Two decades ago, when the internet was still a DOD geek fest, Stewart Brand opined that information wants to be free. He couldnt have been thinking about navigation data revisions for GPS units, however, which are anything but. Nor are they particularly convenient to keep up to date.
Jeppesens latest effort at addressing this dilemma is the Skybound USB-based datawriter, a follow-on and improved version of the companys original card burning product which appeared about five years ago. That product earned mixed reviews by buyers because it was quirky to install and required different hardware, depending on the type of GPS you had. Further, Jeppesen has streamlined the data download process to the point that users should find the process transparent.
Heres the basic idea: You install the Skybound unit on a computer with a (preferably) fast internet connection; at the press of a dialog box button, it automatically finds the correct database revision and burns it onto your GPS card. You can either buy an extra card and shuttle two cards between the GPS or simply remove the card, burn it and reinstall it.
The Skybound hardware sells on Jeppesens site for $149.95 and consists of a three-in-one card reader and the cabling necessary to interface through a USB port. (No datacards are included.) The software Jeppesen provides handles the update chores more or less automatically, saving the hassle of logging onto Jeppesens site and locating the revision files manually. The card reader has three slots to handle standard Garmin datacards or the PCMCIA type cards used in other GPS units. The software supports Windows 98 and SE, Windows ME, 2000 SP3 and Windows XP. Recommended minimum processor is a 166 MHz with 32MB of RAM.
As is increasingly becoming the case with USB-type hardware, we installed the software and hardware without a hitch. The software places an icon on the desktop and clicking on it fires up the data retrieving software. In order to download the revision, you must first sign up for the Skybound revision service, specifying either a one-time update or a yearly subscription to a 28-day revision cycle, plus the area of coverage. A one-time Americas revision for Garmin products is $125, the yearly service costs $365. Partial U.S. coverage-east and west of the Mississippi-is also available for a lower cost.One youre signed up, you get a user name and a password, which the software asks for.
Burning the card requires merely clicking on a single button labeled program. This is easy enough but a bit illogical, in our view. Wouldnt it make more sense to label it start or burn card or some such?We wonder how such things get through Beta testing without a fix. Our card was burned and ready to go in about seven minutes, using a fast cable connection. It would, of course, be slower over a dial-up so if youre thinking of doing this from a hotel room while on a trip, youll probably want broadband or plan on allowing closer to an hour for card burning.
At $149.95, we think the Skybound system is a fair value, if not a bargain. We found it easy to install and unlike the previous version-a clunky set-up that worked through a PCMCIA slot on desktops and laptops-weve heard no complaints about incompatibility and lock-ups with the USB version. The hardware seems to work seamlessly.
As for the Web site, we like the fact that Jeppesen wrote the software to hit the data server directly, without the need to navigate through perplexing menus. Jeppesen has made data revision what it should be-a push-button process.
Were less enthralled with the cost of the data itself. Clearly, the pricing is tilted toward users buying the 28-day revision, not one-time updates. Jeppesen still offers what it calls classic revision services, which refers to the traditional method of sending cards back and forth in the mail. A single classic revision for our Garmin 530 (Americas coverage) costs $210 versus $125 for the downloaded version. Buy two single revisions and youve spent more than the cost of the Skybound hardware.
The Jeppesen salesperson we spoke to strongly suggested that if we flew IFR, we really should be buying the yearly subscription. We disagree. The frequency of revision should be up to the pilot and whether hes IFR or VFR-only, if current paper charts are aboard, the legality of the flight-such that its defined clearly by the FAA at all-is established. Those who fly for-hire or who fly frequent IFR into airports requiring GPS approaches may consider the 28-day revision a must.
For those who are hyper-paranoid about current data, the Skybound is the perfect set-up, if you dont mind paying the freight. The device is small enough to carry in a laptop case and you can easily do updating while on the road during a 28-day changeover. We think thats a plus. For owners with two Garmins in the panel, the Skybound system offers further discounts over the card mail shuffle.
Contact – Jeppesen, 303-799-9090, www.jeppesen.com.
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