Men hate asking for directions almost as much as we hate a visit to the dentist or nails on a chalk board. Asking for directions falls somewhere between visits from our mother-in-law and getting kicked in the… well, you know. It isn’t our fault, though. The gene for asking for directions disappeared long ago. Early nomadic tribes weren’t wandering the landscape in search of food; they were lost, and the men of the tribe refused to ask for directions.
Our disdain for asking for directions is, however, balanced by our love for gadgets. Men have an almost primal reverence for anything that lights up and makes noises. Extra points are given for gizmos that talk.
These primitive male urges have fueled the recent craze for automotive GPS navigation systems. As with most recent technological gadgets, prices have been shrinking, while the capabilities and features have been expanding. While early GPS units were simple and somewhat crude, the latest generation is easier to use, more accurate, and highly intelligent.
Consider the iWay 500C from Lowrance Electronics. Lowrance was started in the late 1950’s by two brothers who wanted to make a device to find fish. By the 1980’s, they were making marine and aviation navigational devices. Since there isn’t much margin for error in the air or at sea—just ask Amelia Earhart or the crew of the Titanic—it’s safe to say that Lowrance knows how to make a dependable, accurate product that will keep you on course.
Installation doesn’t get any easier. Simply attach the suction cup mount onto your windshield, plug the power plug/speaker into an available 12-volt outlet and turn it on. You are now ready to navigate. We found that it helps to make sure that the unit is resting on the dashboard to keep it from vibrating.
The iWay 500C has an impressive list of features, starting with its 5-inch TFT touch screen. The backlit display is big, bright, and easy to read in any lighting condition. You can control the brightness setting with a hard button, and the unit comes with a night mode that switches from dark map details (roads, points of interest, etc.) on a light colored background to fluorescent map details on a black background. Both settings worked very well during all light conditions.
We found the interface to be intuitive and easy to use. We were able to figure out all of the common functions without opening the instruction manual. Most commonly used controls, such as zoom and pan, can be accessed by simply touching hotspots on the screen. Zooming in on something is simple; the interface provides multiple zoom methods, including a select-zoom mode which enables you to draw a box around a region of the screen. The system then zooms to the level specified within the box. Zooming out, however, is a little more difficult. The only way we could find to zoom out is by repeatedly pressing the Zoom Out button. This works fine if you only wanted to zoom out a little, but is agonizingly slow if you want to quickly move from a very tight zoom to a regional view.
The Navteq turn-by-turn directions database works well. Navteq is the same company that provides directions for Google Maps, and they did a good job of providing us with directions across town and across the country. Like most modern GPS systems, the iWay 500C provides a voice to guide you through every turn on your route. It will even recalculate your route to get you back on track if you miss a turn. There were some surprises, like when it guided us to the super secret back entrance to the San Antonio airport instead of the main entrance, but overall, we were pleased.
The built-in trip computer was a great deal of fun to play with and provided plenty of useful information, such as estimated time of arrival, current speed, altitude, distance traveled, and dozens of other bits of data you never realized you needed until you had them. Using Lowrance’s configuration interface, you can select the data points you want to display, and the system will remember your choices the next time you use the device.
One of our favorite features for long trips was the business finder. This feature enabled us to search for almost any business we could think of, then it sorted the results by distance from our current location. Need gas at 1:30 AM on Interstate 70 in the middle of Kansas? Just hit the Gas button, and the system will find nearby gas stations. Are you Jonesing for Sliders while cruising on the south side of Chicago? No problem, just punch White Castle into the search engine and violá– the iWay 500C will help you satisfy your craving.
One feature we thought was cool was the GPS unit’s ability to store and play MP3 music files. The 20 GB internal hard disk reserves half of its space for storing thousands your favorite tunes, and you can play them through the built-in MP3 player. Playing them through the built-in speaker was a bit of a waste, but the unit also provides an interface that enables it to be wired into your vehicles audio system..
Throughout our test, the iWay 500C worked well. It was very solid and well built. We bounced it around for thousands of miles and it didn’t hiccup once. The one weakness it did have was coping with heat. The large heat sink on the back of the unit put out enough heat to grill a cheeseburger. When we accidentally left the unit on in a hot vehicle for more than an hour or so it would overheat and shut down. We never experienced any problems when trying to use the unit in normal operating conditions, but it did make us question how well the unit would work on a hot day in an open topped Jeep in the southwest desert.
Apart from the heat issue, the iWay 500C performed flawlessly. Durable, packed with features, and with a list price of $799, (we’ve seen it for hundreds less) the Lowrance iWay 500C is a great buy. Whether you’re going across town, or across the country, the Lowrance iWay 500C will always keep you on course.
|12000 Easy Skelly Drive
Tulsa, OK 74128
Phone: (800) 3241356