Review: Lowrance HDS-9 Gen 3

By: Kevin Smith

Presented by
  • Trade-A-Boat

In the marine electronics arms race, Lowrance HDS 9 Gen 3 is the nuclear option.

 

  • Lowrance HDS 9 Gen 3 is easy to use with multiple functions between touchscreen and keypad.

 

  • Fishfinder / GPS combo and other components are compact and easy to install.

 

  • Lowrance HDS 9 Gen 3 HAS StructureScan and CHIRP sonar capabilities.

 

  • The touchscreen rarely needs cleaning, but a sensitivity adjustment would be handy.

 

  • Detailed marine charts are not included as standard.

 

Lowrance HDS-9 Gen3 display
The Lowrance HDS-9 can be cradle or flush-mounted. Note the overall size of the unit compared to the screen – it’s remarkably compact.

In less than a decade we have witnessed some radical changes to marine electronics – so much so that general fishfinders, sounders and GPS units keep pace with smartphones when it comes to model changes. Competition between marine electronics brands is fierce and the battle to hold the top marine electronics spot is clear, and that’s a good thing as the consumer gets products that are more sophisticated and better on price.

Big marine electronics player Navico – currently rated as the world’s largest marine electronics manufacturer, with brands such as Lowrance, Simrad and B&G under its umbrella – strives to stay ahead of the curve. This is showcased with the Lowrance HDS Gen 3 Touch sonar/GPS units released late in 2015.

 

Lowrance HDS history

HDS Gen 1

Before delving into the Lowrance Gen 3 Touch units, here’s a quick trip down memory lane to the release of the HDS Gen 1 sonar/GPS units in sizes up to 10in. As you’d expect of a new model release, these were the pinnacle of sounder technology at the time.

A more compact unit than its predecessors, it had a larger screen with higher resolution and power, but best of all was a specialised module to produce StructureScan; this certainly took finding fish to the next level. However, the StructureScan module added difficulty when it came to DIY installation of the unit. Nonetheless, StructureScan significantly helped to find new structure, reef and fish.

Lowrance HDS-7 versus HDS-9 displays
Lowrnace Gen 2 (top) versus Gen 3 (bottom) screens. The most notable difference – brightness – isn’t immediately apparent here. What is noticeable, however, is the usable screen space. Note how the Gen 3 uses smaller text positioned to show more of what the transducer is seeing.

 

HDS Gen 2 Touch

Lowrance’s change of the decade came with the second generation 7, 9, and 12-inch units with integrated broadband sonar, StructureScan HD, touchscreen functions, classier slimline faceplates and higher resolution once again. Not enough? The integration of Lowrance’s broadband radar, sonic hub sound system and GoFree wireless module sweetened the deal. The Gen 2 Touch proved to be technical but still user-friendly, was a simple DIY install and fast became one of the most common units found on trailerboats.

 

HDS Gen 3 Touch

It didn’t take long for the next generation to hit the shelves but this wasn’t just a relatively minor software update – the Gen 3 had a bit of a facelift but underneath there’s a wad of innovative new features and functions thrown in to suit the demands of the avid boater and fisherman.

 

Gen 3 Multi Function

The facelift included a larger side panel of keypad functions without reducing screen size. This is great as the full touchscreen system doesn’t appeal to everyone, especially those with uncontrollable fingers.

Positives to the Gen 2 and 3 touchscreens would definitely include the ability to navigate through menus quickly and seamlessly. But in saying that, there are cons – the screens are extremely touch-sensitive and it takes a bit of practice and skill to get your finger tapping the correct spot.

The additional and expanded keypad on the Gen 3 allows full navigation through menus and has already made a massive difference to me as I now find myself navigating menus while driving in rough conditions far more easily.

The biggest of the new functions and features added to the unit would be the built-in CHIRP sonar, built-in Wi-Fi, faster processor, more advanced and user-friendly menus, multi-view and chart sharing, dual microSD slots, StructureMap and SpotlightScan – as well as the original StructureScan HD, the TrackBack function and built-in broadband sonar.

Yes, all the new functionality sounds great and it sure is – if you know what it’s all about and how it can benefit you. For those simply upgrading or who’re used to the new technology and use it regularly, it’s a no-brainer. But for those changing brands or upgrading from ancient gear all this could seem quite intimidating – but it shouldn’t be as these units pretty much do it all.

