When it comes to the small boat market it is hard to look past the Lowrance range of products, they produce an impressive array of outstanding gear for kayakers and small boaters. Their flagship HDS is rightly regarded as one of the best, all encompassing sounder/plotter combinations available. When we heard a new generation was in the works, the Lowrance HDS Gen3, we just had to get our techy mits on it. Queue one long flight across the Atlantic and a day in the worlds angling Mecca – the Florida Keys.
Looking at the physical aspect of the unit it looks quite similar to the Gen2, although now there is a full keypad present on the right hand side of the unit, this is designed to compliment the new touch screen interface we’ll look at further on. The physical keypad is handy if you are fishing in rough water or you’ve been using bait and want to keep the screen clean, it is also useful in the winter when you’re wearing gloves. The keypad allows you to do everything that the touch screen can do. Lowrance have also introduced a new window button, before you had to hold down page to cycle through pages, the window button makes selecting your active window much more intuitive and quicker.
The great thing with this unit is that it has been designed by Lowrance to be a plug and play device. The unit will fit into the existing flush mount/bracket used for your Gen2, it can also plug into the same transducers and power cables so to upgrade you only have to change the head unit. This makes upgrading your Gen2 a whole lot simpler!
The new Gen3 has also had a makeover under the hood with an enhanced, faster processor, a new 10Hz internal GPS antenna, built in WiFi for upgrades and chart downloads and video input connectivity. It still features ethernet ports for networking, a Micro-C connector for NMEA 2000 devices. The singular SD card slot on the Gen2 has been replaced with 2 Micro SD slots on the Gen3.
One of the great things about being able to use this product in the Florida Keys was the sun, no, not for the reasons you’re thinking, at this time of year Florida is actually quite cool. But for another reason…we are generally always battling glare and sunlight when out on the ocean waves, there is no protection and no shade. Whilst many units come complete with a hood and some units have tried to invent displays that work when direct sunlight is applied, none really does the job adequately…until now.
There is only really one word that can be used to describe the screen on the HDS Gen3 and that is “stunning”. In all my years as a complete geek (it’s apparently cool to admit that these days) I’ve never come across a screen that works as well in direct sunlight. The unit features a large LED backlit widescreen display that has improved screen clarity and light transmission which means even in the brightest of conditions, you can still see every detail you need to see on screen. With the sun beating down in Florida from above and with no shade at all, the screen was delightfully bright and clear as the photos below will demonstrate. These improvements inevitably mean that you can see small and finer details when using StructureScan, much clearer presentations of charts and the menu system and also gives sonar images much more depth and contrast when out on the water.
The other thing I noticed is that I often have trouble with my polarising sunglasses with any kind of LCD based display when viewed at some angles. With this display I never had any of these problems and could always see no matter at what angle I was viewing the screen at.
Side by side comparison of the new Gen3 (first picture) and the old Gen2 (second picture) as you can see the screen is much improved.
One of the problems with touchscreens in the past, when they have been used out on the water and on angling boats, is that they can get grubby, sticky and in some cases stop working altogether. The guys at Lowrance have thought about this and have extensively tested the durability of the screen. Most substances screens are likely to encounter during the course of their working lives have been applied, from petrol and diesel to fish oil and sunscreen, you name it, it’s been tested. Both Capt. Chris Trosset and Capt Robert Trosset have been field testing these new units for Lowrance for several months, throwing at it all the abuse a flats guide can with no trouble at all.
Now we’ve taken care of the physical aspects, what about the software and gizmos this unit has in its armoury…
The first thing to note is that these units are connection powerhouses! They are now fully wireless which means that they can all connect to a WiFi hotspot to download data and updates as required. This wireless capability also allows the units to be connected not only to other onboard devices but also to a smartphone or tablet where you can hook up your unit to the Lowrance GoFree App. This enables you to control and view your devices from your phone or tablet!
The first thing that hits you is the new user interface this unit is packing. UX as it is more commonly know is the biggest determining factor of whether a product succeeds or fails and Lowrance have gone to town on this one. The new processing power this machine has is responsible for a lot of what you see on screen, without this extra bit of kick none of the onscreen visuals would be achievable. The new processor allows for faster scrolling, quicker page loading and a much more vivid and easy to use interface.
The HDS Gen3 features full fingertip access to all of the functions of the unit. The various menus and buttons are in keeping with modern design thoughts on UX. Menus are intuitive, flat and well positioned with advanced, smooth scrolling and quick touch slider bars making it quicker to get to the pages you need. The side menu items show important data on their right hand side. This gives you a glance at whether you are running a process in Auto or Manual mode, right pointing arrows on items indicate a submenu and quick visual references at the side of other menu items show current settings, sliding these menu items will pull up a preview pane showing your settings which you can then adjust on screen.
The icons have a large fingerprint with bold, flat, informative symbols which means even in the roughest of conditions you can always be sure you’re tapping the correct icon. Another UX advantage is the uniformed font used throughout the system which gives it an air of consistency and readability that again, makes this unit a joy to use.
The software is also multi-touch and supports common gestures you might use on your tablet. It includes pinch and zoom so you can zoom in on areas with a simple drawing together of you thumb and index finger and drawing them away from each other again will zoom out. You can scroll around the map with you finger scrolling up, down or sideways. The new processing power means that this is done quickly and responsively. The system also allows for cursor assist and a snap to function for making navigating around the unit quicker and more precise.
Another advantage of this more powerful unit is that it allows you to simultaneously run four windows on the same screen, this is done by effortlessly dragging the windows you want into the middle of the unit where a grid will begin to build. This means that you can run your CHIRP Sonar, StructureScan (side and down) and your plotter all at the same time.
