Garmin's New Megaboxes Debut at AEA

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If everyone in the avionics biz suspected Garmin was about to announce something big, they did exactly that at the Aircraft Electronics Association show in Reno this week. Garmin said its new GTN650 and 750 series hybrid navigators will replace the long-in-the-tooth GNS 430 and 530 products, although those units will remain in production for at least another year.

What do the GTNs bring to the table? A slick touchscreen interface, higher resolution screens, a new operating system and remote transponder control right from the navigator screen itself. In addition, the GTN750 has remote audio panel control that allows a host of advanced features, such as split comms, music input and selective muting for intercom stations in the airplane. A soon-to-be-released feature will be voice recognition software for the audio panel to allow you to tell it what you want, rather than punching your command into softkeys. Garmin's new line of audio panels, the GMA35 and 350, will also feature something called 3D sound, which uses phase shifting to make various audio inputs sound like they're coming from different directions in the cockpit. This, says Garmin's Jim Alpiser, enhances your ability to sort out traffic on multiple frequencies. (We tried it; it does.)

Although the GTNs don't introduce any revolutionary features, they do offer a much-improved operating system that no one should have much trouble learning. Like a computer, the new boxes basically operate through a homepage or desktop. Where the GNS series had 18 keys and knobs, if you count the concentrics, the GNSs have just four; everything else is done through context-sensitive, capacitance-type virtual keys. Other additions include the choice of Jeppesen's ChartView or Garmin's inhouse FliteCharts. The charting function is streamlined and relatively easy to use, with fewer step-throughs than past systems have had. In addition, Garmin describes the GTNs as "ADS-B friendly," so we suspect these new products will have some legs going into the NexGen ATC upgrade program.

Because these new products will go primarily into a replacement market, Garmin isn't offering any trade-in deals, so avionics shops are on their own to accept trade-ins. One shop we spoke to told us this is likely to create a lively used market in GNS430s and 530, which might stimulate sales for many shops.

Garmin says it's ready (or soon will be) to ship the GTN series at a price of $11,495 for the smaller GTN650 and $16,995 for the larger GTN750. Both, by the way, have significantly larger screens, by dint of having the bezels reduced to the minimum thanks to the touchscreen technology. Screen resolution has been increased five fold over the GNS series. The 650's screen is 53 percent larger than the GNS430 it replaces while the 750 is 98 percent larger than the GNS530. If you're hoping for a pin-for-pin slide-in trade with the old boxes, sorry, they'll need new trays and installation kits. But existing antennas can be used.

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