AV8OR ACE Handheld: High Value for the Price

With a touch screen, compact size and both approach plates and charts, Bendix/King brings us closer to the ideal handheld. Some bugs still mar its performance.

Bendix-King (by Honeywell) has been making an aggressive bid to reestablish itself as a market leader in avionics. Last year their AV8OR handheld staked a firm hold on the low-end portable GPS market. Now their AV8OR Ace is taking a swipe at the high end currently occupied by the Garmin GPSMAP 496 and 696, as well as Tablet PC-based Electronic Flight Bags (EFBs) like ChartCase.

Right Size … Pretty Much

At 1.25 pounds and slightly less than eight by five inches, the Aces size is just

AV8OR ACE Handheld


about right for the cockpit. We found it easy to mount with a window suction cup or yoke mount in a couple of aircraft without it blocking any critical items. Its also light and small enough to comfortably hold in your hand or lap.

The screen is seven inches diagonally, and is touch sensitive. Much of the Aces software is driven by on-screen buttons that appear when you touch the screen and disappear after a user-defined time. This keeps the interface clean and context-sensitive for easy use (with one caveat, see below). There are hard keys along one side of the unit for direct navigation, zooming in and out, cycling through the main viewing screens and getting to the top-level menu.

In addition to pushing on-screen buttons, you can drag across the screen to pan, similar to an iPhone. This is important on the Ace, because youll be paning around the screen a lot. We kept wishing for smaller or moved hard keys in return for just a bit more screen width (or height if you run the device in landscape orientation). Even mounted high and close to the pilots face, we found no zoom level that could display an entire approach plate without panning-although it was tantalizingly close. Viewed in the landscape orientation, the plates are wider that the paper version even at maximum zoom out, but the screen is too short to show an entire plan view. Luckily, panning by dragging your finger is easy and the image refreshes acceptably fast.

The touch screen is a bit different than your iPhone in that you need to touch and wait for just a moment before moving or lifting your finger. This is by design and, once we understood what to do, it worked well without accidental button pushes. But it takes some getting used to.

The Ace comes with a slim and an extended battery. This is good because they only gave us about two and three hours respectively of use with the backlight at full brightness. We needed that brightness for the screen to be readable in direct sunlight. The built-in GPS requires no external antenna and the Ace can handle up to six simultaneous Bluetooth connections for XM weather, a Zaon traffic system and even your cell phone as a hands-free device.

Updates are done via USB, or just by removing the SD card from the Ace and popping the card into your computer.

Designed for Touch

The Ace makes good use of its touch screen when showing the moving map or charts. Press and hold on any feature and you get a pop-up showing what it is and any additional information. If its an airport, you can get even more info, including fuel prices and local attractions. This data comes through a partnership with Flight Guide and is part of your subscription. With XM weather, you can also see METARs, TAFs and other information for reporting airports.

The two main map views are a typical moving map and high-resolution scans of either low or high en route charts with the aircraft position depicted. En route

AV8OR ACE Handheld


charts appear at low resolution at zoom levels over 20 miles. Zoomed in tighter, they switch to high res and all items are easy to read.

The display is crisp and is highly configurable. You can customize any of the datafields, including thumbnail traffic if installed. Theres an optional profile view that shows terrain and obstacles in your path. This view is available with both the moving map and the en route chart, but not with approach plates. Terrain can also appear on the moving map.

You can overlay traffic, METARs and lightning data on either map. That means you could be cruising through clouds viewing your position on the low en route chart and see two colored bars coding the ceiling and visibility for each airport around you. Tap any one of them to see the detailed information.

NEXRAD information, however, can only be viewed on a separate weather page-a miss in our view, as having it as a toggle-on/toggle off feature on the current map or chart would be huge help in negotiating routes around nasty stuff. It would also be quite possible to be happily cruising through the clouds looking at the en route chart, blissfully unaware of weather ahead of you unless you saw returns on the lightning data overlay.

A few sweet shortcuts help out. Swipe your finger across the bottom of the screen and you can switch between map, weather and traffic screens with ease. Double-tap the waypoint datafield on the map and up pops more information about that waypoint. Another slick feature is import/export of flight plans to Flitestar, Voyager and Google Earth.

The Ace also offers geo-referenced, government approach plates for the U.S. This means the aircraft symbol is depicted in position on the plate once it gets in range. We found it accurate on our test approaches.

Because the Ace offers actual scans of both plates and charts, Bendix-King asserts its a legal replacement for both, even for Part 135 or Part 121 operations with the appropriate approval.

Room to Grow

The Ace is first-generation software, however, and we found some nits to pick. The aircraft symbol is so large that it can obscure items in the plate or chart view.

AV8OR ACE Handheld


These are items you might want to read because, well, thats where you are.

There are also no datafields on the approach plate view. Thats not a big deal if the aircraft has a GPS installed in the panel, but its huge if you are flying a non-GPS airplane in the clouds and need information like track while shooting the approach. You also cant load approaches into the flight plan, although that function will be added in the future. You can select a landing airport and get runway extensions shown on the moving map.

The flight planning function enables you to enter Victor airways by name-a great feature-but the Ace doesnt weight this for where youd enter the system so you might be scrolling through a lot of waypoints if you jump on V2, which runs from Washington state to Connecticut. The flight planner does let you create a flight plan directly off the moving map, which is handy for shorter flights.

The weather page can display a wide range of products at excellent resolution, but it can only display them one product at a time. What this means is you may need to take the time to set up data layers if you want to see, say, METARs, NEXRAD and lightning all on one map. Some combinations, such as NEXRAD plus PIREPs cant be shown.

In several instances, we felt that a feature was created with more button pushes than necessary. For example, when you view a METAR for an airport, there is no convenient field to view the TAF. Getting to the TAF requires changing the view. Its only a couple of button pushes to switch to TAFs, but we think it shouldnt be more than one.

A couple of features seemed half-baked. The Ace lets you create custom checklists as text files and load them on the unit. You can skip an item if you need to, but theres no way to go back and check it later.

AV8OR ACE Handheld


Bendix/King told us many of these items will be fixed or added in future versions of the software. Improvements on the original AV8TOR have already followed this path. One item that wont be changed is that you cant switch from portrait to landscape view without shutting down the in-flight functions of the Ace.

Highways and Tunes

Are there non-in-flight functions? Were glad you asked. The Ace can also do driving directions (or walking, biking and mass-transit directions), using an entirely separate software. We found the system adequate to get you from A to B, but some features seemed to us early-version, similar to some of those in-flight functions.

The Ace can also play movies and music, show PDF files or show you custom checklists. These features we found functional but not especially ergonomic. Its

AV8OR ACE Handheld


not going to replace your Kindle or iPod.

Upgrades to the software will eventually add XM radio and aural alerts for traffic and terrain, but those arent options yet.

The Ace with an Americas database retails for $1999. You can add U.S. and Canadian driving for $200 more. There are current and future options for international charts and driving. Check the AV8OR website for details. The aviation data subscription is $98 yearly. The data for the IFR charts comes from a partnership with Seattle Avionics, which sells the Voyager flight planning software. There are bundle deals for the IFR data subscription and Voyager if youre looking for both an in-cockpit and desktop solution.

Our walk-away impression of the AV8OR Ace is that its a Jack-of-all-trades that masters a few and still has some kinks to work on others. We give it a thumbs up overall, but youll want get it in your hands before you buy to make sure its shortcomings arent a deal breaker for you.