Best Fish Finder – Lowrance vs. Humminbird vs. Garmin vs. Simrad
The fish finder market is really large, with many brands pushing their latest models. It can be really hard to know which brand to choose as each of them looks so similar at first glance, but they get very different once you start digging and see what they offer and what they specialize in.
Today we look at the four main brands: Garmin, Lowrance, Humminbird, and Simrad. All four have a history of creating versatile fishfinders in a variety of price ranges. Whether you need a high-end, premium unit with half a dozen imaging types, or just something small for the occasional weekend fishing trip, these brands have something for you.
We’ll give you specifics about each brand and what they offer. Keep in mind that we’re only selecting the best fish finders overall, so each brand offers more than what we’re viewing here. Keep an open mind and we are confident that you will find a fishfinder that fits your needs and budget.
Let’s go ahead today and compare the brands and what they generally offer. Make sure you give each brand a chance and look at everything they offer before making a final choice.
Before delving into what each brand offers, we introduce it to you and make it known to you. This will give you a better idea of what each brand is and why they offer what they offer.
Lowrance opened its doors in 1957 and has been a leader in marine technology since its inception, creating many fish finders and related sonar units. They have adapted to new imaging trends and techniques such as side imaging (StructureScan) and descending imaging (DownScan) with ease. Perhaps their biggest innovation in the market came in 2008, when they were the first to introduce an HD multifunction screen. They continually seek out and adapt new images and technologies to their long list of fish finders. From being one of the first to use CHIRP sonars to add StructureScan and DownScan to your fishfinders. Since 2008, they have continued this trend by introducing the first HD multifunction display along with features such as Trackback to review past sonar readings, 4G radar connections and enhanced image-like sonar readings.
Humminbird was established in 1971 and has been marked by its native roots and innovations from the beginning to the present. Starting in a small garage in Alabama, Humminbird started the trend of being the first manufacturer or using new technology. They were the first to introduce a waterproof submersible probe, one of the first to use LCR screens (which later evolved into modern LCD screens) and the first to use 360-degree sonar technology. While their product line has expanded with innovative features such as Mega SideImaging, Mega DownImaging and massive 15 inch HD displays, they have not forgotten their native roots and continue to develop units for anyone interested in fishing.
Garmin has different roots than Lowrance and Humminbird, but their commitment to their fish finders and products, in general, is definitely top notch. From 1989 Garmin started and is currently a leader in GPS technology. They have adapted their GPS units to meet automotive, marine, aviation and outdoor needs, and they have also created many types of wearable technology. Garmin fish finders are some of the most advanced and versatile on the market, making them a top contender for the best fish finders. They make fewer units overall, but their obsession with quality speaks for itself.
Founded in 1946 and known as Simrad Yachting, the company name comes from the combination of the founder’s last name (Simonsen) with its main product at the time, radio communication. Although Simrad has been acquired by several companies over the years, they have never wavered in their mission to create luxury fish finders with sonar, autopilot functions and navigation. While these are often designed for yachts and similar luxury craft, they are units that anyone can enjoy.
While each has a different story and emphasis, they all cater to anglers and anglers by providing them with versatile fishfinders that combine GPS, sonar and other features. They want you to catch as many fish as possible and have fun while doing it. Let’s dig deeper into brands and see how they meet your needs.
Number of products
The number of products may not seem important at first, but there’s a big reason we’re raising it. Having more products means that the brand can reach more markets and therefore it will be easier to find a fishfinder that works for your exact needs. It also means there will be more options and the ability to work within your budget or preferences.
The top two here are definitely Lowrance and Humminbird. Lowrance had more, but Humminbird only slightly cut them off. They have made a variety of fish finders for ice fishing (ICE series), standard models for all anglers (Helix) and premium models with state-of-the-art imagery and updated user interfaces (Solix). They are also available in a variety of 5-15 inch sizes.
Lowrance offers three series with many different sizes and functions, ranging from 5 “to 16” depending on the model. Hook Reveal is their entry-level series with FishReveal technology and numerous imaging types. The next step is the Elite Ti2, made for the serious angler looking to take their fishing to the next level. Professional and tournament level anglers should opt for the HDS Live series. It has the fastest sonar, the most imaging types, and the cleanest displays.
