Dave Hirschman

An MFD on your knee (Garmin’s 696)

October 30, 2008 by Dave Hirschman, Senior Editor

Unlike many of my flying friends, I’ve never felt the need to be the first to own the latest aviation gadget.

I waited a couple years before buying my first hand-held GPS. And while others quickly upgraded to color and better graphics, I stuck with Garmin’s Pilot III for many years because of its simplicity and utility.

But Garmin’s latest offering–the GPSMAP696–is a rare combination of powerful new capabilities and ease of use. And I’ve got the strong feeling it’s going to become a new standard for general aviation pilots flying everything from Champs to Gulfstreams. Since obtaining an advance copy of the 696 in October, I’ve flown with it on IFR and VFR trips in planes ranging from a Waco to a Citation. And it’s been worth its substantial weight (three pounds including mounting hardware) on every one.

In an open-cockpit biplane on an autumn trip across West Virginia and Ohio, the 696 showed the mountainous terrain in sharp relief. Sure, I knew the Minimum Safe Altitude for our route from the VFR sectional. But what if we inadvertently strayed from our planned course? The 696 showed the surrounding terrain in brilliant reds and yellow (similar to the actual fall colors), and a profile view of the topography let me know the exact height and distance of the oncoming obstacles long before they came into view.

On a 900-mile IFR trip along the East Coast in a Bonanza A36 a few weeks later, the 696 proved its utility in a far different environment. Instead of making cumbersome performance calculations with pen and paper, the 696 allowed me to accomplish those tasks faster and more accurately on its brilliant screen. And each time Air Traffic Control rerouted us (and it happened a lot) I programmed the new route into the 696 and viewed the course ahead far more simply and successfully than I could using the plane’s panel-mount avionics. The 696 was especially helpful during the single-pilot legs.

The Bonanza was equipped with an IFR-approved GNS480 (a user-hostile abomination) and MX200 multi-function display (MFD). But the 696 on my knee had a larger, clearer screen than either one, and unlocking the 696’s tremendous wealth of information was pleasant and intuitive. And I haven’t even mentioned the 696’s XM weather displays, which are exceptional (or its satellite radio, which I’ve yet to turn on).

The 696 is chunky and expensive ($3,295). But it’s a bargain compared to its panel-mount cousins. And for Part 91 operators (the vast majority of GA fliers), it enables us to leave the flight bag full of paper charts and approach plates at home. That in itself is a significant savings in weight and a paperwork reduction.

Troubling world economic conditions make this an especially perilous time for any company, even Garmin, to introduce a new, high-end product like the 696. But this one’s a real winner. And it’s formidable frame will likely serve as the technological foundation for many avionics enhancements to come.


90 Responses to “An MFD on your knee (Garmin’s 696)”

  1. Todd Says:

    I am excited about this new product. It appears to be what I have been waiting to see out of one of the major manufactures, and who better than Garmin (Although I love my Bendix King AV80R and use it rather than any of the hard to use Garmin hand held GPS)? From what I am witnessing, the economy seems to still be moving, and if this continues in my corner of the economy, I see one of these 696s riding in my cross country flying Warrior II cockpit. Additionally, now seems to be the right time to upgrade my panel to a 430W, or move up to a faster airplane. My dollar seems to buy more today than it did a year ago, and this Garmin is just another example of how much more we can have today for so much less money. Twenty years ago, or just a few years ago, used airplanes and avionics were so costly and we received so little for our dollar. Today, the airports are better (and mostly free), the planes are cheaper (my plane cost less to own and operate than my Range Rover), excellent free training is available online (WINGS/ASF for example), plane ownership is predictable, and the cockpit technology is awesome. Aviation is the best value around, and quality cockpit electronic tools like this 696 pay for themselves in time saved, safety, and maintainability .

  2. Wayne Conrad Says:

    “And for Part 91 operators (the vast majority of GA fliers), it enables us to leave the flight bag full of paper charts and approach plates at home.”

    Part 91 operators can leave all the paper at home, but should they? Don’t electronics fail?

  3. Todd Says:

    Maybe what he should have said is “leave them in the airplane, sealed”. The most dangerous element of my airplane is the charts. I’ll be safely flying across the country, until I need a chart! Without a wing leveler or a helpful passenger, I find myself reaching into the back seat which results in a decent to the left or right, and that momentary three seconds to figure out my attitude and get the plane right. Today, I just received a quote for $9930.00 S-Tec 20 autopilot installed to help out at the controls. However, I actually like hand flying the airplane. So I am left wondering if 696 would make end to the cockpit chaos, allow me to see the charts information that I can’t see in the poorly lit night time Warrior cockpit. With the charts electronically under control, I can see me avoiding the expense of installing a costly autopilot.

  4. BZ Says:

    I still haven’t bought a hand held GPS but this one might tempt me. One of the aircraft I fly is a corporate Cheyenne which has 2 GNS-530W’s with XM weather and TCAD. Having all that stuff is easy to get used to and I miss it when I fly a soon to be not supported IFR GPS in a single.

