HDS-16 LIVE Fish Finder Review
The HDS Live series, the sequel to Lowrance’s HDS Carbon series, is a group of top-of-the-line fish finders that we’ve absolutely fallen in love with (we were big fans of the Carbon series to begin with). The HDS-16 is the top of that top of the line series, the granddaddy, the big one, the best of the best. The screen is massive, the display, crystal clear. The user interface is top notch (as it is with this whole line), the processor is one of the speediest we’ve ever seen on a fish finder, there’s a ton of options to suit all kinds of anglers and weather conditions, incredible features, and an awesome transducer. We were excited just to get our hands on this one, and boy was it worth it.
-Dual Channel CHIRP Sonar
-Active Imaging 3-in-1
-Really Fast (Quad Core Processor)
-Clear, Bright, Backlit Display
-Top of the Line Networking (Wireless, Bluetooth)
-8 GB Internal Storage
-High Precision Internal GPS
-Works in Salt/Fresh/Brackish Water, Deep or Shallow
-Easy-to-Adjust Gimbal Mount
-Loaded with Features
-A bit less range than comparable fish finders
-It’s expensive (not casual level stuff)
Okay, you’re getting a fish finder/GPS combo with 16” of screen - that’s a lot of room for some high quality components. One of the best things here is the quad core processor - most of the fish finders on the market have dual core processors or worse, so you’ll find this thing works really fast compared to what you might be used to. Now, when you’re talking specs, you’ve got to talk about the transducer - otherwise, you won’t know how much range you’re getting. We’re going to show you the specs for the HDS-16 + the Active Imaging 3-in-1 transducer - it’s the one Lowrance recommends, and it gives you a lot of features (though the HDS 16 is compatible with a number of different transducers).
Technical Specifications and Details
Display and Interface
We were excited about the display for this baby before we even took it out of the box. First off, and we’ve mentioned this already - 16” screen! You can’t help but be excited to check out a fish finder with a screen that size. What was even more exciting is that we’d used the HDS Carbon series - you may not know this, but HDS stands for High Definition System, and that name is no coincidence. The Carbon finders had some of the best screens we’d ever used. The HDS-16 screen - well, we’re pretty sure it’s better. The display is absolutely incredible on this thing, true HD, crystal clear pictures - it’s a real joy to use.
Lowrance is using the same SolarMAX screens they used on the preceding Carbon series. The high definition screen, along with the backlight, means that you can use this finder in basically any conditions you can imagine. Rain or shine! Sleet and snow! Night or day! Even when it’s really foggy out, you can be out on the water with your HDS-16 (be careful, of course). No matter how many anglers you have in your boat, everyone should be able to see the screen clearly - it’s visible from a wide angle, and the size of it means that even if you’re pretty far away, you’ll be able to see what’s happening underwater.
Okay, so everyone can see the fish finder clearly - what really matters is whether or not your HDS-16 is displaying relevant information. How much information you can fit on the screen means a lot, because the more you can fit, the less need there is for other devices. This is where we get to what we think is the HDS-16’s killer app, the thing that puts it in the highest echelons of GPS/fish finder combos in our minds - the six-screen split screen. You can display, simultaneously on this device, SideScan, DownScan, contour maps, overhead maps and more. That means this thing can display as much information as 3 devices that only have two split screen; depending on your fish finder needs, that might actually make this device cheaper than the alternative of buying three finders.
Now that we’ve delved into the display, let’s talk about the interface. Fish finders are notoriously bad when it comes to user-friendliness - so much so, in fact, that there’s a lot of novice/hobbyist anglers who are turned off of the higher end models altogether by the interface. For the HDS-16, and the entire Live series, Lowrance have worked extremely hard to solve this problem (we’re guessing they don’t want to lose out on those sales). They’ve taken a ton of inspiration from the big players in the smartphone and tablet game - there are sleek, easy-to-identify icons on the home screen to bring you to the views you want, not at all dissimilar from apps. The result is a layout that’s the most user-friendly thing we’ve seen on a fish finder in ages - you’ll learn how to navigate through your HDS-16s ample menus in no time at all.
