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Sun, Feb 27, 2005

Aero-Reviews: Garmin iQue 3600a, Part II

Palm-Powered Unit Combines Best Features Of Handheld PDA Computing, Garmin GPS Technology

By ANN Associate Editor Juan Jimenez

In the previous installment of this review, we talked about the major features of the Garmin iQue 3600a, including hardware features and software installation.

The next step is the obvious one -- let's see the mapping functions! A tap on the home icon brings up the main display, and a tap on the Map icons brings up the QueMap application. The Map program has two modes -- aviation or land. There is a map with overlay mode, a full screen map, two aviation display modes -- 2 rows of data or an HSI with data on the right, and two automotive modes where the difference is a bit more information.

The big difference between the aviation and automotive map renderings is the addition of terrain level information. In aviation mode, as you zoom in and out the rendering engine adds obstruction symbols onto the map. All of these features and many more can be configured to a fine level of detail through the Preferences screen. For example, SUA (special use airspace) rendering can be controlled for restricted areas, MOA's, Mode C veils and other SUA's. Each one can be set to be shown or removed at a certain zoom level, which is selected either automatically or at the bottom right of the map.

The level of detail that the unit can display is impressive. With City Select maps installed -- I'll cover this in the remaining portions of the review -- and the 800 foot zoom mode selected, you can clearly distinguish individual streets, avenues, points of interest and even the tiny fork and knife icons that indicate a restaurant. I can't emphasize this enough -- Garmin has very obviously devoted quite a bit of thought and effort into the design of the unit's screen rendering. Paying a lot of attention to the user interface has paid off with screens that are easy to read and interpret. I wear glasses, and have trouble reading very small print, but this unit's display is so clear and crisp, and the layouts so well thought out, that I don't strain my eyesight like I do with other similar products.

In order to navigate from one place to another, you need to pick your starting point and destination. In it simplest form, you start from your current position and pick where you want to go. On the 3600a, you tap on the Find icon and a series of icons are displayed with various categories of destinations, all tied to the basic and user-defined databases installed in the unit. You can define navigation points by:

  • Airports
  • Navaids
  • Cities (within the base map)
  • Aviation points
  • Aviation nearest

With optional City Select and other maps installed, you can also select from:

  • Physical address (with City Select maps)
  • Intersections (with City Select maps)
  • Food and Drink
  • Lodging
  • Attractions
  • Entertainment
  • Shopping
  • Services
  • Transportation
  • Emergency and Govt.
  • Manmade places
  • Water features
  • Land features
  • Anchorage
  • Facilities
  • Fishing sites
  • Marine services
  • Restricted areas
  • Wrecks and obstructions
  • Tides

Take a good look at this list. How many times have you arrived at an unfamiliar airport and had no idea where to eat, where to stay and what to do while you waited for the mechanic to fix something, your boss to attend the meeting or the cargo to arrive? At the tap of an icon, you are presented with a list of restaurants, hotels and even the list of closest music stores and supermarkets?

The FBO attendant went home and left the keys to the courtesy car? No problem! My sister owns a small family-oriented Italian restaurant in San Juan called "La Buona Lasagna." Stuck in San Juan and hungry? Look it up, it's on the database. That gets my vote, and you get a chance to eat some of the best Italian food in the Caribbean.

The next question we asked ourselves is "How does it fly?" I took the boxful of components out to the local airport, and after suitably impressing the crowd of bums sitting on the makeshift porch, scoring the landings of the Islanders and Caravans, I board a friend's Navajo Panther and installed the yoke mount. It took me a couple of tries before I found a position I was happy with, and then I put the iQue into the mount. It looked like it belonged there.

After that I decided to go fly a C172 with the iQue and some friends. I set up a route to X63, the field next to the city of Humacao, the island's home to ultralights and people who just can't seem to want to stay in the aircraft, loaded a couple of buddies and went flying. The internal antenna had some trouble getting through the aluminum and plastic, but I had set up the remote and it picked up the satellites immediately. In fact, the unit almost always achieved 3D position lock within 30 seconds on a warm start. A cold start, from a full reset, takes a bit longer, but not by much -- a minute or so at most.

In the next installment, ANN flies and drives the Garmin iQue 3600a.

FMI: www.garmin.com/products/iQue3600a/

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