Alpha from Gramin is both GPS and e-collar in one.
The Garmin ALPHA arrived yesterday afternoon and I messed around with it enough to understand the controls, threw it on the charger overnight and took it with me for this morning’s training session. I used it on all three dogs this morning. So with about three hours of use, I’ll give you my first impressions. First of all it worked just like I expected considering that I have been using Tri-Tronics e-collars for 20+ years and got an Astro 220 shortly after they came out. The three buttons across the top of the screen run the e-collar functions with the left button for monetary stimulation, the center one for continuous stimulation and the one on the right is the tone button. I’m a big advocate of using the tone before I shock a dog. Most of my dogs learn to respond to the tone without stimulation, so I was glad it was included. It was easy to use the touch screen to raise or lower the level of stimulation. I’m used to using a Pro 500 which has low, medium, and high stimulation on each of 6 levels to give you 18 levels of stimulation. The ALPHA has 18 levels of stimulation which I assume basically correspond. Other than the on/off button on the right side of the unit everything else works from the touch screen.
If you have a touch screen phone or computer pad you’ll find the screen works instinctively. For example, if you’re in the compass mode and you want the dog information screen you just touch the dog’s name and you’re there. Various icons appear on the screen and are fairly easy to interpret. For those who are already using an Astro navigating around the ALPHA will be easy as the functions all seem to be in the same place. When I wanted to switch the collar to “pointing dog” I touched the dogs name on the compass screen which took me to the “dog information” screen, then I touched the menu icon and there was the “change dog unit type” function right where I expected it to be. I’m fairly adept with technology but the transition to the ALPHA this morning was even easy than I expected.
The convenience of having only one collar and one handheld device may be the best feature of the unit. I’m used to having the Astro in my shirt pocket on a lanyard and the Tri-Tronics transmitter in a holster hanging from a strap. The ALPHA is a little bigger than the Astro but still fits in a shirt pocket. The other really good point is the fact that the handheld now runs on a rechargeable battery. I turned the ALPHA on at 5:30 this morning and 7 hours later it still has 65% of its battery life. So, if I was turning it on and off between covers or when I finished running dogs this morning the battery would be good for quite a while. I also like the fact that it gives you an actual percentage of battery left. With the Astro I got caught a couple of times with a low battery and reduced function because I wasn’t sure how much battery I actually had left. Also the Astro 320 is pretty battery intensive. I switch it to Lithiums but I’ve gone through a bunch of batteries this summer.
I do have one big complaint. The ALPHA is not compatible with the DC – 30 and DC – 40 collars. One thing I always try to do when we are running two dogs is have both dogs in my Astro. This proved a really valuable practice this summer when Frankie went over a hill and Tony went after him. I was able to go back to the truck and track the dog until I got quite close on another road with the truck. Instead of having to lead Frankie 3/4s of a mile back to the truck I was about 150 yards away when I blew the horn. I’m not sure I can convince Tony to move up as it’s taken quite a bit of tutoring to get him comfortable with the Astro. Also he frequently has a second e-collar on a dog’s belly and the ALPHA collar might be a little much for that use.
The ALPHA does have a really interesting feature that should appeal to hunters and trainers who work with a partner. Not only will the ALPHA track a bunch of collars, it will also track other handhelds. One thing I do miss with the ALPHA is the Birdseye satellite maps that I have on my Astro 320, so that will be my first upgrade.
For field trialers I would have to assume that the ALPHA collars will not be allowed as they are e-collars as well as GPS, but as a training/hunting device my first impression is the ALPHA will be a great tool. It will definitely be in use for the rest of the fall and I’ll report back when I’ve had more experience with it. We’re also going to put it on one of Tommy’s hounds as soon as the baiting season is over.
Oh, by the way, we moved 15 grouse and 10 woodcock this morning while I was testing out the ALPHA. Jack was feeling his oats in Red Barn and was close to 500 yards away in heavy cover at one point and I never lost contact. That may be due in part to the longer antenna on the collar which has a bright orange cap on the end of it.