Garmin Alpha 100 Review
Garmin Alpha 100—the Pinnacle of Canine Tracking & Training Systems
If you’re ready to jump big-time into the world of
current tracking and training system, Garmin’s Alpha 100/TT10 combo has set the bar for utility and
performance in the field. It gives you the best of both worlds by combining Garmin’s integrated GPS
tracking with Tri-tronics remote training
capabilities to allow you to do double duty with your hounds in the field. You can track and train simultaneously for optimum results with your hunting dogs.
What’s New with the Alpha 100
Garmin has loaded the Alpha 100 with several features not available in less expensive systems. The “buddy tracker” function is an industry first—it allows you to track not only your dogs, but also your friends who have Alpha units, in any combination of up to 20 buddies and dogs. In addition, there are twice the usual number of ID codes to differentiate your Alpha from others in the area, integral PIN codes that can be shared so other Alpha units can track and/or train your hounds, and safety lights in the TT10 collar that you can activate from your handheld so you can find and follow your dogs even after dark.
According to Double U’s Buddy Woodberry, “The Alpha is the best integrated system out there, hands down. Garmin doubled the number of ID CODES from 50 in the Astro 320 to 100 in the Alpha. This is a great feature especially for guys running a huge number of dogs, because it really cuts down on the chances of interference from other Garmin collars. And if you ever run dogs at night, the LED lights in the TT10 collar are a fantastic feature because you can turn them on not only to get a visual on your dogs, but also to make them visible to vehicles if they get near a road.”
Another valuable feature for dog safety is the ability to remotely change the frequency of location updates sent to your Alpha handheld (not possible with the Astro, which has to be next to the collar). “The Alpha transmits all controls over the MURS band, where the Astro only receives the collar location through MURS band, which is much more limited. So as long as your Alpha is tracking and in communication with your TT10, you can adjust any of your collar settings,” says Buddy. “I was hunting a logging area recently, and my dogs were headed toward a logging road. That kind of situation can be really stressful, but with the Alpha I was able to change my update rate from a distance. I changed it from 30 to 2.5 seconds to make sure I’d be able to greet my dogs as they stepped on the road.” You can further assure your hounds’ safety by setting up a customized virtual boundary using the detailed maps displayed on your Alpha’s touch screen; if any of your dogs crosses the “geofence” you create, the Alpha will send you an alert so you can recall your errant hunter.
“This option is excellent for people hunting in small areas, around private property, or along highways and main roads,” says Buddy. “I also use the geofence around camp, or if we stop somewhere to water the dogs and let them stretch their legs near a traveled road.” Simply put, the Alpha100 stands at the pinnacle of tracking systems with integrated training functions, and it offers many more amazing features. Keep reading to learn about those.
Out-of-this-world Tracking, Right Here on Earth
There’s tracking, and there’s tracking Garmin style: the Alpha 100 displays each of your dogs and their correction settings in a sliding bar above the map, so it’s easy for you to check their
status. Within the map, the Alpha displays your dogs’ speed and direction of travel, as well as their distance from you. You know the Alpha can track up to 20 dogs or fellow hunters, but did you know it can even send you notifications when one of your hounds is on point or treed? Talk about handy! And if you want a better-than-life view of your surroundings, including roads, water, woods and more, you can buy a subscription to Garmin’s BirdsEye TOPO maps, and enjoy satellite-generated details you may never have thought possible.
Finally, Garmin’s all-new BaseStation feature lets you turn your laptop into a “big-screen” field control center. “You’ll have to download their BaseCamp software,” notes Buddy, “but once you do, you can plug your Alpha into your laptop with a USB cord, and your dogs can be tracked on your laptop screen. One thing Buddy notes is that you will need to purchase the Garmin Topo map DVD for your computer, it currently does not show the map from your handheld on the computer. And of course, because your Alpha is GPS-based, you'll get tracking even where Internet and cell phone service isn’t available.
Alpha’s Amazing Display, Maps & Compass review
The Garmin Alpha has a 1.5” x 3” high-resolution touch-screen display that shows everything in color and is even glove friendly, for those frigid winter days when you don’t want to expose your hands. “I prefer the orange color to locate it when I set it down at a tree,” says Buddy, “and Garmin has done a good job of creating a user friendly menu. It’s very intuitive to get to the settings you need.”
