Sunday, May 25, 2008

Review: AnywhereTravelCompanion (ATC)

I have been wanting a device to display weather in the cockpit for a while. I have a Garmin430, so the GPS part was not an immediate concern. The main ones I have been considering the Garmin 496, Control Vision AnywhereMap, and True Flight Flight Cheetah.

All of them seem to have pluses and minuses and most of them expensive.

  • Garmin 496: Good stable device, but not upgradeable and no touch screen.
  • AnywhereMap: Good but not as stable. Upgradeable and touch screen. Interface really needs a stylus. Display is not quite bright enough.
  • True Flight: Good stable device. Upgradeable and touch screen. Interface somewhat needs a stylus. Lots of options. Bright display, faster processor. This was the one I was leaning towards.
Then, ControlVision AnywhereMap came out with a new device: AnywhereMap Travel Companion (ATC). It has improved on many of the concerns of the old system:

  • large on screen buttons that do not need a stylus.
  • Dedicated interface to GPS. The Windows CE interface is hidden which actually helps. Software is permanently loaded by the factory.
  • GPS receiver built in and internal antenna supposedly good enough for no external antenna. This means only one cable for power.
  • Only one bluetooth device for weather.
  • Brighter display than the past.
  • Newer more powerful processor
  • Larger 800x480 screen.
After having this for a week or two, I think this is a winner. It has a few small things to work out, but it is good easy to use, and stable.

Here are some pictures of my system. Only one wire from the ATC system for power.



Here are the connections for the WX box. Not too clean yet, but still fairly managable. It all fits in the side pocket in the plane with the WX antenna up on the visor. I might get the suction cup holder for the WX antenna later.


Large Buttons

So far the soft buttons appear to be very usable without a stylus. Only occasionally do I think about a stylus and even then I can use my finger tip. In light turbulence it is even easy.

Dedicated to GPS Navigation

This has made everything nice and easy and not as convoluted as a Windows interface. I have made a mistake or two and it has recovered nicely. I pulled out the battery and replaced and no big deal. I removed the flash card when I was in driving mode and it caused a long boot time, but came back fine. I hear that previously the programs were installed in RAM and now it is in Flash; I think this helps a lot. Before I think if you did the things I mentioned above, you would have had to reinstall the software using an attached computer.

No External GPS Antenna Needed

So far the internal antenna has done very well. Occasionally, it was a little confused finding satellites when I booted. I am not sure about this yet; maybe related to starting the device inside a building and then going outside. I think it is happier when you start it outside. But it does even operate when I am inside my house. I have a Cessna 182 and it does not appear to need an external antenna. One less wire; very nice. In the end, I only need one wire for power and that is it!

Bluetooth

I have heard of some problems with Bluetooth and AnywhereMaps. I have not had one, so I am not sure of the details. In this new case with the ATC, there is only one Bluetooth device. At present, you do have to manually connect to the WX box at startup. This is supposed to be solved in the future and be automatic. It is very easy to do, so I do not think it is a big deal. I have had some situations of loosing the Bluetooth connection to the WX box, but I believe I have isolated the problem. If the 1st gen WX box looses power by wiggling the cigarette power adapter for a tiny instant, it drops the Bluetooth. I am sure this can be solved and I might just wire it into my avionics switch and bypass the cigarette adapter; this was done before for a handheld GPS previously in my plane. When being careful to not disturb the connector, it remains connected forever. It is possible the newest 2nd gen Wx boxes are better about this, but I do not know.

Taxi and FBO information

The FBO information seems nice with the latest fuel prices, nearby hotels and restaurants, and full taxiway information. I have not tried the taxiway information yet, but it is supposed to show your position on the airport diagram. My home airport is small so it does not have a diagram. But it is a no brainer to navagatate around. I will be curious when I go to the nearby Class Delta Airport next time.

Display

The display is very bright. I can see it outside in bright sunlight. If you put it in the worst sun glare it gets a little hard, but I think every device have a problem there. Angle a little bit and it is once again very readable.

The 800x480 display seems a nice size and is larger than a Garmin 430 display with much, much more resolution and colors. I really like that the Class Bravo altitudes are displayed on the ATC; this is not the case on the Garmin 430.

