Bendix/King AV8OR: Nav on the Road or in the Sky

Posted by: Stephen Wildstrom on August 11, 2009

Personal navigation devices have been having a rough time lately. Competition in an increasingly commoditized market is driving down prices—and margins. And standalone PNDs are being squeezed between more and more capable navigation software on phones and cheaper, though still over priced, in-dash systems.

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But as the name suggests, the Bendix/King AV8OR from Honeywell isn’t any old PND. It’s a $720 dual-mode device that functions as a highly capable highway navigation device on the road, then can take to the air as a supplementary GPS navigator for airplanes. Like other portable aviation GPS units, the AV8OR is not approved by the Federal Aviation Administration, which means that it cannot officially be used in place of standard instruments or printed navigation charts, but it should be a useful adjunct on light planes that lack built-in GPS systems.

Having neither a pilot's license nor a plane, I found the aviation side of te the AV8OR mainly a curiosity. But on a recent two-week swing through the northern Rocky Mountains of Montana and Alberta, I found it a very useful tool in my rental car. Normally, I make do with navigation software from Telenav or Networks in Motion on a BlackBerry or iPhone. But that wasn't going to work on this trip. Those systems depend on good network connections to load the maps and directions. At least in Canada, I could generally count on service from Rogers Wireless along major highways, though often it was EDGE rather than 3G. Over the border, however, things got hopeless. AT&T does not seem to realize that Montana is part of the U.S. So using a standalone PND with a built-in database was a big advantage.

The PND has some other advantages. The big 4.3-in. display allows for more map detail and more display options. The GPS positioning was precise and turn instructions were timely. Occasionally, driving on Alberta Route 2 between Calgary and the U.S. border, it would briefly lose track of where I was. The road would disappear from the display and I would seem to be cruising through a hayfield. But these glitches were brief and only seemed to occur when it didn't matter--it's hard to make a navigation error driving down a straight as an arrow road across the Alberta prairie. In city navigation in Calgary, it performed flawlessly.

The AV8OR comes with a cradle that can be attached to a windshield mount for a car or an instrument panel mount for an airplane. The unit I had fit very loosely in the cradle, a problem I fixed with some Velcro tape. The unit comes with a 12/28 volt power supply for car or aircraft use; even with an optional extended-life battery, you can only count on about 3 hours of full-power use, so a power supply is pretty much a necessity. In aviation mode, the AV8OR get also get real-time weather from XM Satellite Radio with an optional receiver and subscription.

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Bloomberg Businessweek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, and Douglas MacMillan, dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.

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