For those of you who like a bit of personalisation in your life, well, just like you can do on your phone and on your laptop you can now change the default wallpaper that your unit displays too. With its built in wifi and connectivity you can upload a picture of your latest catch, biggest catch or a picture of the fish you really want to catch and have this as your background when you’re using the unit.
Moving on from the UX of the system the HDS Gen3 has also had some upgrades to its navigation system. As mentioned above the unit now has a 10Hz internal GPS antenna which allows for rapid position update rates to make sure your tracks are as accurate as possible increasing position accuracy.
Mapping options include a built in background reference map of the world which is compatible with most of the popular cartography sets available. The unit can work with Insight Genesis, Navionics, C-MAP MAX-N+ and a whole host of other references too including any from Insight mapping toolkit partners. The unit is also fully compatible with Insight Genesis personalised mapping which allows you to create your own maps, record sonar logs and upload a whole host of data to an Insight Genesis account. These can be downloaded onto a card for use on the water and also shared with the wider Insight Genesis Community. Of course with the units ability to connect to a WiFi hotspot, you can bypass the cards and download directly to the unit with ease.
The unit also comes with 2 micro SD cards which means that you can run two cards at once. You can also network two units together from the Gen3 and Gen2 range and these networked units can share the mapping data from one unit to the other. Meaning you only ever need to have one card.
The units support splits screen dual chart options which allows you to show different mapping data or presentations side by side on the same screen. So for example, you could show Navionics and C-Map data side by side in both a 2D and a 3D view where available. Each chart can also be worked independent of each other so you can control the range, overlays and general functions of each chart separate. A good example of this is where you want to run one chart zoomed in on your immediate position and another chart zoomed out to cover the whole area you are planning to fish.
Now we’ve dealt with the navigation capabilities we should really move on to the bit you’ve all been waiting for…how good is it at spotting your next personal best!
As standard the HDS Gen3 comes with built in CHIRP Sonar. In Lowrances own words this has “greater sensitivity, improved target resolution and superior noise rejection for clearer, easy-to-see bait fish and game fish targets” you’re probably thinking, what does that actually mean. Well in simple terms the CHIRP Sonar is a high resolution sonar that can successfully project on screen what is actually going on below the waterline. It allows you to easily distinguish between what is a fish and what is a just matter under the boat. Without CHIRP, general matter would often be mistaken for a fish. In a nutshell, it means you can easily target more fish!
If you want the detailed explanation – CHIRP replaces the single frequency ping usually associated with sonar with a pulse range that crosses from low to high frequencies. This melee of pings is fired off in a single burst and on its return the clever technology inside separates out these frequencies and measures the returns by their timing, volume or amplitude. Once this has all been computerised the information is plotted creating a high resolution view of the entire seabed and any fish, debris and the like in between. The detail is so great that you can easily identify if what you are looking at is actually a fish or not. During a demonstration with a dropshot rig you could clearly make out your swivel and your lure working its way across the sea bed.
Also built in is Broadband Sounder, this allows you to display and mark fish at higher speeds and at depths of over 3,000 feet, probably not much use in good old Blighty but useful to have if only for playing HDS top trumps with your fellow boat owners.
The unit has StructureScan HD built in too, although you will require the optional StructureScan HD Transducer to be able to use this feature. This will produce a 180 degree view of the structure and any fish below the boat and can be used in conjunction with StructureMap HD. StructureMap HD will work with your StructureScan logs to create underwater images of the seabed which can then be overlaid on your charts. This is particularly useful if you are running the unit in dual map mode where you can display your actual chart and a chart overlaid with your StructureScan data.
The unit can also use DownScan Overlay technology to overlay DownScan imaging onto your CHIRP or BroadBand Sounder, this takes a lot of the guesswork out of marking structures and finding fish. The technology means you can clearly define what is a fish from the surrounding structure.
TrackBack allows you to save and review marks you find, you can run through your Broadband and StructureScan history to review any marks and then pinpoint areas with a waypoint for easy finding after.
The Gen3 is also Spotlight Scan Sonar ready. This is an option and allows for the unit to do a complete surround scan of its surroundings up to 150 feet away. This is a neat feature but probably not one that is applicable to much of the standard boating market in the UK. It would however be useful for inshore bass lure guides working shallow reefs which might be running with a bow mounted trolling motor.
As I’ve already mentioned the Gen3 is one of the most connected units Lowrance have ever produced and is fully Plug and Play compatible with a whole host of products and services. The Gen3 is designed to work with a number of other products all within the product family including the Broadband Radar, SonicHub Marine Audio, Sirius XM Marine Weather and Audio as well as various VHFs.
The unit is also fully compatible with SmartSteer for Motorguide, PinpointGPS and Lowrance Outboard Pilot. These are the subject of my next blog on what’s new for 2015!
It seems like I’ve had to cram a lot into the above and I’ve barely scratched the surface of what this unit is capable of. From the brief on the water experience I’ve had with this unit it is clear to see that it is an all round winner. The screen technology and backlit LED is by far the best I’ve seen on a unit of this price and is going to be a real boon for Lowrance. The ease of use and UX of the whole operating system has been designed to be easy to use but capable, not an easy task and something even electronics giants like Apple can struggle with.
This is a seriously well thought out, connected, powerful bit of kit. It is equally happy working on its own as a singular unit or at the heart of an ecosystem of other products, the mainframe that has the ability to control everything from the main motor to the trolling motor and everything else in between.
The HDS Gen 3 units start at £1,230.00 for the 7inch version, £1,845.00 for the 8inch version and £2,870.40 for the 12inch Gen3.
The demonstration boat I went out on was displaying the HDS-12 Gen3.
For more information on the HDS Gen3 and other products please visit the Lowrance GB website.