A marine GPS, whether a standalone navigator, chartplotter, or plotter fishfinder combo is going to be your favorite piece of marine electronics when you’re running the tight confines of a wily inlet at o’dark thirty or looking for your favorite fishing hole.
Joining a chartplotter and a fishfinder into a single unit further enhances the usefulness of this particular piece of marine electronics gear. They combine numerous functions into a single display.
Standalone marine GPS navigators or chartplotters start at around $400 and go up as you add features and increase screen size. Other types of marine electronics are also being combined with GPS chartplotters today.
See why a chartplotter fishfinder combo is a good choice for many powerboaters, sailors, cruisers, and fishermen. And why they have become so popular.
You not only have plotter sounder combo units like the Garmin 546s, but chartplotters like the Humminbird 597ci HD DI that couples both a standard sounder with more sophisticated down imaging using a three frequency transducer to produce near photo quality images of what is down below your boat.
You’ll also find plenty of new chartplotters with the ability to display engine data via a NMEA 2000 network connection.
Many will also display nearby ship information from an AIS receiver or be your source for timely weather when coupled to a satellite weather receiver.
It has only been in the last few years that these astounding improvements to affordable marine electronics have taken place.
How We Test Chartplotters
Normally we test marine chartplotters aboard our one of our test boats. We aim for a competitive analysis by comparing at least two or more like units during each review.
One of the most important features of any gps chartplotter or chartplotter fishfinder combo unit is how well you can see the screen under a variety of conditions. We appraise this by judging viewability both day and nigh
Displays are rated under a wide variety of lighting conditions ranging from bright sunlight, to cloud obscured daylight, to nighttime conditions. We look at the screen from various angles, with and without polarized sunglasses, and when applicable using different background color palettes. After the sun goes down we rate the screen for night viewability and turn an eye toward the quality and adjustability of the unit’s backlighting.
We rate each chartplotter for user interface based on the units controls and software. The easier a unit is to use the better we like and the higher we rate it. We like marine chartplotters with intuitive software, alphanumeric keypads, and numerous dedicated function keys so they will normally get the highest ratings.
We always use the supplied GPS antenna to receive satellite position signals and mount it with an unobstructed view of the sky. As we maneuvered our skiff testers enter waypoints, edit them, and delete them. We also like to check man-overboard functionality. To review route capabilities we normally build a short route to assess route building and usage abilities.
If the marine chartplotter we are testing is also a fishfinder we review it over bottom and structure we know well. When a transducer is shipped with our test unit we use. If not we sometimes use a crossover cable to connect the machine to the flush mounted thru-hull transducer in our test boat.
All sounder testing is done in saltwater that depending on the season varies in temperature from 65 to 85 degrees F. Sounders are judged on their ability to show bottom detail, their ease of use, and for their array of features.
Fishfinders that are easy to use and show exceptional bottom detail get high ratings. We like sounders that feature things like bottom lock, shift, A-scope, and easy to adjust manual gain.
When a marine chartplotter is network capable we normally investigate these traits by having the subject unit connected to at least one other of its compatible devices. These devices could be a different size chartplotter, a black box sounder, radar, or a weather receiver.
Network-Capable Marine Chartplotter
Network-capable marine electronics are all the rage today because they can interface with a variety of equipment like radar, fishfinder, and weather receiver.
They can also perform a multitude of critical navigational tasks like chartplotting. Another reason these systems are prized is because they let you add capability as you need it and can afford it.
If you want to start with just a single multi-function display and add more later you can. Or you can install everything but the galley sink right away. Its your choice.
The front line component of any networked electronics system is the multi-function display. This unit displays data from all the sources connected to the network.
When coupled to a GPS sensor these units are capable of precise navigation using highly detailed charts.
They can also interface with a wide variety of other equipment.
Most will readily display radar data, couple to a black box sounder, show AIS ship locations, overlay rain and storm information imported from a satellite receiver, or play video from the engine room camera or your DVD player.
About the only thing they can’t do is clean the galley sink.
You’ll find a variety of models available in different screen sizes from any given maker.
So pick the one that fits your boat and needs.
