If you are into technology at all you know that most products are sent to the market in a Beta format and the software that runs it is usually evolving. That is the case with many computers of all types. The Alpha is a very sophisticated computer that receives signals from satellites and the collar on your dog and then computes the location of both. It then displays this information in a variety of formats — primarily the directional compass and the map tracks. It will also keep track of where you left your truck, found birds, and any other waypoints you enter as well as your hunting partner if he or she is also carrying an Alpha. In addition, with the optional BirdsEye imagery, it will display satellite images of the terrain you’re hunting. To access all this information and more you navigate through the various functions using a very intuitive touch screen.
The reason I bring this all up is that when a company like Garmin brings out a new unit like the Alpha they first send it out to field testers who use it in real world situations and give the engineers feedback. Most companies start out with their Beta units with the software having a number of 1.0 (I’m assuming Garmin followed the same pattern). By the time I got an Alpha earlier this month the software was up to version 2.20. After I wrote my initial review I started having problems with the compass dial. It was flipping so that north was actually pointing south and if you tried to follow the arrow to a dog on point you actually went in the opposite direction from the dog. Fortunately, my dogs wear a bell so I quickly realized what was wrong and switched to the map view which was still oriented correctly. I re-calibrated the compass and it was fine again for awhile. But the compass flipped a couple more times. When I got home I emailed Garmin and they quickly answered with a patch that took me to software version 2.21 and a note that there were a couple other issues and that a complete update would be on their website via there WebUpdater software this weekend. Now I’m at software version 2.3. This will continue as an ongoing process for as long as the product is on the market just like Microsoft and Apple are constantly sending out updates to their various operating systems and other software. The software engineers can’t anticipate all the problems that actual users might face and need to adjust their programming as they become aware of problems. If you rush out and buy new technology the first day it’s on the market then you can expect it to need a little debugging. One problem that has been reported by some people and I have experienced to a certain degree is the touch screen being moved to another screen when the device is in your pocket. I have had this happen but I don’t see it as a major problem as you can quickly get back to the map or compass with a couple of touches on the screen and the correction buttons above the screen always work no matter which screen you’re on.
That said, the Tritronics part of the unit has worked flawlessly. you push the button and you get stimulation or a tone. You can always see what level it’s set at and easily adjust it higher or lower as needed. The convenience of having the capabilities of a Pro 500 and a better version of the Astro 320 in one unit both for me and the dog far outweigh any shortcomings with the screen or early glitches in the software. I’ll keep my Pro 500 and my Astro with all their assorted collars in my gear bag but after three weeks of using the Alpha I don’t want to go back.
On other matters, the Northern New England Woodcock Championship is currently going on down in Fryeburg, Me and as of last night they had completed 13 of 22 braces. Barring any unforeseen delays Jack will run in the last brace today and they’ll finish up tomorrow morning and then run the derby on parts of the championship courses. LJ, Frankie, and the Little Thudster are entered in the derby.
Finally, I took LJ out for a run here at the house during the hottest part of the day and still found a half dozen grouse. It seems that there starting to feed in the apples. We have a light crop this year but still have enough for the deer and grouse. We got a bunch of deer that are feeding in the yard and we often see them coming out of the woods just at dusk.