Lowrance iWay 350c
They say it’s good that your reach exceeds your grasp. It is supposed to keep you striving for something better. While this may be a wonderful truism for athletes and young scholars, it’s not so good in a portable nav unit.
First, let me say upfront, the Lowrance iWay 350c is a good, solid nav unit. Given it’s retail price of $499, it’s a hell of a package. The only downside, as the title implies, I think it tries to do a little too much for it’s size and cost. I’ll explain that more below after we’ve gone over the basics.
The iWay is an average size nav unit. It looks not unlike the Garmin Streetpilot series of navs. It’s mostly rounded corners and compact shape holding a touch screen, built-in speaker and integrated antenna. The iWay has some nifty chrome accented power switch (if you happen to find such accents nifty) and appears to be well constructed. It’s a solid feeling unit and the screen, though the standard 320×240, is a generous 3.5″ diagonal. The iWay is packed with a rather unique gooseneck type of suction cup bracket for temporary mounting. It tends to shake a bit with vibration of the vehicle but it is firmly flexible and can be contorted to a wide range of viewing angles. It mounts easily in this bracket (unlike the Alpine Blackbird which takes three hands and a court order to mount it in its’ bracket) would appear to safely ensconced once there. Removing it simply, there is a flexible tab in the front of the bracket, push that out and the iWay pops off the mounting arm. I worry a bit about the “gooseneck” portion of the bracket. I’m not sure it’s not just a very heavy piece of wire under the flexible housing. And as I mentioned before, it does tend transmit any vibration of the vehicle to the unit.
And while I may seem less than enthusiastic about the iWay, overall, it seems to be a very well built unit.
My real personal difficulties begin with the iWay when you power it up. As I mentioned repeatedly in my review of the Garmin c530, it’s my contention that software is what makes or breaks a nav unit. Either the software is well designed, or not. And if it’s the latter, woe to the poor user. And let me be clear here, Lowrance has done an admirable job with the iWay. It’s not that there is anything wrong with what they’ve done (unlike other navs that will unmentioned by name here). It’s that I think they’ve tried to do too much.
The iWay is a forest of details, information and options. While all those details and possbilities may intrigue another person, for me, it made me long for something more simple, dare I say something more legible?
There are literally dozens of ways to customize the screen display of the iWay. You can add all sorts of information that is displayed, mostly, in the lower right hand portion of the screen. This where the slightly larger screen size comes in handy. What holds it back however is the standard, 320×240 resolution. In other words, while the screen real estate may be large enough to accommodate all the information, there aren’t really enough pixels to clearly resolve it all. See my details of the screen and use your judgment. Keep in mind, I tend to be picky and I’m looking to find fault with these units. So I may be much more critical than the average user (well, I am without question much more critical than the average user).
While I was using the iWay it never crashed (which is saying something). I didn’t have problems with it losing satellites (and keep in mind, I live in a crowded downtown area where reception is spotty at best) and it didn’t try to give me any bizarre routing. So my criticisms of the iWay software are mostly aesthetic, not functional. The iWay is a highly functional, accurate, fairly quick GPS nav unit. Of the four units I’ve tested so far, this is my second favorite. The iWay handles rerouting well and its’ interface offers tons of options. My biggest complaint, and it’s again one of aesthetics, not function, is that the nav screen is not very pretty. In my eyes it’s cluttered and fiddling with the options, I didn’t really find a solution that pleased me. However, this world is a big place and every one of us tends to like things in a different way. I am sure that there are those of you out there who will find the plethora of information available on the main nav screen informative and exciting. That’s good. My judgment here is utterly subjective and as I said above, in no way do my criticisms reflect on the actual functioning of the device (other than to impact legibility, in my opinion).
My one functional critique of the interface is that I think Lowrance did a poor job of judging the “touch” area for the controls. I guess I have fairly fat fingers so I found myself mis-keying things, which is bloody annoying when you are driving and just plain irritating when you’re parked. I found I could accurate key things in, when parked, by using the back of my fingernail carefully. This seemed to work well but controlling the iWay while in motion is something I would never suggest (of course, the ALL manufacturers warn against this).
