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Garmin's New Portable Has Touch Screen With 3-D

By J. Mac McClellan, Director of Publications, EAA 747337

aera 796

aera 796

September 14, 2011 – Garmin has unveiled its new aera 796 portable GPS navigator and satellite weather display that advances the capability of its wildly successful 696 by adding touch-screen capability with a 3-D display of terrain all around the airplane. The aera 796 is also a full-capability document viewer, so paper charts and other documents can be a thing of the past for most pilots.

First of all, we did not make a typo. Garmin has trademarked the name aera with no capitol letters. The new name replaces GPSMAP that had been used for the 696 and earlier handheld GPS systems.

The aera 796 is essentially an “aviationized” tablet computer with a precision GPS navigator and XM Weather receiver built in. It has a 7-inch touch-screen display that, like other tablets, can be viewed in either portrait or landscape modes. And like the other popular tablets the display can be controlled by the now familiar finger sweeps, pinches, and scrolls.

The aera 796 is menu driven, as you would expect, but to optimize it for the flight deck Garmin has included four hard buttons for “back,” “menu,” “direct-to,” and “nearest” so those essential functions are always instantly available.

The brand-new 3-D function is actually a high-definition synthetic terrain view that can be seen all around the airplane, not just ahead. You can look at the terrain behind you in case you need to reverse course, or take a wide view all around your position to enhance situational awareness. Flicking your finger rotates or pans the display so you can see the location of runways or obstacles in any direction. A terrain alerting feature colors terrain and obstacles yellow, and then red, if you are at a dangerously low altitude.

The aera 796 comes loaded with Garmin FliteCharts that include all IFR procedures for the U.S. plus IFR en route charts and VFR sectional charts. If you prefer Jeppesen charts the ChartView option makes the worldwide Jepp library of charts available. Unlike non-aviation tablets the GPS navigator in the aera 796 meets aviation standards with position updates every five seconds. That means the aera can act as a backup to primary flight instruments in an emergency using Garmin’s patented “Panel Page,” and when you are looking at geo-referenced charts the location of your aircraft on the chart will be accurate and smoothly presented. So when you view the standard SafeTaxi display you will see your own ship accurately presented on the taxiways and runways, not merely close.

The aera 796 can be mounted on a control wheel, or attached to your knee. Like the other portables the XM Satellite receiver is attached by a cord. You can also connect the 796 to an onboard traffic system to display that data. Additional data ports allow the 796 to communicate with and control some other types of onboard avionics. Battery life appears to be long enough for most flights, but the usual cigarette lighter power option is available.

I had a chance to experiment a little with the aera 796 and can say that Garmin has done a good job of creating an intuitive-to-use operating system. With the company’s experience of building hundreds of thousands - if not millions - of consumer electronic devices using touch-screen control, and its long aviation experience, the aera 796 combines the two in a way that makes great sense to a pilot.

Garmin expects the “street price” of the aera 796 to be about $2,499. A 795 version that does not include the XM Satellite weather receiver is expected to sell for about $2,199. For more information, click here. Garmin will begin selling the aera 796 and 795 at the AOPA Aviation Summit, September 22-24, in Hartford, Connecticut.

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