That’s in large part due to another innovation of Lowrance’s on this series - the combination touchscreen/keypad navigation system. To be blunt, navigating with a touchscreen is quite simply easier than navigating by going through menu options one by one with the keypad. Those reading this probably already know why the keypad is necessary - when touchscreens get wet, they’re not that useful. Hey, that happens a lot when you’re out fishing. When possible, use the touchscreen - it’s a breeze. When things get a bit moist, well, transfer over to the keypad.
One last thing we want to touch on with the interface - this thing has programmable keys. That means you can program in particular views, so it’s easy to queue up exactly what you want to on the fly, great if you’ve got some preferred settings. We’re hoping this type of thing becomes standard in fish finders - there’s really no reason not to have it, and we’re big fans.
Let’s talk transducers! We love talking about the origins of sonar - this is, after all, military technology that’s been adopted by anglers to catch more fish, and we just think that’s pretty cool. Now, sonar technology has existed for decades, but as with all military technology, the top brass kept it under wraps for a long time. As it turns out, the reason sonar became commercially available is because they had even better sonar - Compressed High-Intensity Radiated Pulse (CHIRP) sonar, which became commercially available about a decade ago.
What makes CHIRP different from regular sonar? It’s right there in the name! We’re kidding - that wouldn’t make sense to anyone unless you know a lot about physics. Here’s the gist of it: regular sonar sends out one frequency, say 160 kHz. That frequency then bounces off of objects under the water, then back to the transducer, which interprets the information. CHIRP sonar sends out a range of frequencies simultaneously - say 120 kHz to 160 kHz. That means a couple of things for you: you can see objects closer to your boat, and you get better, clearer target separation. It makes sense - more frequencies bouncing back means more information for your fish finder and transducer to use.
Now, there’s one more important thing you need to understand about sonar - it’s something that will serve you well when you’re out fishing, and something that will help you better understand some of the technology we’re going to talk about in subsequent sections. The lower the frequency you use, the more range your fish finder has. On the flipside, the higher the frequency you use, the more accurate a picture of the underwater environment your fish finder is going to get. Okay, onto the next section, something that has almost nothing to do with sonar.
The HDS-16 is a combination fish finder/GPS. Now, you can get a fish finder, and you can get a GPS, so why get the two together? The most obvious reason is that it saves space - see our gushing over six splitscreens for reference. There’s a less obvious reason though, something that manufacturers like Lowrance have been playing with and innovating with for awhile now - you can use your transducer and your GPS in tandem.
What that looks like in this model is a little piece of technology called C-MAP Genesis Live. With C-MAP, your HDS-16 uses it’s high-precision GPS along with your transducer to create underwater maps that you can use anytime you’re back in the same location. These maps include 1-foot depth contours, which is really precise. You can also see vegetation and bottom hardness on the map - in other words, you can see all the places that might make for good fishing. Creating underwater maps which can be used in tandem with other maps makes us really happy - seriously, we’re just giddy when we use this kind of technology, which is becoming more common in these fish finder/GPS combos. You feel like you’re still in uncharted waters, because you honestly are; while we’ve mapped above the seas, what’s underwater is still very much “the unknown”.
No man is an island, we stand on the shoulders of giants, and other cliches. These things are cliche because they’re true, and the fine folks at C-MAP recognize this; that’s why we’re thrilled to see the site they’ve set up for use with Genesis Live. It’s called SocialMaps, and, quite simply, it lets you upload the contour maps you’ve created online, so other people can reap what you’ve sown. Check out the site right now - you don’t need an HDS device to access it, and you can find all the maps people have drawn in your area. That gives you an instant repertoire of maps to use on your fishing voyages in most areas. Your area is low on maps? What a great excuse to go out and fish! It’s for the community, after all.
The HDS-16 also comes with a map pack created by C-MAP. It’s a bit more basic than some of the maps we’ve seen included in similar priced fish finders, but that “limited” set still includes 4000 US Inland Lake maps, which definitely isn’t too shabby, especially when you couple them with SocialMaps. Need more maps? You can get a bunch of different maps and map types over at C-MAP; most of their maps are compatible with the HDS-16.
