WiFi Devices for Boats – Part 5 of 5

Jeff Seigel, founder of ActiveCaptain, writes…

Continuing with our summer series about WiFi on boats, we're going to turn our attention to the central display most of us use when viewing information – a laptop, or quite commonly today, a tablet. We surely don't need to talk about iPads or Android tablets again. If you have a pulse, you know all about them.

This week we want to discuss an important WiFi concept for laptops and tablets – how you should connect them to the internet over WiFi. There are some new devices out that we'd like to expose you to because a new generation of computer hardware has come out recently and it will likely affect the computers you use onboard.

First, whenever you are using WiFi internet on your boat, you should be connecting your laptop and tablet to WiFi through your own central router. That router connects to the internet and then all attached devices, computers, TV's, cameras, and more can access the internet through the router.

The WiFi strength at your computer should be very reliable – 5 bars of strength – because the distance between the laptop and the router is less than the length of your boat. Gone are the days when you'd need to move around your boat trying to find a connection to a marina's WiFi.

Instead, one high gain WiFi modem should be installed outside your boat that connects to the marina's WiFi. Your central router then distributes that connection locally on your boat. This is a critical concept. It will make your WiFi experience significantly better.

Next, let's look at some of the new devices that you may not know about.

The overwhelming success of the iPad shook up the entire computer industry. Microsoft was sent into a spin as the first real challenge to Windows seemed to be viral. Android hardware manufacturers rose to the fight as well with a tremendous number of new tablet offerings.

Quietly, Intel was also at work producing the next set of CPU's to power these new computers.

Back when we re-built all the electronics in our boat, we left a space for a Windows display. Microsoft's Surface was just coming out and we thought it would be great to have a Windows PC at our helm. But Surface had its issues and we waited. And so did a lot of others.

Another couple of models were released including the most recent Surface 3. The specs seemed great and we wanted that Windows display at our helm, but the $1,200+ price for the system we'd need was just too expensive. So we waited.

Recently, a few things have come together – new Intel CPU's, new Windows 8.1 with some better touch capabilities, and a variety of hardware manufacturers realizing that they could create a new Windows tablet. Price is critical – we were not going to spend double the price of an iPad for another tablet.

And then the shocker. There are a few, reliable new Windows tablets with powerful new quad core i5 CPU's. The killer is that they're not the price of an iPad. They are one-half the price of an iPad.

We recently picked up one of these for our helm to see how it would perform with real navigation software. We purchased a Dell Venue 8 Pro with 64 GB of disk space, 2 GB RAM, and a 1.8 GHz i5 core CPU ($279 list). It has an SD card slot, USB, Bluetooth, WiFi, high resolution camera, and everything else you'd expect on a laptop.

Once we had it, we threw every PC navigation product we could get our hands on into it. It ran every one perfectly. There were no installation issues and everything ran the first time. We cannot say enough about this table – it's just spectacular.

Of course, there are a couple of negatives to it. It's small and parts of Windows will require fine fingertip control. You can solve that by getting a Bluetooth keyboard and Bluetooth mouse to make setup easier.

There is no GPS built in, but it'll connect with normal Bluetooth GPS's. We have different plans however.

We'll be interfacing this little tablet to all of our instruments onboard – GPS, AIS, depth, wind, etc. And because PC navigation products are generally higher end, they support the autopilot as well.

We'll use that too. We'll do all of this interfacing over WiFi. Yes, WiFi. That's the whole point of this series – you can do it all with WiFi today. There are some things to be aware of and we'll continue with those next time.

If you'd like to see some screenshots from Coastal Explorer and a video of what Nobeltec Odyssey looks like on the little tablet, go to the ActiveCaptain Facebook page and follow the thread at the top.

By Jeff Seigel

Guest Author & Founder of ActiveCaptain



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