    The initial purchase price is a bit hard to swallow and don’t forget at least $50 or so a month for subscriptions.

    How long will it run on batteries? After we all quit smoking 25 years ago we now find we need cigarette lighters in our planes (but not ash trays).


  5. Marc Says:

    An MFD on your knee. Hmm ….

    My initial reaction: Well for VFR pilots, I can see more near mishaps as they have their eyes at there knees instead of outside where they belong. Panel mount oiptions, don’t see where someone would have the room on the panel.

    For IFR, wouldn’t a lot of up down head movements be conducive to vertigo in certain situations?

    Overall I’m somewhat envious, (who wouldn’t be? that thing looks terrific, and its garmin, but too costly for me).

    For the moment I’ll stay with the 496, with a mount that brings it closer than my knee and allows inclusion in a regular instrument scan.

  6. Marc Says:

    I forgot to add, all that new IFR stuff, but it likely is not IFR certified, meaning it is still only an aid … right?

  7. MD Says:

    I wonder how this compares to the BendixKing AV80R Horizon 3D

  8. jim Says:

    I know xm weather would be about 50 bucks a month. If you want the chart ifr and vfr thats an additonal charge i believe. I have an mfd 550 and KLN94 that I have to keep updated. That cost about 1300$ a year. It really starts to add up.

  9. Comanche Pilot Says:

    Pros: HUGE. MFD. IFR Charts

    Cons: HUGE, heavy, costly, what will the chart subscription cost? Not IFR ‘certified’

    Are all the antennas now wireless? It sure looks pretty sitting there – but what about the XM and GPS antennas? We ALL know that in order to have reliable signals you need to remote mount them under a windscreen to get full sky coverage. Think of the rats nest here – along with the mounts – I cannot imagine putting a 4lbs on to the yoke . ..

    Just what you always needed – a 4 lb brick sitting on your knee for 4 hours. . . I think these ‘portables’ have gotten completely out of control. I own a 496 for the Wx and it has paid for itself in avoided diversions and go/no go, but this is a huge black box . . . .

  10. Kevin Says:

    The charger outlet has been solved by bringing along a car jumper with a power outlet. I bought one from Wal Mart for $39, cut off the jumper cables, put the yellow electrical caps over the ends, and enoy the convience of extra power. I use this for the garmin 296…

  11. Marc Coan Says:

    So, when will the Air Gizmos Panel Dock for thte 696 come out?

  12. John Lloyd Says:

    I like my solution to the cockpit mess. I purchased a Samsung Q1 Ultra with an SS drive, and loaded Voyager Software from Seattle Avionics. I am a software developer and I wish that I’d developed this program. It is everything that I ever hoped for in cockpit navigation and organization. I combined a WAAS GPS with it. The total price for this solution – under $1500. Additionally my annual upgrades thru Seattle Avionics is $150. If I want XM weather, I can add an Antenna and module for Voyager.

    The only thing that is missing from the software – checklists. When they add this, it is a complete program.

    When I land, I have a full-blown, fully capable tablet computer – allowing me to check weather, create a flight plan and file it – all through the Voyager program. and the tablet is touch screen and weighs 1.4 lbs.

    I encourage others to look at this, and NO I don’t work for Seattle Avionics.

  13. John Says:

    If it had 3d vision I would buy it in a second………………

  14. Richard Neal Says:

    wow! 2x the price of the True Flight Cheetah 190 and they have had all this for years!

  15. Bill Lavender Says:

    It might be interesting to note, and I’m sure it was written ‘tongue in cheek’ so to speak, but I would be surprised if the 696 meet the regs for having on board ‘charts’, surely wouldn’t for IFR. I’d love to have one, but for now, my 396Wx with a pair of w430s will have to suffice. It would be nice to legally and affordably be able to get out from under reconciling those darn paper Jepps.

  16. David Reinhart Says:

    I’m surprised no 480 fans have ripped into you yet. The device has a very loyal following and many people were disappointed when Garmin announced they were making it “end of life”. It’s different that the 430/530, but “user hostile abomination”? I think that’s overkill.

  17. OldBob Siegfried Says:

    To those who think the charts from a 696 are not legal, consider this. We Part 91 operators are required to have data pertinent to what we are doing. The 696 charts DO meet that requirement. I do not think anyone will argue that point. As to what happens if it fails? It is the same as if any other equipment fails. You divert to an alternate. When I fly my single engine airplane IFR, I always carry enough fuel such that I can get to a good VFR alternate. By carrying paper enroute charts, I will always have the data avialable for that option. No back up electronics needed at all. If the entire electrical system fails, my hand held communications unit fails, and my handheld GPS units fail, I will DR to my VFR alternate. If that doesn’t work, I am in the same boat as if my single engine fails. After all, any of us that fly accept certain risks and I guess we will always have large variations among pilots as to just how much risk is acceptable.

