In 2002 Lowrance introduced a new
breed of handheld, GPS receivers - the iFinder. Two years is a long time in the
world of electronics however, the iFinder did not get old at all! In 2004, we
find the iFinder as innovative as it was the day of the release. Some of
iFinder's features are unique, many are common and a few could use refinement.
The iFinder is sold in four configurations, which feature the same receiver but
differ in the accessories included. Factory specifications and details of each
package can be found on Lowrance's website. Note that the iFinder Pro and
iFinder H2O offered by Lowrance are different receivers from the iFinder
reviewed here. They offer a faster processor, larger and higher resolution
screen, and may offer some other features that the original iFinder does not.
At 5.588 x 2.549x0.955 inches (14.2
x 6.5x2.4 cm), the iFinder is about the maximum size that can be carried in a
shirt pocket and easily fits into a typical fishing vest or hunting jacket
pocket. The case is made of hard plastic and proved to stand up well to impact.
Some rubberized coating would improve the handling, especially when wearing
gloves. The unit is easy to hold and operate with one (bare) hand. iFinder's
appearance can be easily changed by using various colour faceplates. Black,
blue, red, yellow, camo and wood grain faceplates are available. At first
glance, it appears to be a feature of little importance to most users. That was
our reaction, until we realized that the faceplates come with the display
protective window in place. After months of use, it's hard to avoid marking the
case, or worse yet scratching the display screen. Repair of such scratches by
manufacturer can be costly, and polishing the scratches by the user is hard and
often impossible. Replacing iFinder's faceplate is a 10 second job, which at low
cost, restores the factory new look of the device!
160 Vertical x 120 Horizontal
pixels resolution of the iFinder is not particularly large but it is easily
readable in just about any light conditions. At the factory default contrast
setting, the 4 levels of the grey scale are easy to distinguish between each
other. The screen has a light greenish appearance, which turns to light blue
with the backlight on. At the brightest setting, the backlight is sufficient for
night use but there is no candlepower to spare.
The unit is equipped with a beeper
and alarms can be set to trigger beeps or even play melodies, however, the sound
level is low.
Power is supplied by 2 AA batteries. Under normal use, with the unit continuously recording track, occasional use of backlight, and no power saving, we got just over 8 hrs of operation from Duracell, alkaline batteries. In similar conditions, a set of fully charged NiMH, 1800 mAh Powerex batteries lasted for just over 10 hrs.
Lowrance is known for offering so
many customization options in their receivers, that the numerous menus and
submenus available intimidated many, especially new to GPS, users. Finding the
right balance between ease of use for a beginner and offering complex functions
for an advanced user is no easy task, but it appears that Lowrance has found a
Out of the box, the iFinder comes factory pre-set to "Easy mode" with pop up help enabled.
In that mode, the unit offers very
basic GPS functions, displays, and settings. If a menu item is highlighted for a
couple of seconds, a pop up screen with a short description of the function
appears. This can be very useful when learning to operate the receiver. Units of
measure can be set to standard or metric, and one waypoint can be saved. Power
saving can be adjusted to prolong battery life at the cost of sensitivity and
frequency of position updates. The screenshot below shows the limited but clear
menu options in that mode.
Easy mode gives the user a choice
of 3 navigation screens to display satellite status, compass rose with some
basic info, and a map page. A single track is automatically recorded and
displayed on the map. The map screen displays the map and co-ordinates of the
cursor location. As limited as this is, it makes it incredibly easy for the
uninitiated to start using the receiver almost right out of the box. There is no
need to go through a lengthy set-up or receiver initialization process. All one
really needs to do is to put batteries in, turn the receiver on and wait for
about a minute. Yes, the iFinder is capable of resolving the position within a
minute of a cold start and that makes it the fastest receiver that we have ever
tested. Once the receiver acquires the position, a "home position"
waypoint can be saved and the user can start going. The receiver automatically
records the track (trail). The track record can be used to navigate back to the
starting point by following the initial path / trail. A single press of the
"Find" button brings a choice of navigating to the home waypoint or
finding features and addresses from the map. The important thing is that it's
all very simple and straight forward and works as advertised! It's truly an
The second mode the iFinder can
operate in is the "Advanced mode". That mode offers numerous
customization functions and additional display pages. Information displayed on
the individual pages can be selected from a wide array of choices. Datums and
co-ordinate formats can be changed. 1000 waypoints and 1000 event markers, 99
routes with up to 99 legs each as well as numerous track records can be saved
and displayed. Each track record can be up to 9999 points long. The user can
choose which data fields to display on the navigational display pages. Several
alarms, information about average and maximum speeds, time of travel, and
estimated times of arrival can be accessed and displayed as well. The following
are just a couple of screenshots taken from the emulator in the advanced mode.
