When we reviewed the Lowrance iWay 500c last year, we were blown away by its outstanding performance, its big screen, and its spacious hard drive. However, it was on the pricey side. Now, the company has come out with a smaller and more affordable ($499) version: the Lowrance iWay 350c. While it lacks the storage capacity of its bigger brother, the 350c is a highly accurate vehicle GPS navigator, a competent MP3 player, and a decent picture viewer that you can take along with you when you're ready to hit the bricks. Plus, its battery life doubles that of its competitors, such as the Garmin StreetPilot c330. Although you won't find any advanced features, such as traffic services or text-to-speech functionality, the Lowrance iWay 350c is easy to use, and it's an affordable way to share GPS and MP3 technology between several cars.
Measuring 4.5 by 3.5 by 2.5 inches and weighing approximately 13 ounces, the Lowrance iWay 350c is too bulky to travel in your pocket, but you can toss it into an oversize handbag or stash it in your glove compartment. More important, it's easily transferable from car to car. Dressed in gray and silver, the unit resembles a tiny TV, with a 320x240 resolution, a 3.5-inch color touch screen at the center of it all, and a single button for power and backlight activation adorning the lower bezel. There's an SD/MMC card slot on the left side of the device, as well as USB, headphone, and power jacks on the right. Be aware that the USB port is the older, slower 1.1 version.
Inside the system, you'll find a 16-channel WAAS-enabled GPS receiver and a smallish 4GB hard drive containing street-level maps of the United States and Canada, as well as a database of more than 5 million points of interest (POI), including local attractions, schools, shopping, emergency facilities, car service stations, and more. Unfortunately, there is only about 7MB of user-accessible storage on the hard drive, so you'll have to bring along a memory card, which isn't included in the box, to load with tunes and pictures for the ride. A high-capacity hard drive would be a nice addition, but this would undoubtedly increase the price.
On the upside, we love the fact that the Lowrance iWay 350c has a built-in FM modulator. The internal speaker is more than adequate for voice directions and alerts, but you'll get much better audio quality if you use the modulator to route the sound through your car stereo, and it's as easy as tuning into an unused radio station. The unit also has two internal rechargeable lithium-ion batteries and a built-in charger.
Lowrance packages the iWay 350c with a power adapter, a USB cable, a protective cover, a screen shammy, and a windshield mount. Regarding the last item, the mounting arm has just enough flexibility to bend it for an optimal viewing angle without letting the unit bounce around on the dashboard.
The Lowrance iWay 350c is ready to use right out of the box, and thanks to a user-friendly interface, you can get started without having to study the manual--although it's always a good idea to give it a once-over before hitting the highway. On the main menu page, there are four colorful icons for accessing the Map, Music, Find, and Options pages, as well as a button for entering the picture-viewer program (more on this later) and the gauge page, which displays your average and maximum speed, an odometer, a speedometer, and a digital clock. Map mode is your main navigation page, as it brings up your position on the detailed map and shows which direction you're heading. A small toolbar, located on the left side of the screen, allows you to pan and zoom in and out of maps, and above that, a menu button takes you back to the main menu.
The Find menu lets you search for destinations by category, such as gas, ATM, lodging, restaurants, and other POI, or you can enter an address or use your address book. A pop-up box displays pertinent information about your destination, including name, address, telephone number, GPS coordinates, and distance and heading from your current location. Once you've selected your desired destination, all you have to do is press the Go To icon, and the iWay 350c will create a route with voice- and text-guided driving directions. Maps can be viewed in either 2D (track up or north up) or 3D (elevated) mode.
Other standard GPS features include automatic rerouting (if you miss a turn), autozooming, a GPS status page, a battery meter, and the ability to create routes using your own custom waypoints. The Options page allows you to view text-based directions, change the parameters for creating routes, reset the trip calculator, and change the interface, including brightness, backlight-timer settings, and transparency levels. The transparency slider is a nice tool that lets you increase or decrease the transparency level of navigation information overlaid on the map. That said, we were disappointed by the lack of text-to-speech technology that is showing up in more and more GPS devices.
The latest trend in portable navigation systems is the integration of multimedia features, and the Lowrance iWay 350c is no different. The aforementioned picture viewer allows three levels of zoom and will display photos as a slide show, and the music player features repeat and shuffle buttons and a customizable equalizer. In addition to the usual forward, reverse, play, and pause buttons, there is a visual-effects display that provides synchronized Waveform and Spectrum Analyzer effects. The iWay 350c can play MP3 and OGG files, and it supports playlists.
The Lowrance iWay 350c may be small, but it came up big in terms of performance. The 16-channel receiver did a great job of tracking our progress throughout portions of Long Island and Manhattan, as well as upstate New York, where it's easy to lose signal reception in the mountains. Navteq-powered driving directions were spot-on, and route calculations were quick and accurate.
Also impressive was the audio quality using the FM modulator. There was hardly any station drift, which meant good sound most of the time, but up in the mountains, we had trouble staying tuned to an open frequency at times. Unplugged, the Lowrance iWay 350c gave us almost 8 hours of battery life while alternating between navigation, picture, and music modes, which is double that of the Garmin StreetPilot c330 and the Magellan RoadMate 800.