The Alpha comes with pre-installed 100K topographic maps that show all the important features of the land or water around you. And in contrast to the Astro, it has a tilt-compensated 3-axis electronic compass so you don’t have to worry about holding your Alpha just right to enjoy super-accurate direction finding. However, there is a little work for you to do: “Remember,” says Buddy, “If you use the compass page regularly, it’s important to calibrate your compass often so you get the most accurate location and heading info for you and your dogs.”
The Alpha will also let you add waypoints to mark important spots like property entrances, trailheads, game beds, your camp, and the location of your vehicle. And Double U offers many options from Garmin to upgrade the map that comes with your handheld. “The default map on the Alpha is 100K, which means you see details at the scale of 1:100,000” Buddy explains. “But if you want more detail, we have some great options. I often suggest Garmin’s 24K maps—they show at 1:24,000—or their Birdseye Topo maps. They show USGS maps at 1:24,000, AND NRC maps at 1:50,000.”
Completely Customizable Remote Training and Hound Management
Your hounds may be new to the game and require more frequent training, or they may be experienced hunters who rarely need correction, reminders or commands. No matter—the Alpha 100 can do either, and anything in between, with style. It provides 18 stimulation settings in two different configurations, as well as tone and pulse options. The system is extremely easy to use, and the complete variability of adjustment in stimulation really helps with more sensitive dogs. “Without a doubt, this is the best training setup on the market,” says Buddy. “As long as you can track your dog, you can correct your dog—in a way, it’s kinda like being next to them wherever they go.” The Alpha is rated to transmit 9 miles, and Buddy and his family have successfully tested their unit at 6 to 7 miles using a truck antenna in ideal conditions. “We were on top of a ridge, and our hound was down the valley a ways with good line of sight, but still, it’s amazing to think you can control so many aspects of the system’s operation from such long distances. And the best part about the Alpha is you can easily see what your dog is doing and take advantage of that to adjust your corrections in real time.”
The training foundation for the ALPHA 100 is based on the incremental and customizable stimulation levels that Tri-Tronics has been using for years. However, Garmin has given us two different ways to interpret and select those levels. The first is called "Traditional:" it matches the 6 levels Tri-Tronics now uses, but adds low, medium and high subsettings within those 6 levels to give you a total of 18 stimulation options.
According to Buddy, “This allows you to match the stimulation setups of any of the Tri-Tronics collars. But if you prefer a slightly faster way to raise and lower your stim levels, you would choose the ‘Linear’ configuration. It gives you 18 levels in a straight sequence that corresponds with the low, medium and high levels Tri-Tronics uses in its Pro series collars.”
You can also set up custom pages for multiple dogs so you can adjust and transmit corrections to three dogs from the same screen without having to change pages. “This is a great feature when you’re running multiple dogsat the same time,” says Buddy. “You still have only one button per dog, but you can have different levels for each dog individually. These mode options will allow folks to set up their unit the way that best fits what they prefer. This Alpha/TT10 combo works really well as both a training collar and a hunting collar…”
Nuts and Bolts and Li-Ion Batteries
One of the best features about the Alpha is its rechargeable lithium-ion batteries. The battery pack is compact and easy to replace in the field, and it provides dozens of hours of service before needing to be recharged. “We all know how quickly the Astro 320s burn AA batteries,” says Buddy, “The rechargeable in the Alpha system are not only more cost effective, they’re more convenient and reliable.” The Alpha also comes with a 12v truck adaptor that powers the batteries and charges them at the same time. “The only time I wind up with a dead battery in my Alpha now is when I forget to plug it into my vehicle. If you spend a lot of time on foot or on horseback, we recommend getting a spare battery for your Alpha, just like you would for a cordless power tool, for example.” Battery life on the TT10 collar is around 24 hours when it’s set at the 2.5-second update rate, but doubles to 48 hours if you set it to a 2-minute update rate.
