloves, which I love and which cost very little, actually)
  • The three “training buttons” on the upper face of the unit don’t have the same quality feedback as the buttons on the Alpha 100: when I hit the tone button to recall Peat, I’m never sure it actually registers because it’s flush-mounted to the face as opposed to the raised, rounded rubber buttons on the Alpha 100. If I’m looking at the screen when I push the button, I can see it change color, verifying I’ve sent the tone, but I don’t want to have to look at the screen to see if the button worked. This lack of tactile feedback is even more pronounced if you’re wearing gloves
  • The size and weight of the new 200i are basically the same as the Alpha 100; you’d think it would be possible to put it in a significantly smaller package (look at external hard drive size vs. capacity over time, for example…)
  • Usability in the field: both the Alpha 100 and Alpha 200i come with belt clip swivels, which attach to someplace on most bird vests. There are a few “aftermarket” “solutions” for mounting these handhelds in various ways, but — despite looking fairly deep — I haven’t found a great way to mount and use these awesome devices on my vest. Everyone uses different vests and has different hunting styles, so access to the handheld screen differs greatly among the users of these things. It’s sort of surprising, though, that Garmin or another company hasn’t developed a slick, adaptable case or something to make it easier to use in the field. The best I’ve seen, but haven’t tried, is the “Hands Free Case” from Okie Dog Supply, but I’m not sure it wouldn’t get in the way of mounting the gun in a rush…

All of these are picayune gripes, first-world problems, gratuitous bitches and moans, etcetera etcetera etcetera. But you know me. Overall, now that I received a unit that appears to work as it should, I’m happy with it. If you do decide to fork over the clams to upgrade, and you have trouble getting the compass to work correctly, definitely contact Garmin and then ask for a replacement unit from whomever you purchased it.

19 Replies to “Garmin Alpha 200i REDUX”

  1. Question: is there a subscription charge for using the texting feature?

    My experiences with multiple dogs:
    I have the alpha 100 and use the reassignment feature for the three buttons in order to run more than one dog. Gundog Supply has a YouTube video (called training button setup) explaining how to set up the handheld device. I’m sure the Alpha 200i will be similar. The feature allows you to assign each button to a collar with only one function, allowing three collars per page. You can use another page to assign other collars or assign other functions to the same collar. It’s tricky at first but once you get use to toggling between pages and looking at the screen, remembering which dog is associated with the correct collar, your in the money.

    Good luck! Ron

    1. Ron, you’re a smarter man than I, Gunga Din! I missed the reassignment stuff in the manual, and figured it out. Much more flexible than the Garmin 100 in terms of how many different functions you can assign to the buttons on the 200i. Anyway, it solved my problem. Embarrassing. But I’m used to it. As far as the inReach subscription, they have different plans: I chose the “Recreation Freedom” plan, which is $35/month, and you can start/stop it any time (you don’t have to do a year contract like I had to with SPOT). This plan comes with 40 texts/month and unlimited tracking points. For $20 less a month, you get 10 texts and have to pay for tracking points, which could add up. Here’s the link to their various plans: https://discover.garmin.com/en-US/inreach/personal/ I’m happy with it so far. Plus, I can see if you wanted to send your coordinates for someone to meet you outside of cell service, it would be really easy with this device.

  2. Those gloves— do you think they’ll hold up more than a season? I was looking at some ridiculously expensive ones from Orvis, but thought they may be worth the investment.

    1. Good question: so far I’m impressed. I’ve pricked them a few times on barbed wire and didn’t puncture the leather. I’ve looked at those Orvis gloves, and know people who love them and say they last for years, but they are a bit dear. I’ll try to post a review at the end of the season if I’m still wearing these Chinese imaginary racecardriver gloves… In the meantime I’m thinking of getting another pair since they fit my hands so nicely. 🙂

  3. Bob, agree with you on the buttons. They are a slight danger in that there is so little travel that anything bumping into them will trigger them. Bent over to crawl under a tree limb and had a dog get shocked accidentally; that’s no fun. At the same time, they offer little tactile response letting you know that they have been pressed; at least I wished the unit would vibrate when a training button is depressed, if nothing else. It blows me away that Garmin goes and buys TriTronics but can’t ever seem to remember that TT had the best button layout and tactile response in the industry; seems like Garmin threw all of that away. Too bad.

    As to carrying the unit, until someone designs something specific, I’ve been using this. I trimmed off the flap and cut some of the elastic back a bit as the Alpha is a bit thicker than a cell phone. Works pretty good.

    https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01CHO5JR0

    FYI,
    Dave

    1. Do you think the 200 is built as rugged as the 100? It seems like the recessed screen on the 100 would be better protected from impacts.

