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  #1  
Old 06-30-2007
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Garmin (and others) vs. Lowrance (and others)?

Sheesh, this GPS/chartplotter/sonar thing is going to prove to be as big a challenge as finding and buying the boat!

Stopped into a sporting goods store or two today. Lessee if I can recall what I noticed and was told.

At one store I was comparing a Lowrance LMS-520C (5" diag. screen) against a Lowrance LCX-27C (7" diag. screen) to try to determine if the additional $300 was worth it. (Curiously: It was my wife who suggested I make the comparison. I wonder if she's been replaced by a stunt double when I wasn't looking?) Anyway, my eye was attracted to a Garmin 498 (5" diag.) nearby, for comparison to the smaller Lowrance. I think I liked its display better, but the other thing was: The Garmin was showing me water depth, whereas neither of the Lowrance's were. Later I found out why.

Walked out w/o making a decision. On to the next store.

At the next store, actually had a store employee that both knew something about these devices and was willing to spend time explaining. First off he tells me that, while Lowrance is a good unit, problems arise when they fail. To wit: Service. He said Lowrance, Hummingbird and another brand are all made by the same company and their customer service is universally poor. He said Garmin's, Raymarine's and Northstar's customer service were all excellent.

Then we got into the the cartography. (That's where the water depth listings come from, right?) Whoo boy! He gave me so much infomation, and much of it kind of vague, that I can't recall it all. A few things stuck out: I think the Lowrance units' optional cartography cover more area than Garmin's do? Unclear on that. We spent more time discussing just Garmin. He said I can buy a chip that'll cover half the Great Lakes ($250), but then I'd need another for the other half (another $250). Nice game they've got going, here. But, he said, I could buy programmable chips that could be downloaded-to from a CD-ROM and, if I bought a big enough chip, perhaps the entire Great Lakes system could fit all at once.

Then it got kinda strange. I asked "Okay, what if I decide to go down to Florida for the wintertime and then want to come back up to Michigan next summer. Can I scrub the Great Lakes maps, load the Florida coastal maps, etc., then scrub them and reload the Great Lakes maps when I get back?" He said I could not. He said that once a nav map is loaded into the chip from CD-ROM, it couldn't be done again. Say what?!?!

Lastly, I commented that, for the same screen size and features, it appeared to me that Garmin was much more expensive than Lowrance. (Right now I'm looking at a Garmin 530s in a store flyer. With the option external GPS antenna, it's $860. The Lowrance LMS-520c, which includes the external antenna, runs about $500. He allowed as how that was true, and that Garmin was probably the most expensive. He suggested that, for my use, Raymarine might be the best way to go.

So now I'm pretty much totally at sea (pun intended) on this whole GPS thing. Maybe I should just learn celestial navigation, instead .

Jim

Last edited by SEMIJim; 06-30-2007 at 10:37 PM.
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SEMIJim,

Maybe you (or he, or me) misunderstood. Not all chip can be recorded at will. Maybe the chip is a single write.

Keep researching the topic. I am very interested

-Leopold
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Ummm, Jim... that salesperson is full of ****...

Garmin has several units in each of their model lines...one that has no built-in cartography, one that has all the US inland charts pre-loaded, and one that has the coastal US charts pre-loaded.

Also, the higher-end Garmins use a flash memory card, on the newer units it is an SD/MMC card, on the older units it is a Garmin proprietary card. These can be loaded with charts, either updated ones for to supercede what was on the unit, or ones for areas not covered by what was on the unit. The charts are loaded using Garmin's BlueChart software package, of which there are three.. America, Europe & Africa, and Pacific—now called Region 1, 2, & 3, but formerly were called BlueChart Americas, Atlantic, and Pacific.

The BlueChart software downloads charts to your GPS unit, and the charts are keyed to the unit's ID number, and can't be used on any other GPS unit because of the encoded key system Garmin uses. However, Garmin allows you to download and use the charts you purchase on two Garmin units, so you can use it on a primary and a backup unit if you want to.