Simrad is quite close. They actually have four types of fishfinders, but there is slightly less variety in each series with an overall size of 5-24 inches. Take them very close to third place. The entry-level Cruise series is equipped with GPS and CHIRP sonar with easy control. Next comes the Go series, which is their best value series. These touchscreen fish finders have many types of imaging and are easy to install. Next up is the NSS Evo3, designed for professionals and motorboat enthusiasts. Finally, the NSO Evo3, which was made for fully luxury cruisers, as it offers many types of imaging and very large screens.
Garmin is a good brand, but they are a very distant quarter with the fewest offerings. They offer the Striker and Striker Plus lines, which combine both GPS and CHIRP sonar readings into a versatile and handy unit for anglers. There is also the EchoMAP series with advanced GPS capabilities and other types of images. While they don’t have as many units, they are a quality brand with a dedicated following.
At the highest level, all of these brands offer almost the same features. You can get CHIRP, traditional sonar, downscan, side imaging, multi-panel display, dedicated GPS units with maps and so on. But let’s break down what the general offers are so that you get a better idea of what each brand offers.
Lowrance offers many features, depending on the series and model size. Their smaller devices, like the 5-inch ones, offer CHIRP and DownView, while the larger ones also offer SideView. All Lowrance fishfinders have physical buttons, and the larger ones (about 7 inches or larger) also have a touchscreen. More advanced models tend to offer brighter screens, faster GPS, and sharper images for viewing deeper underwater.
Humminbird doesn’t have many under 5 “products, and the truth is, most of their products start at 7” and go from there. While there are a few devices with down rendering only, most of them have side rendering and other advanced features. Their largest model is 15 inches, and you can get Wi-Fi, Ethernet connections, and more. Their maximum depth is amazing and you can easily distinguish between vegetation, objects and everything else around your boat.
Humminbird offers crystal clear images with all its models, along with easy controls. Unlike Lowrance, where larger models offered a touchscreen, Humminbird makes this more about the series. Helix models only offer physical buttons, while Solix has touch and physical buttons. Many of the models offer side and down images. In fact, they’ve been working on their stronger “Max” versions, which increases clarity and distance. Regardless of which one you get, the Humminbird is known for its clarity and many image types.
Simrad has a lot of features and they tend to separate them based on the series. Cruise Line offers CHIRP imaging, Go offers it along with GPS, down imaging and structure scanning, NSS Evo3 has HD and 3D sonar imaging, and NSO Evo3 has even stronger imaging than NSS. Some models are touch-only, while others only offer physical buttons. Cruise offers only buttons, Go and NSO are touch only, and NSS offers both. In general, they are state-of-the-art fish finders and many types of images, bright screens and many features.
If money doesn’t interest you and you just want the best fishfinder possible, you can skip this section. As with the general features sections, here we’ll talk about which brand is the most budget-friendly to get the most bang for your buck. Once again, it all depends on exactly what model you will get.
Lowrance is possibly the most equal brand here. While Humminbird now has more models overall, Lowrance offers the most cost-effective options along with a comparable number of mid to premium models. While you may lose out on some features (such as SideScan and touchscreen), you can find a powerful unit at a good price.
Garmin is also reasonably priced worldwide. While they have some premium deals, many of their units are easy on the wallet. These are mostly smaller units like 4- and 5-inch, but you can get great CHIRP sonar for a good price. They tend to offer some of the smallest units, which might be good if portability is your primary trait.
Simrad is fine with economical options. These are really intended for yachts and sport boats, so their cheaper models aren’t as affordable as others. Even their smaller units tend to be more expensive than midrange offerings from other brands. You’re getting great footage, of course, but Simrad isn’t as accessible as Lowrance or Garmin.
Humminbird is similar to Simrad. These models are expensive and tend to be the tallest here. Depending on the model, it could be a duel between Humminbird and Simrad for the most expensive brand. However, as Humminbird values technological innovation and includes as many features as possible, you can expect its budget options to have many great features.
