For those of you who’ve been trying to get your hands on an Apple iPad Mini, there’s good news. You might not need one.
As cool as the newest and littlest iPad is, it’s difficult not to swallow hard when writing that check for the version you need, the one with GPS and built-in gyro, which means it comes with 4G cellular connectivity, something you might not need. The cost is steep — from $459 for the 16 GB model to $659 for the 64 GB. The flip side to the cellular model is using an external receiver, like the Appareo Stratus or Garmin GDL 39, or a wireless GPS receiver (Bluetooth or Wi-Fi), all of which will give you GPS/WAAS without it being built-in at some considerable extra expense
There are options, and just as we’re seeing Android devices take a huge slice of the smartphone pie, we’re bound to see them make inroads in aviation apps, as well.
In fact, they have arrived.
I recently flew the 32 GB Google Nexus 7, which, at 7 inches diagonally, is slightly mini’er than the Mini, loaded with the popular Garmin Pilot, one of the great all-in-one piloting apps.
The Google Nexus 7 proved an extremely satisfying product, right on par with the Mini overall and better in a number of ways. It has a faster processor (a quad-core), a sharper display, a terrific user interface, Bluetooth and high-speed Wi-Fi and the ability to do all kinds of non-aviation-related things, like e-mail and Netflix.
Unlike the Mini, the Nexus 7 comes with GPS/WAAS and a solid-state gyro. And the best part is, it’s out the door for $250, less than half the price of a comparable 4G iPad Mini.
Flying with the Nexus 7 is a delight. In my side-yoke-controlled Cirrus, I hardly need to use a smaller iPad, but there are a lot of pilots flying with sticks or conventional yokes for whom the 10-inch iPad is a tight fit. The display is plenty bright in the direct sunlight — at least as good as my first-gen iPad — and it features, like the Mini, pinch zooming and one-finger scrolling.
My worry about Android devices is the relative lack of aviation apps for them, but with Garmin Pilot, that concern is answered. The Android app, which has gotten very little notice in the aviation press, is nearly as good as the company’s fine iOS version, lacking just a few features, like the panel page, split screen and flight plan filing. What you do get is Internet and, with an external receiver, in-cockpit weather — with the GDL-39, you get free ADS-B weather — crisp and zoomable charts, VFR charts, IFR low and high en routes, flight planning and airport information pages, all with a few swipes of the finger. There’s Safe-Taxi surface awareness charts — all are geo-referenced — and much more. And Garmin has steadily updated its Android app, so it’s only going to get more features as time goes along, with all of them rolled into regular product updates.
The Apple iPad Mini is sure to find its way into a lot of cockpits, and for good reason. But for those who are looking for the same capability at a much lower price point, the Nexus 7 offers a great alternative.