Android users have been clamoring for a full-featured aviation app to match some of the impressive products available on iPad and iPhone. It’s finally here, with the launch of Garmin Pilot. This impressive app (a sister app to Garmin Pilot for iOS) is made for both Android phones and tablets, and is a complete cockpit companion. We’ve been testing it for a few weeks now, and while it isn’t perfect, we do think it’s the best Android app yet for pilots.
Pilot includes most of the features you’ve come to expect from a pre-flight and in-flight app, including: complete charts (sectionals, IFR enroute charts and approach plates), pre-flight weather briefings, DUAT(S) flight plan filing and detailed airport information.
Garmin has included some nice add-ons too. The built-in AOPA Airport Directory is a bonus, giving Garmin Pilot some of the most comprehensive airport information we’ve seen. Garmin’s SafeTaxi airport diagrams are also included, offering detailed taxiway information for over 700 airports. These charts can be geo-referenced (as can the approach plates) if you purchase the Pro subscription package.
The app is a helpful backup for in-flight navigation, and the popular Dual XGPS150A Bluetooth GPS works well with Pilot. You can overlay your entire route on your preferred chart and view key navigation data in a split screen format. Flight plan entry is a strong suit here, as you can enter detailed routes just like a panel-mount GPS. If you’ve flown Garmin panel-mount avionics, you’ll recognize how to use this feature right away. We found this really helpful on last-minute re-routes from ATC.
Garmin obviously spent some time optimizing the user interface, and it pays off for the most part. The dedicated home button at the top left of the app pops up a large, icon-based menu that is very similar to Garmin aera and GTN GPSs. This makes it easy to get around the app without relying on the Android menu button (which is disappearing on newer phones and tablets).
Chart updates are quick too, allowing you to download multiple updates simultaneously. The one beef is that there are almost too many options here. Databases are selected for download from a map, so you choose digital charts just like you would choose paper charts–tap on the Cincinnati sectional to get that area of coverage. If you’re close to a new chart cycle, you can choose to download the current charts or the next cycle charts. It’s a nice option, but it can get confusing if you’re downloading a lot of different charts.
One great feature of Garmin Pilot is that it works across platforms–so you can run Pilot on your iPad and your Android phone with one subscription. We’re not aware of any other app that allows this. Just make sure to create an account on one device, then sign in with that account on the other device.
Now for a couple of complaints. First (and this is more a criticism of Android than this particular app), the app experience varies across different hardware. We tried it on a Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 tablet, and it worked well. We also tried it on an HTC Thunderbolt phone and a Droid Incredible 2 with good success. But some other phones were less than ideal, and some tablets were simply not compatible. The Google Play store tells you automatically if an app is available on your device(s), so check to make sure it will work on your phone or tablet.
Also, this is not as mature as the iOS app, so some significant features are missing in the Android version:
- No radial menu–tap a place on the map and you get a pop-up button for direct-to, airport information or weather
- No graphical route editing
- No XM Weather option (the Baron Mobile Link works on iOS)
- No chart binders for approach plates
- No panel page of instruments
But Garmin is committed to updating this product, so many of the features will probably be added in the near future. It’s an impressive app even as it stands today.