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What is the best GPS tablet for navigation in 2020 : Android or Apple?

What is the best GPS tablet for navigation in 2020 : Android or Apple?

Today, the good old plotter at the helm has a lot to worry about! With the democratization of tablets, more and more people are turning to these little gems of technology to add to their aging chartplotter or even replace it altogether and are wondering which GPS tablet for navigation to choose. Even if it is easy to buy a tablet, certain criteria should not be taken lightly in order to make the best choice to accompany oneself in navigation. GPS, A-GPS, Galileo, Beidou, Glonass, are these terms Chinese for you? Is it better to buy an Android or iOS (Apple) tablet? No problem, by reading this article, you will become an expert on the question: which GPS tablet for navigation to choose?

Disclaimer
English is not our native language. And while we put lots of time and attention in translating our content in English, you may find mistakes or things poorly translated here and there. In that case, feel free to send us an email in order for us to correct and improve.

Before we get started, what are the key points to consider?

  • The operating system: Android or iOS?
  • Screen size
  • LTE/Cellular or WiFi?
  • The positioning system: GPS, Galileo, Beidou or Glonass?
  • GPS or A-GPS?
  • Battery capacity
  • The price of course

By looking at these different aspects, we are well on our way to choosing the best possible tablet for coastal and offshore navigation.

Android or Apple (iOS)? Which brand for your GPS tablet for navigation?

Ah, that eternal question! The Apple brand or an Android tablet? That’s a bit of an unanswered question. Everybody has their own opinion and experience on the question. Some may argue that Apple is the ultimate brand, with products of impeccable quality and would not see themselves living with another brand. Faced with this question, some may even give answers such as “Apple obviously, 99% of malwares are on Android!“(recently read on one of the many sailing groups we’re part of). It is in any case indisputable that Apple is a recognized and rather (very) reliable brand. On the other hand, I hope your wallet is well stocked because some models sell for almost twice what an Android tablet is worth with similar features.

On the other side, there are a multitude of tablets powered by Android, the undisputed market leader. The manufacturers are numerous (Samsung, Huawei, Asus, Lenovo) and you can find everything. One must remain vigilant and not drown under the mass of information – or non-information – which only makes the choice more complicated. The specifications you can find on third-party sites are often partial and you can quickly find yourself buying a tablet with features that don’t actually match what you want.

As the competition is raging, it is also very difficult to find the one tablet that stands out from the crowd. And some models are sometimes so similar that it’s hard to make a personal opinion.

The choice can also be guided by your favorite navigation software. If you are starting from scratch, then you probably won’t give much importance to this, but if you are already used to specific softwares or apps, then your choice can be made on a tablet equipped with the operating system compatible with these softwares or apps. For example, Sailgrib is only available on Android.

Our choice on this aspect

After owning iPads for a long time, I now find that Apple’s pricing policy has become absolutely aberrant. The smallest iPad is nearly $500, with no possibility of memory expansion (which means you have to go up to more than $800 to be able to store data locally without worries). Not to mention their completely closed system and the fact that you necessarily need the Cellular+Wifi model to take advantage of the positioning system, which only increases the final bill. We recently switched our smartphones to Android (Pixel 2 for me, Pixel 3 for Gaëlle). For these reasons – and others to be found a little further down – we chose a tablet powered by Android.

Which screen and what screen size for your GPS tablet for navigation?

Here too, there is a bit of everything and in all sizes. Between 7 or 8 inches in HD, 8 or 9 inches in full HD or more, a whole bunch of options are available. For navigation, it is essential to have a big enough screen so that you don’t have to get within a few centimeters of the screen to see something. A 9-inch screen seems to us to be the minimum. On the other hand, too big, it will be complicated to hang the tablet a little everywhere in the cockpit.

The type of screen also varies: on the one hand, LCD screens that offer a good display quality. And on the other hand AMOLED screens, screens with light-emitting diodes, with thinner screens (thus a lighter tablet), and better depths in the colors. This may not be the main criterion, but with the sun and reflections, it can be good to have an easily readable screen.

