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Wed, Mar 09, 2005

Aero-Reviews: Lowrance 2000c GPS, Part I

New Color TFT Display Transforms Tried And True Aviation GPS Workhorse

By ANN Senior Contributing Editor Juan Jimenez

Lowrance Electronics, Inc. has been around for quite a while. It was originally founded in Joplin (MO) by Carl Lowrance, and is now located in Tulsa (OK). Its first product was introduced in 1957, a sonar product for the sport fishing industry, capable of locating individual fish, and priced at just $150, at a time when commercial sonar products started at $2000.

Nearly 50 years later, Lowrance has built a global distribution network of over 1,500 domestic dealers, distributors, mass merchants and original equipment manufacturers (OEM) in the United States, as well as sales distribution outlets in 53 countries worldwide. Lowrance also maintains its own sales force in the United States, Canada, Australia and Europe, and product distribution centers in the US, Canada and Australia. The company is a public corporation, training on the NASDAQ under the LEIX symbol, and last fiscal year generated more than $111 million in gross revenues worlwide.

Lowrance currently has a product line that spans the full range of applications, including marine, outdoors, aviation, automotive and OEM, and also produces mapping and other software applications. The first Lowrance GPS receivers were introduced in 1991, using Rockwell technology. The latest member of the AirMap family of aviation GPS products is the model 2000c, and this is ANN's review of this product.

As always, we begin with a comprehensive list of the product's features:

  • Display - 1/4 VGA color, transflective TFT display; 5.0" (12.7 cm) diagonal viewing area.
  • Resolution - 320 pixels (vert.) x 240 pixel (horiz.) resolution; 153,600 total pixels
  • Backlighting - Color backlit screen and keypad for night use.
  • Input power - 6 volts DC (uses four 1.5v AA batteries as emergency backup power). Cigarette lighter power adapter included. Optional rechargeable battery pack available.
  • Case size - 6.25" H x 4.9" W x 2.5" D (16 x 12.5 x 6.4 cm); water resistant to IPX-2 standards.
  • Weight - 1.45 pounds (657 grams) with batteries.
  • Receiver -  Internal, 12 parallel channel GPS+WAAS; advanced active remote external antenna included.
  • Recording - Removable MMC or SD memory cards for recording GPS trip details, displaying custom maps, upgrading operating system software and transferring trip data to personal computer without a slow serial connection. USB card reader included with unit.
  • MMC slots - One, inside battery compartment. Accepts non-proprietary MMC or SD memory cards.
  • Aeronautical map -  Jeppesen Americas database with airports, VORs, NDBs, intersections and airspaces (including Class D). Lowrance Obstructions database displays ground obstructions in AGL or MSL heights.
  • Background map - Built-in custom, detailed Lowrance map, contains low-detail maps of the entire planet (cities, major lakes, major rivers,
    political boundaries) and medium-detail maps of the United States (containing all incorporated cities), Interstate, U.S. and state highways; Interstate highway exits and exit services information, large- and medium sized lakes and streams.
  • Custom mapping - Accepts custom, higher-detail MapCreate 6 mapping on memory cards, with searchable Points-of Interest database of hotels, restaurants, shopping, services and more. Navionics charts on MMC cards optional.
  • Mapping memory - Up to 512 MB on one MMC (MultiMedia Card) or SD (Secure Digital) card.
  • Position updates - Every one second.
  • Position points - 1,000 waypoints; 1,000 event marker icons.
  • Graphic symbols for waypoints or event marker icons - 42
  • Routes - 100; up to 100 waypoints per route.
  • Plot Trails - 100 savable; up to 10,000 points per trail.
  • Nearest Airport -  Quickly locates an airfield closest to your current position. (Aviation Mode only.)
  • Man Overboard - MOB feature precisely marks man overboard location with special icon, then automatically displays navigation data to that position. (Land Mode only.)
  • Com Port - One serial communications port, NMEA 0183 version 2.0 compatible. Allows exchange of position data with another device, such as an
    autopilot or personal computer. Optional combination serial/power cable available.
  • Zoom range - 40 ranges; 0.02 to 4,000 miles.

