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Field Test: Garmin Alpha 200i Review

After a season with this do-all dog training & hunting tool, here's the nitty gritty on this unique device.

Field Test: Garmin Alpha 200i Review

The Garmin Alpha 200i is a feature-packed powerhouse for upland hunters. (Photo By: Kali Parmley)

There’s something to say about a company that listens to customer feedback and takes the time—nine years in the case of Garmin—to produce the next generation of a popular product.

When the Alpha 100 hit the market in 2011, it took the hunting dog world by storm. Handlers now had a device that served not only as a GPS unit with preloaded topo maps, but it also allowed you to track multiple dogs, and operated as an e-collar so it could serve double duty as both a training and hunting tool. The Alpha 100 instantly became a ubiquitous tool in the gun dog world.

But as with all products, there is always opportunity for improvement, and Garmin took almost a decade before releasing the next version of the Alpha, the 200i.

“One of the priorities of Garmin product development is we are always striving to learn what is wanted and needed in a second-generation product,” explained Rehan Nana with Garmin’s Outdoor Recreation department. “The 100 changed dog tracking at the time. In the years following its release, we gathered as much customer feedback as we could from Alpha 100 users. So, when we released the Alpha 200i, we were sure it wouldn’t just meet, but would exceed what customers wanted in their next Alpha unit.”

Updated Tech

The Alpha 200i was released in 2020 and it had been given a huge upgrade with state-of-the-art features that no other dog tracking device had ever seen. I spent last season testing the 200i in the field to really see its capabilities before giving it an honest review.

In the decade since the release of the Alpha 100, satellite communication and digital mapping have made large advancements. As a leader in GPS mapping technology, it seemed only fitting that Garmin purchase DeLorme, a satellite company specializing in navigation technology and satellite communication. That paved the way for Garmin to incorporate InReach satellite communication into its arsenal, and now into the Alpha 200i.

As both a big game and bird hunter who often is off-the-grid and out of cell service, I have been a fan of the InReach communication devices since the days of DeLorme. What is InReach?

To put it simply, it’s a way to text with family and friends when out of cell service and trigger an SOS if you’re in a life-threatening situation. With a simple subscription that can be turned on and off at any time, InReach technology utilizes the Iridium Satellite Network to keep you connected to the people back at home, even when you’re deep in the mountains.

The fact that Garmin integrated InReach technology into the 200i (now you understand what the “i” means in its name), was fantastic for me. It meant one less piece of gear to carry in my pack.

Digital mapping technology has also advanced, and Garmin capitalized on that opportunity. The device itself features detailed topo maps with an option to display public/private land boundaries—making it easy to find new spots to hit while afield.

Additionally, you can add even more mapping features to your 200i by downloading Garmin’s BirdsEye Satellite Imagery directly to your device. But be sure to do it before you leave town—you have to be connected to wifi. This gives you even more mapping features at your fingertips, this time with detailed landscape views of a region.

Garmin Alpha 200i full product review
The 200i offers detailed mapping technology and InReach satellite communications to stay in touch while out of cell service. (Photo courtesy of Garmin)

Additional Features

Upland hunting or hound enthusiasts can link more than 20 dogs to the device by classifying collars into “active” and “inactive” groups.

When “active,” the device tracks your dog’s distance from you, distance traveled, their average speed, and more. A color-coded line shows you your dog’s route, and the unit beeps and vibrates when your dog is on point. The “delta dog indication” that became popular on the PRO 550 Plus was incorporated into the 200i. It allows users to quickly locate their dog at-a-glance with a large directional arrow and numerical read out.

The e-collar portion of the 200i gives you 18 levels of momentary or continuous stimulation, as well as a tone button.

What I really like about the unit is that it’s completely customizable and user friendly. The top three buttons can be customized so you can access features you want to get to quickly. For example, mine are set so I can mark my location, look at the map, and track my dog. A simple push of the up key on the right side of the unit toggles between access to these main features, and e-collar stimulation for the two collars I run off the 200i.

Nitty Gritty

What would a review be if it was all sunshine and rainbows? I only have a couple of qualms with the Alpha 200i. First, it’s not hard to see that the device is large. I have a love/hate about this detail. I love that it has a 3.5-inch screen and a sunlight-readable display. I also really like that it is a touchscreen and features a pinch zoom in/out for navigating the maps—just like my familiar iPhone.

To have such an easily readable display, the unit had to be large. I spent the season with the 200i hooked to my vest strap. It never got in the way of mounting my over/under, but I wasn’t a huge fan of that large of a unit sitting so high. This season, I plan to hang the device from my belt strap. That will make it easy for me to reach down and quickly look at the map to track my dog, rather than having to release the unit from the quick detachment mount to get a good view.

Garmin Alpha 200i full product review
The 200i includes brand new features, including a large 3.5-inch touch screen display. (Photo By: Kali Parmley)

My only other beef I have is I wished the buttons on the front of the unit were larger. When wearing gloves in the late season, I had trouble finding the buttons on my shoulder without looking. I hope to rectify that problem when the unit hangs face up from my hip this fall.

Those two minor things in comparison are just that—minor. The Alpha 200i is a robust and feature-heavy dog tracking and training device. It’s going to be hard to top this unit with all the advanced features it contains. Maybe in the third generation product Garmin will be so kind to allow the unit to fill my gas tank for the season.

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