Our choice on this aspect

To have a good reading of the charts, we didn’t want a tablet smaller than 9 inches. We also didn’t want something too big either, with the risk of having a heavier and more cumbersome tablet. The choice went quite naturally to a 9.7″. Regarding the type of screen, we didn’t take it into account in our choice, even if it’s a little better to have an AMOLED screen.

Do you need an LTE/Cellular or WiFi GPS tablet for navigation?

The shortcut is often made by some people between LTE/Cellular = GPS positioning. This is false, and true in a sense at the same time.

Android tablets (not all, but the vast majority today) are equipped with dedicated GPS chips that allow them, without LTE and no operator network, to position themselves on the whole earth. No need to take an LTE model and put a SIM card inside to benefit from satellite positioning. Of course, if you own an LTE tablet, you will be able to buy local SIM cards in the countries you visit and enjoy the internet wherever you are (as long as there is a network). But on our side, we already have our phones that will allow us to do this, so it was clearly not a criterion. An LTE tablet is also more expensive than a WiFi tablet. If the primary purpose is navigation (and watching movies for example), then the WiFi model is more than enough. We will still have to check which positioning system is picked up by the chip, but we’ll talk about that in the next paragraph.

On the Apple side, beware: WiFi tablets do not receive your positioning via a GPS chip! You will eventually be able to have a positioning when you are connected to a Wifi. This means that, a few nautical miles from the coast, it will quickly become impossible to position yourself. Indeed, the GPS chip is in the Cellular part. It will thus be necessary to opt for the Wifi+Cellular model. iPads are already pricey, but knowing the above will force you to add some extra cash when going to the cash desk in order to leave with a tablet useful for navigation. However, same thing as for Android tablets: a SIM card is not necessary to take advantage of the positioning. The GPS part in the Cellular is independent of this SIM card.

Our choice on this aspect

As you have probably guessed, we’ve moved to a WiFi tablet only powered by Android.

What is the difference between GPS, Galileo, Glonass and Beidou?

This article is dedicated to “which GPS tablet for navigation to choose“. So it’s time to talk about the point that is probably the most important one of all: GPS, or should I say the positioning system. Because this is indeed the primary objective: to position oneself as accurately as possible on a nautical chart.

I’m talking about a positioning system and not GPS on purpose, because there are a whole bunch of different positioning systems out there: GPS, Galileo, Glonass, Beidou, QZSS and others!

Did you think that by taking a tablet with GPS, that was it? Not so simple… Things get a bit complicated, not so much on the definition of these terms, but rather on your final choice. Explanations!

All these explanations are all well and good, but what do we do with them now?

Everyone knows that the keyword on a sailboat is redundancy, so relying on a single positioning system or even questionable accuracy would probably be a mistake. As a result, the issue of integrated positioning systems has a major influence in the final choice of the ideal GPS tablet for navigation.

Unfortunately, mainstream stores or online sites usually only mention: “GPS: yes. GPS Chip”. And if you don’t know anything about it, you buy the product without further question. But the reality is more complex. Some tablets will only pick up GPS signals, others GPS and Glonass, while others will be compatible with the full GPS + Glonass + Galileo + Beidou combo. The advantage of receiving several positioning systems is obviously twofold: not to depend on a single positioning system, but also to improve the accuracy of one’s position.

It’s also a question of price – as always, obviously. Most of the time, the more versatile a tablet is, the more expensive it is. Most entry-level and mid-range tablets receive the GPS + Glonass combo, while on mid-/high-end tablets you can receive GPS + Glonass + Galileo + Beidou, or even QZSS.

Let’s be clear: for years, all these positioning systems didn’t exist and sailors were doing very well! But it is certain that with the democratization of these technologies, it is difficult to do without them. Having only GPS positioning is not a problem in itself either and will be sufficient in many situations.

Our choice on this aspect

We wanted to have maximum accuracy and not depend solely on American GPS. We also wanted the tablet to receive Galileo signals. Our choice was a tablet compatible with GPS + Glonass + Galileo + Beidou.

GPS and A-GPS, what’s the difference?

A-GPS simply means “Assisted GPS” . Without going into technical (and boring) details, it is a technology that improves the responsiveness of the GPS in case of a weak GPS signal for example. The GPS system is based on an ephemeris table to calculate the GPS position, and you have to download this table at one point. The Assisted GPS then downloads it much faster by connecting to the internet.

