iPad Aviation Approach Plates (vs. Kindle)

Like most gadget freaks and techies, I purchased myself an iPad yesterday.  My initial impressions are honestly early and mixed:  it’s a beautifully designed product in many ways, but in other ways it’s essentially a huge iPhone.  Sounds good, but one of the most magical aspects of the iPhone is that you can carry the internet in your pocket and do so many wild things with apps.  You can do the same wild things with the iPad, but it’s bulkier, and if you have a iPhone, I’m really not sure why you’d take both on a trip.  It’s also not enough to be a notebook replacement.  As for reading, the Kindle does this better for books, and the jury is out for me on newspapers and magazines. This should be where iPad shines.  More on general impressions later after more usage.

I was most excited (like any pilot) to see what this device can do for us all in  the cockpit.  The iPad (like iPhone) can utilize all of the existing iTunes apps, so all of your weather, flight planning, flight update apps will work with the iPad.  This backwards compatibility is really nice, though one minor nit is that if you use an iPhone app on the iPad that has not been optimized for the iPad, resolution (in “2x mode”) is a little rough.  Workable to be sure, but not great (though likely short term until more developers release iPad versions of their apps).  One standout iPad app so far for me is the Weatherbug app. . .it really takes advantage of the larger screen size to do some nice things.

But what about the biggest paper-saver opportunity in the cockpit:  approach plates?  Will the iPad work to let us more easily keep all of our plates current and in a small, convenient form factor?  I’ll highlight approach plates in this post (and compare the iPad to the KindleDX), then highlight some other aviation related later this week, with a longer PIREP after using it aloft for my flight from KS-CA mid-week.

Approach plates can be downloaded and saved as a PDF from many sites, but I prefer FltPlan.com.  Using the iPad for this is really simple:  mail the desired PDFs to your Mac mail account, open the PDF in the iPad Mail app and you’re viewing charts.  Super simple.

Advantages of iPad vs Kindle:
1) Backlit Screen:  the iPad is backlit, which will be great for night flight. The KindleDX requires a source of light other than the device, so for night flight, not so good.

2) Easier File transfer on the iPad.  Transferring PDFs to the iPad is super easy, and much easier than the process required on the KindleDX (you can use Kindle 1 or Kindle 2 for this, but the files must first be converted, as only the KindleDX supports native PDF).  For background, the comparable process on the DX is either to a) hook your KindleDX up to your computer via USB cable and drag the files onto the Kindle or b) email them to your Kindle address, but this comes with a cost of $0.10 per page, recently increased to $0.15 per meg.  While convenient, this option is ludicrous, imho.

3) Color:  the iPad displays the charts in color, the KindleDX in black and white.

Advantages of the Kindle:

1) Less glare on the screen:  The iPad screen is super shiny and reflective, which makes it sexy, but the glare is significant. I’m not sure how this will play in the bright light of a cockpit.  The KindleDX, by comparison, has an incredibly glare-resistant screen, and e-ink is designed to be read in bright light. The KindleDX works great in bright sunlight, so likely better for day flight.

2)  NAV is easier on the Kindle, but this is user pref. For some reason, the Kindle seems to do a better job of Naving in between approaches.  You click the “Next Page” button to get to the next approach.

3)  Battery life:  though the iPad is much better than any iPhone I’ve ever owned, the KindleDX battery life always amazes me. . With radio turned off, it runs great for about a week.  The iPad is rumored to be 5-8 hrs of use.  I’ll test it.

Photos below. Let me know any questions and I’ll work on getting answers.

Explore posts in the same categories: Media, Photos, Technology

19 Comments on “iPad Aviation Approach Plates (vs. Kindle)”

  1. Ed Williams Says:

    The latest software on the Kindle 2 supports pdf. If you have very good eyes, you might even find it acceptable for approach plates. I can just barely read the “notes” – but I no longer have 20/15 vision. Files of approach plates are too big to mail around. I just use the USB.
    I don’t have an Ipad – yet. For me, the three issues will be daylight readability, battery life and plate to plate navigation. I’d like an app like Foxit Reader that allows you to open a pdf at several places and tab between them.