Processor Power

So far I have not had any problems with processor power. When you first start the Flying mode, it can take a half minute. But next time you push the power, it is just coming in and out of a standby mode and is very fast.

Refresh rate seems to be about 1/sec for normal GPS with minimal weather. I hear that the rate can go down a bit with a lot of Radar in the picture. Maybe to once per 3 seconds. This 1/sec rate works for me. I purchased this for weather and this rate is fine for me. I think the Garmin 496 is supposed to be a faster update rate, but I have not seen it. I wonder if it slows down with weather as well. The keys respond instantly without any lag. Maybe this is due to the dual processor? After a zoom change, the first refresh takes about 2 seconds.

Driving Mode

So far I really like the driving mode. I saw some complaints about it on-line, but I have not experienced any problems there. Route recalculation is fast and good. If you do not like the route it picks, you can tell it to pick a route "via" a new intersection. This works very well. I noticed one time at the "via" point it told me to go right instead of left and I think that was a strange artifact of the "via" point. Easy to deal with.

I am amazed at the business database it has inside. It has every business I could want in it. Hopefully it is updatable in the future.

I did not read through the manual to figure all the features out, so I had to fumble a little while in some places. But not that I have figured out how to set up start/destination/via and searching businesses, it is very nice.

Battery

The battery lasts a little while. Maybe an hour or two. So it is good in emergency or short trips, but other wise use the power adapter which works easily.

Price

The price is pretty unbeatable. I even managed to get it during the introduction period for $695 including the device including GPS and the ATC software. I then got a used 1st Generation Wx Box for less than half price and had it updated by AnywhereMap for $95. So in the end, I had gps and weather in the cockpit for just over $1100 dollars. This is much, much cheaper than other systems; most are $2500 or more. Even if you pay the normal price for the ATC components, I think it would be a good deal.

Summary

It is a good solid device. I would recommend getting one. Check around and see other peoples' thoughts. If you do try one, be aware of their return policy; it is a little strict with a 10-15% penalty for returns. But hopefully you will like it and not have that concern.

Some Errata being worked on by AnywhereMap:

There are few minor things to know that are planned to be fixed. Others are just things you need to be aware of. They are minor and I think the improtant ones will be fixed soon.

  • Need to manually connect to weather each time you boot
  • State lines to be fixed. System slows down with them activated.
  • Don't access the USB looking drive from your computer. If you do, be very careful and check with ControlVision. I do not think it is recommended.
  • Don't upload contacts. This might be fixed.
  • Watch the power connection for the weather box. Can loose the Bluetooth connection if power blips.
  • PocketPlates for approach charts is not quite available yet, but soon.

A couple things I read about to be careful of:

  • Don't remove the flash card while the flying portion is on. Preferrably any time.
  • Close out the flying mode before downloading updates

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

Brian,
I just received my ATC with WX today. I've been an Anywhere Map customer for many years. I wish my experience was as good as yours. I can't get the WX to work. I had to download the user manual from their web site which hasn't been helpful. The plug and the ATC get very hot while in use.
I haven't been able to figure out how to search for an aiport using the city name as with past versions, it has locked up on me once and seems to be VERY slow to move between applications.

It could all be operator error, but I'm kind of a gadget guy and have used their software for years. So far I'm really disappointed. I'm going to give it a while to see if I can get it running right with their help. I'll repost in a week or two.

Mike

Brian said...

Sorry to hear that. I have noticed a few quirks since I wrote this review, but still like it. No lockups if I reset after any firmware updates.

To connect to my used WX box (reconfigured by Control Vision), I hit setting->bluetooth manager->bluetooth manager->My shortcuts->XM Blue SPP: Serial Port [1] and the connect button at the bottom. The shortcut was there when I got my system and works nicely. A new version of the software (in a week or two) is supposed to connect automatically to the WX box.

The airport lookup sounds nice, but I have not used AnywhereMap before so I had not seen that before. There are a number of features that they indicate are still in the works.

They promise to work a lot out in the next month or two (probably before Oshkosh) including a faster refresh rate.

