Review: Lowrance iWay 350c Review by GPS Lodge
The Lowrance iWay 350C is a mid-tier Automotive GPS device that is loaded with features that can blow you away. It’s a nice unit that has an easy to read 3.5” touchscreen, comes pre-loaded with millions of Points of Interest and Maps, as well as added capabilities that make the iWay 350c stand out as something better that a plain vanilla navigation device. It’s impressive to have the MP3 playing capability in a GPS unit integrated with the FM modulator, working seamlessly with the text to voice directions telling you to "Turn Left on Main Street". I think that it’s a strong contender in the mid-tier category. Lowrance did a good job integrating most features, but as a result of the long list of customizations the unit is a bit bogged down trying to jam so much in. It may appeal well to a GPS enthusiast person, and might just be over the head of your non-techie user. I would liken the iWay 350c to a Windows machine with all of its capabilities and customizations it can get hard to navigate, whereas an Apple makes the interface a dream, and makes things so easy your grandmother can figure it out. So, if you don’t mind a few inconveniences the iWay 350c can offer you a lot. If you’re a total novice with little patience, you might want to look elsewhere.
Lowrance iWay 350c Navigation
Navigation is fairly easy with the Lowrance iWay 350c, and with the Navteq maps pre-loaded, you’ll be confident in your route. The 350c comes pre-loaded with millions of POI’s that can be searched in several ways. When the unit boots up, it comes to the map screen. Touch on the menu icon to pull up the main menu and then touch on the “Find” key. Touching on the “Find” key, you come up with a nice tabbed interface that has major categories of POI’s to help you narrow your terms, like: Gas, lodging, restaurants, shopping, addresses, recent destinations, etc. Most of these come up with sub-categories, so for instance if you clicked on “Shopping”, you could further narrow it to one of a dozen or so sub-categories like “Auto-parts” or “clothing”. Once you decide what category you want you can they type in a name on the keyboard. The keyboard can be customized to be alphabetical or the standard QWERTY style. I unfortunately could not pull up the local WalMart that has been there for a long time, but was able to pull up some of the other WalMarts around. This case of missing POI’s caught me by surprise a few times, and makes me wonder how current the POI database is.
The navigation quality of the Lowrance is good. It has the ability to call out road names and distance to your next turn with a nice pop-up window that shows your turn information. If you make a wrong turn, the unit quickly recalculates your route and offers you a way to get back on your route. It has the tendency to try to return you to the original route via a couple of turns versus generating a new organic route based on this new road. I sometimes take a secondary road going to work, and the Lowrance tried hard to get me back on the main route, sometimes too hard when I knew that the faster route was to stay on this secondary road. This is the struggle with GPS units in general though and is not specific to the 350c in that they get you to the destination most times with accurate directions, but may not have the best route based on years of driving roads in a local town or neighborhood. Don’t know if they ever will though. To be clear, the iWay 350c gave accurate directions to get from here to there using good routing options. These routes may have overlooked some shortcuts. When I used this to get to locations I didn’t know, I had no trouble getting there and trusted the navigation.
Once you get a destination, you can (and should) save it to your address book if you plan on going back. This will make your destination programming go a lot faster. You will need to save your home in this way. An improvement in the interface would be right here. Where are you going to go most? The answer is home. Navigate to some unknown location and then you need to get home from there, right? Well, other GPS units have a “Home” key that is pretty prominent and you can get there in one or two clicks. Not with the Lowrance, “Home” is buried in the address book or recent destinations. Clicking on it, you then need to decide it you want to go there, find it on the map, edit it, or delete it. The Garmin interface is great, click on “Where do you want to go?”, then on “Locations” and then “Home” – three taps vs. five for the Lowrance. It’s a small thing that you’ll need to put up with, but this is an example of how Lowrance could improve the experience. Small trade-off #1.
Route via waypoints
You are also able to route via waypoints that you have stored in the unit. This makes it easy to string together a couple of waypoints and store it as a route in the unit. If you travel a route via several stops, you can easily store those stops as waypoints, and then string them together as a route. Not bad. I like this feature a lot as it makes it easy to head to work let’s say and then if you need to divert for an accident or traffic, you can still go to work via that Starbucks for your coffee.
Issues with Navigation
I ran into a few problems that might turn you off or it might just be a subtle pain that you can overlook if you really want this device. The first was a long start-up and time to fix to the satellite. This could be up to a couple of minutes time sometimes which is slower if you are moving down the road. Some days I would be 2-3 miles down the street before you get a solid signal. This can sometimes hang-up the device making it a slow experience if you need to program a destination. There is a setting for the unit to go into a low power standby mode when you “shut it off” so that it can maintain a fix on the satellite when in the off mode. This shortens the time to fix when turned back on, but this didn’t help me.
