Humminbird has made a name for themselves as one of the top providers of affordable fish finders. Their products often have all the same features as the expensive brand name models, but at a price that is much more affordable for the average consumer.
The Helix 5 is one of their latest models, using similar technology to their other units, with a few modern twists. Chief among them is the massive 5” 480×800 display that produces a level of detail well beyond what you’re used to. Can this affordable fish finder hold its own against top-tier brands? We had to find out for ourselves.
Design & Durability
The Helix 5 SI gives up the classic portrait orientation in favor of the now-common landscape design. This allows for the display real-estate to be used much more effectively. It’s split between sonar, GPS, and the sale large-font stats bar that Humminbird users are used to. It comes mounted on a well-made stand that allows it to rotate with ease, so you can easily keep it within your field of view at all times. All of the controls are located on the right side of the unit, with most functions accessible from the easy-to-use directional pad.
The latest model is a slight upgrade from the Helix 5 model that was released last year. While they look quite similar on the outside, the latest model features an upgraded interface and improved GPS performance.
Compared to most fish finders in this price class, the Humminbird is quite durable. It’s well constructed from thick, high quality materials. One of the largest complaints about the previous model was that it wasn’t water-tight enough. The latest version has improved the sealing around the buttons and mounting points, so even in heavy rain water will not be able to get inside. It’s not fully submergible like some higher end models, so there is likely a limit to how much rain it can take. But the sealing was the only complaint about the previous version, so we see no reason to worry about this one.
You can have the most accurate, detailed sonar system in the world, but you’re only going to get as much information out of it as your screen can display. While the Humminbird Helix 5’s display is a little smaller than some finders on the market, it has the same 480×800 resolution as most of them. This means that you get the same detailed picture, while saving quite a bit of money.
The display is intelligently laid out, so you can find out everything you need with just a quick glance. On the left you’ve got humminbird’s famous stats panel that shows you the current depth, water temperature, time, and speed. The right panel is split between your GPS signal and imaging. The size will depend on what mode you’re in. If you’re running it in standard down imaging mode, the GPS will take up about half the display while the other half is split with the other two panels. If you’re using in in high resolution CHIRP mode, then you image will take up most of the display wile your GPS and stats panel are reduced in size. Because this fish finder is a smaller display than some, the fact that the software adapts to your settings means that you’re always making the most of the display.
For the last few years, CHIRP has been the buzzword infiltrating dockside chatter everywhere. This technology is found is most mid-range to high-end fishfinders, and is well appreciated by most users. It’s one of those features that, once you have it, you wouldn’t be willing to live without it. Chirp works by sending a pair of sonar signals across a specific frequency range. Instead of measuring the response from a single pulse like classic sonar, it measures the change in response from a frequency pair to provide much more accurate imaging.
Right out of the box, the Helix 5 provides you with two different CHRIP settings to choose from, depending on what you need. The 455-kHz range covers a large area, providing you with a lot of coverage if you’re out looking for your next fishing spot. Once you see something interesting, you can switch to the 800-kHz frequency to get a much more detailed look at a smaller area. The unit also allows you to run both modes at the same time, where you have a high-resolution image of the center of your scanning area, and a rougher measurement over the outer portions.
The two included frequencies are suitable for fishing at depths of up to 600 feed. If you purchase the optional extended transducer, you’re given access to five different CHIRP frequencies that support fishing at depths of up to 2500 feet.
While CHIRP sonar can provide you with an accurate representation of a large area, sometimes you want to see things from another angle. Down imaging technology first became popular in older fish finders. It’s considered by some to be an inferior technology, but Humminbird has brought it into the 21st century with their advanced down imaging system. The Helix 5 DI uses thin slices of the 20kHz frequency range to produce a top-down view that lets it recreate incredibly detailed images of what’s below.
Humminbird pairs their Helix 5 with a high precision GPS that performs at a level well above what you’re used to. To make the most of this feature, they’ve included their unique Unimap software with every Helix 5. This built-in map covers the entire US coastline, as well as a large number of inland lakes and rivers. Almost every major fishing spot is included on the map, so you’ll rarely be caught without one.
In the event you’re exploring your own secret fishing spot that isn’t covered, you’ve got two options. One option is the chartplotting mode. This combines it’s own signals with the GPS system to create a map in real time of all the areas you’ve been out fishing. You mark spots to return to later, or revisit your route at another time.
Others might want to take advantage of maps that they found online, or generated with another chartplotter. With the included SD card slot, you can pop in any MicroSD and take all of your maps with you.
The Humminbird Helix 5 is one of the best values in the fish finder market. In many ways, it’s got all of the technology you’d expect from a high-end brand. The advanced GPS system, chartplotting software, CHIRP imaging, and advanced down imaging are all comparable with units that are sold at a much higher price. If you decide that you want to upgrade in the future, you can always purchase the additional CHIRP transducer that gives you access to a wide range of frequencies. For the money, it’s unlikely that you’ll come across a fish finder with this much technology.