July 2010 SOLIDFX HAS DEVELOPED AN electronic paper display that is about the size of a standard Jeppesen approach chart and is only one-half inch thick. This new FX8 display has the memory capacity to store the entire international library of Jepp charts, a mass of data so large that it weighs nearly 230 pounds when printed on thin paper. The FX8 weighs just 13 ounces.
The electronic paper display reflects light rather than emitting light as LCD and other electronic displays do. In that sense the display functions exactly as paper does: Light reflects back to our eyes, which distinguish the difference between the background and the printed image. The resolution is excellent, and because there is no light generating power demand, the battery in the FX8 can last well beyond 24 hours on a single charge.
The FX8 is similar to Kindle and other electronic paper displays, but it has been tested to FAA environmental standards so it is approved for use in transport airplanes and those flying in charter or airline service. It also has been adapted to the unique format used by Jeppesen and meets that company’s stringent quality-control standards.
Though the overall size of the FX8 is nearly identical to that of a printed Jepp chart, the viewing area is slightly smaller, a little more than 90 percent of the size of the paper chart. I found it as easy to read the FX8 as the printed chart, which is to say I need my reading glasses or bifocals for either one, but that’s not the fault of the display, or the paper.
The FX8, like all paper charts, thrives on bright light. The brighter the light, the more distinct and crisp the image, as with normal paper. But, again like paper, in low light you need to light the display with the cockpit map lights, flashlight or whatever you use to see an ordinary chart.
The charts in the FX8 are organized exactly as they are in a standard Jepp binder. You operate the display using a smart stylus to touch what you want to see. Airports are typed in with the stylus on a standard keyboard page. It takes about one second after you touch the screen with the stylus for the new image to appear, which in my experience is pretty quick for a device with so much memory.
There is also a rocker bar on the edge of the FX8 that you can blip with your thumb to move from page to page. If you were to lose the stylus, there is an FAA-approved way to get to the desired chart using this rocker switch, though it does take more time and effort than does touching what you want to see with the stylus.
The FX8 is also a notepad, and you can write on the charts or on dedicated note pages with the stylus. To zoom in on part of the chart you simply draw a line around the area you want to magnify, and it pops up. A tap of the screen anywhere returns the zoomed picture back to normal. To more clearly see the fold-out charts used for some procedures at major airports, you can rotate the image from portrait to landscape.
I used the FX8 on a number of flights in various lighting and turbulence conditions and found it a delight to use. There was an initial stylus “targeting” issue with a couple of menu items at first, but that was corrected with software changes. My most powerful impression of the FX8 is simply the small size and light weight of the entire display. If you had a sturdy chart clip on the yoke, I am sure you could clamp it there as you would on a paper chart; it is that small and light. It fits in any seat pocket or bag, or up on the glareshield, or anywhere you might place a paper chart. And because battery draw is so low, there is no need to worry about turning it off to save juice while flying en route. It’s also convenient to take to the hotel or home for flight planning.
The FX8 is available with 3G capability so that you can download books and newspapers over the Verizon network, just as you can with other electronic readers. You can also load any PDF file, such as Jepp navigation logs, flight plans and such.
The FX8 is priced at $1,195, but SolidFX has made a price breakthrough with Jeppesen, so you might actually save money, not to mention the weight and storage hassle of carrying paper charts. If you already have a JeppView subscription for your PC or for your cockpit MFD (multifunctional display), it costs only $55 a year to add the FX8 to your subscription. So, if you are buying paper charts to back up your JeppView, you will come out ahead in one year with the FX8 replacing the paper subscription.
SolidFX will work directly with its customers to get them up and running with the Jepp downloads and provide support, including shipment of a replacement anywhere in the world and software updates for a year. The FX8 follows the development of the larger FX10 last year, which, as the name implies, is a 10-inch display. I have tried both, and the compact size of the FX8 has won me over. For more information on how to buy the FX8, see solidfx.com or call 508-316-8078.