There are a number of other
features that we did not list here. Using all of these functions requires
navigating more menus, but it doesn't take long to get used to it. Well, it
takes a long time to explore all of the options and possibilities offered by the
receiver. We are not going to rewrite the manual, so don't look here for a
complete list of all the options. You can download and read the manual for
yourself. Better yet, download and try the iFinder emulator. Links are at
the end of the review. Please note that the emulator is based on firmware
1.4. The current iFinder firmware (1.6) has some important enhancements. In
particular, the ability to customize the track display can not be duplicated in
the emulator. What is truly important is that we found that iFinder works as
advertised or better. Most of it's functions can be found in other receivers but
some can't and that’s what makes it a cutting edge product.
Combining the Easy (mode) and
Advanced receivers in one case is innovative but of importance only to somebody
new to GPS and navigation. Giving the receiver the functions of an alarm clock
and timers (iFinder has both) is not common but not much to brag about, so lets
have a look at the features that we found to truly set iFinder apart from other
receivers. The iFinder was the first handheld GPS receiver to use the common SD
/ MMC memory cards for map and user data storage. It supports the cards up to
256MB. In practical terms it means that large maps can be stored on the cards
and that the storage of user data is virtually unlimited. User data (waypoints,
event markers, track record and routes) can be filed on the card and retrieved
at will. Each data set can be named differently and stored in separate files on
the same card, just like the files are stored on a computer. In fact, all of the
user data between the receiver and the computer are transferred via the memory
card. It makes for very fast transfer of large user files and is a great option
to have, however, we would also like to be able to transfer data via an old
fashioned serial port. As it is, the only use for iFinder's serial port is to
output data in NMEA or SiRF format.
iFinder can store and display
numerous track records from its memory and at the same time record the current
progress to yet another track. Without any problems, we have displayed (at the
same time) over 20 tracks with multiple sections. The combined number of points
in the displayed tracks was well in excess of 30.000 points and the receiver was
still recording fresh track data without any hesitation. According to the
manual, even more tracks and points can be stored! What the outdated manual does
not tell is that the display for each track can be highly customized. The
photograph below shows a sample of 11 tracks where each one is set to display in
With grey, black, solid, dashed, or
doted lines, the user can create the pattern he wants. Also, each of the trails
can be given a unique name. That name is displayed when the cursor points to the
track, making the identification of the tracks very easy. It is a great feature
to have. It can be used to show roads, trails, rivers or other map features not
depicted on the maps offered by Lowrance. To our knowledge, no other consumer
grade receiver currently offers similar functionality.
Receiver sensitivity is another
feature that makes iFinder stand out. Even in deep woods, under heavy canopy
that makes most other receivers loose their lock on satellites, iFinder is
usually capable of finding the signal and resolving the position. In places
where most other receivers had to be held in hand to get the lock, iFinder was
recording a usable track from the pocket. When used side by side, other
receivers would, on occasion, record the track as well as the iFinder, but
seldom, if ever, better. The iFinder is so sensitive, that it's the only unit we
found to be capable of acquiring a WAAS signal inside of Andrew's house.
Sensitivity can be often increased at the cost of accuracy, but it does not
appear to be the case here. When tested by walking exactly the same route, over
a course of several days under moderate tree cover, the subsequent track records
were well within 10 meters, even though the iFinder was recording from inside of
a breast pocket. When used to hunt down known survey points in the open, the
unit was very reliably locating them "on the fly" to better than 5
meters. Under heavy cover, the repeatability of dynamically recorded tracks
occasionally drops to as little as 20 or so meters, however, it usually stays
within 10 and often better.