Which brings me to the next point, the iWay is also an MP3 player. It has a built-in FM modulator for wireless connectivity to your FM radio (but the only line out is the headphone jack). In typical iWay fashion it even offers a variety of free downloadable “skins” so you can make your iWay MP3 player look any way you wish. The quality of sound using the Fm mod is what you would expect, fairly average to mediocre. While FM modulators are super-convenient, they’re far from the best means of getting sound to another device. If you have an aux input you could easily run a line out from the headphone output of the iWay to your car stereo. I did not try but I suspect the sound quality would be substantially better.
The documentation included with the iWay is complete and well done. As is the web site (http://www.lowrance.com/Automotive/Products/iWAY350C.asp) where you can find downloadable goodies and more detailed information. The unit does come with a case which might be the oddest case case I’ve seen yet. The good part is that there is a hard screen protector built into the neoprene case the odd part is that it only covers the front half of the device and it can be a bugger to put on. Elastic holds the case on and once in place, it’s secure but I found it awkward to deal however practical it may be. I also think a little padding on the back wouldn’t be a bad idea in case you drop it, why not protect the entire unit and not just the face?
-No AC power cord supplied (not you need one)
-Bigger screen, standard resolution, does not make for a “pretty” screen
-Cluttered nav interface
-So-so mounting bracket
-Counter-intuitive interface requires some time with the manual
-Internal speaker not very loud
-”Touch” control areas are too small
-Tons of options
-Tons of options
-Tons of features for a low price
-Reliable, reasonably accurate GPS
-Uses NAVTEQ nav information
-SD/MMC card slot
-Built-in FM mod
-Mapping detail is very good
While it may seemed as though I nit-picked this thing to death, keep in mind, I was picking nits. Most, if not all of my complaints were fairly superficial. The functions well and offers a broad range of features for a very competitive price. The large number of custom features you can add to the interfaces of the iWay far surpass anything I’ve tested so far. The MP3 player, with its’ different skins offers another nice extra in addition to a solid, reliable nav. While this one isn’t my first choice for a personal nav, it is my second choice thus far and I think it would make a large number of people quite happy. And while for my personal needs, I think the iWay strives to do more than it should, what it does, it does fairly well, which is more than I can say about a lot of the nav units. It’s a good deal for a very reasonable price.
You can buy this unit!
I am offering this carefully used demo unit, complete with its’ original factory warranty all packing materials and literature for only $420 shipped free anywhere in the continental US. I can accept payment via paypay, money order or check. Contact me via email if you are interested.
iWay 350 specs
Sunlight-viewable, 16-bit color TFT touch-screen display
320H x 240V pixel resolution
3.5″ (8.9 cm) diagonal display size
Super-bright, white LED backlit screen
Built-in, precision 16-channel GPS+WAAS receiver
Simplified touch-screen menus
Three selectable mapping displays: 2-D Track Up, 2-D North Up, and Elevated 3-D
Built-in, detailed and highly accurate NAVTEQ® turn-by-turn database for the continental U.S. and Canada with over 5 million Points-Of-Interest
Turn-by-turn audio and visual cues, including auto-zooming and automatic recalculation of directions after a missed turn
Street address searching, plus auto-routing choices to choose or avoid Toll Roads and Interstates, and avoid Left-Hand Turns
Mega-memory storage for up to 1,000 address
Maps can be updated through the internal USB port with a PC
Safety Passenger Mode allows a passenger to use the GPS features while the car is in motion
Media Players <<
Full-featured stereo MP3 music player with digital media card slot for loading music with an SD/MMC memory card
Built-in FM modulator to wirelessly stream music and voice directions through any open FM radio channel
Full-featured picture viewer displays JPEG photos stored on MMC/SD memory cards
Rugged 4GB hard drive for built-in, high-detail mapping
Operates on 2 internal lithium ion rechargeable batteries for up to 15 hours of cordless navigation, music and picture viewing
Built-in battery charger
4.52″W x 3.54″H x 2.55″D (11.48cm x 8.99 cm x 6.48 cm)
Full one-year warranty
12 vDC plug power adapter for power and recharging
Suction-cup mounting bracket for windshield applications*
USB to PC interface cable
iWAY™ 350C protective cover
Touch-screen cleaning cloth