Choosing a GPS Chartplotter
Choosing a GPS chartplotter that is right for your and your vessel depends largely on how you intend to use this particular navigation tool, how much you intend to spend, where you will place the unit, and finally what other gear you plan to interface with the chartplotter.
It is all about knowing your needs as a boater and finding a chartplotter that can meet those needs. After all, who wants to spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars on the wrong product?
A number of boat electronics manufacturers including Furuno, Garmin, Raymarine, Standard Horizon, Lowrance, and Humminbird have inundated the market with chartplotters that start in price from roughly $400 and goes upwards from there into the multi-thousand dollar range.
The more expensive units have larger, high resolution color screens, more memory, and faster processors. Multi-function capability or the ability to be linked to other pieces of electronics also comes into play with the pricier gear.
Cheaper models have smaller screens, fewer features, slower processors and less memory. Still, the less expensive units are quality products that provide a helmsman with navigation information that was simply not available to the recreational boater a few years ago.
Choosing a GPS Chartplotter—Mounting Method
The GPS chartplotter must match your type of boating and agree with your budget while the physical unit itself must fit your boat. There are two main types of mounting options.
All but the largest fixed-mount displays can be bracket mounted. The bracket is usually supplied as part of the package by the maker and can be used to install the unit on the helm dash or in an overhead electronics box. With this installation, you have the freedom to mount the unit close to your line of site and to easily remove the unit when the boat is not in use. Another plus, most mounting brackets allow the unit to swivel sideways and vertically.
The second type of installation is flushing mounting the unit in the helm console. Flush mounting can be more complicated but brings a lot to the table and can be accomplished by even novice boat electronics installers. Flush mounting gives you a clean look, instant access to the unit while at the helm station, and it saves space. Many boat manufacturers install a lockable door to protect the flush-mounted chartplotter and other pieces of marine electronics from weather and thievery.
Display Screen Size Matters
Next up when choosing a GPS chartplotter is screen size. Choose a chartplotter with the largest display screen that will still fit comfortably at your chosen mounting location. With a larger screen you get more pixel which in turn offers the viewer a greater level of detail on the chart as well as additional space for other information. Screens vary from about 5 inches diagonal to 12 inches diagonal. With evolving technology, it stands to reason that the screens will get bigger, better, and cheaper—this all bodes well for marine navigators.
Screen glare used to be a downside for marine chartplotters with an LCD screen. But things have improved on this front thanks to technological advances in screen coatings and materials, such as thin-film transistor technology. Many of the lower-cost, smaller units have clear, crisp color screens. In other words, you don’t have to spend a load of money to get a chartplotter with a quality screen.
Your marine chartplotter needs to be user friendly, look for units with high marks for user interface. Most marine chartplotters have front-mounted buttons with some high-end models having a touch screen interface or special soft keys for quick access to important functions. The hardware and pushbuttons are not as important as the actual interface programming.
One performance issue that can be a factor, especially when a external chart card is used, is the speed of the internal processor. Some are simply faster than others and should be a consideration when choosing a GPS chartplotter for your boat. The amount processor power a unit has will determine how fast your plotter will redraw screens as your boat moves or your range the chart. Great improvements have been made in this area in the last several years.
Accuracy of today’s GPS machines is better than ever and not really a significant consideration when purchasing. Most new marine chartplotters are WAAS-capable, meaning they are usually accurate to within about 10 feet.
Here’s a big consideration when choosing a GPS chartplotter. You need to ask yourself if you going to buy a standalone plotter, a multi-function plotter or a chartplotter/fishfinder combination unit? It boils down to needs, space and the size of your wallet. If you don’t fish or already have a sounder, the combo is out. But what if you want radar—or maybe you are going to want it later? Well then, a basic multi-function unit may be your choice. If you want it all in one package, which includes chartplotter, radar and a fishfinder, then the multi-function is the way to go.
More on Connectivity
If you intend to integrate your marine electronics components, then you need to become familiar with the terms, NMEA0183 and NMEA 2000. Both are simple terms referring to an interface standard that allows communication between marine electronic devices. The National Marine Electronics Association or NMEA sets the standards.