Lowrance HDS-7 setup
Comparing dash space: Lowrance HDS 7 Gen 2 dash space (above) with Gen 3 (below).
Lowrance HDS-9 electronics setup
HDS9 Gen 3.

 

"The best sounders I have ever had on a boat"

I previously ran twin Lowrance HDS 9 Gen 2 Touch units that were the best sounders I have ever had on a boat, no question. One thing I will say is regardless of unit, you need to keep up with software upgrades as it’s amazing how the functions can be enhanced and glitches you never knew were affecting you get sorted out. The last upgrade I did on the Gen 2 Touch completely changed the menu format to something closer to the Gen 3 menus – if you haven’t updated your Gen 2 Touch, get onto it.

So is it worth upgrading to the Gen 3? In my opinion it is, especially if you are on the water all the time or at least regularly. My fishing includes anything from ultra-light gear in salt and freshwater, to bottom fishing offshore in variable depths as well as game-fishing offshore, and the Gen 3 really shines as it can handle it all with ease.

 

GPS chartplotting

As for using the GPS or chartplotter, I have a dedicated unit with Navionics Gold for maps and navigation – that’s only possible if you have dual units. If you don’t, the standard split-screen on one unit is more than sufficient due to the screen size. Navigating, track logging, accuracy and general speed of the GPS is really good as the new Gen 3’s Internal GPS antenna has a 10Hz position update rate that provides better accuracy and smoother chart performance, a good step up on older generations.

Multi-view and chart sharing is another really good feature on the Gen 3 as you can view two charts simultaneously, in 2D or 3D perspective, with independent control, range and overlay capabilities. Purchased map cards can also be viewed on all Ethernet networked HDS Gen 3, HDS Gen 2 or Gen 2 Touch chartplotter displays.

When it comes to marking spots, the touchscreen makes life far easier – simply tap the screen on the required mark or position, rather than navigating through menus via the keypad. Once a spot is marked on the touchscreen you have auto options on the screen – ‘go to’, or ‘save’ waypoint. I really like the QWERTY keyboard that pops up for editing – gone are the days of scrolling through menus to mark and edit spots.

 

Fishfinder sonar

As standard, the Gen 3 Touch comes with an 83/200KHz transducer that’s accurate to depths up to 100m, although I’ve used mine in depths over 100m and it still read the bottom clearly. There are 50/200KHz, through-hulls and higher frequency transducers available to suit at extra cost.

The standard 83/200KHz sonar auto settings provide good definition to bottom structure and pick up bait, schooling fish and single fish really well. Sonar can be split between 83/200KHz on the screen – I find this handy when targeting fish such as whiting that hold tight on the bottom (view on 83KHz and zoom in).

Offshore it’s a different story as depth and speed of sounding varies considerably, depending on where and what fishing you are doing. This is where the new built-in CHIRP and Broadband frequencies come in handy. Having greater sensitivity, improved target resolution and superior noise rejection, the images produced at speed and in greater depths are far clearer and it definitely helps separate bait from shoaling fish.

I have heard a number of complaints about sonar images being lost at high speed regardless of what setting the unit is on. Well, on moderate days on the bay or even offshore I can hit 30kt without losing sonar on my boat. I have set my transducer to sit about 5mm below the hull on the transom and it works a treat.

 

Lowrance StructureScan HD

This would be the most commonly used sonar function on my boat, in bays and dams up to 30m deep. For those who have or know how to use StructureScan (or side scan), it’s pretty amazing stuff and most certainly aids in finding structure and fish that you would miss on standard sonar.

Those that have no clue on what it’s about, the Gen 2 and Gen 3 units have StructureScan built in and combined with a separate StructureScan HD transducer, you can view 180˚ out to the sides of the boat. Sounds odd, but yes you can sound to port and starboard up to 50m clearly, depending on your depth and the sea state.

StructureScan is more like a photographic image of the bottom – or whatever gets in its way, including fish. When it comes to finding structure or sounding hotspots without having to go over the top of them, it’s a cracker of a feature.