      1. Great question. Honest answer: I’m not sure. You have a good point about the recessed screen on the 100, but the screen on the 200 seems more durable. It’s a different material, which Garmin says will hold up better against scratching. My old Alpha’s screen is pretty scratched up, making me wish I’d put a screen protector on it. I’m planning to get a screen protector for the 200, but after using it on about 15 chukar hunts, it still looks brand new and unscratched. So far I’m impressed with its durability.

  4. I just received my 200 today and testing it out. Regarding the touch screen with gloves. Did you try changing to glove mode under accessibility in the display settings? I tested it with one of my pairs of gloves and it seems to work fine. The non-tech fingers actually worked better than tech finger.

    1. Hi Darrel! Thanks for the tip! I hadn’t tried that (don’t remember seeing that in the manual, nor did the person from Garmin I spoke to about the screen mention this feature). But I just tried it and it works. Much appreciated!

      1. I hope you don’t mind a few more questions. I am new to the Alpha series. With your replacement 200i do you still need to calibrate the compass fairly often? What I noticed last trip out at end of day is the compass started twitching about 45 degrees with both north and the collar location rotating. This was after returning from a location 30 miles away and I was doing distance testing with no dog. The collar was 1.5 miles away and not moving. I also had a 100 with me and it was steady. I tried to calibrate 4 times and they all failed. Next day at the house the compass was definitely off and it let me calibrate. Do you find this sort of behavior normal for regular use of the 100 and 200? Have you compared range with the 100 vs 200? It seems about the same, but the 200 shows a lower signal. Thanks for posting your review here. Very helpful to hear actual user experience with these devices.

      2. Hi Darrel. It sounds like your 200i is doing what led me to send mine back. My replacement has worked very well, with none of that pointer oscillation you’re talking about (which is nearly all my first one did). I’d definitely contact Garmin and/or whomever you bought it from and ask for an exchange. I have noticed with my replacement 200i that it’s slower at detecting points than my wife’s 100, and that it loses contact with the dog collars in extremely undulating terrain while the 100 does not; I suspect this translates into shorter range for the 200i. I haven’t calibrated the compass on the 200i yet, but think I need to because I’ve noticed on the last couple hunts that the pointer, while steady, is sometimes quite a ways off (up to about 30 degrees) from where Peat’s pointing. So yeah, not perfect. I hope you get yours sorted. Let me know what happens, and if you don’t get anywhere with Garmin tech support I can give you the contact info of someone there who might be more helpful.

      3. I contacted Garmin support and where I purchased. We’ll see how this goes. Garmin wants me to do more testing. Another thing I notice that is different than the 100. When I walk in a straight line and hold the unit as still as possible the compass bounces from side to side on the 200, but not the 100. Once I stop it stabilizes correctly. Does your 200 do that?

      4. My current 200 doesn’t bounce like you’re describing. It sounds like the first (defective) unit I had, which did that. Good luck with getting this fixed. Who did you buy it from?

      5. Okay that should help reduce the amount of testing needed. When I say bouncing side to side during walking it is only about 20 degrees, but doesn’t seem normal. I bought it from Double U Hunting. They are in WA so orders get to me next day. I will call them today. Thanks.

  5. Great reviews Bob. Love your blog and YouTube. Keep up the great work. Thinking of upgrading to the 200 myself, for inreach and better training features, but all the compass problems seem terrifying!

    1. Thanks, Brian! I’m settling in nicely with the 200 (once I got a non-defective unit). One cool thing I’m not sure is possible with the 100 is tracking our dogs’ elevation gain per hunt through Garmin Explore. We track our own elevation gains but I always wondered how much more our dogs were doing. Do you know if the 100 can track this?

  6. Update on mine. I emailed explanation and short video of compass oscillation to Double U. We talked briefly and they shipped a new one as soon as I shipped the old one. The new one appears to be working as it should. When walking the compass moves a little, but not as much as my first unit and no oscillation. The same day they had another customer who has one doing the same thing and was taking it to their shop for them to check out. They were very interested in getting mine and do some testing. One thing I noticed is my new one has a much higher serial number. My first one was a bundle with collar and I am guessing fewer of those have been sold so they would be earlier units.

    About the dog elevation. On the 100 if you go to track manager, dog track, you can see elevation plot and it will use the map location to generate the dog elevation. This does not currently work in the 200. Double U thinks Garmin could add this in a software update. I am guessing explorer is doing the same thing to generate the dog elevation. I could be wrong, but it doesn’t appear the collars are sending GPS elevation data to either the 100 or 200.

    The side buttons are nice for dog training and I like that you can program vib, cont, tone for the top 3 buttons which you cannot do on the 100.

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