Friday, April 07, 2006

Impending Delivery

No, no, no, the IFR Pilot is not pregnant. If I were, that would be one heck of news story.

Rather, the title of this post refers to the lovely little package that should be arriving later today: A brand-spanking new Garmin 396.

Yep, that was the final decision, after probably fifty or more e-mails back and forth between the partners. We all admired the many features of the Anywhere WX system, and its lower cost, and all of us wanted to support the "underdog" if we could. But, after reviewing everything we could -- not just the manufacturers' puffery -- but user guides, support forums, usenet posts, etc., we had to go with the 396.

Here was my "final word" to the other partners in 78S:

I am now convinced, based on this review [from Aviation Consumer that MS found], the research I have done, and the concerns I shared yesterday that we should opt for the 396. I shudder at the added cost and the loss of some of the flexibility and features compared to the Anywhere WX. Nevertheless, here are my reasons for suggesting we go with the 396.

1. Platform stability. While some users report no problems with Anywhere, there seem to be an equal number of reports of difficulties. I want something as bullet-proof as possible. The Anywhere relies on Pocket PC running Windows Mobile. Hello, have you heard of Windows? You know, the operating system that can't run for a week without crashing? I don't want Bill Gates taking his revenge on me when I'm in hard IFR trying to decide whether it's time to divert. Plus, I want to fly. I don't want to be a computer scientist. I want the system to be as simple and possible.

2. Cockpit complexity. The 396 will only require two wires: one for power, one for the XM antenna. For that, we get both real-time weather AND the XM radio. If we go with Anywhere, even with Bluetooth, it's three wires, all of which lead to one power jack, but you've still got power cords running to the PDA, the GPS, and the XM weather antenna. Plus, if we want to undergo the field approval process, we could add the 396 to the panel underneath the transponder in the empty black plate. Also, we would be able to forgo the separate XM receiver for radio tuning (see this experimental builder's comments here http://www.rvproject.com/20051026.html and here http://www.rvproject.com/20051028.html). If we go with Anywhere, and still want satellite radio, we have two more cables in the cockpit. Talk about a spaghetti-like nightmare. Also, the Anywhere system is either going to have to be yoke-mounted (which I don't like personally, I want the yoke free for checklists or approach plates) or suction mounted to the glare shield. Even if we don't go with the Aizgizmos mount and field approval, the 396 can sit on the top of the glare shield. No such option for the Anywhere PDA.

3. Resale. If we ever move on from 78S, and decide we don't want to keep the 396, I think it's much more likely to bring a higher return on our original investment than the Anywhere system. Just look at the prices of the Anywhere systems on eBay. They seem to be bringing less than 50% of the original price. Not so with the 396.

4. Company stability. Each unit requires updating for the map. Even if we go with only a once-a-year update, I have a higher confidence level that Garmin will be around much longer than Control Vision (which farms out the mapping data to a vendor; who knows how long that vendor will be around).

5. The 396 is WAAS enabled. Although it's not legal for IFR approaches, if the stuff hits the fan and you need to, I suppose you could fly an LNAV or VNAV GPS approach to WAAS minima if you needed to get on the ground NOW.

6. The aural alert capability of the 396, mentioned in the review that [MS] forwarded. I can't determine if the Anywhere system does this, but I think it's a neat feature.

7. Non-flying maintenance. Every time we're done with the Anywhere system, it has to be removed from the airplane and placed in a cradle charger to keep it alive. Let the batteries die, the system conks out and we have to set it up again. This means leaving it in the hangar, subject to dust and dirt, etc. That means covering it as well. I don't know how well it's going to do sitting in the hangar during the cold of winter.

I'd like to say that I'm comfortable with the Anywhere system, esp. because it would save me a few hundred $$, but the truth of the matter is that I'm not. I'm happy beyond words with the 430. I have a much higher confidence level that we'll find the same degree of satisfaction with the 396. I don't have that confidence level with the Anywhere system -- even though I really, really want to.

I guess this is my way of saying I think we should bite the bullet and go with the 396. Look, if it sucks, we can sell it and go back to calling Flight Service every 20 minutes....

Let's see if the reality of the 396 holds up to the IFR Pilot's predictions. We'll let you know.

1 comment:

Paul said...

Interesting arguments in favour of the 396. I've been an Anywhere Map user for four years and love it but I think you can't really go wrong with either system.

I chose (and stick with) AWM mostly for the upgradeability costs. I originally owned AWM, then upgraded to AWM WX, keeping the same PDA, all for less than the 396. And when their traffic avoidance upgrade comes out soon, I can upgrade again - can't do that with the sealed-box units.

Anyway, its not my intent to argue your choice as I think you definitely can't go wrong with it. I hope you enjoy using it as much as I do my AWM.