The other issue is that the satellite reception can sometimes be inaccurate. I was driving down the highway the other day in rainy weather and the GPS suddenly though I was driving down a road parallel to the highway and started barking out directions to turn here and there in an attempt to get me back on the highway. It threw me the first time it happened, but it may actually mess you up if you think you all of a sudden need to get off the highway when it tells you to turn right in a half a mile. I overlooked it when it happened after this, but it happened more than I like. I can think of a few people who would have cursed the thing and not trusted it again. You will need to decide if this is an issue for you. I did not see this type of inaccuracy and resulting bad navigation when using surface roads, and generally trusted its navigation. More small trade-offs.
Lowrance iWay 350c Configuration
The 350c does an incredible job at offering tons of configurations, so much so that it takes a while to get the thing set the way you like it. Where to start; there’s so much. I can’t cover it all, but here are the high points…. And the resulting low points if you want it to be a simple experience. You can customize what categories of items are drawn on your map. You can get POI’s like gas stations, lodging, city borders, marine navaids, RV Parks, etc. What, navaids? Yes, marine navaids… just in case you need the buoys in your boat or your amphibious car (remember Lowrance is big in marine navigation.) In fact you can get so much drawn on your little GPS map, you’ll barely be able to see the street through all of the information drawn there. I almost died until I found this menu, as it was just too much information on the screen, but after I took about half the stuff off, I liked the fact that I could see what I wanted and not what I didn’t need. It’s complex, but it can be helpful: small trade-offs…
You can also edit what data gets overlaid on top of the navigation screen when you are heading to a destination. This information ranges from speed to street you are on, time or distance to turn, all the way to the input voltage to the unit. On top of customizing what you want to see, you can customize the size of the information from a minimal “small” all the way to “Enormous” that can take up a good portion of the screen. After you decide the size, you can then pick where you want the item to reside by dragging the box around the screen. Again, lots to choose from here, but once you get set you are good to go.
Routing options is an interesting customization that is available on all GPS units, but not quite like this. Lowrance elected to use slider bars to help you decide how to navigate. So, you can slide from “Prefer” to “Avoid” Toll Roads, or “Prefer” to “Avoid” Interstates. In most other GPS units this is handled in a way that is one or the other, so prefer or avoid toll roads, not a multi-step customization of many situations in between. Others handle the interstate question with a set up of “Quickest” navigation or “Shortest”. We hit on a similar theme here, it’s a bit of a pain to figure out what your preference is, but once you hit on it, things work well. One nice addition is that during your routing, if your new route includes a Toll Road, a pop-up asks you if you want to include a Toll Road in your route, and if you click “No”, you’ll be re-routed without the toll road.
There is an interface set-up that allows you to set the brightness level of the screen as well as the keyboard style and the color scheme of the maps. One color option I would have liked to have seen is one that switches the color scheme from daytime to nighttime at sunset. Most others do this, and I like the feature. The Lowrance iWay 350c does have the ability to dim the screen by pushing the power button on the front quickly, and it cycles through three dimness settings. This can take the place of the auto switching issue from bright daytime to a nighttime color scheme, but if it would do it automatically, I’d be happy.
Music and Navigation Voice over your FM stereo
The Lowrance iWay 350c has the ability to play MP3’s that you load on via and SD card. You can easily load up a ton of music on the cheap SD card and play it to your heart’s content through the iWay. Pop in the card, go to the main menu and pick music, then play. It’s easy to adjust the volume on the touchscreen for the iWay’s internal speaker which is clear and great for navigation commands, but a bit tinny for music. No problem, flip it over to the FM modulator, adjust to an open FM station, then tune your car stereo to that station, and there you go, MP3’s over your FM stereo. If you are navigating, the iWay 350c will pause the music, announce your turn, and then flip back to the song. Perfect. Love it, it’s great. This makes up for a bunch of the shortcomings.
Another nice add is that you can load the SD card up with images and display them on the iWay 350c. Hey, why not right? This is a nice customization.
Summary - Lowrance iWay 350c
The Lowrance iWay 350 offers a lot of features with its nice touchscreen, pre-loaded maps and POI’s, FM modulator for broadcasting music and turn information over your car stereo, an on board Li-Ion battery for out of the car use and its highly customizable interface. The unit has a lot to offer anyone who has a bit of patience to sort through the sometimes complex system. I enjoyed the unit, and trusted its directions. The slow times to fix on a satellite and the sometimes inaccurate satellite readings made for an uneasy experience that I know some less patient users would have rejected it outright. In their minds it works or it doesn’t. For me, it worked, and having a seamless integration of MP3’s was a nice touch that was a great added feature.
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Posted by Scott Martin at February 4, 2006 2:12 PM