The older protocol, NMEA0183 allows the transfer of basic information between a chartplotter, marine VHF radio, and marine autopilot. Faster versions of the NMEA0183 protocol allow data transfer speeds high enough to connect an AIS system to your chartplotter.
The newest communication protocol is NMEA2000, which can also allow steering systems, engines, electrical power generation and distribution systems, fire control systems, as well as a wide variety of other gear to interface with your marine chartplotter.
As you can see, marine chartplotters for the recreational boater have come a long way and will continue to improve as technology advances.
Best Marine GPS Chartplotters
We received the Raymarine A65 in a System Pack. It included the A65 display unit, GPS unit, DSM25 black box sounder, a Navionics Silver US All-In-One Marine chart card, and a dual-frequency transducer.
The display unit measures 9.5 inches wide, just under 7 inches high, and about 3.5 inches deep. We used the supplied metal bracket to mount the Raymarine A65 display unit to a test board.
The black box sounder module was screwed to the test board too. All the wire connections from the black box, power cable, and GPS unit are made with multi-pin twist-lock connectors.
The installation was uncomplicated and simple. The A65 display unit can also be flush mounted with optional gear.
Screen Size and Viewability
The Raymarine A65 GPS has a landscape screen we measured at just under 4 inches high and a tad over 5 inches wide. Diagonally it measures 6.5 inches and carries a high resolution of 640 x 480 pixels. Details appear to have very sharp edges when viewed from a range of 3 feet or less. At distances further away some of the fine detail gets too small to discern easily.
We reviewed the Raymarine A65 display screen with the white background color selected during daylight operations. A blue background palette is also available. Several additional color palettes are available for the sounder view.
Brightness is controlled from 0 to 100 in 64 steps. Viewability was good even in bright sunlight. We did however notice moderate screen darkening when we viewed the screen using polarized sunglasses. Wed rate the A65 screen good for daytime and excellent for nighttime viewability.
Operation of everyday functions on the Raymarine A65 GPS are handled with page specific soft keys, a rotary entry device, and an enter key equipped cursor. We found little need to delve into menus.
Soft key functions are displayed onscreen above each of the five soft keys and change to reflect the displayed page needs.
The first push of the page button on the A65 yields two choices, either chart or fish finder. Hitting either of these soft keys then allows the user to choose between full screen and a variety of split-screen configurations. When both the chart page and fish finder are displayed in a split screen arrangement pressing the active key switches control between the two. The active window is indicated by a red outline.
To access waypoints the user should press of the wpts key and then choose a course of action using the soft key options displayed. You can save a waypoint at the present position or at the cursor position. A double press of the wpts key shortcuts the process and creates an instant waypoint at the present position.
Route entry can be accomplished using a stored waypoints or from newly created waypoints or by combining new and stored. Up to 50 waypoints may be used in one route.
To test the route building function we built a route using the only the cursor and soft key functions. We found it to be quick and easy. Routes can be tracked in either direction by using the soft keys to select reverse route.
This Raymarine chartplotter combo uses a black box sounder to provide fishfinder data. You can read our full review of the Raymarine DSM25 black box sounder here.
Odds and Ends
Using soft key functions on the map page a user can select orientation of north-up, course-up, or heading-up. All worked well in our testing.
The course predictor is a thin line and can be somewhat hard to see on a fully detailed map page.
Holding down the mob key on the A65 sounds an aural alarm, marks the mob position, and switches the display to a split screen showing the highway back to the mob. Data boxes show course over ground, heading, bearing and distance, as well as cross track error back the mob position. Holding the mob key down again turns off the function. This is the type of mob function we like to see. Everything you need to get back to the mob happens automatically and it is virtually impossible to press any buttons on the machine that would screw things up.
The waypoint list shows the selected symbol, one of six can be picked, a name up to 16-characters long, a 32-character comment, lat/long, and bearing/distance for each waypoint. Any field in the waypoint data list can be modified as needed by the user.
The Raymarine A65 carries a 2-year warranty.
We think the A65 is a top-flight machine that is ready for action on any boat.
Standard Horizon CPV550
The Standard Horizon CPV550 features a massive 12-inch color screen and will do about anything but cook dinner.