  2. Russ Still Says:

    ForPilotsOnly has been manufacturing kneeboards for the Kindle DX using all aircraft parts (except for the clipboard clip) for several months. Now, the new iPad kneeboard is available. Here’s a link to an image:

  3. sergio Says:

    I need one of those device to read a lot of PDF ebooks (mostly download from Google Books) and I am wondering which could be better or just enough for my purpose. Kindle DX or Ipad? I just need a good PDF ebook reader….what do you recommend ?

    Could you try this book from google books and tell me which is the right one?


  4. RocketSMS Says:

    I am not sure why you don’t consider ForeFlight. It has been optimized for the iPad. Also there are several good .pdf readers for the iPad that help you manage them.

    • Aloft Says:

      I’ve historically had issues with the iPhone version of Foreflight (the “File” metaphor made it really hard to just use for pre-flight research). THanks to your comment, I checked it out today and agree that it looks interesting. I downloaded it and will try it out, then post a pirep. Though the “file” metaphor (ie need to file in order to do anything) seems gone, still having some issues finding things. I’ll play with it and post more. Thanks for the heads up.

  5. Robert Gentry Says:

    Anti Glare screen protector should be a big plus. Played with one last night at Best Buy and put in some approach plates to view from the AOPA directory. Looked Great! Better than paper. Much brighter and clearer. Given a little time, the iPad should be a fantastic flight tool as they make the upgrades.

  6. Jim McWhorter Says:

    Like most folks, I am still doing my research and flipping the coin on my ITouch. Now, maybe its because I’ve been a little out of touch, but has the idea of gps enabled devices for use during enroute and approaches become OBE? Or is it that everone now has $20k glass cockpits and the gps enabled IPad, Kindle, etc. would be just overkill. In my Maule, I have a dashboard full of King Silver Crown equipment and no room or money for glass. So, a GPS enabled device is my best option. So I shall continue to search for a solution I can afford. Thanks to all for sharing.

  7. Russ Still Says:

    Tech Boards now has two kneeboards for the iPad.

    The aluminum iPro sells for $149.95 and the new molded iPro Aviator sells for $79.95. More information is available at http://www.ForPilotsOnly.com/iPro-Aviator.htm

  8. Robert Gentry Says:

    I have been using the iPad in the Bonanza mounted with a new iPad holder from RAM,attached to a Autel mount that also has my Garmin 496 on top. Works great, easy to see, easy to use. Using the Foreflight software. Have to raise up a little for better control access on takeoff and landings, but otherwise right at my fingertips. My complaint is that even at lowest brightness setting, it’s still too bright at night, so I placed a stick on sunshade over it and it’s great. Touch sensitivity slightly less, but works fine. A thinner custom cut shield would be better and I’m looking into it… Something that would be easy to just slap on at night to darken down
    and remove for day use. Someone suggested there may be an app to give more brightness/darkness control? Anybody know of one? Thanks

    • Kent Nicholson Says:

      The iPad has a little documented reverse video feature (Settings/General/Accessibility/Triple-click Home/Toggle White on Black) – allows 3 quick clicks to toggle back and forth. Approach Plates & IFR enroutes become primarily white on black for easier and dimmer night reading, although VFR sectionals look odd and are harder to read.
      What kind of sunshade do you use?
      I find Foreflight very easy to use, and even though it takes a few button pushes to navigate around, it’s still much easier than dealing with paper. And the iPad size is perfect for approach plates, especially at night for aging eyes.

  9. Robert Gentry Says:

    I’ll try that feature for the approach plates. Sounds good for night IFR.

    As for sunscreens, I had a couple of slap on sunshades in my flight bag that worked fine as a temporary remedy. However, cutting them to fit or finding some of that sunshade type material and trimming to exactly fit an iPad would be better.
    Since the extra light is distracting on long cross country flights at night, another thing I’ve been doing is simply switching to the “scratch pad” mode on Foreflight, which darkens the screen and is handy for taking notes. The icon is right there at the bottom of the screen.

    A third option for situations that require less referencing, is to tap the off button and save battery power, switching back on every so often to check progress on the map. It comes on immediately and right back where it was left on, so no big deal.

    I have really been loving using the maps on the iPad/Foreflight, and how easy it is to zoom in at the touch of a finger.

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