ForeFlight vs. Garmin – what are their unique strengths?

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ForeFlight and Garmin Pilot have slowly but surely become the dominant aviation apps over the last year. There are plenty of other quality apps out there – we also fly with WingX, Fltplan Go, Aerovie and many others – but the data we’ve seen suggests that this has become something of a Coke vs. Pepsi competition.

ForeFlight vs Garmin
What’s the difference?

As a result, we often get asked to compare the two apps, or to suggest which one might have an advantage in one area. New pilots often struggle to choose which one they should use during training. Some experienced pilots have been flying with one app for a number of years and are wondering if the grass is greener on the other side.

There is no easy answer to these questions, because both apps have long feature lists and established companies behind them. This is also very subjective, because “easy to use” and “important features” both depend on pilot preferences. Having said that, we’re going to make an effort to point out the unique strengths of these two apps. This is based on a number of flights with different pilots over the last year, plus interviews, webinars, and surveys.

Similarities

First, it’s worth listing all the things that are similar between the two apps. Both have grown up a lot in recent years, and the feature lists are long. There simply aren’t many gaping holes here, and we think almost any pilot will find the essential features in either one. You can compare specific features across multiple EFB apps in our app buyer’s guide.

Both Garmin Pilot and ForeFlight, in their own way, offer the following:

  • Moving map navigation
  • Terrain and obstacle alerts
  • Complete IFR/VFR charts
  • Data-driven/scalable maps
  • Airport and FBO information
  • Preflight weather briefings
  • Flight plan filing
  • Suggested ATC routing
  • Scratch pads
  • Weight and balance
  • Checklists
  • Digital logbook
  • Synthetic vision
  • ADS-B weather/traffic integration

This is an impressively long list, but there are a few differences to point out. These are mostly a matter of degree or style, but some of them are significant.

ForeFlight

Ease of use. The most consistent feedback we hear about ForeFlight is that it’s easy to use. Certainly some pilots will disagree with this (and the app does have its confusing features), but in general pilots seem to find their way around the app faster. There are a number of features that are accessed simply by tapping on the screen, which makes it intuitive. We also think the Downloads page and map layer menu are easier to use than the equivalent features in Garmin Pilot.

ForeFlight web
ForeFlight now offers a complete online flight planning tool.

Online flight planner. Over the last 12 months, ForeFlight has progressively built out their online flight planning tool to the point where it has most of the key features of the iOS app. This is free for ForeFlight subscribers, and it’s a nice benefit. If you’re on an FBO computer or a big-screen desktop computer at home, this does make pre-flight planning easy. All the information syncs automatically to your iPad, so the entire process is seamless. Garmin does not currently offer any online service.

Documents with cloud sync. Professional pilots in particular appreciate the Documents tab in ForeFlight. This is a digital library of PDFs, Word documents and other files, and all of it is kept in sync across a pilot’s devices automatically. Whether you’re a flight department dispatcher using it to keep SOP manuals current or a private pilot using it to view your POH in flight, there are a lot of uses for it. Garmin does not have a dedicated Documents feature.

MOS chart ForeFlight
ForeFlight has a variety of helpful weather reports, including MOS forecast graphics.

Unique weather products. ForeFlight has clearly put a premium on weather tools in the app. While Garmin has the essential weather reports and forecasts, ForeFlight is always pushing the envelope. A few examples include: MOS data to offer forecasts for airports with no TAF, forecast discussions to add detail to text forecasts, and multiple radar products (base and composite). For instrument pilots and weather geeks, these additional tools help make a more informed go/no-go decision.

Track logs. After flying a flight, it’s often fun or instructive to review it from the relaxed setting of a pilot lounge. ForeFlight has a number of helpful capabilities that make this possible, most notably their automatic track logging feature. This records your flight – including speed, altitude, and route – then stores it in the app. When it’s convenient, you can review the flight online, share it with friends on social media, or debrief with a third party app like Google Earth or CloudAhoy.

Garmin Pilot

Garmin Pilot flight plan transfer
Garmin Pilot has deep avionics integration and powerful split-screen features.