It’s a full-function chartplotter packed with a VHF and a number of bonus capabilities. Plus, it has the ability to hook up to an optional black box sounder and AIS receiver.
The across-the-board capabilities of the CPV550 required an extensive series of tests to complete a review. To begin, we did a series of VHF radio bench tests.
VHF Test Results and Features
Overall the Standard Horizon CPV550 performed well in our transceiver testing. It earned excellent ratings for transmitter power stability and receiver sensitivity. The only glitch we noticed was a slight drift off frequency when transmitting after being in our cold torture chamber. Still, the unit remained well within industry and governmental specifications at all times. According to Standard Horizon spokesman Scott Iverson, the company is looking into why the CPV550 drifted off frequency during our low-temperature test. Since most boating takes place at temperatures well above 15F we consider the performance to be more than adequate. We didn’t check it at the high-temperature extreme because it was too big to fit in our heat chamber.
The amount of selectivity a radio has will establish how well it is able to reproduce only the signals received on a selected channel and not the signals on other nearby channels even though the latter may be very strong and close by. Standard Horizon gives the CPV550 a selectivity specification of 80 dB. A very high number ranked with the best radios we’ve reviewed.
While running, wind and waves make a boat a very noisy place. It is essential that a marine radio’s audio system perform well. The CPV550 generated a powerful 95 dBA during our audio output testing. Our tester also gave it a sound quality rating of good while monitoring a weather channel broadcast.
A long list of features like an integrated 30-watt hailer with automatic and manual foghorn capability, sophisticated DSC capabilities that includes a second receiver dedicated solely to the reception of digital signals, a large rotary knob for channel selection, and the ability to connect to up to two remote microphones rank the CPV550 communications with the best standalone VHF radios.
Screen Size and Viewability
The Standard Horizon CPV550 features a huge 12-inch color display screen with a resolution of 800 x 600. For testing purposes we mounted the unit to a test board using the beefy metal mounting bracket shipped with unit. In a permanent installation, whenever it is possible to do so, we’d opt for a flush mount for a display unit this size.
To evaluate the CPV550 chartplotting capabilities and assess the display screen we took the unit out for a spin on our test boat. The CPV550 display screen was bright and sharp in daylight conditions with our best view attained by selecting the Sunlight color palette. The Normal setting also worked well.
While viewing the screen in daylight with polarized sunglasses we noticed it darkened slightly even when viewed from directly in front, it continues to darken a bit more as one views it from more severe angles. Without the glasses we found the screen usable at just about any angle. Testers were able to read detailed information onscreen from about 4 feet away.
Night Vision mode darkens the screen colors to reduce glare and improve low light viewing. By going into the menu and increasing the font and symbol size from normal to large we were able to read details even further away.
We found the CPV550 plotter easy to operate by using dedicated buttons and the joystick to move around menus. Each of the six soft keys takes on a dedicated function depending in the page you have selected.
For instance, if you cursor over a waypoint the soft keys will let you edit, move, or delete the point with a single button press. If soft key function labels are not displayed a press of any soft key will bring into view onscreen. We gave the CPV550 an excellent rating for plotter user interface. The full alphanumeric keypad was just icing on the cake.
Odds and Ends
Several other features impressed us. The course predictor on the CPV550 works well and is adjustable. Data blocks display valuable information across the top or side of the map page in a variety of configurations that are user adjustable. Hitting the mark key puts a waypoint at the present position while moving the cursor to a desired position and pressing the route key enters a waypoint in a route. Continuing adds waypoints one at a time.
We found routes very easy to build. Waypoint names can be up to 10 characters long and use one of 16 symbols. A navigation page display user selectable data blocks in a large easy to read format that our testers had no trouble reading from over 10 feet away.
The Simrad NX45 is a large screen next-generation multifunction display with an onboard dual frequency fishfinder. This MFD can also interface with a variety of other devices and sensors.
The first thing I noticed about the NX45 when I unpacked it was how light it wasby itself the display unit weighed only 6 pounds 6 ounces. That is a couple pounds lighter than a comparably sized legacy Simrad display like the CX44.
It seems Navico, now the owner of B and G, Eagle, Lowrance, Northstar, Navman, MX Marine, and Simrad is moving some product around among their various brands.