You will probably find in forums here and there people who are against this system which “shifts the position of 200 meters when I approach the port” and which is “very dangerous“. Many people mix up the problems and, due to lack of knowledge, blame it on something that is not at fault. In their case, it is likely that the system, due to the lack of GPS positioning, indicated the best estimated position thanks to or because of A-GPS. It is recommended to switch to Airplane mode on the approaches to marinas because the tablet may try to connect automatically to a WiFi, quickly download these ephemeris tables and indicate whimsical positions. In any case, it is mandatory to master the technologies you have on board and it is easy to avoid this kind of problem. You must not forget to update your ephemeris tables (automatically when you connect to the Internet). But this is another issue that will certainly be addressed in another article.

To come back to the question of the best tablet to do navigation, this parameter of GPS versus A-GPS is not our main criterion.

Our choice on this aspect

This is not our main criterion and we will see if the tablet we are interested in is equipped with it, but we will have to be careful to connect to the internet from time to time to update the ephemeris tables.

Battery capacity

One of the most important elements when you don’t have electricity at will: the battery. So obviously, it will have to be recharged from time to time, but it is unthinkable to have to recharge your tablet every two hours.

The capacity of a battery is measured in mAh. To get an idea, the latest iPhone usually runs between 1500 and 3000 mAh. On the tablets, the batteries will be around 5000 mAh to 9000 mAh, which generally guarantees an autonomy of about 10 hours. It is obviously extremely complicated to have a perfect idea of the tablet autonomy, simply because it depends greatly on the use you will make of it.

Don’t rely on what the manufacturers announce, there can be a fairly large discrepancy. Prefer forums with feedback from (real) users.

Our choice on this aspect

We opted for a tablet with a minimum of 6000 mAh so that we don’t have to recharge it every 3 or 4 hours.

Which iPad as a GPS tablet for navigation?

If the price factor doesn’t put you off, then you might decide to go for an Apple-branded tablet. Even if it wasn’t our choice, I’ve concocted a summary table of the latest models released.

As you can see, the iPad Pro is above the rest, both in terms of performance and price. Unfortunately, if we followed the specifications on Apple’s official website, the iPad Pro would only be equipped with GPS, without Glonass, Beidou and Galileo. Very surprising … The latest iPad (6th generation) and the iPad Air 10.5″ are however good candidates.

iPad Air 10.9"

Silver / Green / and more
$ 724 from
  • Wifi+Cellular
  • 10.9"
  • A14 Bionic Chip
  • 2360 x 1640 resolution
  • 64 Gb / 256 Gb
  • GPS
  • 460 grams
  • 28,6 Wh

Nouvel iPad Pro 11"

Argent / Gris Sidéral
$ 944 from
  • Wifi+Cellular
  • 11"
  • A12Z Bionic chip
  • 2388 x 1668 resolution
  • 128Gb / 256Gb / 512Gb / 1Tb
  • GPS
  • 473 grams
  • 7812 mAh

iPad

Argent / Gris Sidéral / Or
$ 459 from
  • Wifi+Cellular
  • 9.7"
  • A10 chip
  • 2048 x 1536 resolution
  • 32 Gb / 128 Gb
  • GPS, GLONASS
  • 478 grams
  • 8827 mAh

iPad Mini

Argent / Gris Sidéral / Or
$ 499 from
  • Wifi+Cellular
  • 7.9"
  • Puce A12 Bionic
  • 2048 x 1536 resolution
  • 64 Gb / 256 Gb
  • GPS, GLONASS
  • 308 grams
  • 5124 mAh

Which Android GPS tablet for navigation?

On the Android side, prices are much affordable. Fans of the apple brand will come shouting that they’re no match for iPads, but I think that for a GPS tablet for navigation, there’s absolutely no problem with models like the Samsung Galaxy S5e (or even the entry-level Galaxy Tab 1 2019), or the Huawei Mediapad M5.

