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I am planning to pass my PPL and I am trying to buy everything I can before starting the flight lessons to spread the expenses. Most of the private pilots I have met told me that an iPad is almost essential for them now. But I am not sure which one should I take? An iPad Mini seems more than enough to me and the small size would help in small cockpit (like in a 152). 4G or Wifi-only, is 4G reliable at those altitudes?

Thanks !

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closed as primarily opinion-based by fooot, Ron Beyer, Pondlife, SMS von der Tann, Peter Kämpf Apr 26 '18 at 23:49

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • $\begingroup$ Many folks "mount" them on the control yoke. Measure the distance you have and mock up the outer size of the different units, see what fits well. I don't know about 4G, I am planning to Bluetooth or Wifi to one of my panel mount boxes for additional display of info, but not 4G connectivity. $\endgroup$ – CrossRoads Apr 26 '18 at 18:33
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    $\begingroup$ Make sure your instructor is OK with you having an iPad in the cockpit. A lot of instructors would rather you didn't, so you can focus on the aircraft and the lesson rather than the fancy extra gizmo you bring into the cockpit. Worry about the toys after you get your license. $\endgroup$ – Ron Beyer Apr 26 '18 at 18:45
  • $\begingroup$ Alternatively, and not an answer because it doesn't involve an iPad anything, but consider a kneeboard that can support a tablet as well as paper. Much cheaper, and it doesn't need constant recharging! $\endgroup$ – a CVn Apr 26 '18 at 18:55
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    $\begingroup$ Regarding the 4G at altitude, see this question/answers: Can I use cellular data to receive in-flight weather on my iPad?. $\endgroup$ – Lnafziger Apr 26 '18 at 19:09
  • $\begingroup$ This is a good question but probably not a good fit for this site: different people have different needs and preferences (and budgets!). $\endgroup$ – Pondlife Apr 26 '18 at 19:36
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In my experience, 4G is not reliable above 1,000 feet, and is frequently non-existent above 3,000 feet.

Many pilots have suggested the 4G model for two key reasons:

  1. The 4G model has a GPS-chip in it, that the WiFi-only version does not.
  2. Having a cellular connection means you can do on-the-ground operations in places that don't have WiFi. This includes things like: File Flight Plans, Check NOTAMS, and update maps and charts

Personally, my iPad is WiFi only, and I pair with an external GPS receiver for great accuracy.

I use the "regular" iPad (9.7"), but that is a little bulky in the cockpit of a 172. The Mini may be preferable if space is at a premium.

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  • $\begingroup$ Like abelenky, I use the non-GPS models. I am on my fourth one now, and if you consider that the extra cost of the GPS is around \$150 and an external GPS receiver is $150, I have saved \$450 so far. At some point I’ll probably get a Stratus or Stratux to get weather and traffic, which makes GPS even more redundant. NOTAMs and current weather are available on the iPhone version of Foreflight and so I don’t miss having it available on the iPad. $\endgroup$ – JScarry Apr 26 '18 at 18:48
  • $\begingroup$ I have panel mount transponder with ABS-B In/Out, panel mount moving map GPS for weather from ground, traffic, sectionals/charts, approach plates, fuel range. iPad will be to display that stuff in a larger view. Smart phone for calls before departing. If one is renting, then the different hardware discussed could be handy. $\endgroup$ – CrossRoads Apr 26 '18 at 19:08
  • $\begingroup$ I second the mini, and even use it in the "roomy" jet aircraft that I fly. The screen is the same size as a Jepp chart, and you can zoom in and out if needed, so it is even better. $\endgroup$ – Lnafziger Apr 26 '18 at 19:10
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks, I'll look into that too. Was thinking how I could install a RAM mount or something to hold it, vs on yoke and possibly blocking my view of DG/HSI. $\endgroup$ – CrossRoads Apr 26 '18 at 19:13
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It’s going to depend on pilot preference, whether it is mounted or free and the information needs of the flight crew.

My personal preferences?

1). Keep em small - I personally like the iPad Mini for EFB duties. Small enough to attach on your kneeboard or keep free and it doesn’t block movement of the flight controls at critical times.

2) use a unit designed for cell network use with an internal GPS. Good for low altitude GA flying plus can be combined with an external GPS and you can use a cell network for data in a pinch.

3) when it comes to internal memory, the more the merrier. The Mini 2 has 128GB which is s good size for downloading all regional or national charts and plates.

I’ve seen a lot of people combine their tablets with Stratus, etc for anADS-Bcompliant unit. All nice but I would prefer a permanent panel mounted and certified unit for those purposes. I also would not get too comfortable with using the SVT features of Pilot, ForeFlight, etc as those are not certified for IFR use as well.

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