If I had to pay full price for the ATC+WX, I might want to compare with the 496 with a side-by-side comparison. It looks like the 496 has come down in price recently.

/Brian

bruce said...

purchase ATC in july. wxworx box fail in one hour. delayed trip for replacement(they charged me $73 for shipping). second box failed approaching atlanta. the ATC unit had issues such as locking up. i agreed to let them send me a whole new set after they burned one in for a few days. a week later i found out they hadn't even started the process...was told i would have to pay for another one because "they were expensive" i guess they didn't trust me with their broken equipment. three calls to management went unanswered

Brian said...

I heard they had been working very hard before Oshkosh and they took some staggered vacations afterwards. I think they are back now. That does not explain everything, but hopefully they help you out better now. I have heard that the on-line chat can be one of the better ways to get a hold of the people at Control Vision. Some other methods I have heard do not work as well such as E-mail.

I am still pretty happy with my unit. I hope you can be in the end too.

/Brian

Brian said...

Now with the Bendix/King AV8OR, I think that deserves some looks. It is similar price for the base unit ($749 vs $695) and cheaper for the unit with weather ($1223 vs $1495). There was an article in Aviation Consumer about this unit, but not yet in comparison to the Anywhere Travel Companion. Aviation Consumer said they would be doing this comparison soon.

/Brian

Anonymous said...

Brian,
Alright, I've used the ATC for a while now and I'm ready to repost with updated information.

1. The ATC was problematic when it first came out. I know they were anxious to get it rolled out, but didn't have all the bugs worked out. I guess that's a marketing decision that has to be made. Personally, I think I'd have waited until it was a polished product. On the other hand, the fastest way to learn all the bugs is to offer the unit at a discount and allow the people to provide feedback for improvements. I guess I didn't understand I was going to part of that group.

2. The ATC website keeps you updated with the latest upgrades and fixes. I like it a lot. I get the latest info each day before I fly. It's a great feature.

3. Most, if not all the bugs have been worked out of the system and it works great. I just got back from a 20 hour round trip flight using the ATC as the primary navigation tool. It worked as advertised and met my expectations.

4. Twice on the flight I received a weather timeout message and had to restart weather. Not a big deal as each leg was about 3.5 hours long.

5. I'm very happy with my system at this point. I hope it continues to operate as well as it has up to this point. I would and have recommended it to others.

For those having trouble, hang in there. It'll work and you'll love it once you get the bugs worked out. Use their forum and update at least weekly and you'll be in good shape.

Mike

bruce said...

Update to my last comment in august...after paying $74 postage to return two malfunctioning ATC units, i was charged $228 restocking fee. Really bad customer relations. I, of course, have disputed the amex charge.

Bruce said...

I purchased an Anywhere Map ATC recently and it locked when I first did a software update via Control Vision's website. I called tech support, who acknowledged that they had experienced this problem before. There "fix" did not work and they promptly sent me a new unit. When I turned on the new unit it locked at "loading map data." I called the company back and they have never returned my calls. AvShop, thank goodness, has been great - they are swapping the Anywhere Map ATC for a Bendix/King AV80R. In my experience the ATC is, at best, in beta test phase of development and clearly not ready for the market. Shame on Control Vision.

Bruce said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Cameron said...

When I saw the ad for the Anywhere Travel Companion “ATC” I knew I had to have it because it had dual purposes both ground and air and it compact. Regardless of a $50 rebate $695 is a bit steep but, then again, I had to remind myself I am dealing with aviation. The good news I was lucky enough to get a refurbished ATC for $495.

I have yet to use it in the air however, the ground part is a different story. Let's just say this is my first GPS.

I've used the ATC on familiar routes but I found the routes it was giving me was sending me way out of my way to bring me to my destination.

My biggest gripe is it does not name the streets thus you cannot cross reference the street names it will just say turn left on next streets or turn left 400 feet but when I’ll glance at the display it shows less then 400 feet and is sometimes slow to update.

Battery power sucks. You better be plugged in or you will be out of juice sooner than you think.