The Simrad NX45 started life as a Navman unit, then enjoyed a reincarnation over at Northstar, and was finally added, with some changes, to the Simrad lineup.
The Simrad NX45 MFD can connect to and supply to the user, a variety of information from numerous sources. These include the GS10 GPS sensor, fuel monitors, certain engine data, video, and an AIS unit. Three radar options are also available, from a 2-kW dome style unit to a 4-foot open array antenna with 6-Kw of power.
A sounder is included as an integral part of the NX45. This unit can communicate with other devices using the Simrad SimNet (NMEA2000 network) or through a NMEA 0183 connection. Simrad NX-series units use C-Map cartography.
The NX45 is 15.2 inches wide, 10.1 inches high and 3.1 inches deep.
Screen Size and Viewability
The display screen is 9.7 inches wide by 7.2 inches high and measures 12.1 inches on the diagonal. Resolution is a very respectable 800 x 600 pixels.
I found the Simrad NX45 performed well in our daylight viewability testing and earned a good rating. The Simrad screen was not quite as bright as some other big screen MFDs Ive tested in the past.
When viewed straight-on with polarized sunglasses the screen darkens a bit. We tried the unit in normal and sunlight daytime palette colors and set the first depth limit at zero to lighten the screen further. This enhanced day light viewing somewhat. We noticed some screen darkening when viewing from severe side angles.
The Simrad NX45 screen brightness controls are accessed with a momentary press of the PWR button. This triggers the onscreen appearance of a display menu showing the current level of brightness and a check box to select night mode. Screen backlight level adjustments can be using the cursor pad to one of 16 levels. Toggling down to night mode then using the check key or the left arrow on the pad sets your preference. The color changes to a black background with white numbers and darker chart colors when using the night palette.
The screen brightness can also be set via the main menu. As our evaluations progressed to night viewing we dimmed the NX45 in the normal day setting, then later we switched to the night palette. At the very lowest brightness levels in night mode the screen will go nearly black. With the night palette selected we noticed no screen darkening at side angles.
Keypad lighting on is linked to the screen brightness level and not separately adjustable. I rated night viewability as good.
We tested the NX45 with software version 2.3.15 installed. This unit uses a number of dedicated function keys and multi-layered menus to for control and use. Hitting the FAV button brings up five page choices. You can pick from a variety pre-configured pages or build your own custom page set.
Up to 4 windows and a data bar can be displayed simultaneously. The WIN key lets you select an active window with a single button push.
A waypoint can be saved at the present position with one push of the MARK key. Waypoint are identified with names up to eight characters long, one of 48 possible icons, and one of seven display colors. Waypoint type can also be shown as normal for a navigation waypoint or danger for a point to be avoided.
A waypoint is created at the cursor position by placing it on the chart page, then hitting the MENU key and choosing new waypoint. This unit has no alphanumeric keypad for data entry. Instead you must use the cursor pad arrows to scroll through long lists of numbers and letters. In our opinion, this is a slow arduous process.
A new route is created by pressing the MENU key from the chart page and choosing new route. Then you can move the cursor to a point and hit the check key to add the waypoint. You can continue this out to 500 waypoints.
Odds and Ends
Hitting the MOB key takes the unit into man overboard mode. First, you’ll hear an audible alarm, and then you’ll need to tell the plotter whether or not you want use the autopilot to navigate back. We didn’t so we hit no. Next you’ll see the chart page blank, an MOB waypoint appear, and a switch to minimum range. Data boxes at the top only gave range to the MOB position in nautical miles. Bearing must obtained from the blank chart page. We really don’t like this MOB functionality. We’d much rather see a one button operation that automatically gives the helmsmen navigational data to the MOB position.
Chart redraws on the NX45 are lightning fast; it redraws the majority of the map instantly after a map range change. Minimum range can be set as low as .005 nautical miles.
The Simrad NX45 has an internal dual frequency sounder capable of 600 or 1000 watts of output power depending on the transducer used. You can display fish finder data full screen or in a window. The window can be sized as you see fit using the split ratio tool.