With these Android tablets, you can also take advantage of software like OpenCPN and Sailgrib.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S5e

Black / Silver
$ 359 from
  • Wifi
  • 10.5"
  • Octa-Core 2 GHz
  • 2560 x 1600 resolution
  • 64 Go, expandable
  • GPS, GLONASS, Beidou, Galileo
  • 400 grams
  • 7040 mAh

Samsung Galaxy Tab S4

Blanc / Gold / Noir
$ 499 from
  • Wifi
  • 10.5"
  • Snapdragon 835 2.35 GHz
  • 2560 x 1600 resolution
  • 64 Go, expandable
  • GPS, GLONASS, Beidou, Galileo
  • 482 grams
  • 7300 mAh

Huawei Mediapad M5

Gris
$ 250 from
  • Wifi
  • 10.8"
  • HiSilicon Kirin 960s
  • 2560 x 1600 resolution
  • 32 Go, expandable
  • GPS, GLONASS, Beidou
  • 498 grams
  • 7 500 mAh

Samsung Galaxy Tab A 2019

Noir / Gris
$ 206 from
  • Wifi
  • 10.1"
  • Octa-Core 1.8 GHz
  • 1920 x 1200 resolution
  • 32 Go, expandable
  • GPS, GLONASS, Beidou
  • 470 grams
  • 6150 mAh

Our 2020 choice as the best GPS tablet for navigation: the Samsung Galaxy Tab S5e!

Samsung Galaxy Tab S5e

starting at $359

After many hours spent comparing dozens and dozens of models, our choice went last year to the Samsung Galaxy Tab S3. Today, if we had to change for a new tablet, we would go for its big sister, the Samsung Galaxy Tab S5e. A very economical alternative is the Samsung Galaxy Tab A 2019 : Samsung had the good idea to integrate the Beidou and Galileo location systems in its entry-level models.

Compared to the Galaxy Tab S3, the S5e has a pretty crazy resolution, an even bigger battery (7040 mAh! ) and even more power with its Octo-Core processor.

Our first criterion was the fact that it is powered by Android, which leaves us more room to install some navigation softwares (OpenCPN, Sailgrib, …) and memory expansion via SD/microSD cards. On the smartphone side, we have a Pixel 2 and a Pixel 3, which means that all our eco-system is under Android for easy synchronization, and as a bonus, less cables because everything is in USB-C!

And our main criterion obviously, the positioning system: we have GPS, GLONASS, Beidou but especially Galileo! I don’t know if it’s a whim – we’ll judge it by use and in the long run – but I wanted to be equipped to capture the Galileo network. I’ve read a lot of good things about the GPS/GLONASS/Beidou/Galileo combo in terms of positioning accuracy, so when we saw that the Samsung Galaxy Tab S5e offered all these criteria, we didn’t hesitate on this choice.

 

We hope that this article will have helped you better understand the complexity of the choice when buying a tablet dedicated to navigation. And if you already have your own tablet that is mainly used for navigation, please feel free to comment on which one you have and why you chose it.

This article contains Amazon affiliate links. If you buy a product by following these links, you will pay the same price but we will get a small commission. This allows us to keep our blog alive. So you support us at no extra cost.

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6 Responses

    1. Hi James, yes they do. However you may need to download the map layout before you go off road. Positionning works offline, thanks to the GPS. But the map layout has to be downloaded (at least it works like that with Google Maps).

  1. Samsung galaxy tab active 2 or galaxy tab active pro. Ruggedized, and the price is reasonable considering the ruggedness and being able to swap out batteries.

  2. I’m quite sure you made a mistake: Samsung Galaxy Tab A 2019 doesn’t have Galileo (That or their is a mistake in the french version of that same article).
    Do you have an idea of the accuracy difference it makes to add positionning systems? Like, will it be 2 meters more accurate to add Galileo for an offline tablet?

    Anyway thanks for the article !

    1. Ah, that’s right, it’s a copy paste from the previous tablet that were in this box. And I’ve updated the french version, but not the english one. Thanks, I’ve just updated it !

      As for the accuracy, for us (ie not military usage) :
      – Galileo : ~1 meter
      – GPS : ~10 meters
      – Glonass : ~10 meters
      – GNSS/Beidou : from 5 to 10 meters depending where you are

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