Again, I haven’t used it in the air and I am looking forward to doing so. Despite those flaws, I do think for me this is a good investment and I plan to put it to good use.

Ernie said...

Cameron,
you might want to check the map software you have, as far as the road portion, mine does give street names and adequate warning. Ive used it side by side with my tomtom 920, which ive had over a yr and been very happy with, and I havent noticed any difference in routing, except maybe the tomtom has a slightly more user friendly UI, and slightly faster.
the ATC battery life is quite disappointing, i agree

Anonymous said...

I'm buying the Bendix. I'm tired and wary of small companies without the experience of building real avionics quality products--issues out of the complexity inherent combining hardware and software (btw what operating system is Anywhere Map using--Microsoft?) and third party interfaces such as WX products. We've seen the results of firms who simply don't have the experience, engineering, cash, testing, and product management skills to build truly reliable aviation products. I'm not willing to stake my life to be a beta tester for these firms.

Anonymous said...

I'm returning my brandy-new ATC to Sporty's. It also locked up a times but my biggest complaint is that the internal street maps are copyrighted 2007. It appears that the actual map making pre-dates that by a couple of years in that many local streets that have been in place 5 and 6 years just aren't in there. Worse yet, long hours of downloading and chatting with tech support have shown that there are no newer maps and, according to HP, there won't EVER be any new maps (at least not free and not from them as advertised.) Shame on Sporty's and Control Vision for selling a defunct product as if it were state-of-the-art.

Brian said...

My ATC still seems to work pretty well. But what I am primarily using it for is for the weather and a duplicate view of the Class B/C/D airspaces. I have not been using it much for driving on the ground. When I have used it this way, I usually have a paper map as well. I am faster using a map than using an ATC or probably any other device. My wife also doesn't like to see me messing with an electronic device as she is leaving the rental car place. She wants to go and knows I can do it quickly with a map.

/Brian

Anonymous said...

everyone fials to comment on one important fact, incuding the anywheremap company itself, the darn unit doesnt function above 250mph! so most corporate jets (and there are still a lot of them out there without fancy glass cockpits) cannot use the unit! why the hell would a company that is in the business of making aviation gps's be so cheap to use poor gps units. my auto navigon 110 unit ($100) unit functions in my jet, but the aviation unit won't? what a joke. the company's comment to me was that i was correct in my comments and they use a cheap gps unit to keep cost down. fine, but mention it in the specs. idiots!

Anonymous said...

To the pilot with the speed restriction of 250mph when using the ATC in "his" jet. You have a jet, and your quibbling over a few hundred dollars worth of GPS??? If we all had such problems... Also, jet pilot, you would get more sympathy and/or believability from your story if you could actually spell.

John said...

I first saw the anywheremap at Sun-n-fun a couple years ago and a friend of mine had an older version loaded on his PDA he really liked. I've mostly used Garmin products for car and plane and decided to get the ATC. To say the least we've been very disappointed with it's performance in the plane. Have not even attempted using it in the car. I've had it just over a year and and have had alot of problems mainly with it being very slow to do anything including basic functions and just moving from one page to the next. Have found that it has been very unreliable for weather use which is the main reason we got it. Paid $1495 for it plus all the "other" stuff they charge which was about $350 more. The bluetoothe and WX weather box have really been a problem and seems to go offline for no particular reason. Then you have to go through the whole process of reconnecting and sometimes it still doesn't do it - not good. I've called tech support several times and they always tell me it's slow because I don't have the newest download of software on it. I've downloaded different versions of the software as instructed by them and everytime I turn around they've got a newer version which is great but for $1500 bucks I don't think I should be having to bring the ATC home and download programs all the time. Recently, I boxed the ATC up and sent it back for them to diagnos why the heck it processes so slow. Of course they put a newer version of the software on it and sent it back stating everything appears normal. Wish I could have gotten even some of my money back but they said I've had it too long. So, after they sent it back to me they mentioned since they didn't have my weather box to test they weren't sure that it didn't have a problem also. If they would have told me that when I called in for an RA# I would have boxed the weather box up and sent it as well. In short I think that this unit has some good technology but still has a ways to go for control vision to get all of the kinks out.