Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Garmin 696: A Giant Leap Ahead

In a remarkable paradigm shift from past portable GPS devices, Garmin produces a larger knee-pad version with new talents

garminIf you hadn’t noticed, the Garmin 696 is bigger. Anyone who has seen the advertising for Garmin’s new world-beater 696 GPS navigation unit knows it’s a definite departure from Garmin’s traditional philosophy of thinking small. Garmin entered the market back in 1989 by producing a small, high-quality, portable GPS unit; but the new system’s most obvious talent is simply its size. (In fact, the 696 isn’t the first larger-format Garmin portable GPS.
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The 696’s larger screen allows it to display more information without producing clutter. Additionally, the 6x3-inch screen is bright and easily read in direct sunlight.
I took the system with me on my delivery flight anyway, knowing I’d have 3,000 nm from California to Goose Bay to experiment with its functions. I was especially interested in the weather display on the trip, but in a case of perverse bad luck, the weather was great across the United States as far as Bangor, Maine, so there was little to see. As I flew north to Goose Bay, Labrador, Canada, on the third flight day, I ran out of XM range and the weather went down. XM’s two satellites, idiosyncratically named “Rock” and “Roll” and parked in geosynchronous orbit above the East and West Coasts, cover the contiguous United States and the first 300 nm of Canada and Mexico, but you run out of coverage well before you reach Goose Bay.

Other than that, the 696 features all the navigational talents of its little brothers, along with the AOPA Airport Directory, terrain warnings and TIS traffic alerts (when coupled to a Mode S transponder). The terrain feature even includes a vertical profile display of terrain along your current ground track that allows you to check your entire trip for any possible conflicts. In all, the 696 is an interesting marriage of features from Garmin’s glass-cockpit G1000 and the popular portable 496.

In combination with a fast (five-updates-a-second) refresh rate, the 696’s display seems nearly seamless, especially in the panel page mode. Scales range from 200 feet to 800 nm, so you can display everything from the local airport ramp to the entire United States. In XM Weather mode, you can check the winds and weather ahead for your entire route of flight, even if you’re flying a Learjet coast to coast. If you buy the high-end XM Aviator Pro package, the 696 also will display XM’s turbulence, icing and pireps information, not currently available on the 396/496.

The Garmin 696’s talents aren’t limited to its external products, such as XM weather. It brings a number of features to the cockpit that haven’t been seen before, at least not on a portable GPS navigation system. That’s an important point, by the way. Like all the portables that have preceded it, the 696 isn’t FAA-approved as a sole navigation source. It can, however, serve as an electronic flight bag (EFB), so you can finally make a major contribution to paperwork reduction.

Garmin SafeTaxi offers accurate airport diagrams that show every runway, taxiway and ramp on an increasing number of U.S. airports, allowing you to bypass the usual embarrassment of arriving at a busy airport you’re unfamiliar with and having to ask for progressive taxi instructions. Garmin’s FliteCharts allow you to view all U.S. NACO departure procedures (SIDs), standard terminal arrival routes (STARs), approach charts and airport diagrams. If you know the approach to expect, the 696 will automatically select the proper chart and display it.

One of the most versatile aspects of the new 696 is the ability to split the big screen into two electronic pages.

In IFR map mode, the 696 can display Victor airways, jet routes, MEAs and leg distances, similar to what you’d find on the paper chart. (One clever feature for IFR mode is that if you move the cursor over an airway, the system automatically pulls up the MEA for that airway at that position.)

One of the most versatile aspects of the new 696 is the ability to split the big screen into two electronic pages. For those who find it too much effort to punch the page button to electronically flip through the pages, you can now monitor two pages at once. Push the Panel button at lower right, and the pseudo panel appears at the top of the screen, covering the high 2.25 inches. The map or terrain page remains at the bottom. You also can select a variety of other displays at the top with the terrain or map at the bottom: flight plan, HSI, nearest airport/VOR/NDB, etc. This system is nothing if not multifaceted.


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