Newest AV8OR gives users a bigger screen and more data

 - December 29, 2009, 4:42 AM

Honeywell’s Bendix/King division released its newest AV8OR Ace portable GPS at EAA AirVenture in late July, exactly a year after unveiling the first in the AV8OR Handheld series. The Ace features a much larger screen and geo-referenced IFR approach charts, as well as a full-featured automotive navigator, all for the relatively low price of $1,999 (street prices are less than $1,800).

The Ace’s larger screen is a great feature, as the original AV8OR’s 4.3-inch screen (480- by 272-pixel resolution) packs a lot of information into a small space, occasionally making it difficult for pilots suffering from presbyopia (most people over age 40) to decipher words and symbols on the screen. The Ace screen measures seven inches with 800- by 480-pixel resolution, offering much more display real estate and a far more comfortable view, especially when viewing the brilliant terrain display.

One new feature is the device’s ability to display everything in landscape or portrait mode.

Bendix/King engineers listened to AV8OR Handheld users and made some key improvements on the Ace. Like the Handheld, the Ace can display XM satellite weather via Bluetooth interface with a separate XM receiver. The Bluetooth connection with the Handheld was sometimes problematic in that when the connection was lost, the user would have to exit the GPS mode and go through a cumbersome process to reacquire the connection. The Ace provides a more automatic Bluetooth connection.

The big screen on the Ace made it possible for engineers to add a key new feature: IFR en route, approach and SID and STAR charts. The en route (including low- and high-altitude) charts and IFR approaches are geo-referenced, meaning that the aircraft’s position is shown on the chart. SIDs and STARs are not drawn to scale and no aircraft position information is available on those charts.

System Improvements
The AV8OR handhelds offer a lot of customization. Users can select nine data field windows to display on map pages, and 25 options are available, ranging from GPS altitude and CDI to groundspeed and traffic mini-targets. The user cannot select how many data fields display at one time or rearrange the way they are stacked, as is possible on other handheld GPS units such as Garmin’s 696.

Although the geo-referenced IFR charts showing ship position are a great feature, when flying in that mode none of the data fields is visible. The Ace does have a hard key that allows the user to switch among map mode, the currently loaded en route chart and the current IFR chart, so that’s one way to see an important data field such as time to waypoint. But it would be more useful if the user could have two or three data fields displayed along with the IFR chart. For example, it would be helpful to be able to see the ETE waypoint and stopwatch data fields while navigating on an IFR chart, instead of having to cycle through the various pages using the hard key. Bendix/King engineers are working on adding data fields to the approach charts display, according to a spokeswoman.

The IFR en route charts are a great addition, and the data fields remain in position when viewing an en route chart, as they should. The Ace now has another new hard key that makes life a lot easier, a zoom-in/out button that is much faster than the touch-screen zoom feature. Note that the zoom can go only as low as five nautical miles on the en route charts.

The advantage of the AV8OR touch screen is even more evident with the
en route and IFR charts. Just touch a finger to the screen and move the chart in any direction to see what’s ahead or find an intersection or other feature. The touch screen on the Ace is a bit less sensitive than on the smaller Handheld, and this was done on purpose to make sure the user really wants to perform the selected action. The Ace, like the Handheld, includes a stylus, which makes selecting items on the touch screen much easier for ham-handed users.

The Ace’s charts feature includes another bonus: own-ship position on airport diagrams. This isn’t quite as comprehensive as Garmin’s SafeTaxi diagrams, but the Ace’s large screen provides plenty of room to see your aircraft on the airport surface, and it’s easy to zoom in close for more detail.

A Supplement to Paper Charts
As wonderful as it is to have current IFR charts on one small portable device, the Ace isn’t necessarily a direct replacement for paper charts. Be warned: if you are going to use the Ace’s approach charts when flying IFR, there are some important considerations:

• You must learn how to use the unit thoroughly before you go flying.
• You need to work out how to incorporate the Ace into your procedures before flying so you aren’t fumbling around trying to find the right information at a critical moment.
• Consider flying only in an autopilot-equipped airplane or with another pilot the first few times you fly IFR with the Ace.