Easy to use
Finally, let’s talk about ease of use. How quickly can you catch and learn these fish finders so you can easily switch between tools and options and start finding fish? Honestly, all three are tied here. They’re all built to have low learning curves, so you can get out right away and start fishing.
Nobody wants to spend hours reading manuals, discovering buttons, coordinating options, and so on. Every brand knows that anglers just want to hook up the locator to their boat, turn it on, and get the sonar up and running. Don’t worry, you’ll have an easy time no matter what you choose. Unless you are getting a huge premium unit, all fishfinders from these four brands should take very little time to learn and use properly.
Here, we’ll discuss three of the best models from each brand based on price and functionality. Let’s break them down into affordable, best-value, high-quality premium units.
Affordable: Garmin Striker Plus 4cv
Good things come in small (and affordable) packages. This economical fish finder has a small 3.5-inch screen with surprisingly good sharpness and lots of features. You get CHIRP sonar capabilities for highly detailed images, along with ClearVu images for downscan. Depth reaches 830 feet in salt water and 1,750 feet in fresh water. Fish Symbol technology helps identify fish when they are around. There are several frequencies to choose from for custom images.
It also has GPS capabilities to track where you are going and how to get to your destination. You can store up to 5,000 waypoints. Quickdraw Contours creates maps of your trails so you can see where you’ve been before. Despite the small display, you can split it into two screens to view sonar and GPS simultaneously. Plus, an LED backlight ensures you can see readings regardless of lighting conditions.
Best Value: Garmin Striker Plus 7sv
Despite its average price, it’s easy to confuse it with a premium fish finder for a list of washing features. The Elite line is one of the best in Lowrance and the Elite 5-Ti is the most popular in the line. Choose from CHIRP, side imaging, down imaging, and more. Do you need wireless connectivity? You get both WiFi and BlueTooth. This allows you to update maps wirelessly and share data with other Lowrance users. MicroSD card slots allow you to expand your memory so you can save more waypoints, custom maps and trails.
Along with adjustable frequencies and the ability to load multiple images onto the large 5-inch screen simultaneously, you get standard Lowrance features such as automatic fish symbol identifiers. This will let you know when the fish is nearby so you can cast the line at the perfect time. Reasonably priced paired with premium features, you can’t go wrong with the Lowrance Elite 5-Ti.
Premium: Lowrance HDS 7 Gen3
The HDS line is not only one of Lowrance’s finest products, it is one of the world’s highest rated fishfinders. Constructed with a 7 inch screen that provides best-in-class brightness, you get multiple imaging types such as DownScan, StructureScan, CHIRP and more. The multifunction screen is packed with tools, but even new users can navigate the fishfinder with ease. You also get a video input cable, Wi-Fi connectivity and can be integrated with many mapping programs.
The intuitive GPS can store up to 200 trails and 5,000 waypoints, almost double the number of other fishfinders. Need more? You can load two microSD cards up to 32 GB each. You’ll love GoFree, a cloud-based feature that allows you to download maps from nearby fishermen. Switching between sonar frequencies can be done using the touch screen or buttons, and the depth is approximately 1000 feet. For those looking for a successful fishing trip, the Lowrance HDS 7 Gen3 is a must.
Bonus Premium: Lowrance Elite 9 Ti2
We’ve got another premium offering from Lowrance and they’ve really outdone themselves. You get several types of images such as CHIRP, downscan, side scan, and structured scan. This will ensure that you can view the boat from any angle to find the lurking fish. Speaking of stealth, you also get Active Imaging and FishReveal. Active Imaging combines CHIRP and other types of scans to produce the clearest images possible. FishReveal shows if fish are hiding near your boat.
As you would expect from a premium sonar, it has a large 9-inch screen with excellent resolution and powerful backlighting. You can use physical buttons or the touch screen to select your preferred picture type. You get a wireless connection via BlueTooth and WiFi, and you can also use C-Map Genesis for active real-time mapping. There is also expandable memory up to 32GB. If you want the very best the Lowrance Elite 9 Ti2 may be for you.
