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GPS vs Tablet

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My portable GPS died and I'm wondering whether to replace it or buy a small (5-8") tablet instead. I am a racing sailor with a dedicated chartplotter on my boat (below deck) but I often sail other boats. I would use the portable device in my cockpit and on other boats. I'm not crossing oceans, or probably even getting out of cell range (often).
GPS- single purpose, has some benefits:
--easy to see in sunlight
--dedicated buttons easy to use with gloves
--replaceable batteries
--can run other software, including valuable race management software
--less expensive
--free/inexpensive maps
--more sophisticated future development
--might require an external GPS bluetooth receiver
--might require a cell data plan (eliminating or reducing the cost advantage)

I'd appreciate your perspective.

3 Replies

  • No advice here for you one way or the other, but some additional points for you to consider as you make a decision ...

    GPS Pro:
    - caught in bad weather as a guest on another sailboat, it is much more manageable to have a gps on your wrist then a table in a water proof bag.
    - for your own sailboat, keeping a gps in a metal box (protect from lighting) is a useful backup for your chartplotter down below.

    Tablet pro:
    - access to active captain and other applications, puts a lot more nautical information at your finger tips, i find useful when cruising.
    - crowd source information continues to grow (maybe we will have better depth info soon? useful for racing?)
    - limited, but partially useful ais information (needs a data plan, or smart phone link)

    Data Plan
    - unnecessary if you have a smart phone with you, plugged into a boats 12v.

    Other thoughts:
    - Race management has seemed to me, an impractical use of a tablet. Especially a tablet without access to the boats sensors such as SOW and wind.
    - An old used gps is cheaper than a water proof bag for a tablet. Maybe get a tablet (unprotected) and an old ups both? Very old used gps's on ebay are cheap when they show up ($19 to $30). Although the maps in memory are old and updates are unavailable (ex gpsmap 76), when combined with a paper map or a chart plotter down below you get the needed functionality. For ebay, research the gps product to negotiate price, learn if WAAS feature no longer works (sats changed channel awhile ago), if updating software is impractical (rs-232) or not supported on that model, and if map updates are not available. Use the lack of these three capabilities vs new, to negotiate the price down to 40 or less.

    IMHO - racing & cruising sailor

  • Dan, I'm surprised you didn't mention the problem of seeing the tablet screen in open sunny conditions. It really is a problem (as you've mentioned before).

    At any rate, I've started testing an Android tablet put together specifically for boating called the NavioTab. An accessory they offer is a three-sided black sun shield that I suspect will be useful. More info here:

  • Problem of seeing Tablet Screen in sunny conditions - I entirely forgot about that. As Ben knows I have been vocal about that in the past, and it should be at the top of the CON list.

    Sunlight view-ability isn't the only problem. Our local yacht club gave up on the Kattack mobile race app last year (simple app does not need a sunlight viewable screen per se, just start the application). The failure proved to me that then current consumer products in the cockpit have multiple challenges at doing things as basic as creating a reliable log of GPS positions for post race analysis as each attempted use in a race had multiple sailboats that failed to get a good record. In addition, the inability to record wind instruments provided unsatisfactory results on replay. STW and compass would have been useful given the strong water currents in our area.

    Probably a whole different picture is evolving now as some of us purchase MFD's or other devices that allow our mobile devices access to boat data, mobile device add-on's overcome mobile device limitations, and the mobile devices are getting better at doing things such as maintaining GPS and/or wireless connections for long duration's on a battery charge.