Humminbird HELIX 7 G3
A Mid-Sized Fish Finder with Big Technology
Humminbird is well-renowned as one of the biggest innovators in the fish finding market and they continue to find ways of improving the accuracy of their transducers with the clarity of their screens and the functionality of their software. The third generation of their beloved HELIX series is here, and the HELIX 7 is one of the finders we’re most excited about. Why? Well, it’s an excellent compromise between price and functionality and we will delve into all the details in this review.
- Dual Spectrum CHIRP Sonar
- MEGA Imaging
- Down Imaging
- Side Imaging
- Great Resolution
- Clear, Bright Display
- Fast and Responsive
- Networking Options (if purchased)
- Works in Saltwater, Freshwater, Brackish Water
- EasytoAdjust Gimbal Mount
- Tons of Features
- Moderately Priced
- Smaller Screen than some of the HELIX Series
- Complex (because of all its features)
Technical SpecificationsThere are quite a few different members of the HELIX 7 club. In this review, we will be looking at the third generation model. In the comparison chart below, we’ll look at the difference between three versions: the CHIRP, the Down Imaging+, and the Side Imaging+. You should know that the HELIX 7 is a bit different than its larger cousins because networking does not come standard with these models. You can add networking to any one of them for a small fee. We’ll elaborate on that in the networking section of the review. It can be a very worthwhile add-on if you have an elaborate setup.
|Max Depth||1200 ft.||1200 ft.||1200 ft.|
|Transducer||XNT 9 HW T||XM 9 HW MDI T||XM 9 HW MDI T|
|Frequency||Sonar: 50/83/200 kHz|
CHIRP: 140-200/150-220/180-240 kHz
|Sonar: 50/83/200/455 kHz|
CHIRP: 140-200/150-220/180-240 kHz
|Sonar: 50/83/200/455 kHz |
CHIRP: 140-200/150-220/180-240 kHz
|Screen||256 colour TFT||256 colour TFT||256 colour TFT|
|Resolution||800 x 480 pixels||800 x 480 pixels||800 x 480 pixels|
|Imaging||N/A||DI: 125 ft (MEGA), 350 ft (455 kHz)|
|DI: 125 ft (MEGA), 350 ft (455 kHz) |
SI: 250 ft (MEGA), 480 ft (455 kHz)
|GPS||Internal, High-Precision||Internal, High-Precision||Internal, High-Precision|
|Max Waypoints||2,750 (45 routes, 50 tracks/20,000 points)||2,750 (45 routes, 50 tracks/20,000 points)||2,750 (45 routes, 50 tracks/20,000 points)|
|Memory Card Slots||1 Micro SD||1 Micro SD||1 Micro SD|
Display and Interface
The HELIX 7 has a 7” display. The display is backlit, meaning you can use it in all kinds of conditions – day or night, rain or shine. The pixel grid is quite good for a unit of this size: 800H x 480V is going to provide you with the clarity you need to discern between targets. The size of the display also means this fish finder is going to work in boats where a larger fish finder couldn’t fit and it also operates wonderfully as a secondary finder in large setups.
Though the screen is somewhat smaller than some of its cousins, it still comes with what we consider to be one of the most important features in GPS/Fish Finder combos: split screen. This means that you can use your finder to get a lot of relevant information simultaneously. For example, you can find your location on the map and use the sonar and imaging features of the finder at the same time. There are over 20 different view combos that come standard with the HELIX &. You can also create your own view combos making it easy to see the information that’s relevant to you. Shortcut keys allow you to rapidly toggle through these view combos, so it’s easy to switch what you’re seeing on the go.
There are a ton of different settings you can change in your display options, from brightness to contrast. You can also change the colours on your Down and Side Imaging (more on those later), so you can find something that’s pleasing to the eye. This feature can also be incredibly useful if you have colour deficiency. You can, of course, zoom in and out of targets, making them easier to distinguish from other noise.
The interface is incredibly easy to use, a classic navigation-with-arrow-buttons system. A touch screen might be nice; for those who really want a touchscreen, a hybrid option like Garmin’s ECHOMAP might be an interesting place to start, but we don’t like those models quite as much for a number of reasons that relate to their Imaging Technology (we may run a blog post on that in the near future).
