With the introduction of its new handheld navigator, the AV8OR, Bendix/King is back in the handheld game in a big way. It has been almost a decade since the company had gone head to head with Garmin in this market, and in many ways, it has come up with a product in the AV8OR that might send its Kansas neighbor scurrying.
At a street price of less than $700 with an impressive accessories package included, the AV8OR is quite affordable by handheld/portable standards, and that is comparing it with dedicated aviation units with smaller screens and fewer value-added features. And at 7.6 ounces and less than an inch thick, it's a true handheld, but with a big 4.3-inch diagonal, bright and sharp color LCD screen that you can see clearly even in bright sunlight. There are few mechanical controls, an on/off switch, a volume wheel and a little speaker on back. You do most of your maneuvering by simply touching the pop-up menus on the screen. The touch screen on the AV8OR, unlike some we've struggled with in the past, works just great, and that's no mean feat.
In addition to being an aviation navigator, the AV8OR is much more. It's also a good basic media player. While it lacks a lot of the bells and whistles you'd find on an iPod or Zune, the AV8OR is a fine little audio/video jukebox for the road. You can watch movies, listen to tunes or run a photo slideshow. And it's Bluetooth capable, which means it can connect wirelessly to any number of useful gadgets you might already own, like your cell phone or a headset.
Despite its aviation-themed moniker, the unit is a good basic auto navigator, with a full U.S. database and turn by turn voice instructions. It does not have traffic alerts or text to speech capability, so it won't tell you to turn left on "South Congress Boulevard," only to turn left. But it will do dynamic reroutes, remind you if you're over the speed limit, help you find a nearby Mexican restaurant for a quick bite or help you track down a place by address. I've been using it for a couple of weeks now, and it works very well.
As an aviation navigator, the unit is, likewise, very solid, while fairly basic in its features. As a handy VFR navigator -- obviously, all handhelds are VFR navigators by regulation -- with extra goodies, it's a great deal. It features display of terrain, including obstacles, special use airspace with vertical limit information, and a database of airport information -- just touch the airport with the stylus to pop up the info. Another interesting feature is the vertical terrain profile, which shows a profile view of the airplane and any terrain in front of or behind it.
There are omissions. The unit doesn't have IFR procedures available, which I use all the time on portables with that capability, and there's no vertical nav or E6B capability. There's also limited customizability of the screens.
When I saw Bendix/King's demo of the unit at Oshkosh, I was concerned about how hard it might be to use the touch screen to type in the identifiers on a flight plan. I tried it out in real life on a flight to Florida recently, and it worked great. It would even guess the intended entry after a couple of letters with fine accuracy. I entered my flight plan just as it was in the Garmin 430 in the radio stack, and the AV8OR mirrored to a tenth of a mile what the Garmin was reporting. Satellite acquisition with the 20-channel receiver, with WAAS, is very fast, even on a cold start when you've moved a long way from your former location, and while there's an external antenna you can hook up to the unit, I have a hard time figuring out when you'd need it. The built-in antenna performed admirably.
Now, the killer app on the AV8OR is its ability to display XM Weather when coupled with an XM Weather receiver (not included and subscription required). While I didn't have an XM receiver to hook up to the unit on my flight out to the Sunshine State and back, I did try it out at AirVenture, and it looked just like the XM in the airplane. It is a very impressive dedicated display for the pilot who just wants that utility.
And thanks to a special deal with WxWorx, AV8OR owners can get a Bluetooth XM receiver for their unit for just $376 (or $472.61 for a wired receiver), which represents a $250 discount for first time purchasers. That pricing gives you XM Weather on a very handy multifunction unit you can use in the airplane and in the car, all for less than $1,000 total.
Are there some features you'll miss out on? Sure, but the features the AV8OR brings to the table make it a very attractive alternative, and not surprisingly, they've been selling as fast as Bendix/King can get them out.
For more information about the AV8OR, including available accessories, visit bendixking.com.