Remember the LapMap? When laptop computers first appeared it seemed like a matter of mere hours until someone rigged one as a real-time cockpit moving map that was amazing for its day but crude by contemporary standards.
LapMap and its like vanished within a few years, a victim of more sophisticated self-contained navigators and its high nuisance factor-there was simply no place to put the computer. Palmtops helped some but not enough to arrest LapMaps extinction.
Round two of portable computers in the cockpit is upon us in the form of personal digital assistants (PDAs) that combine stunning displays with blistering processor speed in a small package. It was only a matter of time until some sharpie programmers figured out a way to marry GPS to a PDA well enough to take a run at the entrenched portable navigator market.
The two leading contenders are Anywhere Map from Control Vision and TeleType from Teletype Co. The core product from both of these companies is software that creates a color moving map on PDAs such as the Compaq iPAQ, Casio E-series, some Palm Pilots and HPs Jornada.
Neither company is in the GPS business, exactly, but, along with the software, theyll provide a GPS receiver/antenna combination, yoke mount, cables and other accessories, all of which sell for prices competitive with high-end standalone portables, such as Garmins 295 or 195. Cutting to the chase here, the PDAs serious competition is really the 295, since its the King Dog color portable. In this article, well examine Control Visions Anywhere Map. Well take a look at the Teletype system in a future issue.
The Anywhere map program first came out of the ground about a year-and-a-half ago as a relatively sophisticated developmental product from Control Vision, a company thats been around for awhile selling avionics for the homebuilt market and yoke/control boxes for PC flight sims.
We reported on one of the early versions of Anywhere Map in the July 2000 issue of Aviation Consumer and although we thought it had potential, we also found some shortcomings, chiefly software lock-ups, a screen barely readable in sunlight, plus more wiring than we like in the cockpit.
Since then, Control Vision has improved the product and on the hardware side, the leading-edge PDA-the Compaq iPAQ palm computer-has a vastly improved display and an operating system that talks to a desktop PC through a reliable USB-enabled cradle.
Anywhere Map is an la carte deal, so you can buy only the parts and pieces you need based on what you already have or the entire system, including the iPAQ. In any case, the Anywhere map depends on external GPS input data, something that isnt included with an off-the-shelf iPAQ.
Top of the line from Control Vision is the full GPS35 bundle, which includes the software, an iPAQ 3650, yoke mount, cabling and a Garmin 35 remote GPS, a little gizmo about the size and shape of a computer mouse. Price: $1209. Some assembly is required to get the cradle hooked up to a PC and the software loaded.
If you already have an iPAQ, you can buy the software, GPS 35 and yoke mount package for $629 or the software alone for $289. Its possible to run the iPAQ on position data from any GPS, including a panel mount. Youll need to get the correct cable and have your shop install a panel jack for GPS output.
Anywhere Map will run on pocket PCs using Windows CE, including the Casio E-series line, HPs Jornada and some Palm and Visor PDAs. As we reported in our previous coverage, these work through a serial port arrangement on both the desktop and palm unit, a solution not quite as elegant at the iPAQs USB arrangement. Control Vision says the minimum RAM requirement is 16MB with 8 to 11MB storage required for the program.
The iPAQ hardware itself is straightforward, consisting of the PDA, a combination power/data cable that powers both the GPS and the PDA and a yoke mount. In our previous trial of the Casio version of this software, Control Vision provided a serial-cable adapter box which we found to be a nuisance.
In the Compaq version, the company has improved the interface significantly, combining it entirely into the accessory power plug, thus youre dealing with two cables: One from the power plug to the PDA, a second from plug to the GPS/antenna.
Speaking of cables, in our view, this is the single most glaring failure of this system, although Control Vision isnt to blame. The iPAQs 12-pin data plug slips into the base of the PDA with a delicate snap fastener and no strain relief. In our view, this is hardly up to the rigors of the cockpit and, indeed, Control Vision provides a warning sheet noting that the plug is tender and will cost $50 to repair. And its not covered by warranty. Control Vision says its working on an improved yoke mount to address this. Meanwhile, the field fix is to use a tie wrap or some other means to keep an inadvertently sideloaded or snagged cable from busting that delicate plug. Further, although the PDA itself will fly for six hours or so on internal batteries, you still need ships power for the GPS. Without it, you cant navigate.