One last note on the interface. This is a powerful unit, so there’s a lot of different options and menus. Once you’ve figured out how you want the display to read, it can be a bit easier, but things like brightness and contrast will have to be modified on the fly, depending on glare. Learning how to use the shortcuts to transition between views is important, and once you figure out the layout of all the menus, moving around them is a breeze.
Fish finders live and die by how well they can interpret information from transducers. You could have a gorgeous, crystal-clear display with a million easy-to-navigate options, but if your transducer compatibility is garbage, then the finder is just an expensive ornament. The HELIX 7 is not an expensive ornament; it comes with an incredibly sophisticated transducer, featuring CHIRP Sonar.
CHIRP (Compressed High-Intensity Radiated Pulse) Sonar is an incredible technology! Most transducers send out a frequency, say, 200 kHz. That frequency bounces off of objects and back to the transducer, and is then interpreted and displayed. CHIRP technology, on the other hand, sends out a number of different frequencies simultaneously, say, from 140-200 kHz. The varying different frequencies that are all read add a lot of precision and target separation because there’s more information coming back to the transducer. In other words, CHIRP gives you clearer, more precise, better readouts – perfect for catching fish.
The Generation 3 HELIX models have different CHIRP technology depending on their size. In the case of the HELIX 7, the transducer is using the old high-Q CHIRP technology, so the readings are a bit less accurate than those of the higher end models. That slight decrease in accuracy is a bit of a knock against the model, but given its price point, you’re still getting top of the line precision, so it’s not something we’re too stressed over.
There are three different modes of CHIRP Sonar with the HELIX 7. Wide mode (140-200 kHz) provides the greatest range and depth penetration of the three options. A handy thing to remember for frequencies is that the lower the frequency, the wider and deeper the range, but the less accurate the images. That means wide mode is the least precise, but can help you find where you need to go.
Narrow mode (180-240 kHz) is, as you can imagine, the most precise option of the three modes, given it’s higher frequencies. This is the mode you want for greater target separation and accuracy.
Full mode (150-220 kHz) is your compromise mode; as the name implies, it covers the most frequencies of the three modes. More accurate than wide mode and with a wider range than narrow mode, it can be used in a lot of different situations.
It’s worth noting here that on the CHIRP model of the HELIX 7, the non-CHIRP sonar operating frequency capacity ranges from 50-200 kHz, while the DI and SI models have a sonar compatibility range of 50-455 kHz, so the DI and SI models are going to offer you more precision. More on that in the imaging section!
The HELIX units are GPS/Fish Finder hybrids; that means how good they are depends heavily on their capacity for precision location finding and mapping. Fortunately, the HELIX 7 is a star player on both fronts. Its high precision internal GPS means it’s easy to know your exact location, and it has a few great mapping tools to help you along your way. In the Specs section, you can see how many different routes, waypoints, and tracks the finder supports – it’s a lot, more than enough for even the most enthusiastic fishers.
GPS/Fish Finder combos should be more than the sum of their parts; if they’re not, you might be better off to just buy each separately. The HELIX 7 is, of course, greater as a whole. AutoChart Live is one of our favorite HELIX features. Here’s how it works: as you move along, your transducer can ping in order to detect depth contours, vegetation, bottom hardness, and more. Then, when you pull up a map of the area you’re in, you don’t just see a top-down GPS view; you can see below the water as well. I like to think that most anglers share a sense of adventure, a need to chart the unknown and find secret fishing spots to share with their friends; AutoChart appeals to that sense of adventure.
The HELIX 7 comes with the Humminbird Basemap, covering over 10,000 US lakes and the entire US coastal region. Your area might not be covered by the Basemap but fortunately, you can purchase additional maps in the Lakemaster series. Humminbird is very diligent when it comes to updating their maps, and once you’ve purchased a map, you can access it even if you lose the hard copy. That all said, you don’t need the Lakemaster series; you can always AutoChart your own maps!
You can also get SmartStrike on your fish finder. SmartStrike is basically a digital fishing guru – you can input variables like the time of day, the time of the season, the weather, and the targeted fish species, and then SmartStrike will help you find the best spots for fishing.