    Happy Skies,

    OldBob Siegfried

  18. Gal Bar-or Says:

    I beg to differ – the GNS480 was a powerful unit that did many things it’s contemporary units still don’t, and it was not USE HOSTILE as the author puts it. If one spends 20 minutes learning the 480, it becomes easier to use then the 430 which I’m still stuck with due to Garmin dropping the 480.

  19. Allen Price Says:

    Its Great but leaving the paper @ home does not meet regs or say much for saftey as all man made things will fail some time and the paper well it stays paper with out signal or power! Can’t wait to get one

  20. K.P. Says:

    Very nice device, but isn’t the point of having electronic navigation data being able to use it in some type of automated flight system to make flight safer?

    Do any of these handhelds continually transmit the course and approach data into an autopilot?

    Haven’t used handheld GPS/charts yet, so I plead ignorance. But eventually all “cross-country” aircraft should hopefully end up with HUDs, autopilots, electronic charts (VFR and IFR) etc., – just for pilot workload relief. Minituarization should allow you to flip it all out of the way when not needed.

    Just askin’

  21. Allen Stone Says:

    Mr. Hirshman, your remark about the GNS480 being an abomination is an ignorant remark,based on no basis in fact. I have the 480. It’s truly an IFR box, very close in nature to a real FMS. It has more power, soft keys for ease of use (no chapters and pages), not to mention airways, flight plan entry just like you read a clearance, and much more. Had it had a screen the same size as the 530, I’m sure it’s success would have been spectacular.

    Your “shot” at the unit only lessens my regard for your review of any avionics unit, much less the Garmin 696. Too bad you learned on the 430/530 units. Reading your writing just dropped to the bottom of my required-reading list.

    Allen Stone

  22. John Fulton Says:

    I find the comment about the 480 being an abomination disgusting and not necessary. I trained IFR inb a 430 equipped Cherokee and now have logged 500 hrs in my Bonanza with the 480 and without a doubt the 480 is a better piece of equipment.

    Your comments are not necessary and discredit you and the AOPA which published them.

  23. Gene Olsen Says:

    The 496 with xm wx has been the love of my flying life and from what I’ve read about the 696 I will have a new sweetheart coming soon. I carry vfr and ifr paper charts in the plane and will continue to do so until the 696 proves itself. I recently returned from my 60th flight from NY to California in my Bonanza using the 496 and I have found the controllers asking me questions about the weather. I expect Garmins 696 will be just as reliable and easy to use.

  24. Dick Says:

    I love my yoke mounted 396 and would upgrade except that it dose not have the senthicic vision that you KNOW will be the next model to come out and make this one out of date

  25. Nick Sargent Says:

    After reading ‘An MFD on your knee (Garmin’s 696)’ I have to wonder – will we see a day when a handheld device (docked into an FAA approved panel mount) will be IFR approved? I’m sure I’m over looking some gross technicality.

  26. Austin Kalb Says:

    Does anyone think that this unit could be a 100% backup to G1000? My (brand new) plane has G1000 with all the options including Jepp Chartview. We are trying to decide what level of backup we need (full paper, anywheremap, 496, 696). Any suggestions


  27. Tom Says:

    Ever see an AVMAP EKP-IV ? Maller but same size screen. One pound. Not as many bells and whistles—yet. They just got the XM Weather a couple months ago. All for half the price.
    I’ve owned one for four years now. I’m happy and the price is right. I use it in my Piper PA-12. They offer various mounts and an eight hour standby power supply in the event of A/C power failure.

  28. Dave B. Says:

    re: GNS480 – good grief people ease up on the author for crying out loud! He is entitled to his viewpoint, just as you are. Is is verboten for a reviewer to have a strong opinion about something, even if you own and love (or hate) what he’s talking about?

    re: using this as a backup to a G1000 – IMO this is probably overkill if you’re ever going to use it if the G1000 quits. Why not save a pile of money and buy something that can be used for non-aviation navigating – e.g. one of the smaller Garmins or (and this is what I would get) the B-K AV8OR.

  29. Dick Williams Says:

    RE: 480
    Your comment on the 480 is way off base. I have bought 2 of these units over the past 5 years and you know why? It’s so much better than than a 430/530. Airways, first to have WAAS, cheaper than a 530 and it really is easy to use. Why do think Garmin bought it from UPS?

  30. Brad Savage Says:

    Although the 696 certainly is initially tempting as a beautiful high-end product, my perspective as a 496 owner may be different. There are two points that make it a tougher sell for me. First, the 696 is no replacement for the 496, in that the 496 has three modes of operation: Aviation, Automotive, and Marine. The 696 appears to offer only one of those modes. I use the Automotive mode of the 496 all the time, because it comes preloaded with all of the streets in the U.S. and, if you utilize one of its audio output alternatives, it gives you very helpful turn-by-turn voice navigation that interrupt the music from XM radio when speaking. I have also loaded streets for other countries onto a memory card in my 496, which has helped me navigate similarly in those countries. If I want to add BlueChart data, I can use the 496 as a very capable marine navigator, and in Marine mode while close to the U.S. coast, the 496 displays marine-specific XM weather data. The 696 apparently does none of these things, so I would be inclined to leave the 696 in the cockpit when I would otherwise be getting good value out of the 496.

