Like them, loathe them, or know nothing about them, tablets are here to stay. I’m not talking about paracetamol but tablet computers such as the iPad, Nexus, Surface Pro, etc.
When tablets first hit the market I was sceptical about how they could replace something like a laptop. Eventually I bought an iPad and now cannot imagine living without it. It’s so much quicker and easier to have something that doesn’t need to boot up before I can use it. That said, there are still things that a laptop/PC will always be better for, Flight Simulation being one of them.
But what have tablets got to do with Flight Simulation? Quite a lot, as it happens.
'Apps' and Flight Simulation
More and more 'apps' are being released that can help our flight simulation experience and for a relatively small price. I purchased one 'app' (thanks for the tip Dai) that transforms my iPad into a second monitor (https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/splashtop-xdisplay/id446493657 ). This is great for moving programs like Plan-G onto the iPad whilst flying without the need to buy a new monitor. Admittedly, the iPad is a lot more expensive than a second monitor, but I think you can see what I am getting at! I can even undock my iFly 737 FMC and move it to the iPad if I wanted to.
I fly a lot of 'tube-liners' into large airports, which means I need the use of approach plates and airport diagrams to help me find my way around the skies and tarmac. I find it very annoying having to switch between a 'pdf' file or my browser and then back to FSX, inevitably forgetting the frequency I was supposed to tune to. Wouldn’t it be great if all these approach plates could be viewed on the iPad? Well, they can.
What is SimPlates X Ultra?
SimPlates X Ultra is a relatively simple, yet ultimately powerful 'app' that lets you connect to the Dauntless Aviation servers and download an approach plate to your iPad. It is also available for iPhone, Android, Mac, and PC, however I am reviewing the iPad version.
Admittedly, you would be able to find most of the approach plates around the internet if you looked for them, however, Dauntless give you access to around 80,000 all in one place. Finding the plate(s) you need is easy too, simply enter the airport ICAO and if the plate is available, it will pop up for you.
Not only do you have access to approach plates, but there are also sections for airport info and NAVAID info. So if you are online and ATC direct you to a VOR which you do not know the frequency to, the answer is only a few seconds and taps away.
Generally, the approach plates are of a high quality. I did find a few that were a little grainy but I am being hyper-critical here and did go looking off the beaten track for them. Overall, I have no complaints at all about the quality.
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This is the main area that I think people will be concerned with. However, you needn’t be. The 'app' is very easy to use and pretty self-explanatory. There are only five options to select from:
● View Plates;
● NAVAID Info;
● Airport Info;
● Help / About; and
● Content Update Check.
The main complaint I have about the interface for viewing the plates is the 'pinch to zoom' works well, but when you zoom out, the plate will not stay in that state as it automatically zooms back to the default level. Not a major issue but it was a little bit annoying when trying to fit the whole of the plate onto the screen.
It is worth mentioning at this point that the 'pdf' files are not physically stored on your iPad. If they were, you would soon run out of storage space. With that in mind, you are reliant on:
● your internet / 3G connection; and
● the Dauntless servers being available at the time you want to view the approach plate.
To be fair, Dauntless do warn you about this and advise if you have a flight planned then you should download the plates in advance of your flight. This slightly contradicts what I said above about the plates not being stored on your iPad. After a while you can delete all these cached plates to clear them out. The advantage of the plates being cached after you have viewed them once is that they load a lot quickly the next time (unless you clear out the cache). However, the load times are normally very quick anyway.
Whilst approach plates and the SimPlates product line are nothing new to the FS world, the 'app' is. I have been using it for a few weeks now and have found it to be fantastic and very easy to use and it has helped my immersion with FSX. Many real world airlines are now moving to storing charts and handbooks on tablet computers, so why shouldn’t we simmers do the same? It does have a couple of faults but on the whole the product is very good.
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Now, onto the price. At $34.99, it may put the more casual simmer off, in which case you may be better served just searching for the plates you need via the internet. However, for the more dedicated simmer who uses approach plates on a regular basis, I think this 'app' should be on your 'to buy' list. I personally will keep using it over and over again, and I am sure you will too, should you decide to buy it.
All things considered, I have no hesitation in awarding SimPlates X Ultra a Mutley’s Hangar score of 8.5/10, 'Highly Recommended' and a Mutley's Hangar Silver Award.
Mutley’s Hangar score of 8.5/10, with an "Highly Recommended" and a Mutley's Hangar Silver Award!
Review machine Spec: Intel i7 2600k @3.40GHz | 8GB DDR3 RAM 1600MHz |NVidia GTX570 1280MB GFX Card |Windows 7 64bit Home Premium