New Color TFT Display Transforms Tried And True Aviation GPS
By ANN Senior Contributing Editor Juan Jimenez
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
- 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
- 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,
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
- 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
- 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
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
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.