    Second, I also noticed that the 696 will refuse to display certain types of charts that are expired, so the unit’s usefulness in an emergency backup situation or flight planning scenario would depend, in that regard, on your keeping your that chart data, and any subscription for that chart data, current. Of course, this is the only safe and legal thing to do, anyway, but this safety feature tends to remove some discretion from the owner as to how frequently to update the chart data and therefore requires you to consider the chart data subscription fees, whatever they are, as part of the effective price of the 696, along with the XM weather data subscription fees.

    Having said all of that, it is still hard not to want a 696!

  31. Phil Blank Says:


    As a regular contributor to Aviation Safety Magazine, I was very disapointed in your comment:

    The Bonanza was equipped with an IFR-approved GNS480 (a user-hostile abomination) and MX200 multi-function display (MFD)

    Let me guess…you first learned on a 430/530 and got used to going direct everywhere. Let me guess, you never had any formal training in the 480. Let me guess…you just hopped in expecting it to work like a 530. Let me guess, you have never flown with airways before…should I keep on guessing. I am a qualified instructor in many of the current glass cockpits. The 480 is an outstanding box and will do things that even the G1000 cannot do. It is designed as an FMS type box. You cannot expect to simply turn it on and ‘kick the tires and light the LED’s” so to speak. The 480/GMX200 is an extremely powerful combination. It is sad that you would make such a remark that can only be based on ignorance rather than knowledge and experience.

  32. Scott Moore Says:

    It’s interesting. I have used a tablet computerwith Jeppview for years for essentially the
    same capabilities. The screen is hard to read in daylight, and the fact that it runs Windows
    is actually a problem, so I will be looking at the unit instead of getting a new tablet, of which
    there are few that fit the cockpit requirements.


  33. Joe Shelton Says:

    I installed one of the first 480s and found it very simple and intuitive to use. I loved the UI, especially entering flight plans. I listened to a number of friends that purchased 430/530s ask each other how to accomplish certain tasks because they had trouble with the 430/530. We even did some comparisons and the 480 almost always was easier to use. I now fly a G1000 and, while I’ve figured it out, I still think the 480 was a more intuitive user interface. The buttonology of the G1000 is confusing at times. As a member of the Macintosh development team, when we did comparisons with the the MS OS’s available at the time, we found people that actually liked DOS and OS2 better than the initial Mac UI. Sometimes I think that some people like best what they learned first. c’est la vie!

  34. C.K. Bondar Says:

    I think everyone’s overlooking the obvious. Garmin will ALWAYS price its unit so as to pay back the development costs ASAP. Then they can come out with the” latest”. Remember, unless you can file IFR, their portables are only “support” units. My flying with a 196 accomplishes everything I need for 3/4 hour cross country flights. Garmins pricing if way out of sinc for the limited (no IFR certification) their portables offer. Just buy several WAC charts, download the approach porceedures, file /A and cheet. Most of the so called “features” are largly unnecessary and cost wasters for the majority of the GA fleet. Now with the economic situation, that last thing we need is more expensive “toys”. Incidently, there is also available a “coupler” for the hand helds. This ties the AP to the Garmin.Need anything else? Then you must be rolling in dough!!!!!!

  35. Dale Christensen Says:

    Regarding the GNS 480, just spend an hour learning how to use it and going over the demo DVD and you will have a way more efficient way of creating and amending flight plans than any 430/530 user has. I upgraded my avionics 4 years ago with a 480/MX 20 combo when I had the option of going with a 430/530. The 480 does more and was already certified for LPV WAAS approaches. One of my friends who flies an SR22 saw how easy it was for me to enter a flight plan in the 480 with it’s included airways and was wishing he could have a 480 instead of the 430s in his panel.

    The 480 was way ahead of it’s time in capabilities and that’s why Garmin bought it from UPSAT. It’s sad to see them discontinue this unit instead of enhancing it with a bigger screen and updates. Combining its best features with those of the 530 would be a very interesting product.

  36. Howrd Franzen Says:

    This sounds like a great product but when you drop that kind of money (especially on electronics that seem to become obsolete by the time they’re delivered to your door) we want more bang for the buck. When are they going to finally incorporate PCAS into a unit? I know they work well together but the last thing we need in the cock pit is more things scatered around to divert your attension. They need to consolidate. They add one thing a year, why not put it all together and get it over with. I haven’t purchased yet because every time I’m ready to they improve it and I don’t want to be stuck with an out dated $3,200 pice of junk today that was top notch yesterday.

