Lowrance iWay 250c
The Lowrance iWay 250c is in a highly competitive segment of the auto GPS market… the entry level, pocketable devices. Every major GPS manufacturer has a model in this category, making price competition and feature comparisons fierce. So how does the iWay 250c stand up?
Like most other devices at a similar price-point, the 250c doesn’t have a lot of the “bonus” features found in more expensive devices. Often this is just fine, as these are often features that don’t impact the navigational qualities of the device.
For example on the iWay 250c you won’t find Bluetooth hands free calling, you won’t find any traffic services included (nor optional), you won’t find an FM transmitter, nor text-to-speech. Aside from text-to-speech, none of those will make any difference in navigation.
So what do you get? The Lowrance 250c comes with a 3.5 inch touch screen display, pre-installed maps of the USA and Canada from NAVTEQ. The maps come on a 2 GB SD card. It technically meets my requirements for a slim and pocketable GPS device, but just barely and it is larger than other GPS devices in this class
There is a tiny bit of room (40 Mb) to store about one CD worth of MP3 music. The device can connect to your computer via USB, even to Macs. But since the update process for Mac users can require a trip to the terminal it is hardly worth calling it mac compatible. The MP3 player does a respectable job of playing music, but the speaker quality isn’t going to win any awards, especially at highway speeds.
GPS Signal Performance
So how well does the Lowrance iWay 250c perform? Here is the good, the bad, and the ugly from our 500 mile road test.
After leaving my house I needed to fill up the tank for the rest of the trip. When I got back in the car the GPS had lost satellite reception. I guess the 12 channel receiver just couldn’t hear any satellites from under the gas station canopy. I hoped this was an anomaly, and started along my route again. Luckily I was still close to home and knew where I was going because the GPS didn’t pickup a lock again for about three minutes. I was moving, which makes it more difficult to reacquire a signal, but I hoped for better performance.
The 250c did do a great job of alerting me to upcoming turns. In fact it would alert me at 3 miles out, again at 2 miles out, again at one mile out, again at 1/2 mile out, again at .2 miles out. While chatty GPS devices are helpful when you don’t know where you are going, that might have been a little too much, but we give it props for trying. On long legs it would even warn us sometimes as much as 50 miles in advance of a turn.
The quality of the voice prompts was acceptable, however it did say some odd things from time to time. For example it would say “RT 100″ by spelling out “R” and “T” rather than saying the word “route”. I knew what it was trying to say, but it still sounded funny.
The voice prompts were not always as smart as other devices in this class. For example other devices might hint at a “T” intersection by saying “at the end of the road turn left” or tell you the intersection is a rotary by saying “enter the rotary and take the second exit”. This device didn’t verbally tell me either of those things.
The voice prompts also sometimes conflicted with the turn indicator. Once while approaching an intersection the voice said “continue straight” while the turn indicator pointed to the right. (And I did need to turn to the right.)
A volume slider automatically appears whenever the device is speaking to you. This is a really nice feature as the most often time you might want to change the volume is just after it has spoken to you.
The suction mount worked okay, but it wasn’t fantastic. The “rubber neck” type arm wasn’t stiff enough to keep the unit from occasionally vibrating and the ball and socket connection at the end was too stiff to tilt or angle the device without needing two hands.
A big thumps up though for locating the power cord on the right side of the device rather than the bottom. This allows you to mount the 250c lower to the dash and makes it easier to disconnect.
The map display on the screen was quite blurry and the roads and other features all had jagged edges on them as if you took a low resolution photo and enlarged it too much. The resolution of the screen for horizontal text was fine, but the roads were all drawn with blurry jagged edges.
There are a ton of other geographic features such as trails, rivers, hills, etc drawn on the screen. In some cases it was difficult to tell what was a river and what was a road. But don’t worry, if you drive off the road and into a tidal river, bay, or the ocean, buoy markers are provided so you can stay in (or out) of the deeper channels.
I’m making fun of it a little there, but for some people this might be the perfect device. If you spend a good deal of time out in the water, and need a basic auto GPS along with basic marine capabilities, this might be a good choice due to the price and fact that much of both types of data are included.
The screen wasn’t the brightest in the class and you will need to make sure to turn the brightness all the way up during daylight hours. There isn’t any night mode other than to turn down the brightness of the display. However one nice feature is that you can just quickly tap the power button to dim the display.
I went to enter my destination address in a rural town. After entering the state, it could not find the name of the town within that sate. It was as if the town didn’t exist. The town was a town I used to live in, so it wasn’t as though I misspelled it, that town just didn’t exist in the iWay 250c’s database.
Some might call it a “trick question”, but the GPS should have been able to find the town. In rural areas like those where I come from it is not uncommon for multiple towns to share one post office and thus one zip code. It looks like the database was loaded with one town name per zip-code. I was, however, able to find the street I was looking for by telling it to route to a nearby town. Still, no other GPS devices in this class from other manufacturers have the same problem finding addresses within that town.
Something else strange was that it rarely showed all of the roads on the map. It would display the road you were on, and other major roads, but wouldn’t show other roads as you passed them. This isn’t a big deal, but it can help instill confidence that the GPS really does know where you are going. However there are often times when you come to an intersection and while you are staying on the same named road, you need to make a turn. In many cases the intersection wasn’t drawn with enough details to make you turn to the correct road.
The standard navigation display has several fields such as distance to turn, time to turn, and a graphic turn indicator. These fields are highly customizable if you want to display something else there such as ‘time to destination’. I wish more GPS devices offered this level of customization.
There was also a great amount of detail displayed on the screen for surrounding features such as named corners, harbors, towns, etc). However sometimes there was a little too much labeled and it would cause the screen to get cluttered.
Most GPS devices will automatically zoom in on intersections as you get closer to them. The default Lowrance 250c setting is a little different. Instead it will switch to a fixed angle view of the intersection. It also doesn’t move the map with you through the intersection, rather it remains in a fixed view and your cursor moves up and down the screen showing your progress through the intersection. I like the unique approach, however in some cases it just made things more confusing, especially when the turn was 90Â° or more causing the map to no longer be “track up”.
Automatic recalculations worked fine, although the routing engine was a little bit slower than other devices.
As mentioned at the top, this is a highly competitive segment of the auto GPS market targeted with the Lowrance iWay 250c. Unfortunately it falls short in many areas. It is larger than competitive devices, and the drawings on the screen are not nearly as clear as they should be. If you need a GPS device that has a little detail in marine maps plus use it for some auto navigation at a really attractive price… this might be a good match. Otherwise consider some of the other GPS devices in this class such as the Nuvi 350 or the TomTom ONE.