What is the best GPS tablet for navigation in 2021 : Android or Apple?

What is the best GPS tablet for navigation in 2021 : 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
  • Brightness 500 cd/m²
  • 64 Gb / 256 Gb
  • GPS
  • 460 grams
  • 28,6 Wh

New iPad Pro 11"

Silver / Grey
$ 944 from
  • Wifi+Cellular
  • 11"
  • A12Z Bionic chip
  • 2388 x 1668 resolution
  • Brightness 629 cd/m²
  • 128Gb / 256Gb / 512Gb / 1Tb
  • GPS
  • 473 grams
  • 7812 mAh

iPad

Silver / Grey / Gold
$ 459 from
  • Wifi+Cellular
  • 9.7"
  • A10 chip
  • 2048 x 1536 resolution
  • Brightness 501 cd/m²
  • 32 Gb / 128 Gb
  • GPS, GLONASS
  • 478 grams
  • 8827 mAh

iPad Mini

Silver / Grey / Gold
$ 499 from
  • Wifi+Cellular
  • 7.9"
  • Puce A12 Bionic
  • 2048 x 1536 resolution
  • Brightness 515 cd/m²
  • 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
$ 360 from
  • Wifi
  • 10.5"
  • Octa-Core 2 GHz
  • 2560 x 1600 resolution
  • Brightness 495 cd/m²
  • 64 Go, expandable
  • GPS, GLONASS, Beidou, Galileo
  • 400 grams
  • 7040 mAh

Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 Lite

White / Gold / Black
$ 269 from
  • Wifi
  • 10.4"
  • Octa-Core 2.3 GHz
  • 2000 x 1200 resolution
  • Brightness : N/A
  • 64 Go, expandable
  • GPS, GLONASS, Beidou
  • 465 grams
  • 7040 mAh

Lenovo Tab P11

Grey
$ 289 from
  • Wifi
  • 11"
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 662
  • 2000 x 1200 resolution
  • Brightness 400 cd/m²
  • 64 Go, expandable
  • GPS, GLONASS, Beidou
  • 490 grams
  • 7 500 mAh

SailProof SP08

Black
$ 797 by clicking on the link below
  • Wifi + LTE
  • 8"
  • Octa-Core 2 GHz
  • 1280 x 800 resolution
  • Brightness 1000 cd/m²
  • 64 Go, expandable
  • GPS, GLONASS, Beidou
  • 750 grams (rugged tablet)
  • 9800 mAh

Our 2021 choice as the best GPS tablet for navigation: the SailProof SP08

SailProof SP08

With the SailProof SP08, you’re immediately at the top of the game when it comes to navigation tablets. For the positionning system, it has everything we wanted from such a tablet: GPS, Glonass and Galileo. The battery is overpowering with 9800 mAh. The SP08 offers Wifi as well as LTE. And with its 1000 cd/m² – I don’t think I’ve seen more than that on the market – reading navigation maps in full sunlight is absolutely no problem at all. The SP08 is a monster of robustness: it is rugged, IP67 and MIL-STD-810G (military specification). So there’s no need to look for a waterproof case, it’s already equipped with one.

Excellence has of course a price, and a weight. The SailProof is indeed above other Android tablets in terms of price, but it outperforms all others in terms of performance. As for the weight, let’s not forget that the weight displayed takes into account the rugged case, unlike other tablets that only displays the weight of the tablet itself. And to be honest, we won’t go jogging with the SailProof in our pocket, so 400 grams or 700 grams on the tablet support at the helm doesn’t change anything.

In collaboration with SailProof, we’re glad to offer you a discount. By clicking on the link above, the SailProof SP08 tablet will be available for $797 instead of $840, which is quite nice!

An alternative: the Samsung Galaxy Tab S5e!

Samsung Galaxy Tab S5e

starting at $433

The Samsung Galaxy Tab S5e is an alternative option in terms of navigation tablets. If you’re following us for a while, you know that our first tablet was in fact its little sister, the Galaxy Tab S3.

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.

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 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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41 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

  3. It appears that galaxy s5e has been discontinued. By bj whatehouse, what other galaxy / Android tablet do you recommend. You website is very very well appreciated. I want to use this for navagation, & boating, do I need WiFi, cellular and 128 memory. Thanks Dan

    1. Hey Dan, I don’t think the S5e has been discontinued, Samsung still sells it : https://amzn.to/2PLKnQy. For a Samsung tablet, you would need only a Wifi tablet. 128Go is great, 64Go is okay as well, you can store a lot of navigation maps 🙂

        1. Nope, they don’t change specifications for a brand/model over the years. They would change the name of the tablet if they change something.

  4. Thank you for your well done research. What navigation software do you use and have you tested with Open CPN?

    1. Hey Gerry,
      Thanks ! We mainly use Navionics, but we also have Open CPN as a backup on our tablet, phones and also on a computer. And it works well 🙂

  5. Hello, loved the article, and great job translating it into English. I am looking forward to navigating the Great Lakes in North America, with help from Europe!

    1. Thanks Joe ! Great Lakes, such a beautiful place. We’ve never been there but there is a lot of videos on Youtube and it looks gorgeous.

  6. Thank you for a very useful article. I’m researching how to use a tablet and Raspberry PI to compliment some working, but old, equipment.