  37. Gary Lacher Says:

    My 696 is on order. I’ve fretted over what MFD to get and a big consideration has been shop hours to install. This certainly avoids that and at a huge increase in feature/function over the 496 for what I consider an incremental price increase. Now for the Aspen PFD and I’ll be set! I predict a lot of used 49x”s will be showing up on ebay!

  38. Randy T. in Texas Says:

    “I wonder how this compares to the BendixKing AV80R Horizon 3D” Quote from MD

    I was wondering the exact same thing, as I have been looking at that Bendix King model. The AV80R Vision 3D has the Synthetic Vision that the 696 does not, but on the serface seems to have everything the 696 has. It is more expensive, though, too.

    Very similar comparision to Bendix King’s 770 vrs. the Garmin 530 quandry. I was definitely going to install a Garmin 530W in my Mooney this fall, and then the 770 was announced, so now I wait until they are released in 2009. It seem you have to add a GNX 200 with a 530W to get the same as the new BK 770….that is my take on it anyway…and I have no room to add the GNX 200 in my panel.

    I have used a 496 for several years now, and love it. I used a 296 before that, and still keep it in my bag for a backup. And, like another poster, I love my 496 for the car, too….the auto mode is great, and I use the XM radio all the time. Neither the 696 nor the BK AV80R Vision 3d have the car/street mode.

    Bottom line, I think I’ll keep my 496 for VFR and car travel, and look strongly at the AV80R Vision 3D for IFR backup next year. Garmin should have put the synthetic vision and an automobile mode on the 696 and they would have had a perfect product!!

    If anyone has insight as to the BK 770 vrs the Garmin 530W, I would sure like to here their opinion to help me make a decision. Both are a lot of money, and I want to make the right decision.

  39. Duane Griffith Says:

    In approach mode is the position of the aircraft depicted on the approach plate?

  40. Gerard Field Says:

    What does it do that the 496 doesnt do? I believe the 496 has terrain warning and WX for $29 a month. Bigger picture might be ok.
    Where do I mount it? Probably too big and heavy for a yoke mount, no room on the panel and the panel is too far away anyhow. Park it on my knee? How about a nice elastic strap to hold it down just like the old time knee boards. Nostalgia!!

  41. Bubba Says:

    Count me among the people who love the GNS480, and consider it far superior to the 430/530. I am frequently rerouted to an intersection that is somewhere further along the route. With the GNS480, the intersection is easily accessed from the flight plan, and the reroute is a breeze. I would much rather have this unit than a G1000, or anything else. I fail to see why it is “an abomination”

  42. Paul T. Dorris Says:

    From what I have heard the 696 does not display your position on the approach plate. So Garmin has decided the 696 will show your position while taxiing around the airport and enroute but not on the approach plate while on the approach. I currently use Jepp Flight Deck and I can see my position overlayed on the approach plate. Once you fly with this capability you don’t want to give it up. I have an IFR certified GPS and a LOC/GS receiver but seeing your position on the approach plate completes the picture. When Garmin includes aircraft position on the approach plate I will buy the 696 in a minute. Until then I’m sticking with a tablet PC and Jepp Flight Deck software.

  43. Kirk Says:

    I think I will wait until the touch screen is introduced, so that route changes can be graphically adjusted on screen, recognized and ammended automatically in text. Until then, other than my 430, 530 WAAS and GMX200 w/ chartview, my 496 is one of the best investments I’ve made for my cockpit. Please don’t retire or knock it.

  44. Todd Says:

    Where in your car would you put the 696 if it had an automotive mode? I love my 496 but hardly use it in automotive mode because of its size. I have a Nuvi 350 in the car for a fraction of the cost. It gives turn by turn directions, has pre-loaded maps, touch screen, etc. And if it gets stolen from the car then it’s not as big a loss. I use the 496 primarily in the plane and I am looking looking to trade up to get the 696. Garmin’s press release says it is an EFB so the paper plates are staying in the flight bag!!


  45. 50 years of flying says Says:

    Navigation portable means transferable to many vehicles. Multiuseful means air, land, water system to enhence the orientation and position in the interest of knowledge and safety. Since the 69X unit does not satisfy the IFR air regulations anyway, why not take the 49X and make it better? What the 69X does not do outweighs what it does. Responsible navigation of any vehicles will need synthetic data (visual and /or sound) and printed material when the electronics fail. SO! Why has Garmin derailed the purposes for the best portable? Why is the display unable to find a place in a panel? Why is wiring still an afterthought? Why no synthetic vision? Why no ss gyro option? Why no ring of glide safety? Why no true approach orientation? Why no projected air speed alert? Why no checklist prompt or sequence alert? why no automatic E6B data based on WX? etc…Why no automotive and marine as per 49X units. Garmin is the greatest but they dropped the ball on this one at 3K+. A marketing mistake when times are tough.

