Lowrance iWay 500c
Lowrance's 45 years in the navigation business show in its iWay 500c, one of the sharpest vehicle GPS systems we've seen to date. Priced at around $800, the iWay isn't cheap, but it's still more affordable than other top performers, such as the and the , and it includes everything you'll need to start navigating right out of the box. It also has a built-in MP3 player with lots of room to store your favorite tunes. But more importantly, it's a great navigation device with accurate directions and strong reception, leaving the competition in the dust. Housed in a rugged, waterproof casing to protect internal parts from the harmful effects of moisture, the Lowrance iWay 500c comes in a gray and silver color scheme that works well with virtually any car's interior. The unit's centerpiece, a five-inch color display with a 320x240-pixel resolution and a responsive touch screen, is surrounded by a silver bezel with Speak/Volume, Map/Music, Menu, Find, and Power buttons situated on the right-hand side (see ). Around back, you'll find a six-pin power connector, a USB port, and a jack for an external antenna. At two pounds, the unit is a bit heavier than most on-dash devices we've seen, but the benefits of a large screen and a 20GB hard drive are a worthwhile trade-off.
Included in the box is a suction-cup mounting apparatus and two swivel arms, one short and one long, to accommodate various mounting positions. The suction cup stayed attached to the windshield during a bumpy ride on the beach, but the unit itself looked like it might become airborne due to its weight. We adjusted the mounting arm to allow the iWay to rest on the dashboard, and all was well. Depending on your vehicle's dashboard and windshield configuration, it may not be possible to position the iWay 500c so that it has a clear view of the sky, but Lowrance has that covered; a remote-amplified antenna with a small suction-cup mount is part of the package, so you can keep the iWay 500c close without sacrificing signal strength.
You also get a soft cloth cover to protect the screen when not in use, an AC adapter, a USB cable for transferring music files at home, a 12-volt car adapter with built-in speaker and volume control, and an auxiliary wiring harness for hooking up the iWay 500c to your car stereo system. The included cable attaches to the auxiliary jack on your car stereo head unit, which can be tricky and may require the attention of a professional installer; alternatively, you can purchase an FM modulator for around $40 to play your tunes through the car's radio.The Lowrance iWay 500c uses a 12-channel parallel receiver with WAAS (Wide Area Augmentation System) capabilities for enhanced accuracy. A 20GB hard drive holds detailed NavTeq maps of the United States and an extensive points-of-interest (POI) database on a 10GB partition; the remaining 10GB are available to hold MP3 or Ogg Vorbis audio files, which can be uploaded from your PC via the USB port. Unfortunately, the USB port is 1.1, so file transfers can be painfully slow. The iWay 500c's MP3 player has many of the features you would expect from a full-blown MP3 device, including an equalizer, scan and shuffle modes, a file browser, and support for MP3 playlists. It even displays skins, which you can download from Lowrance's Web site, or you can create your own on your PC and transfer them to the iWay.
The five function buttons include a Speak/Volume button for adjusting the volume and repeating spoken directions; a Map/Music button for switching between navigation and music screens; a Menu button for accessing the setup screens, the trip calculator, and GPS status screens; and a Find button for searching through the POI database. Here you can also create routes from your address book, as well as find fuel, food, and lodging using the touch-screen icons, and you can search for locations by address via the virtual keyboard. Creating a route is as easy as touching the selected address or POI from a drop-down menu. You also have the option of adding recent destinations and searches to your address book for future route planning and storing up to 1,000 waypoints with custom icons for easy identification. The fifth button is a power switch that also lets you choose between four backlighting modes for optimal viewing in various lighting conditions. We left the screen on the brightest setting and had no trouble reading the display in direct sunlight, and there was no noticeable glare.
The Lowrance iWay 500c's interface is one of the best we've seen in a GPS device. We were impressed by the layout of the iWay's onscreen toolbar and map-mode display. You can view maps in 2D mode in north-up (north is always at the top of the screen) or track-up (the map rotates to show your direction at the top regardless of your heading) orientation. You can also choose the 3D view, which is a slightly elevated aerial view of the map.
Touch-screen controls let you zoom in and out easily, and you can use the Zoom Box control to draw a box around a specific area by dragging your finger across the screen. Zoom Box shows detailed street-level information, a handy feature if you want to focus on a small area of detail without losing an overall wide map view. Tapping a POI or waypoint icon brings up specific information about the location, such as the street address, the phone number, and the coordinates.
Written directions and other information such as heading, speed, and distance to your location are also displayed on the screen. While this may seem like an awful lot of information to cram on a five-inch display, you can adjust the transparency level of most of this information to keep the map visible beneath the text, or you can choose not to display certain data.
Like most high-end GPS navigators, the Lowrance iWay 500c lets you avoid certain maneuvers and roadways, and the autorerouting feature will calculate a new route if you wander off course. The use of touch-screen slider bars makes it easy to customize the map screen to your specific needs.The Lowrance iWay 500c drove away with great performance. We attached the iWay 500c to our windshield, plugged in the power adapter, and hit the roads of New York. Within 45 seconds, we acquired a 3D fix (four satellites) and marked our position as our home location. Throughout our travels in the suburbs, we never once lost satellite reception, even when driving through heavily wooded areas of a local state park. While cruising through lower Manhattan, the iWay 500c succumbed to the concrete canyons, losing its signal briefly but reestablishing it almost immediately within a city block. Turn-by-turn directions were precise and correct, as were the routes we created, and our position on the map was accurate. The automatic routing function quickly calculated a new route whenever we strayed from the original course. And while you can play MP3 files through the power adapter's speaker, which is used for turning directions and audible alerts, the sound quality is what you'd expect from a single speaker: subpar.