The new Garmins are designated by three numbers... the first digit is the screen measurement 4xx or 5xx for a 4" or 5" screen. The second number says what series of charts are pre-loaded. The x2x series has pre-loaded satellite imagery, rather than traditional charts per se. The x3x series have the US inland lakes pre-loaded, the x4x series have the US Coastal water charts pre-loaded. The x5x is pre-loaded with either UK or Austrailian coastal water charts. All the units can have additional charts loaded via the memory expansion card. The last number is always a "0".

Garmin generally has the best user interface and some of the best screens IMHO.

If you're looking for a decent unit for a lower price, try and find a Garmin GPSMap 392 or 398 unit. These came with the US inland waters maps pre-loaded, and since they've been discontinued are often on sale at clearance prices.
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Last edited by sailingdog; 06-30-2007 at 11:35 PM.
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Old 07-01-2007
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Leopold
SEMIJim,

Maybe you (or he, or me) misunderstood. Not all chip can be recorded at will. Maybe the chip is a single write.
Yes, I know. I understood there were "pre-recorded" chips and "recordable" chips. The part that made no sense was the "use once" maps. "But the maps are on a CD, right?," I ask. "Yes," he replies. "And this is some kind of writeable memory, right?," I ask. "Yes," he replies. "Well... then... um... how can the maps not be re-installable, unless the software running on the PC does that for some bizarre reason?," I ask. "I don't know," he replies, "that's just he way it works.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Leopold
Keep researching the topic. I am very interested
Will do!

Jim
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sailingdog
Ummm, Jim... that salesperson is full of ****...
I kinda figured at least some of what he was telling me wasn't making sense.

Quote:
Originally Posted by sailingdog
Garmin has several units in each of their model lines...one that has no built-in cartography, one that has all the US inland charts pre-loaded, and one that has the coastal US charts pre-loaded.
Yeah, that's what I thought I was seeing in this Garmin advert/flyer thing we picked up at one of the stores.

Quote:
Originally Posted by sailingdog
Also, the higher-end Garmins use a flash memory card, on the newer units it is an SD/MMC card, on the older units it is a Garmin proprietary card. These can be loaded with charts, either updated ones for to supercede what was on the unit, or ones for areas not covered by what was on the unit.
So the lower-end units that come pre-loaded with charts: You're stuck with those? Can't be updated?

Quote:
Originally Posted by sailingdog
The BlueChart software downloads charts to your GPS unit, and the charts are keyed to the unit's ID number, and can't be used on any other GPS unit because of the encoded key system Garmin uses. However, Garmin allows you to download and use the charts you purchase on two Garmin units, so you can use it on a primary and a backup unit if you want to.
What about the re-use question? IOW: If I need charts for a different area, can I kick out (some of) what's in the chip to make room, load different charts, later kick that stuff out and re-load what I'd had previously?

Quote:
Originally Posted by sailingdog
The new Garmins are designated by three numbers... the first digit is the screen measurement 4xx or 5xx for a 4" or 5" screen.
Kinda figured that out . (But thanks.)

Quote:
Originally Posted by sailingdog
Garmin generally has the best user interface and some of the best screens IMHO.
I think I did like the Garmin's image(s) better. Looked like better resolution. Dunno. I'll have to play with 'em some more. I'm going to have to go see if Garmin has downloadable emulators, like Lowrance does.

Btw: The Garmins I saw had certain features, designated by "S" in a diamond-shaped icon. Can you turn that detail off? On a crowded waterway, they can clutter things up quite a bit.

Quote:
Originally Posted by sailingdog
If you're looking for a decent unit for a lower price, try and find a Garmin GPSMap 392 or 398 unit. These came with the US inland waters maps pre-loaded, and since they've been discontinued are often on sale at clearance prices.
I'll have to see what size screens they have. My eyes aren't quite what they once were. Are the maps update-able?

Thanks for the info, SD

Jim
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Old 07-01-2007
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Garmin's Propritary System

It is kinda like when you are with a really beautiful woman--makes you feel wonderful. And then you learn she picks her nose at the dinner table--she's still georgeous, but there is this one thing you really don't like!