Lock and Load
Unlike an out-of-the-box portable, the Anywhere/iPAQ needs to be set-up, which involves getting it to talk to a desktop PC through a USB port and Microsofts ActiveSync software which automatically loads and syncs your address book, data files and other useful stuff.
Accustomed as we are to Windows programs that fail to work as advertised-or at all, in some cases-we were pleasantly surprised to have no set-up hiccups with the iPAQ and we moved immediately to installing the Anywhere software. Once again, with just a few minutes of baby- sitting, the transfer went without a hitch. We wish we could say the same for other Windows-based software weve loaded.
Something thats immediately noticeable about this class of PDA is its speed. Since the operating system is more streamlined than that of a desktop, the device is instant on/off and applications load in mere seconds.
The iPAQ is a touch-screen device with a skinny plastic stylus that stores in a tube accessible from the top of the PDA. The screen itself measures 3 1/8 by 2 3/8ths inches so the icons and pull-down menus that drive the thing are necessarily small. Not bad in smooth air, a bit of a stab fest when it gets bumpy, but doable. Anywhere Map has something called rough air buttons, which are extra large icons for common functions that are easier to target with the stylus when bouncing around in turbulence.
One shortcoming of touch-screen hardware is that periodic screen alignment may be required. At initial set-up, the iPAQ leads you through this process but we noted a bit of alignment drift when trying to punch an airport symbol to call up runway and related data. It took trial and error to hit the mark.
Further, if you drop the stylus, it will automatically hide under the lip of the seat rails, inaccessible until you land. You can use a fingernail to navigate the screen but itll smudge the surface with fingerprints.
As weve noted, of late, portable navigator software has become easier to use as code writers ignore the temptation to clutter the system with too many esoteric capabilities. Thankfully, Control Vision has done the same so Anywhere Map is a model of simplicity, with only minor exceptions.
The bottom of the screen has 10 icons/menu items, one each for file pulldown, view for scale changes, user, airport and VOR waypoint selection, day/night screen control, arc versus rose view, a direct-to key and a mini stylus-controlled keyboard. The iPAQ can also be configured to recognize hand lettering or writing.
The icons work a bit like the fixed function buttons on a dedicated portable GPS. Tap the D icon, for example, and youre prompted to select airport look-up or to specify a fix. You can either key it in with the stylus on the keyboard or scroll through a list.
Again, easy in smooth air, a task in turbulence but not much worse than scrolling concentric knobs or using the Garmin 295s rocker keys. Tapping the airport, user and VOR waypoint icons yields a similar set of dialog boxes.
One thing we didnt like was Anywheres direct-to function. Rather than allowing you to type in the identifier of a fix you know, it forces you to step through a look-up process before it will load the waypoint. We found this to be a hassle compared to the way most panel mounts perform the same function. Control Vision tells us this is a software bug and theyre working on a fix.
Basic set-up tasks such as display settings GPS monitoring, inputting HSI settings, E6B calcs, aircraft-specific settings and the like are all controlled through a pulldown-actually, a shoot-up-file menu as per standard Windows logic. Once again, this leads to a series of dialog boxes to complete the desired task.
In ease of operation, this logic trumps panel mounts and even Garmins menu-driven 295 for although the stylus is a tad awkward, its still faster than cranking a knob or massaging a rocker key, at least in smooth air.
Portable computer displays-and especially PDA displays-have improved dramatically during the past three to five years. The iPAQ has a bright backlighted TFT LCD color display similar to the technology used in high-end panel mounts. The screen resolution is 240 X 320 pixels, compared to the 160 X 305 available in the Garmin 295.
