While it's not a hardware company at heart, Seattle Avionics has hit a sweet spot in the market with its Voyager SkyPad, an aviation portable based on a commercially available Windows XP touch-screen tablet/netbook PC. The SkyPad comes pre-installed with the Voyager Flight Software System, a package that combines flight planning, charting and in-flight navigation, flight management and airport and facilities information, along with many options.
You can plan your flight on the SkyPad and then carry the little PC right into the cockpit to use as a full-feature navigator on your flight. Along the way, it will tell you where the cheap fuel is, where the bad weather is and where the high terrain, obstacles and restricted areas are, and it will display geo-referenced approach charts — showing your little airplane icon on them as you fly along the approach.
SkyPad is based on the 2Go PC, a rugged convertible netbook with a detachable handle that can be used as a tablet or as a standard computer with a full keyboard. With its 8.9-inch diagonal display, it's a compact package, but it's powerful enough for regular PC chores. It takes a little while for data-intensive Voyager to load, but once it does, it runs great. The touch screen works like a champ, and the keyboard, though small, felt great to me too. The lithium battery lasts for around five hours, so you'll probably want to keep the unit plugged in when flying. A Bluetooth GPS/WAAS receiver is included, and you can hook up an optional XM weather receiver via USB or Bluetooth.
I used the SkyPad to plan several flights, look at the forecast weather, plan fuel stops based on actual fuel prices, and fly the flight, measuring my progress along the way, looking at alternatives, keeping an eye on terrain and obstacles, and flying the approach by reference to the NOS chart displayed in portrait format on the computer. Panning, even on the nice, scanned sectional charts, was fast and fairly smooth. All in all, the SkyPad handled its aviation chores impressively.
The capability of the Voyager flight planning software is outdone only by its ability to be customized. I'm tempted to say that it has too many options, but the more I used the SkyPad, the more I found myself appreciating those fancy features.
Like all of its products, SkyPad takes advantage of Seattle Avionics' nearly automatic downloading process. Turn on the unit when you're connected to the Internet, and it will download all the charts, nav data and even program updates that you need. So when you're ready to go flying, just go.
The SkyPad sells for $1,095 with the GPS receiver; pre-installed Voyager SmartPlan Premier, SmartPlates and GlassView software; and a three-month chart-data subscription. Options include the solid-state drive ($349) and the USB-connecting XM WX receiver ($589). A subscription for the VFR chart-data package costs just $99 a year; the full-blown EFB package with IFR en route and geo-referenced approach charts goes for $299 a year, but if you stop for fuel at the recommended low-fuel-price FBOs, the SkyPad will pay for itself.
For more information, visit seattleavionics.com.