  46. Respect 50yrs of Fly'n Says:

    Man, I have to agree on those points! There does seem to be a lot missing for a completely new product. It was certainly not intended to be a complete replacement for the X96 models, otherwise it would incorporate their functions while adding a lot more….A MARKETING MISTAKE WHEN TIMES ARE TOUGH

  47. Kenneth Nolde Says:

    I liked the overview of the 696, but as I just purchased a new CTLS with a 496, I suppose it will be a while before I even look at a 696 seriously. The cost and the size are deterrents to many aircraft, particularly LSAs that try to keep weight down. A final thought, I am plan a X/C trip in my CT and I will take all paper charts necessary–I just do not want to be stranded in the air without navigation aids. Paper backups, in my view, are not eliminated. None the less, it is a lovely piece of equipment and even at my advanced age, I drool. Ken

  48. Jeff M Says:

    I think all the feedback regarding the GNS480 comment is warranted because the author obviously didn’t know anything about it and made a comment apparently based on trying to use it cold. That’s not an opinion, rather an uninformed misrepresentation of a great GPS whose user base wants to ensure support for years to come.

    The 480 is EASIER to use than a 430 or 530, period. It just doesn’t work like the 430/530, so takes a little time with the manual to understand how it works. Once you do, most any pilot admits that it’s easier to use and more powerful than a 430/530.

    I expect AOPA writers to have opinions, but informed ones. On the other hand, we all make comments we shouldn’t have, and I look forward to reading future articles by Dave Hirschman and thank him for his work.

    PS…I doubt Phil Boyer thinks it’s “a user-hostile abomination” either since he has one in his airplane.

  49. Stu Baxter Says:

    I suugest the author try getting a book out and reading the instruction manual before trashing one of the best units ever put out. The 480 has far more capability than most units out there and is very user friendly AFTER one learns how to run it. Writing for a outfit such as AOPA which puts so much emphasis on training one would think one would believe in training before commenting.

  50. Greg Goodknight Says:

    I’m on my second 480. First one purchased new and installed into a Cherokee, the second one purchased recently with an attached Beech V35A.

    When I first sat behind the 480 in the Cherokee, it was before the IFR certification flight. Having only read the manual the evening before, it took me about a minute to enter a flight plan for an airways route from Grass Valley (north of Sacramento) to Van Nuys. Sweet. Flew the 3+ hour flight without a hitch, including a practice VNY ILS 16R approach.

    Dave Hirschmann does the AOPA and its membership a disservice. Perhaps his lack of regard for the 480 is part of the reason why the AOPA has given GARMIN a pass on actually delivering the long delayed software and antenna upgrade that was promised last year. GARMIN has shown a lack of concern, leaving 480 users languishing with diminished capacity while engineering time is lavished on the 430/530, 296/496/607 and PFD products.

    Really, if all you want to use are 430/530 and other derivatives of the old handheld GPS devices, please stay away from the CNX80/GNS 480 and the upcoming King KSN 770. Leave them to the folks who think the 430/530’s are painfully behind the times.

  51. E. Paul Says:

    Can’t believe I read all of this string, but am more convinced my 496 is right for me. I fly IFR based on VORs, ILS, DME and yes, even an old ADF!! Wouldn’t do it without the 496 present and functioning. Like the sound of the GNS 480, since I need IFR certified GPS to be legal to file direct, but would fly the 496 rather than 430/530 since it’s faster, easier, and has more info than either. I’ll wait on 696 technology to develop, and fully expect to see a much improved version in the next 2 years. Incidentially, I still have the old 196 for backup.

  52. Buzz Says:

    The 480 deserves praise for being the first WAAS-enabled, IFR GPS for general aviation. It’s a highly capable piece of equipment with such unique and advanced features that Garmin paid its designers the ultimate compliment: It bought their company.
    But candidly, the 480 user interface is meant to emulate early Flight Management Systems that perplexed even seasoned professional pilots. Sure, they became adept at using them after countless hours of training — but to call that process “intuitive” seems a bit of a stretch.
    The comparison in the above article references the 696 (not the 430/530). But on that subject, the marketplace appears to have spoken clearly in favor of the 430/530 (approaching 100,000 units sold) while the 480 remains a niche product (something like 5,000 units sold).
    For those truly enamored with the 480, however, look at the bright side. New and used units are currently available at firesale prices. But personally, I’d rather have a 696.

  53. Greg Goodknight Says:

    Of course the 430/530 outsold the 480. There are many more VFR pilots than IFR pilots, and the 430 and 530 advertisements were always showing off VFR features. When asked one on one, Garmin reps would suggest the 480 was the best choice if one was a serious instrument pilot, but that attitude never leaked into their print ads.

    New and used 480’s available at firesale prices? Please, let us know where!

  54. Don Lawton Says:

    Every now and then a reviewer demonstrates that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Dave Hirschman has done that in this article. If he were serious about the subject, he would have done his homework before making the incredible statement above concerning the GNS 480. What he has done is demonstrate that he’s a VFR pilot, and a weak one at that, only interested in flying direct from point A to point B.