The sonar has all the features you’d want in a top-notch fish finder including A-scope and bottom lock. The unit has two automatic gain modes as well as manual. The sounder menu is accessed by pressing the menu button when the fish finder is the active page.
During our testing it marked all three submerged targets but only when using the dual frequency display. Fine tuning with manual gain improved the view.
The Raymarine E120 is a big screen multi-function network chartplotter designed for serious recreational boaters. A number of dedicated pushbuttons and five multi-use soft keys make this unit easy to operate in any mode.
The E120 display will connect to and display a variety of information from numerous sources. Several radar options are available, from a 2Kw 18-inch dome style up to units with a 6-foot open array antenna and 10Kw of power.
It will also display data from a black box sounder, the Raystar GPS module, an AIS receiver, and a Sirius weather and radio receiver.
This Raymarine chartplotter communicates with other devices using the Raymarine SeaTalk network, NMEA 0183, and NMEA 2000. The E120 can use Navionics Silver, Gold, Platinum, or Platinum Plus cartography.
The E120 will use a substantial chunk of panel space and it hefty enough that is should be flush mounted. It measures 14 inches wide, 10.4 inches high, and 6.1 inches deep. Display screen measurements are 9.7 inches wide and 7.3 inches high, with a diagonal measurement of 12.4 inches. Resolution is 800 x 600 pixels.
Screen Size and Viewability
We found the E120 performed exceptionally well in our daylight viewability review and we gave it an excellent rating. This Raymarine chartplotter screen was bright and sharp when viewed straight on without polarized sunglasses. We noticed little to no screen darkening when viewing the screen from the side, even at severe angles. When we donned our polarized sunglasses no screen darkening was apparent when looked at the display from straight on. At severe side angles with our polarized sunglasses on we did experience a moderate amount of darkening.
The Raymarine E120 screen brightness controls are accessed with a momentary press of the on/off button. This triggers the onscreen appearance of bar graph showing the current level of brightness and a soft key with a day/night palette selection. Screen backlight level adjustments can be quickly made in up to 64 steps with the rotary enter knob. Toggling the soft key changes between the day and night palette. A press of the OK button confirms your choice. The color change between the day and night palette is minor on the E120.
As our evaluations progressed to night viewing we dimmed the E120 in the day setting first, and then as it got darker we switched to the night palette. The very lowest brightness levels in either day or night mode will make the screen go totally black. With the night palette selected we noticed from side angles the screen darkens, as the angle increases the condition worsens, and at steep angles the screen becomes unreadable. Keypad lighting on the E120 is linked to the screen brightness level and not separately adjustable. We rated night viewability good.
We tested the Raymarine E120 with software version 3.31 and found it very intuitivethere is little that requires cracking open the inch thick manual. This unit makes good use of its 5 soft keys and numerous dedicated pushbuttons. Software update 4.29 became available as we were conducting our testing.
Each press of the PAGE button toggles between selected split screen combinations. Holding it down brings you to the select page set menu. Here you can pick from a variety pre-configured pages or build your own custom page set. Up to 4 windows and a data bar can be displayed simultaneously.
Hitting and holding the MOB key takes the unit into man overboard mode. You’ll hear an audible alarm and see the chart switch to minimum range. Data boxes will show range and bearing to the man overboard position. If you were not displaying the chart when you hit the MOB button you will only get man overboard position from the data boxes. To turn off the man overboard mode and silence the alarm press and hold the MOB key again.
Waypoints and Routes
A waypoint can be saved at the present position with one push of the WPTS key or you can use a soft key function to save at the cursor, ship position, at a lat/long, or access the waypoint list. Waypoint lists can be set up in separate groups for quicker access based on user criteria.
The waypoint list includes the group name, lat/long, bearing/distance, a 16-character name, and a 32-character comment for each waypoint. That is a bunch of information to store with each of up to 1200 waypoints. All this should make obscure waypoints in a large list much easier to identify and use. We rated the plotter interface good on the Raymarine E120. If you added the optional keypad to the E120 wed rate the interface excellent.
The route menu is accessed with two soft key pushes. Once there you can build a route onscreen or by using the waypoint list. To build onscreen you simply move the cursor to the desired point then hit the place waypoint’s soft key. You can continue this out to 50 waypoints and store as many as 150 routes.
