While we focus mostly on the iPad here at iPad Pilot News (it’s in the name, after all), there are plenty of pilots flying with Android tablets too. We sometimes get asked about the best Android package to fly with, and it’s a fair question. Unlike Apple, the choices for Android hardware are vast, with dozens of manufacturers offering tablets across a wide range of prices.
So, which is the best tablet, app and accessory? Here are our suggestions:
Best Android tablet – Nexus 7
Many general aviation pilots now view the 7″ class of tablets (like the iPad Mini) as the preferred size for tight cockpits, and we don’t disagree. What you give up in screen size vs. a 10″ tablet is more than made up for by the more convenient size and expanded options for mounting. In this class of Android tablets, we think Google’s Nexus 7 is the best choice. Other tablets may be newer or boast fancier specs, but we think the Nexus 7 is still the best combination of quality construction, battery life, performance and stability.
One of the best features of the Nexus 7 is its price–just $199 for a 16GB unit with WiFi and only $249 for a 32GB model. But it’s much more solidly built than many cheap Android tablets, with a Gorilla Glass screen and a textured rubber back. This last feature is particularly nice for pilots, since the tablet is much less likely to slide off your knee than the famously-slippery iPad. The battery life (a major Android weakness in our view) is also excellent, with up to 10 hours of full-time use. Surprisingly, the battery life and build quality don’t make this a heavyweight, as the Nexus 7 weighs only 12 oz.
On the software side, the Nexus 7 is a “pure” Android experience, meaning there is no 3rd party skin layered on top of the core Android operating system. This means it’s generally faster and more reliable, and it’s also easier to get software updates. For example, this tablet has been updated to run the latest version of Android, including the useful Google Now feature. Many other Android tablets get orphaned by their inability to update to the latest operating system.
For these reasons, we recommend the Nexus 7 for pilots. A new Nexus 7 is rumored to be in the works, and if it builds on the success of this one, it will probably be the new champion.
For more information on the Nexus 7, click here.
Best Android app – Garmin Pilot
While there are plenty of Android apps available for pilots, there aren’t that many that are truly full-featured–with full moving map options, flight planning, charts, weather and easy updates. Garmin offers what we consider to be the best overall aviation app for Android. It has a comprehensive airport page that offers practically all the information a pilot could ever want about a location, from diagrams and runways to FBOs and fuel prices. It’s well laid out and easy to read. There’s also a robust flight planning tool that mirrors Garmin panel-mount GPSs, making it easy to plan complicated routes. You can do all your pre-flight planning right in the app.
Once in the air, Garmin Pilot offers plenty of features that make it an all-in-one cockpit resource. There is a handy split screen feature, and the options for split screen are powerful–two of our favorites are the panel page, which shows GPS-derived instruments, and an ADS-B traffic display (see below). The app also has some great touch interface tools, like rubber band flight planning and the pop-up menu that appears when you tap and hold on an area.
Garmin is also committed to improving the app, which is a key consideration when you buy an annual subscription to something. We detailed the latest upgrades in a recent article.
Garmin Pilot is $74.99/year for all chart updates. For more information on Garmin Pilot, click here.
Best ADS-B Receiver/GPS for Android – Garmin GDL 39
ADS-B receivers (which always include a GPS as well) have quickly become a must-have accessory for many pilots, especially for IFR flights. The options for Android are a little more limited than for iPad, but there is still a good selection of ADS-B receivers that are compatible. Our top pick is Garmin’s GDL 39, which works with a wide variety of devices, including the iPad and Garmin portable GPSs. When it comes to Android, the GDL 39 only works with the Garmin Pilot app, but that’s not much of a limitation since we think it’s the premier app.
The GDL 39 is a well-made product, as you would expect from Garmin. It features a highly accurate GPS that locks on fast and shows your airplane’s position on the moving map. It also receives subscription-free ADS-B weather, which is displayed quite nicely on the Garmin Pilot app’s moving map page. Information includes Nexrad radar, METARs and TAFs. The GDL 39 also includes a dual band ADS-B traffic receiver, which is a great feature for a $699 device. As we’ve discussed before, ADS-B traffic is far from perfect, but when it works it’s a great thing and Garmin’s implementation of it is the best we’ve seen.
The GDL 39 runs off the cigarette lighter for continuous use, but a model is available for $50 more than includes a 3 hour rechargeable battery.
For more information on the GDL 39, click here.
The total package?
There are plenty of other accessories you can buy to dress up your Android tablet, from mounts and kneeboards to charging accessories. But in our view, a good tablet plus a good app, paired to a good ADS-B receiver, checks the critical boxes for most pilots. With the setup we’ve described here, you’ll have complete digital charts, moving map navigation, in-flight weather and traffic–plus a whole lot more. It’s an incredible tool, and the total price is under $1000 for everything.