GPS decisions

Because I’ve been working a bunch of overtime recently, I’ve got a bit of “free” money, and a pressing need to make myself feel better about all the free time I’ve given up. So I decided it was time to get an upgrade of my GPS – I’ve had my Garmin GPSMAP 195 since soon after I got my private pilot license in 1996. At the time, it was top of the line – I think I spent about $1400 for it.

At first, I was looking at the Garmin GPSMAP 196 – it’s similar to the 195 in that it has a monochrome screen, but it has a faster processor and a couple of high nifty value features, like being able to put the map and the HSI on the screen at the same time instead of switching between them like I do with the 195. Also, it will show an extended runway centerline, which is good for situational awareness if you’ve being vectored to an ILS – on the 195 if you select an ILS approach, it draws a line from your current position to the intermediate fix, and then from there to the runway, which is not optimal. Used 196s are going on eBay for anywhere between $510 and $760, and new ones are $800.

But then I counted up how much overtime I’ve earned, and figured that maybe I deserve a Garmin GPSMAP 296. The 296 is a colour version of the 196. When Garmin brought out the 295, the colour follow on to the 195, it sucked with a capital S. The 295 had a lousy screen and an almost non-existant battery life. The 296 is a different story entirely. The colour is so good that they provide a topographic view background map, and also a terrain warning function very much like the Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System that the airliners have. (Not that I fly in the mountains, but it’s still a cool feature.) 296s cost about $1100-$1250 used on eBay or $1500 new.

And once you start looking at the 296, the obvious question is “Why not a Garmin GPSMAP 396?” The 396 is the upgrade to the 296 that came out last year – it has all the features of the 296, plus it hooks up to XM Satellite Radio to overlay all sorts of weather information on your moving map, from NEXRAD radar to satellite imagery and lightning strikes. Plus you can use it for listening to XM Radio. The problem is that this extra capability costs an extra $1000 – and don’t expect to get it on eBay at all. I couldn’t find a single legitimate eBay auction for these guys except for stores that had the Buy It Now price set to the MSRP. And don’t forget that the XM weather subscription is an extra $50 a month, plus another $13 if you want the radio as well.

Both the 296 and the 396 have an optional “auto kit” that allows you to use it for turn-by-turn directions while driving. I can see that being very useful, especially in courtesy cars in strange cities.

I agonized over the decision, 296 versus 396 for a couple of days. I lost a lot of sleep over it last night. Finally I came to a decision: I’m not the sort of guy who goes testing the fringes of thunderstorms or going on many long cross countries. In fact, other than going to Oshkosh and the rec.aviation fly-in in Pinckneyville, I just don’t do that many long trips.

So I reluctantly decided to get the 296. Then I found that Aircraft Spruce and Specialty is selling used 296s for $1095! I can use the savings to buy an auto kit! And maybe a new ANR headset. So that’s what I’ve done – I’ve ordered the used 296 and the auto kit. I still haven’t decided which new ANR headset to get.

By the way, anybody want to buy my 195? I can hardly call it “gently used”, but it’s in pretty good shape considering how I just toss it in the flight bag. Comes with yoke mount, at least one and possibly two external antennas (I recently re-found the one I thought I’d lost). Every now and then the zip-up carrying bag for the GPS shows up, so if you’re local I can pass that along to you next time it turns up. Same with the manual – I think it’s in the boxes in the library we haven’t unpacked from the move yet (but we’re getting the library painted in a few weeks, so those boxes will get unpacked very soon afterwards). They seem to be going for around $250-$300 on eBay (with a couple of outliers above and below). First local person offering $200 gets it.

5 thoughts on “GPS decisions”

  1. Still got this available, Paul? I’m starting to reconsider my Palm based GPS idea.. It’s good in that it’s multipurpose and I an run flightplanning related software in the Palm environment, and the GPS attachment does work well…but it’s difficult to view the screen in flight.

    And that, of course, is the endgame when it comes to GPS units.

    Drop me an email.

  2. Re. the iQue, the GPS/mapping software is at least as featureful as that of the 296; the display is the same except for orientation; the touch/stylus screen makes data entry a snap; the physical shape makes it easy to keep it in a pocket; the SD memory cards can carry big maps… Plus it could make a good backup palmos widget (though there is no legal obligation to use the device as such). It seems better in almost every way, at least on paper, me not having seen a 296 up close lately.

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