    Try this exercise, Dave. But, before you do, find a couple pilots who know and understand the avionics you’re going to test. Using the GNS 480 and GNS 530/430, have them enter a flight plan from KBOS to KSEA with this routing: GDM V2 SEA. By the time you’ve read this far, the knowledgeable 480 pilot will be ready for departure. Put your feet up and relax, though, while waiting for the Abominable IFR pilot on the other unit. It’s going to take some time to enter those 35 waypoints between the departure point and destination.

    Just because the 530/430 have been dummed-down for the masses is no reason to take the GNS 480 to task for providing the serious IFR pilot exactly what he needs. The ability to safely operate in a complex, and often changing, IFR environment.

  55. Patric Barry Says:

    The 696 is excellent and relatively affordable – I’m impressed at the low price but it is a portable, and these things have a habit of getting in the way during flight.
    The remarks about the Garmin 480 are unwarranted – if the author doesn’t know how to use a Garmin 480 then he’s missing out on some awesome technology that is compact and enhances safety. Of course, a Garmin 480 is way more expensive than the Garmin 696.

  56. Kirk Says:

    Ever wonder where the 596 went to or if is yet to come?? Maybe like Otis and the number 13….

  57. Greg Goodknight Says:

    I’ve read elsewhere that the AOPA’s piston aircraft have Garmin GNS 480’s in their panels, as does Phil Boyer’s C-172, and Boyer finds the 480 easier to use than the 430. So the 480 partisans are in good company.

    What it comes down to is that the 430 & 530 are the best combination VFR/IFR units for folks who want their panel mount units to work like their handhelds. And while the author was out of line, the commenter who declared Hirschman low skilled is also off base; just because VFR-only pilots overwhelmingly choose the 430/530 doesn’t mean only lousy IFR pilots also choose them.

    I’ve a Garmin GNS 480 paired with a Garmin MX20 MFD (they’re actually both UPSAT Apollo units, CNX80/MX20) and together they knock the 530 out of the water. Easy to use, as long as you don’t expect the user interface to be derivative of a GPS 89.

  58. Don McKeown Says:

    I read with interest the comments on the capability of the new 696. I take exception to the author’s bashing of the GNS480. This was orignally the CNX80 produced by Apollo and was ahead of it’s time. Garmin bought the company and years later made the 430/530 waas capable after many glitches along the way. When the 480 was still available, it was a better bargain than either the 430 or 530 and priced in between the two. I have own three of these fine units and would install another if it was available today in a recent airplane I purchased. I may have to “settle” for a 530 at some point but it will be with reluctance. As with any capable and powerful piece of equipment, there is a learning curve to conquer. I must say it was definitely worth the effort in the case of the 480

    Don McKeown

  59. Tom Rhodes Says:

    We miss your writing in the AJC and also miss you in the skies over PDK.
    Your terminology of “user abomination” is a harsh criticism of the Garmin 480 and is perhaps more of a reflection of you, the
    user. I seldom fly anything with a 430/530 but know the 480 well. I haven’t judged them as user unfriendly, but, rather, acknowledge my lack of familiarity and training with the units as the REAL problem.
    With equal training they both are fairly easy to learn AND the 480 has so much more capability.

    Best regards,
    Tom Rhodes

  60. Fred Anderka Says:

    The debate re the CNX80/480 seems to revolve around the lack of training in it’s use. This unit has exceptional capabilities that can easily befuddle someone who has only skimmed the manual. Coupled to the ARNAV PFD and Trutrack autopilot the CNX 80 has proven to be bulletproof in my Velocity XL RG. Flight plans are easy to enter and modify en route and are almost as easy and intuitive to enter as in my (ancient) 196.


    Fred Anderka

  61. Jim Ciontea Says:

    Re the GNS-480.

    I could not disagree with the author more.

    After carefully comparing the GNS-430 and CNX 80 (including downloading PC based simulators for both and flight planning some of my typical IFR flight plans in both sims) the decision was clear. CNX 80 was hands down the superior box.

    My CNX 80 has since been upgraded to full GNS 480 status and to this day it remains the best GPS navigator for GA. Garmin, seeing the competition had a technological advantage, bought the product and in short order killed it.

    In the mountainous West the vast majority of IFR flight in normally aspirated GA aircraft is done on Airways.

    With a GNS 480 I can input a full airway based flight plan, including all intersections, VOR’s, legs, etc. in usually under a minute.

    A GNS 430 or 530 pilot will either spend a lot of time entering the same flight plan – or more typically will depart IFR with only a few waypoints entered and will be spending flight time with his/her head down in the cockpit adding waypoints to the flight plan when he/she should be flying the airplane.

    I have zero interest in any of the current Garmin panel mounted GPS navigators. They bought the best one and killed it.

    Thankfully I have one and I will be keeping it.

