Frugal Flier: A tablet dilemma

One man details his process for choosing a tablet

May 1, 2013


Charlie Becker, AOPA’s director of corporate partnerships and products—and a VFR pilot—was facing a dilemma: He had an iPad 2, but he wasn’t really using it for aviation. Plus, prices were dropping on Samsung Galaxy Tabs and Apple finally released the iPad mini. His question was, stick with the iPad or consider the Galaxy or the iPad mini for his aviation needs?

“The airplanes I fly, taildraggers like the Cub, have small cockpits, so the iPad didn’t seem to be a viable option for me,” said Becker. “So when the iPad mini came out, I was interested, especially because all the good aviation apps are on the iOS platform. But I also saw that Galaxy Tabs were selling at half their original prices, so I was tempted there too.”

Becker admitted that he was not a Mac fan at first, but he enjoyed using his iPad 2. “And because of the great experience with the iPad, I bought an iPhone,” he said. “Going with the Galaxy Tab would have meant using Android-platform apps.”

It probably took a couple of weeks to get to a decision, even though he already owned an iPad, said Becker. “I still had questions on things including memory and internal GPS,” he said.

Becker recalled a similar process he endured 15 years earlier, when he bought a Lowrance 1000 GPS, considered state-of-the-art aviation equipment back then. “I bought the unit, and because I don’t do a lot of cross-country flying, I ended up using it for less than 10 hours,” he said. “I tend to put a big purchase on hold to make sure I’m not just making a snap decision.”

Becker compared the iPad and the iPad mini and was sold on the smaller device. “I can do aviation stuff, plus I can do nonaviation things like check my email that allowed me to justify the cost,” he said. “I bet I paid twice as much for my old Lowrance 1000 GPS.”

The great apps on the iOS platform also were a selling point, said Becker. “Take, for example, CloudAhoy, a free and neat little app,” he said. The CloudAhoy app, once set on an iPad or iPhone, can capture flight data and send it automatically to an account on its server. After logging into the server, users can see their flight operations via a color-coded map.

“Anytime someone comes out with a new app, it’s more likely going to be for the iPad,” said Becker.

Once Becker decided to go with the iPad mini, he had another choice to make: getting the device with WiFi only or spending extra for cellular/4G access—the model that includes a built-in GPS receiver. “I decided to stick with WiFi only and go with the Bad Elf GPS Pro,” he said. “My thinking was I could use my Bad Elf with my full-size iPad 2, my mini, and any other devices I have. It was about the same money as the difference from going from the iPad mini with no GPS versus one with cellular and access to GPS.

“There are some who say external GPS is better and they may be right,” added Becker. “But you have to remember to bring it and charge it up,” he said. “I knew I’d never use the cellular plan on an iPad mini, but to get GPS you have to buy the 4G version of the mini.”

Another decision Becker faced was what size drive to get. “One thing that makes me nervous about iPads is you can’t have external memory, so I struggled with what size to get,” he said. “Part of my motivation for getting the iPad mini is that because Frederick Municipal Airport is near the special flight rules area around Washington, D.C., and Camp David, I wanted to have a moving map with me in the future.

“Being out here in the D.C. area with Class B airspace so close, I wanted to be sure I didn’t inadvertently wander into restricted airspace,” said Becker.

Becker decided to spend extra money for a 32GB tablet. “It looks like I’m already using 20GB of my 32GB,” he said. “I’ve never had a retina screen, but the iPad mini has an awesome screen.”

The lesson Becker learned from his process? “If I were starting from scratch, I would have started with buying an iPad mini with cellular for access to GPS,”
he said.

Becker also likes the fact that he can put his iPad mini in the pocket of his cargo pants. “The iPad mini will also fit in military flight suit pockets, which is really handy.”

Becker’s advice to pilots mulling their own tablet purchase? “You’ll wonder why you didn’t do it six months ago. If you’re leaning this way, go ahead and do it,” he said. “I’m thoroughly happy I made this purchase.”

Email [email protected].

Benét Wilson

Benét J. Wilson | AOPA eNewsletter and Social Media Editor

AOPA eNewsletter and Social Media Editor Benét J. Wilson joined AOPA in 2011. She is working on her private pilot certificate.