The unit can draw its power from four AA internal batteries, or through an external cigarette lighter or accessory power adapter cable, included in the package. Standard AA batteries do not last very long, particularly if you are using backlighting, so we strongly recommend that you use the most powerful NiMH AA batteries you can find, and keep one or more sets charged and ready to replace depending on the length of your trip. The original adapter we had did not keep itself seated in the accessory plug on the aircraft, but Lowrance let us know that this problem had been resolved months back and sent us the new adapter, which works much better.

The battery compartment is easy to access, and batteries are easy to change. Opening the compartment also makes available the SD/MMC card slot, which can accept cards of up to 512 megabytes of capacity. These cards are fairly inexpensive these days -- the 512's run under $100 at OfficeMax and other retail vendors.

The box includes a USB SD/MMC card reader for which the drivers must be installed prior to plugging the unit into your computer. Unfortunately, the USB reader and the MapCreate software included in the package only support personal computers running the Windows operating system. This excludes not only the Apple Macintosh computers, but also those of us who have switched to Linux as our operating system of choice. I still have a Windows desktop running Windows XP, which I used for this review.

In addition, the package includes two types of R.A.M. mounts -- a yoke mount for aircraft use, and a suction cup mount that can be used on aircraft, boats or land vehicles. The mounts are ball-friction mounts, which allow you to adjust the position of the unit to what is most comfortable for you. A remote amplifying antenna is part of the package, along with a suction cup mount for it as well which only requires two screws to assemble. The internal antenna on the unit is adequate only if it has a clear view of the sky, as is the case with most GPS units. The first review unit we received had serious problems with the internal antenna, but technical support solved the problem by quickly replacing the unit. We had heard on Usenet that this problem had happened to others, requiring unit replacements, but the technician had no knowledge of this.

The display on the 2000c is a brilliant TFR color display that is easily readable in virtually all the lighting conditions that we tried, including direct sunlight. The backlight, adjustable to two levels by pressing the power button, makes it even more so. However, it appears that Lowrance is only using just a few of the 256 colors available to them on the presentation design. In addition, the colors are not customizable. In this reviewers opinion, this reduces the ability of the unit to present information in much better ways. For example, land is always shown as white and water as blue. There is an option on the menu that says "Fill water with white," and which is described in the help screen as setting land as gray and water as white, but it only turns the water white. The land is also left in white, which is a bit confusing. In our opinion, the color options could be greatly expanded to allow the user to make better use of color, and the programmers of the system software should rethink their code to make better use of the abilities of the display.

The selection of fonts and font sizes used to display textual information is good -- everything is readable in all light conditions we tested. Access to options, features and other menu selection items is simple, clear and easy to use. All the options and selections are reachable with no more than three or four keystrokes, and no stylus is required to operate the unit. The keypad is simple, and the buttons have large, contrasting titles on large rubber tops. The cursor pad is also large, well labelled and simple to use. The only improvement we could think of for the keypad is to have a dedicated "Nearest Airports" button rather than requiring the user to press the ZOUT and ZIN zoom buttons at the same time with two fingers, or one very large thumb.

Another issue this reviewer noted is spelling mistakes on the map data as well as menus. As a Spanish-speaking pilot who lives in Puerto Rico, I immediately noticed that the name of the country of Venezuela is misspelled as "Venezeula." It would be interesting to note how many sales Lowrance has lost in that country because of this mistake, which technical support said had never been reported and has been in their database since day one. It will be corrected, said Lowrance, but I also found other mistakes when I set the system language to Spanish.

The translated menus have other errors and typos, such as "Ajsute GPS" which should be "Ajuste GPS," and some words which were simply not translated, such as "Transparency," which should be "Transparencia." All the accents were left off most of the vowels in Spanish. This reviewer could understand this if the fonts used in unit did not have accented vowels, but a quick check for menus in French showed that the accented vowels are there.

Finally, the translations are incomplete -- for example, the Find menu is half in English, half in Spanish. These are very basic Quality Assurance issues that you would not expect to run into with a nearly 50 year old company -- all the translations and databases should have been proofread and edited by a professional translator/editor/proofreader for each of the languages. There is no easier way to ruin a potential sale than to show the customer a product with misspelled words and incomplete/incorrect translations when the user interface in their native language. It also makes this reviewer consider whether the lack of QA in the user interface extends to other features and capabilities of the system, or to the engineering. This may or may not be the case, but either way, it doesn't make a good first impression, and you know what they say about first impressions...

On the next installment, we will discuss the mapping, navigation and other functions of the Lowrance 2000c.



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