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November 2, 2009
By Ian J. Twombly
Where there’s one, they’re three. When Amazon launched the Kindle DX in May, it was clear this was the format companies had been waiting for to introduce electronic approach plates. Previous devices worked fine, but the 9.7-inch screen of the Kindle DX meant relatively inexpensive full-size electronic approach plates could now be a reality.
Within a few months, Reader Plates, Airbrief.com, and PDF Plates all introduced a version compatible with the new device. Each offers some positives and negatives, leaving it up to the buyer to decide which is best.
Reader Plates is my personal favorite. The company is stable and proven thanks to its offerings on previous devices. But more importantly, Reader Plates approaches the navigation differently, and in my opinion, much better. Each approach plate volume is organized as a separate book meaning navigation is done via a series of menus. First choose the book, then the state, and finally the A/FD, the approaches, the departure or arrival procedure, or the airport diagram. Then each procedure is shown and selected individually. All this navigation is easy thanks to Kindle’s cursor stick and intuitive buttons.
Airbrief.com and PDF Plates both treat the plates as a PDF, making navigation more difficult. Each airport and procedure has to be selected from a long list, and not by the cursor. Instead, the user has to find the corresponding number and enter it manually via the keypad. Here the Kindle DX is a bit clunky because the numbers are on the shift function, taking seven or so keystrokes before the plate appears. That’s fine until you need to go back and choose the approach after looking at the arrival procedure. With Reader Plates you simply press the Back button a few times.
We tested the navigation of Airbrief.com in the office and Reader Plates on a three-day, 18-hour trip. The Kindle DX proved to be robust for the job, and there’s no question of the service’s usefulness. After all that flying, including six approaches, the battery was only a third down, and the device only hesitated on us once. Weighing only a few ounces and as thin as a folded chart, it’s easy to bring a nation’s worth of plates in your flight bag.
If I have complaints it’s that the Kindle DX wasn’t made for approach plates. It has an auto shutoff function after 10 minutes that can’t be disabled. If you think about it, that’s just about the elapsed time between when you select the approach and when you’re vectored onto the final approach course. You can push the spacebar to keep it awake, but no one wants to think about that during an approach.
All things considered, however, the Kindle DX with electronic plates is a great asset, especially if you’re flying across many states. And Airbrief.com is selling kneeboards made specifically for the Kindle DX, so cockpit organization is easy.
Price: Kindle DX is $489 from Amazon.com; Reader Plates $9.99 a month; Airbrief.com $10; PDF Plates free
Contact: www.readerplates.com; www.airbrief.com; www.pdfplates.com; www.nacomatic.com
Flight Training Editor Ian J. Twombly joined AOPA in 2003 and is an instrument flight instructor.
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