  7. Evening Guys
    Will these tablets function using SKYDEMON – aeronautical navigation software?
    It has worked with my 10inch ipad Air very well to date but it is a bit too large in the cockpit.
    i am switching to the mini 7-8inch options and considering the android system because memory expansion is available.
    so it is a choice between mini ipad 69 or 256GB which has all the history and the sailproof.
    is the sailproof available in england?
    regards allan molyneux

    1. Hi Allan,
      I haven’t used any aeronautical navigation software, but i don’t see a reason why it shouldn’t work. Sailproof tablet is available everywhere yes 🙂
      Regards,

  8. Hi Jeremy
    Thank you for your article I was looking to see what I need to buy cos I have no idea but your advice makes perfect sense. However I just wanted to check with you that when you say you don’t need a GPS enabled tablet, my old tablet runs Navionics very nicely but it wants a GPS enabling function in order to see where I am so that’s why I am looking to buy a newer one. I currently have a Galaxy Tab S2 with only wifi and that doesn’t show my location on Nav.
    Cheers

    1. Hey Lycia,
      I will read again what I’ve written but I don’t think I’ve said you don’t need a GPS enabled tablet. I think I’m saying you don’t need an LTE enabled tablet. GPS and LTE are two different things. LTE is to receive (internet) data, GPS is just to acquire a positionning signal.
      That being said, I haven’t had the Samsung S2 but it should work only with the wifi version of the tablet. It works at least with the Samsung S3.

  9. Is there a minimum of storage required to store not only chart data, but also GRIB downloads and other desired data? I intend to strictly upload only nautical related apps onto my device. Your points on battery life and screen size were great, thank you. I hope to synchronize all my onboard nevigation equipment, would one product be better to achieve that purpose?

    1. Hi John,
      On our side : Navionics (Boating app) + all costal maps of France, Spain, Portugal, Canarias islands, Cap Verde, and Antilles from Trinidad and Tobago to Guadeloupe is 2 Go, so it’s really not a lot!
      As for synchronizing all equipments, it depends what equipments you were thinking. On our side we have a Wifi multiplexer, so we can receive AIS targets on our tablet into Navionics for example.

  10. Hello – I have the Dragon Touch 10 with wifi and gps only, and works great except when I try to do an automatic route, it always does a bogus route or simply a straight red line between both waypoints…. any clue on how to correct? Navionics couldn’t help me, tia

    1. Hello, I believe you already checked the draft of the boat in the settings ? We had the problem only once I think, otherwise it worked well on our side. Except this and having a map partially downloaded, I don’t have the answer. Have you tried on different internet connexionx maybe ? What if you try on your smartphone with the same account and settings ?

  11. Thanks so much for this article. We enjoy houseboat rentals but they do not commonly come with GPS. It is unthinkable for us to navigate a large boat on a large lake without better tools than just a depth monitor and a map. We tried Navionics with an Apple tablet and it failed to help us when we disconnected from WiFi and cellular service. Now I understand why! Looking forward to trying this out soon.

    1. Thank you Melissa 🙂 Indeed, that’s the trick with Apple tablet, you need the LTE version or it won’t work with Navionics unless you have the WiFi.

      On which lake do you rent boats by the way ?

  12. I was very confused and I don’t know which one to buy, but now I’ve found a nice comparison for you. Maybe it can help you make your decision easier. So, i’m looking for buying the Samsung Galaxy Tab S5e, because it’s much better than others.

  13. Hello, we are going to use OpenCPN on a tablet, and reading this article it has made things clearer. The thing that still “confuses” me is the GPS and A-GPS. My understanding was that when choosing a tablet it had to have GPS (Samsung A8), but by reading this article it looks like I can also opt for lets say a A7 (no GPS but A-GPS). We have Iridium, and AIS with WiFi onboard, would a A7 suffice?

    Cheers,
    Nico (SV KYNIC)

  14. Jeremy,

    What a great article! I learned so much from you on Navigation, GPS and Galileo. We live in Florida on the East Coast, and I was most interested in buying an Android Tablet for sailing. I was most interested in the Samsung Galaxy S5e because it also offered the ability to connect with Galileo which I perceived to be the most accurate of all the Nav applications. Since your writing of this article in early 2021, I cannot find this S5e anymore. Can you suggest another Samsung product that would offer the same solutions in the same price range of around $360.00? Thank you in advance for your response.

  15. After doing my brains on what Tablet will do what and when connected , I have decided to go with a second hand Galaxy S5e.
    it truly does look like the best option , I do love Apple products , but I’m falling out of love with the price of them.
    Many thanks for a great article.
    Dave

  16. I just want to thank you for taking the time to publish a solid review. I’m a GIS professional in state government in the USA. I appreciate your attention to detail on the satellite constellations, and your article is a great high-level summary! I probably explain exactly all of this to some new field personnel about every 6 months. I will say that assisted GPS in the USA, called WAAS, is very helpful for us; allowing us to work with less-expensive commercial grade GPS hardware in many cases. Best to you in your voyages!

  17. This is a brilliant article, thank you very much. I am based in Ireland and I am keen on the Galaxy Tab S6 Lite (Wifi version).
    The key purpose of the tablet is to use Navionics to navigate around coastal areas of Ireland, UK, France, Spain, so I would largely be within some kind of cellular network and can ‘mobile hotspot’ from my phone to the Galaxy tablet.
    However, in a few weeks I am on a passage from NW Spain to West of Ireland and have the following question. When I am far outside cellular networks, will the GPS function work correctly, or does it require the cellular network for accuracy?
    Again, thank you very much for your article and insights.

  18. Thanks so much for your very helpful article. I have a couple of queries you might help me with please:

    I am keen on the Samsung Tab S6 Lite (wifi) tablet. From what I read in your article, the geolocation of the tablet should work fine when far outside cellular network or wifi area. Is that correct?
    And should I always have airplane mode enabled on approach to marinas, etc… to avoid conflicting downloads, etc and ensure best location finding?
    And finally, this tablet does not have Galileo, but that is the only difference I can see with the Tab S5e (Wifi). Is that a big drawback?
    Thanks again.

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About us

We are Gaëlle and Jérémy, a couple in their thirties and we left everything to live full time on our sailboat Kerguelen.

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