Avionics integration. Garmin dominates the panel-mount avionics market, so it’s no surprise they excel in this area. Whether you want to send flight plan data from your iPad to a GTN 750 or pull SiriusXM weather from the panel to your iPad, Garmin Pilot can do it. There are also portable devices, including Garmin aera series GPSs and inReach series satellite communicators. As our recent flight test explains, Garmin Pilot can connect to a long list of external devices so your panel and portable devices are always on the same page. ForeFlight does connect to some panel-mount products (including Garmin’s FlightStream), but the list is shorter overall and there are more limitations.

Powerful split screen. Both ForeFlight and Garmin have a split screen mode, but Garmin’s is more robust. In addition to synthetic vision (ForeFlight’s only option), Garmin Pilot can also display terrain, flight plan, checklists, approach plates, and a scratch pad. For power users, this additional functionality can be a real time saver.

Nearest airport feature. Pilots have loved this feature since the early days of portable GPSs, and Garmin’s implementation in the app is superb. Tap NRST on the Map page and the app will zoom in on your closest airports, gray out the background clutter, and provide distance and direction information at a glance. It’s fast and powerful – just what you want in an emergency. ForeFlight does not have a nearest button in the app.

Android Garmin Pilot app
Garmin Pilot’s Android app now has worldwide maps and weather.

Android or iOS. While this feature won’t matter for all pilots, if you have a mixed-OS cockpit (maybe an Android phone and an iPad), Garmin Pilot will accommodate it nicely. Their Android app isn’t quite as full-featured as the iOS version, but it’s still quite good, with charts, moving map, flight plan filing, and much more. It’s our top pick among Android aviation apps.

European charts. For pilots in Europe, Garmin is a complete EFB app, including flight planning, weather, terrain, and charts. There are a variety of options, including VFR and IFR charts for Europe, SafeTaxi diagrams for Brazil, and even the option to view Jeppesen charts. ForeFlight has a worldwide basemap and complete Canadian coverage, but no charts for Europe and no Jepp charts.

What matters?

As the feature list above makes clear, both of these apps are outstanding. Choosing one for your own flying is mostly a matter of matching the strengths to the type of flying you do. For example, flight departments love ForeFlight’s online planner and Documents feature; airplane owners with a stack full of Garmin avionics love Garmin Pilot’s deep integration. There just isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution.

The best answer is to try them both and see which one works for you. Both apps offer free trials that allow you to play around with the key features and decide what “easy to use” means in your cockpit.

Learn more about ForeFlight here

Learn more about Garmin Pilot here

8 COMMENTS

  1. I have used both (as well as FltPlan Go, FlyQ, and WingX) for a couple of years now. What finally made one stand above the others for me was Garmin’s incorporation of Jeppesen approach plates, which really are better and safer than the government charts. The fact that we’re free with my Jeppesen Navdata subscription because of my particular Garmin panel configuration cinched it. (If my panel had been slightly different, I could have gotten Garmin Pilot free if I bought my navdata from Garmin, but then I would have had to pay to add Jepp plates to Garmin Pilot.)

    I think I will end up with Garmin Pilot and FltPlan Go (which is completely free for anybody) because the latter provides the features I want from Foreflight (primarily document handling) but also because I put it free on every device I have as a backup.

  2. I use Garmin Pilot more or less exclusively on my iPad, since it is the main and indeed only source of navigation information for my Thorp T-211 SkySkooter (other than a whiskey compass!). I find the Garmin to be superior because at its heart it is a navigator, and not merely an EFB with a moving map, which pretty well describes all of the other products on the market. The split screen with the instrument panel is outstanding, and I navigate all the time off of the HSI (I have over 45 years of big airplane flying, all with HSI, so moving maps are merely an accoutrement for me!!)

    Pilot is the most user friendly app I have encountered (I also have WingXPro because it is available to CFI’s, as well as flightPlanGo, both of which are excellent but fundamentally EFB’s with moving maps, and both of which are not as intuitive to a pilot, in my opinion. I do not have Foreflight, but I have seen a good bit of it and to me it falls into the same category – visually a bit cluttered and not as intuitive). And of course, if you have the good fortune to either have or have access to the new GTN series in an airplane, the Pilot will be familiar territory to you, to say nothing of its potential connectivity with your airplane’s panel.

