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iPad App Review

Some of you may recall that Navionics vector charts earned with a B+ in my initial review of navigation apps for the iPhone back in April 2010. But after using this app extensively in the Caribbean this past season, I’m upgrading it to an A. With data refreshing approximately every second, I was able to determine location, chart depth and distance traveled very quickly.

So how does the iPad version faire? Are there other iPad nav apps worth consideration? I found one other, iNavX, that is also worth considering.



Navionics iPad

I’ve been using the newly released Navionics HD iPad app series since June (version 4.2.1, www.navionics.com). Wow! Positioned at my nav station, I can quickly enter a series of waypoints and get a very good approximation of the distance and bearing to next waypoint and the total track distance. As with the iPhone version, the chart is easily scaled up or down and panning is simple. While running a recent Fair Wind Sailing School class on the Chesapeake, I used the app to quickly check paper charting tasks completed by the students. There’s no doubt about it: apps with vector charts simply out-perform those with raster charts.

My one serious criticism is that I couldn’t change compass headings from true to magnetic north. I almost always sail with reference to “ship’s magnetic,” so I want my chart plotters and GPS systems to do the same. The Navionics app also lacks a “help” feature, though most of the features are quick and easy to understand.

As with the iPhone version, each Navionics app for the iPad is purchased for a different area: “US East” (includes all of the Bahamas), “Caribbean,” and so on. This is a bit costly, but each chart-set app is still much cheaper than a comparable set of paper charts.

I had a chance to speak with Chris Gatley from Navionics at the Annapolis sailboat show in October about future enhancements. He showed me a beta version of a very cool feature called “User Generated Information.” The user touches a point on the map and enters relevant observations. For example: “Stay about 50′ from the starboard buoy .” The information is up-loaded to Navionics servers, where it is then redistributed automatically to all installed copies of that chart. Talk about sharing local knowledge!

My grade: Definitely an A, but with room to improve.


iNavX iPad

The first thing to say about iNavX (version 3.1.6, www.inavx.com) is that it is “feature rich.” From pointing the iPad app to a specific host & port TCP/IP Internet connection to access to a tide table app and multiple settings for a dozen parameters, iNavX has included a lot of bells and whistles. A very full set of online help descriptions and instructions are included in the “guide.” Unfortunately, I found was really lost unless I spent some time with the online guide. Admittedly, I don’t have a lot of patience with software, and I expect most applications today to be rather intuitive to operate right out of the box.

The repeated “Loading” message seemed needless and helped confuse me when moving around the various features to setup simple waypoints and a course. iNavX uses raster charts, so it must load various views because of the size of raster graphic files. I couldn’t figure out how to “scroll” from one chart to another, which is one of the great features of using software charts instead of paper.

These criticisms aside, here are a few examples of the rich features available from iNavX.

Forecast. Tides, Request/import GRIB and Parameters are powerful for those sailors who want to check raw weather isobar chart information to understand the data uderlying current weather forecasts. Access to GRIB (GRIdded Binary) files is by way of x-traverse.com, which requires an account on x-traverse (x-traverse.com, $10 for a 12-month subscription).


MacENC Integration. With the simple addition of a low-cost USB GPS antennae ($69.95 and lower), and the installation of MacENC software ($179.95, www.gpsnavx.com) iNavX becomes a true GPS chart-plotter. One caveat: the USB GPS antenna and MacENC software are installed on a Mac Laptop, and connectivity from the iPad to the Laptop is through a wireless router. If you’re technically savvy about such things, this may be just the weekend project. Similar integration is available with a couple of mapping software applications running on your local network, such as Aviasail and Costal Explorer.

My grade: Strong B- ; but need to move to vector-based charts.


One more thing: the iPad, like the iPhone, is not a rugged seaworthy piece of equipment. A waterproof iPad case is available from Dry Case. I bought one at the Annapolis show and found my iPad was completely usable when inside it.

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