Odds and Ends
Chart redraws on the E120 were fast, taking less than a second to fully redraw the chart after a map range change. Minimum range can be set as low as 1/32 of a mile.
Up to 4 data sources can be displayed in an individual window simultaneously with a data strip. The E120 has an easily accessible ruler to measure the bearing and distance to any point of between a pair of user-selected points.
We like the big screen and intuitive software on the Raymarine E120 chartplotter. This unit has an IPX6 waterproof rating, meaning it can be subjected to a direct stream of water with no ill effects. You’ll also need to add a Ray 125 GPS sensor.
Garmin GPSMAP 3210
The Garmin GPSMAP 3210 10-inch multi-function display is network capable and can link to radar, fishfinder, or satellite weather receiver.
The unit measures just about 13 inches wide, just under 9 inches high, while depth is a tad over 3 inches.
The Garmin 3210 ships from the factory preloaded with Garmin map data for US coastal areas. Without the preloaded map data the unit is designated the Garmin GPSMAP 3010C. Hardware-wise the two are identical. We used a 3010 for our test.
Screen Size and Viewability
The 10-inch screen on the Garmin GPSMAP 3210 has a modest 640 x 480 pixel resolution.
We would describe daytime viewability on the Garmin 3210 display screen as excellent. The Garmin screen was bright and sharp when viewed straight on without any eyewear. However, when using polarized sunglasses some screen darkening was noted both straight on and out at side angles.
Our best viewability results were obtained by selecting the sunny color palette for daytime testing.
Screen fogging was apparent in the display and most likely caused by the high outside air temperature and humidity of our south Florida test environment. It did not interfere with reading the screen and would slowly dissipate over time.
We began night view testing by leaving the Garmin screen in the daylight color palette. Then our tester used brightness control to do the initial screen dimming. As the outside light level dropped we switched to the shade palette and adjusted the brightness as needed.
Two characteristics we noted on the Garmin unit: It will not dim as far as some other chartplotters we’ve tested and it lacks controllable pushbutton/panel lighting. These two small items are enough to downgrade the Garmin GPSMAP 3210 to good from excellent for nighttime viewability.
Numerous dedicated function keys are available to control and implement commonly used operations like marking a waypoint, changing the displayed page, turning data windows on or off, or getting to the main menu. Garmin also uses easily accessible menus to allow the user to customize display pages.
Our tester found the Garmin intuitive and easy to operate.
The Garmin GPSMAP 3210 uses five display pages, they are: Map, Sounder, Compass, Highway, and Video. Toggling the Page button moves from one main page to the next. Each main page can be modified by the user to include the display of other information in a split screen.
Here’s an example of what you could do with a full network installation containing all the optional equipment. On the map page you could add up to two data boxes, display the sounder, or look at video. Up to four windows can be displayed simultaneously. To control the displayed information in each window, press the Fctn (Function) key. This will highlight the selected window with a yellow box and configure the soft keys for that function.
Pressing and holding the Enter/Mark pushbutton will save a waypoint at the present position and open a waypoint review page allowing the user to either accept or edit the waypoint symbol, name, comment, coordinates in lat/long, or a few other tidbits of waypoint information.
Odds and Ends
Five soft keys located at the bottom of the screen change function based on the page currently displayed, a label listing each soft key function is located directly above the pushbutton.
We found waypoints, routes, and menus displayed in easy to read and easy to use formats.
Data boxes can be selected on or off using the Data/Cnfg key. Holding the key for two seconds brings up a data box configuration menu that allows the user to select data box info and size. One or two data box columns containing between four and seven data boxes each can be selected.
Manual data entry on the Garmin display can be accomplished easily by using the alphanumeric keypad. In our opinion, having an alphanumeric keypad is a huge advantage over any other manual data entry method. The keypad, plenty of dedicated push buttons, and Garmin’s easy to use software are three good reasons to own this machine.
Screen redraws on the 3210 are lightning fast even on long ranges with high map detail. The unit carries a one-year parts and labor warranty.
We like the Garmin GPSMAP 3210. It has an excellent display screen, intuitive software, and preloaded Garmin Blue Chart coastal maps.