Affordable: Humminbird Helix 5 CHIRP DI GPS G2
We stress that Humminbird doesn’t have a lot of budget fish finders, so it’s both bigger and more expensive than the other affordable models here. That being said, you are still saving money with this surprisingly versatile and powerful 5 inch fish finder. You get CHIRP sonar, down imaging, side imaging, and accurate GPS for waypoints and map plotting. The size and form factor are ideal for kayaking, but anyone with a small boat (or a large one for that matter) can easily find any fish swimming around them.
The 5 inch screen is vibrant and bright so you can see in all lighting conditions. You also get the SwitchFire tool from Humminbird. This allows you to customize the sonar either with Clear mode for better images or with Max mode for faster processing and identification of large objects. It is also color coded according to the distance from your vessel. It might be an affordable fish finder, but the large display and plenty of features make it feel like a budget mid-range offering.
Best Value: Humminbird Helix 7 CHIRP SI GPS G2N
This fish finder is the main resource core. Humminbird Helix 7 has top-down image, side image, CHIRP, GPS, dual-beam sonar, graph plot and more. In addition, the intuitive interface ensures that you can easily select any feature you want. In addition to the various image types, you also get a 360degree view, wireless networking capabilities and Ethernet access. SmartStrike is a powerful feature that helps you predict where the fish are, so you know exactly where to cast your line.
The 7-inch screen has fantastic resolution so you can easily see all types of images, plus it comes in 256 colors and a bright LED backlight. All of this produces one of the brightest and clearest fish finders around. All buttons are located on the front so you can easily navigate through features and options. If you want a strong fish finder with lots of features, the Hummingbird Helix 7 is just what you need.
Premium: Humminbird Helix 9 Mega SI GPS G3N
This is very similar to the Helix 7 but with some important changes. The first major change you’ll notice is the 9-inch screen, but that’s far from the only difference. You get all types of imaging from the Helix 7 like downward imaging, side imaging, CHIRP, GPS, dual beam sonar, and chart plotting. It can also tie this to your engine to show engine stats like fuel mileage and performance.
You also get wireless connectivity with Mega Side Imaging + and Mega Down Imaging +. The Helix 9 has an improved processor for faster processing, which you will really notice at higher speeds. The 9-inch screen offers fantastic resolution and bright LED backlighting for easy viewing in any light condition. You will find dedicated buttons to the right to change imaging types or navigate other options. It is definitely a top of the line fish finder worth every penny.
Affordable: Simrad Go5 XSE
The Simrad Go5 XSE is a powerful 5 ” echo sounder with many features. It features a best-in-class touchscreen that is responsive, bright and visible in all lighting conditions. The user interface is simple and you can choose from several types of images such as CHIRP and DownScan. You can also mirror the echo sounder on your smartphone or tablet so you can walk and still watch the echo sounder.
The GPS is equipped with Insight Maps and C-MAP software, giving you information on over 8,000 lakes and rivers in the United States. You can store thousands of waypoints on a 32GB memory card and the GPS is one of the fastest you’ll ever find.
It may be small, but it is a powerful computer with many functions. If you want to try the affordable Simrad sonar sounder this is the best place to start. You get most of Go’s features at a great price.
Best Value: Simrad Go7 XSE
Looking for a bigger screen and even more power? Then try the Simrad Go7 XSE. The large 7-inch screen makes it perfect for almost any boat and is bright enough to work in any lighting condition. You get Simrad’s intuitive user interface, with large digital buttons and easy controls. Along with CHIRP and DownScan, you’ll also get SideScan, ForwardScan and radar compatibility.
Feel free to mirror this fish finder on your smartphone or tablet so you can control it while walking around the boat. You also get a powerful GPS that is one of the fastest, along with Insight Maps and C-MAP software. A memory card lets you store up to 10,000 waypoints with ease.
This is one of the best values you can get with Simrad. It’s a strong fish finder with lots of features and a great screen. It’s worth every penny and will make your fishing trip even more exciting.
Premium: Simrad Go9 XSE
If money is not an issue and you have a large vessel or want a center console fish finder, then the Go9 XSE is made for you. The massive 9-inch display is bright, clear and visible in all lighting conditions. Regardless of whether the sun is just rising, directly above you or it is pitch black, you can see the sonar values and the GPS without any problems. You get the same Simrad user interface and the ability to load four views at once, and at this size none of them will look cramped.
