New Raymarine a-Series, all touch and highly connected
No knobs, no buttons, no “hybrid touch”? Is anyone else surprised by the pure touchscreen interface on the just announced Raymarine “a-Series” multifunction displays? We can discuss usability issues after the break, but one thing about pure touch is obvious: It let Ray design for maximum screen in minimum helm space. These new MFDs use an area only 6.5 x 5.7 inches to encase that “Super Bright LED” 5.7-inch (diagonal) 640 x 480 pixel screen, which is quite a contrast to the previous A-Series (at 8.9 x 6.3 inches and a lot thicker). But the little a-Series is not at all small in terms of horsepower or connectivity…
Besides for size, the new “a” is also a far cry from the old “A” because the displays can network with up to six c- or e-Series MFDs via SeaTalkHS (Ethernet) and SeaTalkNG (NMEA 2000), including about every sensor those systems support. Thus the little “a” displays can run Ray’s digital radars, CHIRP fishfinder, and Sirius Satellite Weather, and though they don’t have an analog camera input they do offer “video over IP” which is a feature that even their larger siblings don’t have (yet). The a-Series can also handle the complexity of Navionics Platinum+ charts — like photo maps and 3-D — if you want to use them; in fact, I’m told that “the processor, graphics co-processor and software base is the same as is on c-Series and e-Series so they are extremely fast.”
Raymarine hasn’t put prices on the a-Series yet but presumably they will be “entry level” and what’s nice is that someone can start with one of these and know that he or she can add MFDs, radar, etc. at will. Or someone already equipped with, say, an e-125 and e-7 can add an a65 (the a67 is the same but with sonar) to get another do-anything screen onboard, as suggested below. I think this sets a new bar for the range of MFD sizes you can use in one network, with Lowrance being the closest competitor…
What’s missing from the a-Series is the WiFi connection and control apps that have gotten so much attention for the c- and e-Series. But they do have Bluetooth built-in, which means you can run one with an RCU-3 remote control or use the a65 or a67 display to control track selections on a Bluetooth music player, or both. Plus, I notice on the a-Series web page that another “Ready to Rock” feature is: “Fusion Marine Stereo home screen access. Full control of the Fusion 700 Series.” It’s odd that there’s nothing else about this elsewhere, but it sure sounds like the first example of FusionLink enabled in an MFD. That concept goes way beyond simple Bluetooth track control to complete access to all controls and content — maybe even cover art — via the Fusion 700’s Ethernet connection. We recently discussed when FusionLink MFD might show up, and if it’s in the a-Series it seems a good guess that it will soon come to the c- and e-Series as well. (But, no worries, I think it will show up elsewhere too.)
Another sophisticated feature the a-Series sports is a fuel management system. It will even overlay range rings on your chart that show live how far you can get at the present fuel burn (which reminds me of a software product Ray developed with Yanmar that never got to market). And I’m told that this feature is definitely slated to become available on the c- and e-Series in a future software update…
And yet another aspect of the a-Series that will move up the line is those on-screen “hero” controls for range in/out, gain, rain, and sea clutter seen on the radar screen below (and similar for sonar). It will be interesting to see how well they work on this small a screen. After all, the latest MFDs from Furuno, Simrad, and Raymarine (up to now) all feature touch screens combined with at least a knob to speed up certain operations like gain control and often button, knob, or joystick redundancy for all touch commands. Heck, I’ve been wondering if Garmin might add a knob or something to its pure touch MFDs when they refresh the hardware. And note that Garmin’s smallest marine touch screen is the 640 model and it’s semi-portable.
So Raymarine is breaking new ground with a 5.7-inch pure touch MFD, but let’s reserve judgement on how well it works. Touch itself does not determine what an interface is like. That’s because the actual interface is a combination of a particular touchscreen technology — including how fast it responds — plus all the software nuance the designers put into the controls and menus. Maybe the a-Series will turn out to be a winner, and the first of many small pure touch MFDs?
PS “The new a‐Series will be available to consumers in late October 2012. Official retail pricing will be released in