Image in Afternoon sun 4pm of Raymarine C97, iPad Retina and Nexus 7

iPad/Android Tablets on boats–a good idea?

In many marine discussion forums the are heated debates going on about the usage of tablets as the primary MFD (Multi Function Display)/Navigation device. Questions like “Why is there not sonar and radar for iPad/Android tablets. And why should I pay $3000 for a 10” Chart Plotter from Garmin, Raymarine, Lowrance or Simrad when I have a 10” Table for less than $1000. Click to read more for our take on the issue!

Marine Weather Sealing

Ohh well.. First of all – most tablets are not really built for outside usage. They are not “Weather Sealed” – so moisture can enter into the device and can damage components.

That is especially true if you are in a salt water environment.The salt will corrode away at the internals in ANY electronics that are not weather sealed. So first – you need to buy a “weather proof” case for your tablet to seal it. Else you might end up having to buy a new tablet every single year – taking the cost of ownership to higher levels than a buying a “pure” marine display.

Reflections

Then the other problem is screen reflections. Most tablets have screens that are not anti glare coated. That means you will have a lot of reflections on the display – making it hard to read. Remember that water is a very good reflector of sun-rays – so you do not only get direct reflections from the sun – you get all the reflections from the sea as well.

If you decide to add an anti glare shield to your tablet – then you get another problem. Any “layer” you add to your devices screen – WILL lower the brightness. Dependent on brand – the brightness might be lowered anywhere from 5-25%.

Screen Brightness

A Marine Chart plotter uses “industrial” high powered screens. Screen brightness is measured it NIT’s or cd(Candela)/m2 where 1 NIT = 1 cd/m2.

So what are the NIT ratings of different screens?

Type Nits (estimated)
Colour Calibrated Monitor for Publishing 120
Home PC LCD Monitor 200-300
Google Nexus 7 Tablet 400
iPad “3” Retina display 400
LCD/LED TV (Good quality) 600-1100
Panasonic CF19 2011 Toughbook (Notebook) 1000
Panasonic H2 Toughbook Tablet (2012) Up to 6000 (Screen is really only 500 Nit but can use Sunlight to “amplify” brightness)
Marine MFD/Chart plotter (after anti-glare treatment) 800-1600

So as you can see from the above the light coming out of a Marine specific device is a LOT more than what you get from you tablets. And that is essential for outdoor viewing – especially in sunlight – direct or reflected.

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Above is a picture of a Google Nexus 7 – and an iPad 3 Retina – both with brightness on full blast. Then compare it to the Raymarine MFD. As you can see the Raymarine C97 display looks MUCH better in the afternoon sunlight. And notice the reflections. Almost none on the dedicated Marine Display – but a LOT on both the iPad and the Nexus 7.

Products like the Panasonic Toughbook H2 tablet might be worth looking at – but then you are at prices close to or higher than most 10” Marine MFD/Chart Plotters anyway. And if you need to “Dock” it with a permanent mount solution you do end up with a quite ugly setup Smile No flush mounts available.

Using Tablets as primary navigation device – conclusion

So in short – is a tablet a suitable replacement for a primary dedicated marine display? No not at the moment. Once we can get tablets with 1000+ NIT screens and full weather sealing it will be a great idea. But having a tablet as a Backup device is a great idea.

And it is quite nice to be able to sit in the cabin and plan your route on the Marine MFD/Chart Plotter via “Remote Control” from a Tablet as you now can with Raymarine and Simrad. Or sit in the back fishing – while keeping an eye on your fish-finder  You still have to squint a bit to see the display – but better than no fish-finder view at all.

I do not doubt there will be Tablet Sonar’s and Radars available. Or at least “interfaces” so you can view and control sonar & radar from your Tablet via Simrad Go-Free for example. But I would not chose any current “tablets’ as my primary “Navigation” display any time soon.

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