My tips to getting the best out of StructureScan include:

  • If you have no clue, get someone to show you how it works as it can looking confusing to start;
  • Be precise on transducer mounting location as per the manual;
  • Images of structure and fish are crisper when sounding at slow speeds, so keep a straight track and go slow;
  • If you see a strange mark or shadow, tap the screen and zoom in – you might be surprised at what you see;
  • Tap an object on screen to get its depth and distance from your boat and to mark it as a waypoint to put you on top of it;
  • The leg of your motor can interfere with side imaging so trim up if need be;
  • Adjust the contrast and outward distance settings to suit the depth and conditions for the day. Shallow water structure can appear to be over-exposed and deeper structure becomes a darker image so select the contrast on the screen and adjust to suit;
  • Use StructureScan with standard sonar to identify targets;
  • When you can see a shadow bouncing off a fish mid-water, it’s likely a decent size.

It can take a while to figure out what you are looking at on StructureScan but once you get the hang of it, you won’t be able to live without it. It’s great for viewing and accurately identifying structure from the side without spooking fish as when sounding over the top if them; it’s great for identifying fish hiding in the snags or reef; and it’s even accurate enough to help identify larger species at times.

Lowrance HDS Gen 3 homescreen
The screen’s clarity and easy-to-use navigation are big selling points on Lowrance HDS Gen 3. Much of this is also available as an update to Gen 2.

 

Additional features list

For those happy to dive into more features, the Gen 3 has enough technical features to keep novices and technical gurus busy.

StructureMap HD can be used with live or recorded StructureScan logs to create high-definition images of bottom structure and can be viewed as an overlay or toggled on and off as needed. I haven’t done much with this yet but have seen some pretty impressive overlays from tournament bass fisherman.

The Trackback feature isn’t technical and exists on the Gen 2 Touch but it’s a feature I use every time I’m on the water. If something of interest pops up on the screen and disappears you can simply pull it back via the touchscreen or keypad to view, then save it as a waypoint if it’s worth a second look.

New to the Gen 3, the built-in wireless connectivity to the Lowrance GoFree app not only expands the ability to view displays on supported smartphones and tablets but also makes software upgrades far easier and instant, as well as connects to the GoFree shop where Insight Genesis maps can be loaded and created, and you can buy charts and other fancy features to upgrade your unit.

Plug and play compatibility has once again grown on the Touch units, with broadband radar, SonicHub marine audio, class B AIS and DSC VHF, SmartSteer control for MotorGuide GPS trolling motors, and Lowrance Outboard Pilot operating functions being added to the system.

SpotlightScan is one of the latest optional add-ons, providing full StructureScan sonar views around the boat through an optional trolling motor transducer. This once again takes sonar to the next level; it’s suitable for serious anglers or calm water tournament anglers and is a feature I’m yet to test.

 

The Trade-a-Boat verdict

Merely listing all the new features on the Lowrance Gen 3 Touch barely hints at the new unit’s capabilities. For me the simplicity of the menus, the ease of use, the high-tech features and functions, and the quality are the most impressive points.

As for price, recommended retail online is around $2999, with a transducer costing around $500 on top.

If you shop around you could save a few hundred bucks – I’ve noticed units online as low as $2200 but these could be ‘grey’ products shipped in from overseas. This is a real no-no as units from the States contain ‘geo-fencing’ that disallows saved settings on the unit and also fires off a nasty alarm that cannot be switched off.

Back panel cable connections on Lowrance HDS-9 Gen 3 unit
Installation is meant to be as easy as possible. Note the colour-coded cabling standard.

 

Lowrance HDS price

Is the $3000 price for a Lowrance HDS 0 gen 3 fishfinder / GPS combo value for money? It is in my opinion, considering the vast array of features and functions crammed in, the screen resolution and brightness as well as quality and longevity found in the Lowrance brand and decent resale values after a few years. For me it’s simple – the Lowrance HDS Touch units add safety and have improved my catch rate. 

 

Lowrance HDS 9 Gen 3 specs

Display 9in/229mm (16:9) widescreen

Resolution WVGA colour TFT LCD 800x480

Backlighting LED with adjustable display and keyboard

Power output Max 500W RMS

Languages 36 (available in regional packs)

Media port MicroSD cardslots (2) – 32Gb max

Warranty Two years

 

 

 

Watch this video from Lowrance for an introduction to the product (or view the official Lowrance YouTube channel).

 

 


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