  62. DA Says:

    I currently have a 530 and MX20 in a barron and have purchased a C310 that only has a 430 in it. I am considering the 696 and the AV80R horizon for a MFD. I can’t seem to find out if the AV80R has an IFR screem displaying the IFR charts and Victor airways like the mx20 does. I love the way my mx20 displays the victor airways and will not give up this feature. Can anyone give me a comparison of the 696 and the AV80R Horizon.

  63. larry olson Says:

    One MAJOR thing that most folks are missing is the cost of keeping the data current. At $1300 (plus the XM), that alone will kill this deal, for any prudent buyer.

    Larry Olson

  64. Ben Tankard Says:

    Will the 696 display the entire GPS approach or just th final approach fix like on the 496.


  65. Ben Tankard Says:

    Will the 696 display the entire GPS approach or just the final approach fix like on the 496 ?

    Ben Tankard

  66. Joe Says:

    Despite having a basemap using Victor airways, a pilot cannot enter a flight plan using the airways. A typical clearance might read “…. V487 V286 CYN V8 ….” It would be great if you could enter the airways into the flight plan but it appears you must enter the individual waypoints. This is extremely cumbersome, particularly flying single pilot IFR and getting an amended clearance in the air. I am astounded this feature is lacking.

  67. Hamid Farzam Says:

    I am just wondering in this day and age who can afford buying Garmin 696 with the following subscription prices.

    1. FliteChart 395/yr
    2. Jeppsen 295/yr
    3. Obstacle 195/yr
    4. Safe Taxi 195/yr
    5. AOPA data 50/yr
    6. Terrain 150/yr
    7. XM 600/yr

    Flying 50 hours a year cost me $37.5/hr for subscription only.

    Is there any bail-out for pilots?


  68. Ted Says:

    Just got a 696 as a really nice xmas present from my girlfriend/copilot. Great for a renter like myself. Only issue is not the weight on the yoke – took several flights without any noticeable issue – but rather the yoke mount that comes with the unit: it sets the 696 several inches aft of the face of the yoke, shrinking the space between you and the yoke. I will have to modify the yoke mount to solve this problem, or get another mounting system altogether. Excellent sat reception, even indoors without an external antenna, achieving full DGPS (10ft accuracy). One major software bug is the battery indicator that shows empty after a full charge and removing the charger – very disconcerting. Hope Garmin corrects it, since the unit sports a long battery life.

  69. Thomas Kastelic Says:

    I think to buy a backuo device to G1000 for Cessna 172SP.

    Bendix / King AV80R Vision 3D or Horizon 3D seems to be less expensive than Cesna- s Synthetic Vision Technology update. (which is not available anyway).

    Does somebody have some experience:
    – is possible to take the 3D out of cockpit and enter the data, routes etc. at home? e.g. to plan a route via PC?
    – is there available some route planning tool?
    – does it reads the planned routes our of USB stick? (to plan a route, load it to USB stick, and go to pane?)
    – where to have it in the cokpit?
    – is it sutable for a yoke mount?
    – how precise is covered the trerrain also Europe? G1000 is poor with details.
    – where to simulate and see how it is working?
    Thomas, Slovenia, Europe

  70. BadDoctor Says:

    “an IFR-approved GNS480 (a user-hostile abomination)”.

    Are you for real? Have you actually used a Garmin 480?
    Well, it’s much closer to an FMS than a 430/530. The 480
    has had WAAS for several years and has low/jet airways.

    430/530 are good too but they have all this other functionality
    that is better served by a 496. XM WX is uses very chunky
    graphics on 430/530 and limits the functions you can display.

    I’d still rather have a 480 for IFR. If you need GPS for VFR…

    Yes, I know 480 cannot display XM. It doesn’t even bother.
    But for my money I’d rather have 480, with airways, traffic
    and transponder remote. And if you add an MX20/200 well.

  71. BadDoctor Says:

    Someone wrote a reply about all the database updates:

    1. FliteChart 395/yr: all USA, every month. No more paper!
    2. Jeppsen 295/yr: well, are you using it for Primary NAV?
    3. Obstacle 195/yr: do you need this? NO
    4. Safe Taxi 195/yr: do you need this? NO
    5. AOPA data 50/yr: well worth having. Only $50
    6. Terrain 150/yr: do you need this? NO
    7. XM 600/yr: yes, you need this!

    So price of subscriptions over a 496 is $395 for ALL the US plates, including STARS, DEPS and APPROACHES. I’m just glad to not have to deal with NACO or JEPP updates anymore. I used to use JeppView on a tablet and it was horrible. Why?

    1. Microsoft Windows
    2. Jeppesen Jeppview

    Both dreadful piecese of software that should not be allowed in a cockpit of any airplane. 696 does not crash. Microsoft Windows crashes. 696 interface is predictable. JeppView interface was written by a bunch of 1st graduates over a weekend.

  72. JERRY DAVIS Says:


  73. Hamid Farzam Says:

    Garmin should bunddle the subscrition price including the XM to $20/month, in order to capture the portable GPS 696 market.

    Unitl then, I keep using my 396…………………

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