I recently purchased both a Garmin etrex Vista HCx and a Garmin GPSMap 60csx. After trying them both and doing some research I decided to return the 60csx and keep the Vista. I know, lots of people think the 60csx is the granddaddy of all gps units, but if they did a little research they might think otherwise.
The only caveat is that if you are going to use a gps unit with an external antenna, then you would need to buy the 60csx as none of the etrex models has the ability to attach an external antenna.
The software features and capacity are the same on both units. The 60csx has a lower power on rating (18 hrs) as opposed to the Vista (25 hrs) because the 60scx has a larger and higher resolution screen. Also, the 60csx is no longer rated compatible with lithium batteries because of some hardware or software problems. Garmin took out the lithium battery option in the latest firmware revision for the 60csx.
As to hardware, the Vista is smaller and significantly lighter, especially when you factor in the use of lithium batteries in the Vista. The buttons for the Vista are on the sides of the unit near the top, except for the click-stick that is on the front of the unit. The placement of the buttons on the Vista makes it easy to hold and operate with one hand.
The 60csx is not only larger because of its larger screen, but it also has a protruding antenna, making it much longer and wider than the Vista. The control buttons are located on the bottom front of the unit. To use it with one hand you have to balance the unit in your fingers and have a very long and flexible thumb. It is more convenient for two handed operation because the buttons are broken up more into separate functions, where as the vista buttons are fewer and some cycle through menus to get to a particular feature.
The big hardware difference is in the gps chips and type of antennas used in the units. Many people think that the 60scx has the better chip and antenna but the specs don’t support such a conclusion.
The 60csx has a passive quad helix antenna. That is why it has to stick out from the top of the unit (because it is passive). The Vista has an active patch antenna. It performs as well as the 60scx passive antenna even though it is housed inside the unit.
Garmin and most other manufacturers are no longer making auto gps units with passive external antennas because of the high performance an active antenna offers.
The 60csx has the SiRF Star III gps chip. The Vista has the MediaTek MT3 gps chip. Specs and controlled test give a slight advantage to the MediaTek MT3 chip with an active antenna.
For a comparison of the inards go to Chip Compairson
The biggest advantage in performance for the 60scx is the option to use an external antenna. Without an external antenna attached you need to properly position any gps unit to get the best results. With an external antenna you can put the unit in a belt case or even in your pack.
However, I only carry my gps when I intend to use it. And when I use it, I carry it properly – as close to horizontal as possible attached to the top of my pack or the very top of my shoulder strap, or carried in front of me. I don’t think I would ever use an external antenna.
I actually got better satellite connects with the vista than I did with the 60csx in my home, but I did not do any controlled use of them together in the field.
I think you’d be happy with either one. Size and price are the two big significant differences, not performance. But if you think you’d rather be casual about placement of the unit, then get the 60csx and get an external antenna (they cost between $15 ad $40).
But if are not going to use an external antenna then the 60csx only offers a larger screen.
For a similar review (by a person unknown to me) see Garmin 60Csx vs. Etrex Vista Hcx vs. DeLorme PN-20