There are a number of other mapping features that you can access if you have networking functionality and we’ll talk more about that in the next section.
One day, in the not so distant future, networking will come standard on all fish finders, and anglers everywhere will rejoice. Sadly, that day is not today – networking is an expensive feature, and it tends to get more expensive the smaller your device is (less space means less room for networking hardware). You can get networking on the Gen 3 HELIX 7, and for many anglers, the extra investment can be worth it. We’ll get into detail about how networking can improve your experience in this section, but a second reminder: this does not come standard. You need to purchase the networking-enabled control heads – they’re denoted by “G3N” instead of “G3”.
The first thing you get when you add networking to your device is the ability to share the AutoChart maps, waypoints, and other data you’ve saved onto your HELIX with other compatible devices. We love this. It means we can share our favorite routes and spots with our friends, and they can share theirs with us; knowledge is power, after all.
Networking gets really interesting when you have multiple devices. You can, for example, purchase a device like the Minn Kota i-Pilot, which would allow you to navigate to a particular waypoint automatically using your HELIX 7.
You can also use networking to connect with radar devices or something like a 360 Imaging device.
So, is networking right for you? The answer is simple: it depends on how many devices you want to connect together. When you want your boat to have a sophisticated bridge, networking is a great idea and it’ll add a lot of functionality. On the flipside, if it’s just you and your HELIX 7, networking is probably not necessary.
MEGA + Imaging
Remember earlier when we talked about precision and frequency? The higher the frequency, the more precise. MEGA Imaging is pretty special as it gives you frequencies in the mHz range, instead of the kHz range, specifically, up to 1.15 mHz. This sonar is so precise, in fact, that you can get images of what’s below you. We’re not talking images like traditional sonar gives you, with reds and greens and yellows; what we’re talking about is something more like live streaming video of what’s below the water (though it’s not a perfect live stream, due to sonar technology limitations, it’s pretty close).
There are two basic types of imaging: Side Imaging and Down Imaging. When you get the HELIX 7 DI, you get Down Imaging with no Side Imaging. The HELIX 7 SI, on the flipside, gets you both.
You should know that the imaging range varies from the DI model to the SI model. With the DI model, you get MEGA Imaging (the more precise Down Imaging) up to a range of 125 feet, while Imaging at 455 kHz maxes out at 350 feet. With the SI model, on the other hand, your Mega DI is limited to 75 feet. On the flip side, your less precise 455 kHz imaging caps at 480 feet. This is due to some technical differences in the transducer, so keep it in mind if you’re looking at these models mostly for Down Imaging.
The MEGA Side Imaging of the SI model caps at 125 feet per side (250 feet total), with 240 feet per side (480 total) if you’re using the 455 kHz frequency.
Those of you who haven’t used Imaging Technology – all I can say is that you’re in for a treat. You can literally see the fish swimming, you can see trees under the water, sunken ships, everything; it’s really, really neat. We’ve already talked about how anglers tend to share a love of adventure and exploration – you’ve never experienced undersea exploration like this, and it’s worth getting excited about.
There’s a few other features that are worth going over before we end our review. One of them is SwitchFire technology. We’ve all experienced too much noise coming back from our transducers, especially in shallow water and that’s what SwitchFire helps eliminate. There’s a misconception that SwitchFire changes how your transducer reads, but that’s not quite true. Instead, it changes how the HELIX 7 displays those readings. In MaxMode, you get everything, which means you can even see small details like thermoclines and currents. In ClearMode, weak returns are eliminated from the screen so you don’t see a bunch of noise. Instead, you only see the most relevant signals.
You’ll also want to know about the jigging mode if you love to jig. Basically, this mode reduces the returns from Side Imaging when you’re in that mode, and increases the returns from sonar, so you can watch your jig move and catch fish with more precision.
There’s a ton of other features on the HELIX 7 that we may cover in blog posts, but this should give you a good idea of this device’s incredible power.
We LOVE the HELIX 7. While it’s not as powerful or easy to read as some of its larger cousins, it has got enough power for even enthusiast fishers. For those who have never used a fish finder/GPS combo before, if you’re looking for one to start with, the HELIX 7 can’t be beat. We’re stunned they managed to get all of this power into a device at this price point, and it comes highly recommended.