Screen brightness is adjustable through four ranges, from low to super bright and theres an auto brightness function that responds to ambient lighting. The iPAQ is easily viewable in direct sunlight and we would give it just a slight edge over the 295, which washes slightly but remains readable. But it loses on one count: Unlike the GPS portables, the iPAQ screen is highly reflective so if youre wearing a white shirt in the cockpit, on a sunny day, the reflection will smear the screen at certain angles. No problem with that at night, however. For night flying, the iPAQ can be set, at the touch a single icon, for reverse video, with a black map background.
The map itself can be configured with a 360-degree rose/HSI display or an EFIS-type arc view. In either case, the HSI is overlayed on the map, not a separate screen, as with the Garmins. It can also be hidden, by user preference.
The map has the usual stuff, such as special use airspace, navaids, airports, airways and the like, all of which can be set individually to declutter the display. Declutter can be done piecemeal or by selecting one of five pre-configured density levels from the view menu.
The base map, although not as lucidly detailed as Garmins, has some intriguing features the Garmin lacks, including an obstacle database with warnings and something Control Vision calls cones of safety.
These appear as faint green circles around each airport and represent a safe power-off glide range to that airport. Nice touch but if you expect this to be useful, we recommend departing from Control Visions advice to program the unit with a 10-to-1 glide ratio. Allowing for wind and unknowns, 7-to-1 is better choice.
The Anywhere software has other useful warnings, including a spiral dive warning that goes off in a standard rate turn at a descent rate of 800 FPM or more for 10 seconds, a reminder to check oxygen above 12,000 feet, obstacle warnings, gear/fuel pump reminders and tank timers. The altitude-based warnings use GPS altitude, not baro input, since iPAQ doesnt yet accept air data.
With the iPAQs potential for data storage, Anywhere Map offers considerable detail about obstacles, airports, navaids and the like. It comes standard with most of the data found in AOPAs Airport Directory. Tapping an airport, fix or airspace area calls up a sub-page of detail, including frequencies for the relevant ATC services.
Anywhere Map doesnt, however, currently offer approaches, although it does depict extended runway centerlines. Approaches are supposed to be available shortly.
Anywhere Map uses the NOAA/FAA database, not Jeppesen. Database revisions are available online on a 28-day cycle for $115 a year, a real bargain, even if the data isnt as accurate as Jeppesens. Better yet, software upgrades-which Control Vision offers on an ongoing basis-are also available on line, free of charge if you buy the data revision deal.
We think thats probably a good thing, but given how software upgrades occasionally crump a perfectly good computer, only field experience will tell for sure. In any case, the first six months of data/software revisions are free.
One of the most intriguing aspects of the PDA equation is what the future may hold for these devices. At Oshkosh in July, Control Vision announced Anywhere WX, an add-on feature that will collect NEXRAD radar information via AirCell or satellite datalink, a feature that of itself might swing the purchase decision in Control Visions favor. (Well be examining this system-and datalink in general- in a future issue.)
We think Control Visions Anywhere Map system represents credible competition for portable GPS navigators in general and Garmins 295 in particular. But selecting Anywhere Map over the 295 is not necessarily a slam-dunk sure thing.
On the one hand, with a few minor exceptions, Anywhere Map works as well as any of Garmins operating systems and its under continual refinement.
Further, the iPAQ offers other capability that dedicated portables dont have, such as e-mail and Web browsing and rudimentary general computing capability. Every month, it seems, we see new software applications for PDAs. Potentially, then, PDA-based GPS navigation offers more value than a high-priced dedicated unit such as the Garmin 295.
But theres a price to pay, too. As noted, the hardware is not as mechanically robust as a dedicated GPS navigator and since the GPS requires ships power, its not a good option as an emergency back-up device.
Last, a dedicated portable GPS isnt a computer, which means it wont do as much but it also doesnt require fussing with interfaces, cables, software glitches and the bugs that inevitably inhabit Windows-based software.
What to do? If youre at all interested in PDAs, we think the Control Vision system is worth considering. The company has done an excellent job with the software and has delivered on its promise to continue improving it. Given its capabilities, we think it represents a good value that will only get better as Control Vision offers enhancements and upgrades.