You can mirror the fish finder to your device and also receive intuitive chart programs such as C-MAP and Insight Maps. Unlike the other two models, this one accepts two memory cards and can store up to 20,000 waypoints, which is ideal for anyone with a thirst for adventure. You will have no problem navigating all waters.
When you absolutely need the best, the Simrad Go9 XSE is for you.
Fish Finder Features to Look Out For
We’ve just compared the top three brands and many of their top models, but it can still be difficult for you to determine which fish finder is right for you. This fishfinder buying guide lists the most important features so you know what to look for.
When it comes to sounder screen size, it isn’t always better. While larger screens allow you to see more and the image is often sharper, it also increases the size of the entire model. If you are traveling by kayak or a smaller boat, the larger model may not be suitable for you. Screen sizes are usually 3 to 9 inches (or larger). Also be sure to check the resolution to make sure the image is clear.
Sensors are needed to receive sonar waves and observe what is underwater. You cannot use the fish finder without it. Some models are already equipped with a transducer (for example, many Garmin fishfinders). Some can also work with special sensors, for example, for ice fishing.
Most echosounders give you at least three frequencies to choose from. Each gives you a different picture depth and clarity. You need to consider both the number of frequencies (more is always better than less) and which ones best suit your needs. A lower frequency sweeps deeper into the water, but the picture is not as clear. Higher frequencies have a smaller cone, but the picture is better.
For example, 80KHz can scan deep into the water while 400KHz will show you fish closer to the surface.
Maps and GPS
Be sure to check the chart software to see how many charts are built into the sonar. Some come with thousands of maps while others require the purchase of additional mapping software. There are also some that do not come with cards at all. You also need to consider the accuracy of the GPS and whether one is included with the hardware. Some don’t have GPS, but they can still find fish just fine. If you want to use it for navigation, get a model with both mapping software and GPS.
While a fish finder should technically work with any type of water, some are specialized or designed to work better with certain types of water. The top three to consider are fresh water, salt water, and ice fishing. Think about where you usually fish and see how well the fish finder works with this type of water.
As you may have noticed during our fish finder review, there are several scan types to choose from. While each brand chooses their own name for it, they often come in side-scan, down-scan, CHIRP, and more. This allows you to choose the direction of the scan. For example, the side scan lets you see the sides of your boat while the down scan looks under the boat. It is best to choose a model with all scan types, but when you need to choose one or two, think about which one you use the most.
The last thing to consider is the maximum depth. How far does the fish finder scan? Also, you want to make sure the picture is clear so you can see how many fish are around you. There is no point in scanning thousands of feet in depth if you cannot see the fish around your boat. Make sure it reaches your target fish and has a little more space if needed.
The best fish finder requires you to consider all of the different aspects. You need to consider size, price, features, image types, and controls. While there are a lot of things to consider, the good news is that it’s easy to find models that exactly suit your needs, especially between these four brands. Each one excels in a different area, and it shouldn’t be difficult to find one that will work for you.
Just think about what’s most important to your fishing trip and you will find the best fish finder for your needs.
Side Imaging Sonar
This is exactly what it sounds like. Some advanced fish finders offer specialized transducers that transmit and receive from the starboard and port sides of your boat. The result is a 2-D image of the water column on both sides.
Some brands sport a range of up to 800 feet in either direction!
Of course, this can be incredibly useful for locating fish, and is an increasingly popular option. Note, however, that the depth of these side-facing transducers is limited. Side-imaging sonar won’t penetrate very far into the water column, although it’s a fantastic compliment for a traditional transducer.
You need a fish finder with a good maximum depth and you want this rating to match your actual use. Especially if you fish in deeper water, such as the Great Lakes, or if you are a deep sea angler, this should be considered.
Display size and resolution
Larger displays are easier to read and use, but of course they are more expensive.
And bigger isn’t always better.
Resolution is a measure of how much detail a fishfinder screen can provide, and a small screen with a very good resolution can be easier to read than a large screen with an average resolution.
GPS and maps
We believe these are now almost essential considerations in a good depth sounder.
From careful waypoints to hole marking, GPS and maps add so many features that they are almost child’s play.
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