I first knew the 12-inch Northstar M121 MFD as the Navman 8120. Now it not only has joined the Northstar family (upper right in group photo) but has gained a new little brother, the 8.4-inch M84, and brought along some 27 various Explorer smaller boat cousins. The latter are all based on Navman designs, only with black buttons and in some cases upgrades like higher-resolution screens—but none, fortunately, got more expensive in the transition. In fact the $2,200 M121 is a notable value, an elegantly compact design with a gorgeous 600x800-pixel screen and a built-in fishfinder that performed reasonably well in my testing (though not up to Raymarine and Furuno digital performance).
The M121 also offers generic fuel-flow information as well as the tight integration with SmartCraft engines noted when first seen. Other integration details, like the Navbus connection to Explorer DSC radios, are a bit too proprietary for my taste, but the interface more than makes up for it. Icons, large fonts, and intuitive shortcuts make menu navigation easy, and the multiwindow screen management is masterful. Every MFD should copy the unique Split Ratios control, which lets you individually size multiple windows horizontally and vertically. Many of these new Northstar family members also do excellent AIS plotting.
This article originally appeared in the March 2007 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.