    All in all, I can’t recommend Garmin Pilot highly enough. I don’t leave home without it, unless I am planning on following the interstates all the way!

  3. ForeFlight refuses to correct anomalies
    For example on the IFR chart view a custom made pull down note poster is available with icon
    If you send that plate over to overlay a map the icon will show up however you cannot open it in map page. Been like that for two years

  4. After a long hiatus from flying I discovered these apps and what they offered pilots. Having tried both at the same time I will say that from a learning perspective, Foreflight wins hands down and was much more intuitive. This was very important to me and it appears to me that it is written and updated by pilots. All of these apps are fantastic compared to my training days and you should choose the one that works best for your flying.

  5. The feature list at the beginning of the article shows there is a robustness to both FF and Pilot. However, there is one safety feature that Foreflight refuses to address even after corresponding with Tyson W. that should be of interest to GA pilots. It is the warnings related to obstacles. For such a robust app Foreflight does a poor job alerting of a potential obstacle impact. The app changs the small screen icon for a tower from normal to yellow to red; that’s it. Every other app puts a eye-catching banner on the screen. Pilot does a great job of alerting. It is ironic that Foreflight will robustly warn of a runway incursion but not when hitting a tower. Go figure.

  6. Long before smart phones, there was a desktop flight planning program called Flightsoft by RMS Technology. They had a lot of these “amazing” flight planning tools long before Foreflight (and Garmin.) Although its unfortunate that RMS closed their doors years ago, it might behoove some of these “trailblazer” software companies to adopt some of the tools, such as a route line that when tapped anywhere along the route, it would show time to destination, time from takeoff, fuel used, fuel needed to finish, and other programmable features, along with color-changing route line for terrain, fuel, etc.

    They also had a basic weight/balance feature templates that you could customize for your particular aircraft. The templates were fantastic for renter pilots like me since we didn’t know all of the particular nuances of each airplane (or helicopter) that Foreflight demands before I can utilize the feature. And there’s more – go find a copy and be amazed (no, I am not related to RMS, just someone that misses those features)

    And Yes, I mentioned all of this to the Foreflight rep in charge of software development at 2016 AirVenture, and emailed the company as well.

    7600!

  7. Ah! What fond memories of Flightsoft. That app had a lot of nice features for its time especially clean screen vector maps.

    Now for today’s apps. Consider obstacle decluttering. Foreflight shows all obstacles at 10K AGL and 300+ miles away which makes the screen very busy; Garmin more conviently declutters the screen by limiting the range obstacles show to about 50 miles and 1000 feet below. As mentioned by prior poster, maybe that was related to FF evolving from EFB to navigator while Garmin was a navigator first with vector maps which showed clean screen with writing in normal perspective. FF recently caught up and added that handy feature but made that a Plus feature for $50 upcharge. Garmin subscription is $150 versus FF cost of $200 for nearly the same features.

    Where Garmin falls a little short is the Pilot app requires the use of a dedicated Garmin GDL-39 ADS-B weather receiver; Foreflight requires the use of a Stratus receiver but Foreflight has opened up their app to permit use of the Garmin GDL-39 Receiver. Imagine the pressure put on Foreflight if Garmin “cracked” the Stratus Receiver so Foreflight users could migrate to Pilot. Seattle Avionics cracked the Stratus so why could not Garmin do it?

    For sure as pilots we have benefited from iPad apps (Foreflight, Pilot and others) that provide us better situational awareness.

  8. I like the ForeFlight app better. Much less button pushing to get the same result. Don’t have to keep going to a menue button, and I have all Garmin avionics. Now that it is working with Jeppesen for enroute & approach charts that clinched the fact I’m staying with ForeFlight. I’ve already got Jeppesen subscriptions for my two Garmin gps navigators, so that’s already a plus also.

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