Tempting tablet for boating – Lenovo MiiX 2 + SmarterTrack

With a price tag of around £160/$260, the Lenovo MiiX 2 is a full featured Windows 8.1 tablet (not a cut down RT version) and it might be one of the best buys for a boater.  As its operating system is regular Windows 8.1, standard marine PC software runs as it would on a notebook or dedicated PC but you get the benefit of portability, a built in GPS and  all the other features this amazing device offers.  The new Windows operating system has had a hard time in the mainstream consumer press but actually, once mastered (we’re all old hands at XP!), it brings alot of extra features.  I guess it’s like any learning curve, but once cracked it’s very stable and easy to use.

lenovo miix 8 tablet

Key features for the tablet are:

  • Bright 1280 x 800 pixel 8″ display (can be portrait or landscape orientated – good for sailing N-S or E-W!)
  • Built in GPS, BlueTooth 4, WiFi (You can use a Bluetooth mouse rather than touch screen if you prefer)
  • 32GB internal storage
  • Intel Z3740 processor
  • Mini USB port for external devices (our USB-NMEA adaptor and USB AIS products are now plug and play with an OTG USB cable)
  • Long life battery – we were navigating for a good day’s sailing and with a standard USB connection you can easily recharge from anywhere

We bought a MiiX to test our SmarterTrack software on a mobie platform.  SmarterTrack is a sophisticated, Navionic’s based PC chart plotter system which offers real time navigation, NMEA interfaces, tracking, waypoints, routes, weather overlays, AIS and much more.  It costs £250/$399 and has a unique feature in that you can copy Navionic’s charts on cartridge format to the PC’s hard drive and licence them to SmarterTrack at no extra charge.  That means you can use the same Navionic’s cartridge in your Simrad, Lowrance, Raymarine etc plotter to save on duplicated cartography costs.

Lenovo Tablet with SmarterTrack

Setup was pretty straightforward but not without a few headaches if you want to use the internal GPS.   First install SmarterTrack via a USB thumb drive or email link. Second, install and save the Navionic’s charting data from the microSD card to the tablet and thirdly get the internal GPS to work…

We reckon many users will be using the tablet as part of their boat’s integrated navigation system so there’s a good argument for fitting a Digital Yacht NMEA to wifi device so you can use a wifi link to the boats GPS, instrument and navigation data.  Our WLN10, iAIS, NavLink  and iNavHub products can all support this protocol and it’s the best solution – saving on battery life for the tablet and ensuring you’ve good accurate GPS data even when below decks as you’re not reliant on the tablet’s internal GPS.  SmarterTrack supports this TCP/IP wifi feed too.

However, we appreciate there’s a market for a totally portable solution.  Here’s how to use the internal GPS on the tablet.  The problem is that many tablets now feature GNSS devices, which provide location data via the Windows Location Platform. Unfortunately, they do not provide that data via a traditional com port, so most desktop apps simply will not work. That’s where a special software application called Localizer comes in.

This low cost patch allows you to create a COM port so traditional navigation programs reliant on an NMEA 0183 com ports can function.  It works great and costs about $15

So for about £450/$660 we now have a portable 8″ high resolution (compare 1280 x 900 to a traditional plotter) GPS chart plotter system which is AIS compatible via wifi or USB and can share Navionic’s charts with many popular dedicated chart plotters.  Looking at the maths, we can see this working – fit a small chart plotter in the cockpit or at the helm and feed NMEA data to a wireless server and use this tablet for the 2nd station.

SmarterTrack New Instrument Displays

SmarterTrack software offers alot of features a regular chart plotter can’t support such as weather overlays, a sophisticated AIS overlay with CPA/TCPA alarms, log books, printing routes and more.

I think we’re finally getting some great value added integration with consumer electronics on board boats – making sailing more affordable and fun.  We’re testing next week for some other product development work but will try this set up as our primary navigator.  Please tell us your experiences too


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