And if you’ve ever been in a critical situation with your hounds in the field, only to lose contact because your batteries died, well, Garmin has thought of that for you. When the battery in your TT10 collar reach the 25% charge level, the collar automatically switches into Rescue Mode and slows the update rate at which it pings your Alpha to every 2 minutes. This extends the battery life in your TT10, giving you more time to search for and locate your dog. Of course, you can also manually select Rescue Mode, or quickly adjust your update rate to one of 5 intervals: 2.5, 5, 10, or 30 seconds, and a maximum of 2 minutes (120 seconds).
“Hunting with the DC30 collars, we would use the 30-second update rate and could expect about 30 hours of battery life,” notes Buddy. “With the Alpha/TT10 system, we use the 10-second update rate as our default, and with help from Rescue Mode we consistently see 42 hours of battery life in our collars.”
In the Field with Buddies? Communicate with Them Via Your Alpha!
The Alpha handheld comes with another unique and valuable feature: it has 18 preprogrammed text messages you can send to your buddies to communicate silently and efficiently about your situation or intentions. “The buddy-to-buddy text feature only works after you enable and pair your unit with the other Alphas you want to reach,” says Buddy, “but again, as with most features on the Alpha system, this is easy to do.” Buddy does have one reservation, though. “However great in theory, we’ve found the quick-text feature is not as practical in the field as we would have expected... The individual messages are great, and the texting feature works well, but if the user receiving the message isn’t looking at the screen, the message disappears after a few seconds and can’t be retrieved. Most of the time when you’re in the field, you’re either walking or watching and listening to your dogs, not looking at your Alpha screen. I’ve suggested to Garmin that they improve the text feature by programming it to leave texts on screen until the recipient reads and clears them. We’re hopeful for a software update to fix this soon.”
The Low-down on your Alpha 100/TT10 Combo
Following is a summary of the most notable features you get with your Garmin Alpha system, some of which we haven’t even covered!
|Alpha 100 Features & Performance:|
|Unit dimensions||1.53"W x 2.55"H (3.8 x 6.3 cm); 3" diag (7.6 cm)|
|Display type / resolution||65-K color touchscreen / 200 x 400 pixels|
|Weight||8.8 oz (250 g) with standard antenna and battery|
|Battery||rechargeable lithium-ion (included)|
Alpha 100 Maps & Memory:
|Preloaded maps||100K topographic; 24K topo and BirdsEye satellite maps available|
|Built-in memory||4GB, with 500 MB available for user storage|
|Accepts data cards||Yes: microSD™ card (not included)|
|Track log||10,000 points, 200 saved tracks|
|Automatic turn-by-turn routing on roads||Yes (with optional mapping for detailed roads)|
|Tilt-compensated 3-axis electronic compass||Yes|
|High-res, glove-friendly touchscreen||Yes|
|Ability to add personalized waypoints||Yes|
|Ability to share data wirelessly with other Alpha units||Yes|
|Sun and moon information||Yes|
|Navigation to geotagged photos||Yes|
|Garmin-Connect™ compatible (online site where you analyze, categorize and share data)||Yes|
What to Expect, and What You’ll Get
Buddy points out one important limitation for your Alpha 100: it is NOT compatible with Garmin’s DC20, DC30 or DC40 collars; it only operates TT10 collars, so you’ll have to buy TT10s to enjoy all the amazing capabilities of your Alpha system. When you do choose to upgrade, here’s what you’ll get in the box:
- Alpha 100 handheld with belt clip
- Rechargeable, replaceable Li-ion battery pack
- Extended range antenna
- TT10 dog collar with orange strap
- Charge clips for handheld and collar, and an AC adapter for the handheld
- Vehicle power cable, split adapter cable and USB cable
- Short and long contact-point sets with wrench and non-stim plugs
- Durable field bag
- User manuals
The Bottom Line on Garmin’s Alpha 100/TT10 combo?
If you want the best, invest in the Alpha system to manage your hounds (and even your buddies) in the field. It’s available through Double U Hunting Supply for $799.99, and for that price you don’t just get the equipment—you also get the expertise of Double U’s Garmin-smart employees, and unparalleled customer service for the life of your Alpha. When you buy from Double U, we work hard to make sure you’re satisfied. Have questions? Visit us at www.dusupply.com, or contact our Double U product experts to find out more: we’re at email@example.com or (855) DU HUNTS (855-384-8687).