I tried flying the VOR Runway 26 approach into Camarillo Airport in southern California, and I was glad I had an instructor along for the flight. Even on the Ace’s larger screen, it was a little hard to see the symbols on the en route chart, and when the controller gave me an unfamiliar intersection, finding it was not easy because the Ace display shows only a small part of the chart at a time, unlike paper, which shows you as much as you’re able to keep flat and conveniently folded. One useful improvement would be to include an “intersections” option on the “nearest page.” Engineers are looking into adding this feature, the spokeswoman told AIN.

The Ace screen is large enough to display a full approach chart in portrait mode. However, the resolution just barely makes it possible to read important information on the chart without zooming in.
I had to zoom in on sections of the chart to brief the approach properly, but because I hadn’t prepared ahead of the flight, I was not exactly flying ahead of the airplane, and it was a good thing I was with an instructor.

In the “chart procedure page” mode, you can see your aircraft on the chart’s horizontal map (but not on the vertical profile). Zooming in two clicks makes the text easily legible, but then only a third of the chart is in view on the screen. To view the missed approach section, I had to scroll the chart with a finger until that section showed. Then I had to scroll to other portions of the chart to see what I needed to shoot the approach. This is not an intuitive or simple process and is nothing like looking at the chart on paper. I think to use the IFR approach charts on the Ace or any electronic flight bag without paper backup would take a lot of preparation and practice.

Viewing the charts in landscape mode is a little better because then the full width of the chart is comfortably legible, but it is still necessary to scroll down to view the rest of the chart. Scrolling with the touch screen is not always easy, and the Ace could benefit from one more hardware key, a scroll button to use in lieu of finger or stylus pushing.
Switching from landscape to portrait mode is a little bit cumbersome in that
you have to exit the currently displayed map or chart, press the “main menu” button, then exit the “Go Fly” mode, push a button on the screen, then return to
“Go Fly.” Fortunately, the flight plan you were flying remains active.

The flight-planning function allows up to 100 flight plans with 99 waypoints each, but you can’t load an IFR approach at the end of a flight plan. You can load Victor airways. Flight plans created with Jeppesen’s FliteStar and Voyager PC can be exported to the Ace. The Ace stores flight logs in three formats (text, FliteStar and Google Earth) on an SD card.

When flying to an airport, loading an approach plate requires that you first pull up the information about that airport, then load the desired chart. Airport information is accessible by double-tapping the waypoint data field, or tapping the airport symbol on the map page and selecting the airport, then pushing the “charts” button, selecting “approach” and then loading the desired chart and pushing the “show chart” button. The same process is used to load and view an airport diagram; they don’t load automatically at the end of a flight the way Garmin’s SafeTaxi charts do.

The big difference between the AV8OR Ace and Garmin handhelds is the price and the cost of updates. Keeping a Garmin 696 supplied with up-to-date data costs more than $1,000 per year. The chart updates for the Ace are $399 per year (provided by Seattle Avionics). The Ace is also less expensive, even with the additional $499 for the WxWorx REWX91D XM receiver, which is built-in on the 696. The Ace also works with Bendix/King’s KDR 610 XM receiver.

Like the AV8OR Handheld, the Ace comes with an automotive mode that is as good as if not better than dedicated automotive GPS navigators. The AV8OR also allows users to listen to music, watch movies, read e-books and view photos. While the Ace supports most media types  for music, movies and photos, only text-based e-books are viewable.

The Ace still lacks a night setting in the “Go Fly” mode, but Bendix/King made the new device’s backlight much easier to adjust than the Handheld’s. Pushing the menu hard key to get to the main menu, select “settings,” change the backlight, then return to “Go Fly.”