|Beyond Black and White|
Part 3: Extras
By Ben Ellison — March 2003
Several of the test machines used softkeys to great effect. Northstar in particular combines them with vividly graphic menus to guide you through complex processes without ever seeming to present too many choices at once. Raymarine and Furuno work similarly, with the latter adding a retro and useful rotating knob for fast selections. But softkeys aren't essential; Garmin's well-organized and tabbed master menu also struck me as easily learned.
Chart zooming and panning speeds are, as always, important to pleasing performance. The whole test litter was definitely faster than previous generations but could be faster still. To really get a feel for a particular unit, you should work with a chart cartridge and make sure you move through the chart scales and borders inherited from the paper world. You might also try laying out and modifying a route, routines that will test many of these usability factors. The exercise may also test your patience, especially on smaller screen plotters, but note that alternate ways to build routes on a home or down-below computer are among the many other features offered by most every plotter these days.
And to top it all off, that paragraph was written prior to the anticipated deluge of spring product announcements. Altogether, this is a good news/bad news story. While it's reassuring to test seven brands and not find a rotten apple in the bunch, it's disconcerting to contemplate how many brands and models you have to choose from in this hot and competitive market. Any plotter will be useful, but some research might get you close to personal perfection.
This article originally appeared in the March 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.