I love the Garmin units "look and feel" but hate their closed chart system. It obviously is designed to increase their profits by forcing one to buy charts from them, but that may backfire on them eventually. Technology is changing so fast. Now that good charts are available free on the internet, I suspect that people will begin buying units that can support the free charts.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SEMIJim
So the lower-end units that come pre-loaded with charts: You're stuck with those? Can't be updated?
All of the Garmins that have optional memory card slots can use downloaded charts from the BlueChart software. It doesn't "update" the built-in charts, but can supercede them.

Quote:
What about the re-use question? IOW: If I need charts for a different area, can I kick out (some of) what's in the chip to make room, load different charts, later kick that stuff out and re-load what I'd had previously?
Yes, on the user downloaded charts, you can delete whichever ones you want and load up whichever ones you want, provided you've bought keys to unlock all of the given charts for your GPS unit.

Quote:
Btw: The Garmins I saw had certain features, designated by "S" in a diamond-shaped icon. Can you turn that detail off? On a crowded waterway, they can clutter things up quite a bit.
The detail level of the charts is pretty customizable...

Quote:
I'll have to see what size screens they have. My eyes aren't quite what they once were. Are the maps update-able?
I believe they have a 5" screen but it is lower resolution than the newer units IIRC.

Quote:
Thanks for the info, SD
Glad to help.

Jim[/quote]
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Old 07-01-2007
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I33...none of the chartplotters use the gov't charts...not just garmin...the charting is a huge source of income to them and I don't see any of the majors making that move. Perhaps some little guy in China will get a great idea to build something useing ENC's but then he would also need to use some other system to get charts for the rest of the world into the plotter. For now...the free charts are usable in PC's only...and the cost of daylight readable / waterproof PC extension monitors for the helm exceeds the cost of just buying a dedicated plotter.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sailingdog
If you're looking for a decent unit for a lower price, try and find a Garmin GPSMap 392 or 398 unit. These came with the US inland waters maps pre-loaded, and since they've been discontinued are often on sale at clearance prices.
It looks like the 398 (has sonar) is averaging around $500 or so. Some units advertised at that price incl. a sonar transponder. 5" diag. display, but at lower resolution than the current Lowrance units that run around $600 (which incl. external antenna and transom-mounted sonar transponder). That's okay. Quality before quantity, I always say. And I regard good customer service as being part of "quality." But the 398 apparently isn't capable of accepting an external antenna. (Odd, that, because the 392 is. Tho God only knows what that antenna costs, as I've been unable to find the thing. Maybe it comes with it?) I've been told internal antennas won't be reliable inside the cabin. So that's out, I think.

(Garmin confuses things on their web site. Under "in the box" for the 398 they write "Transom-mount transducer (optional)." Well, which is it already? Under "in the box" for the 392 they write "Internal or external antenna." Um... 50/50 random draw? You pays your nickel and you takes your chances?)

I'm trying real hard to go with Garmin, but they're trying equally as hard to push me toward something else, it seems.

[Edit]This gets even stranger. The 298 can take an external antenna. The 498 can take an external antenna. But the 398 not. How odd.

Jim

Last edited by SEMIJim; 07-01-2007 at 10:48 AM.
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Hmmm... Looking some more and thinking about it... (Dangerous, I know)... It was a 498 I was looking at at the one store. It was showing lake depth (on Lk. St. Claire, which was what I was mostly looking at on each unit). Now, Garmin's product description says "preloaded coastal maps for the U.S." and "comes preloaded with BlueChart® g2 data for the U.S. coast, including Alaska and Hawaii." I wonder if, by this, they mean the "Americas" (aka: "Region 1"), and that includes the Great Lakes? That's the only explanation I can think of. If so: I think the 498 with external antenna would be the way for me to go.

[Edit]More research. Found on a site selling Garmin BlueChart unlock certs: "The Americas CD includes the East and West coasts of the U.S., the Great Lakes, Gulf of Mexico, Alaska and Hawaii." So if that's what's pre-loaded into the 498...

Jim

Last edited by SEMIJim; 07-01-2007 at 11:32 AM.
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