When it comes to routes, waypoints, and all the other nice things that make fish finder/GPS combos so popular, you probably won’t be wanting for more. Check out the specs section to see how many tracks (100), waypoints (3000), and other features you’re getting - we’ve found it’s more than enough for our travels.
You can share tracks you make with your friends, just like you can share Genesis Maps you make online - that’s because the HDS-16 has great networking, which we’re going to talk about next.
You may have noticed that we...get excited about tech. How could we not - fishing is a whole new game with all of this new technology! What’s been lacking in recent model fish finders, in our experience, is networking - we want to have a bridge that looks like the Enterprise’s on every boat. We want to hook all of our technology together so that we can get a next-level view of what’s going on in and around the water, and for that, we need devices that can hook up to one another.
Lowrance heard our cries, and they answered with the LIVE series. This is one of the only fish finders we’ve seen that has wireless; it also has Bluetooth and a number of Ethernet ports. What that means is that this thing can hook up to practically any device you carry on board - with the right converter, you can even hook it up to your smartphone.
The networking means you can hook this up to other fish finders, you can hook it up to laptops, you can hook it up to a number of different transducers (more on that in another section). The smartphone hook-ups go both ways. You can connect it to your smartphone in order to get notifications on your smartphone from the HDS-16; alerts for when fish are swimming by while your dozing off, or for when the battery is low. On the flipside, with an HDMI converter for your phone, you can plug your phone into the HDS-16 - that means you can watch the news, YouTube, check social media, what have you! While we’re personally not super into the check YouTube on your fish finder functionality, we know some anglers who would love this kind of thing.
You can also hook up your transducer to some pretty nifty marining devices - that’s because the HDS-16 complies with the NMEA 2000 standard, so you can get radar and similar tech. You can also hook it up to PowerPole anchors and certain MotorGuide motors - the more tech you have, the more fun the HDS-16 is.
Have you tried Imaging technology on your fish finder yet? If you haven’t, you’re really missing out. We’re way beyond the days of classic sonar; with DownScan and SideScan, you can literally get images of structure and bottom on your fish finder, and that makes it a heck of a lot easier to fish. That’s because of the higher frequencies you can use - 800 kHz - on the HDS-16 with the 3-in-1 transducer we mentioned at the top.
At the 800 kHz setting, you still get quite a bit of range - 150 feet per side and 150 feet down. You might feel like you need a bit more range than that - if that’s the case, set it down to 455 kHz and you’ll double the effective range, which is pretty nice. At 455, the picture is a bit less clear, but it’s still leagues better than traditional sonar when it comes to clear images of structure.
One of our favorite features on the HDS-16 is called FishReveal. We’ve already talked about how important it is to maximize the amount of legible information on your fish finder at any one time - FishReveal helps you do this. When you’re in DownScan mode, you can turn on FishReveal in order to overlay your CHIRP Sonar on the DownScan images, so you can see fish as they swim by structure - that means you don’t have to put CHIRP on one part of the screen and DownScan on the other. As of yet, this only works with DownScan, but we’re hoping Lowrance, innovators that they are, will expand that to SideScan. We really love this feature, and we’ve found it upped our game quite a bit.
There’s a couple of other transducers you can connect with your HDS-16; Lowrance loves their tech. StructureScan 3D gives you a complete 3D picture of the area around you, so you can tell exactly where you are in space compared to structure and fish. Another transducer offered by Lowrance, LiveSight, gives you as-close-to-real-time updates on what’s happening underwater as we’ve ever seen. We could do a whole other piece on these two transducers, but that’s not what you’re here for - just know that they’re compatible.
Listen - this review is glowing for a reason, and we’re pretty sure that reading it, you’ve got a pretty good idea how we feel. The HDS-16 is fantastic, one of the best fish finders on the market by far, and probably the closest to a perfect score we could give to a fish finder/GPS combo. There’s so few knocks against it - yes, it’s pricey, but that’s only because it’s amazing. Our very few minor gripes are heavily outweighed by the incredible display, the ease-of-use, and the plethora of features. We can’t recommend this one enough.