Without any user intervention, the
receiver resolves the position in less than a minute from a "cold
start". In normal use, the receiver was usually locking in and resolving
the position in less than 30 seconds, even after several days had passed and the
unit had moved hundreds of kilometers from where it was last used. If the unit
is turned off for a few minutes, it locks back on within about 10 seconds. If
it's turned off or looses lock just for a moment, it locks back on virtually
The receiver very quickly responds to any change in speed and / or direction of movement. Despite the fact that the iFinder does not have a magnetic compass, it indicates a usable heading, even at moderate walking speeds. In stop and go or slow walking conditions, an old fashioned magnetic compass is a must, so make sure to pack one up!
iFinder comes factory loaded with a basemap. On the basemap, the USA is covered in fair detail, but Canadian coverage is poor. Detailed maps can be loaded from the Lowrance MapCreate6 CD, but again, there is little Canadian detail in there. Since we used the iFinder mostly in Canada, we could not use MapCreate 6 to its full potential and it is hard for us to comment on the actual detail and accuracy of the coverage. Saying that, on a couple of trips South of the border with the iFinder loaded with MapCreate6 maps, the unit was very helpful in locating hotels and services and finding our way through the back roads of New York and Maine. Even the smallest dirt tracks and creeks appeared to be where the map showed them. Beside the MapCreate6 maps, iFinder can also use FreedomMaps™ , which offer good coverage of Canada and Europe. New, MAPCREATE™ 6.3 CANADA is now also available.
A brief encounter with the Canadian road and topo maps proved to us that the the coverage is good and the maps are an excellent choice for the Canadian users of the iFinder series receivers.
The iFinder outputs a standard NMEA
data stream, so it can communicate the real time position data to most mapping
programs. Transfer of user data can be accomplished only by the software that
can read and write .usr files. Luckily, Lowrance gives the necessary protocol
information for the asking and several mapping programs can now read and write
the .usr files. We have successfully tested data transfer (both NMEA and user
data) between the iFinder and OziExplorer and TOURATECH QV (TTQV). iFinder
can't be loaded with maps from these or any other 3rd party programs but they
can be used to create new data or to edit data transferred from the receiver.
When it comes to creating and editing tracks, MapCreate 6 has limited
functionality, so the above-mentioned software may be of special interest to the
users who want to use iFinder's tracks to add to the receiver's map features.
We have no knowledge of software
that could accept iFinder's SiRF binary output so we have not tested it.
All of the above could lead to a
conclusion that the iFinder is as good or better than any other receiver,
however, there are two shortcomings that may be show stoppers to some and of no
importance to others.
1. The iFinder is not waterproof. According to the specs from Lowrance, it is water-resistant to IPX2. In real life, it means that the unit is not afraid to be exposed to a little bit of rain but better don't get it drenched! In any seriously wet environment, the unit should be used inside a waterproof pouch (supplied with the iFinder). This may not create a problem to most hunters and hikers, but it is not the ideal solution for water sports. If you need a waterproof receiver, you may consider the iFinder H2O or iFINDER® Hunt
2. iFinder's track records do not
include time nor elevation information. This limits the usability of the
records. For example; tracks with time stamp can be used to automatically match
digital photos to locations or to analyze speed and duration of travel. For some
users, it may not be significant, but for us it is important and we would gladly
trade half of the iFinder's track memory just for the timestamp!
All in all, it is not a receiver best suited for car or boat navigation, but in the wild, it can hold it's own and then some! The iFinder should be a very satisfying receiver for most outdoorsmen and we recommend that it be seriously considered when making a GPS receiver purchase decision.
Update regarding Canadian maps options: Sep. 2004
Lowrance Electronics (USA) http://www.lowrance.com
Lowrance Canada http://www.lowrancecanada.com
iFinder users discussion group on Yahoo with good tips, advice, and information http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ifinder_gps
iFinder's connector pin-out