Sunday, October 12, 2014

Iridium Go, Mail and Web Apps

Application: iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch iOS 6.0 or later, Android
Function: Satellite voice, text, data, SOS and Internet
Rating: *****
Cost: Iridium Go $799, apps are free

I don't usually write about many hardware devices but when a piece of electronics becomes a game changer for the industry, I have to give it some press. The Iridium Go is just that. It is the latest satellite communicator to find its way into the cockpits of pilots, sailors and world travelers of all types who want world wide communications at any time. The cool thing about this device is that it is affordable and the flexible monthly plans won't break the bank. A compatible Iridium Go IOS and Android apps are used to connect you mobile devices and make phone calls, text, track, Tweet and SOS.  The Iridium Mail and Web app allows access to email, weather, Facebook, Twitter and the Internet. I am not sure why they need two apps, it would have been nice to have all features in one app. 

This awesome new portable satellite device eliminates the no cellular service problem. The Iridium GO offers 100% global coverage for smart phones to make and receive calls, send and receive instant messages, send & receive email, browse the Internet, send files and track your GPS location.

The Internet connection is quite slow at 2.5 Kilobits per second. It is enough to do the basics such as sending small files or checking the weather from a online weather sites. The GO is a Wi-Fi hotspot for up to 5 Apple  or Android devices. Connections can be made up to 100 feet (30 meters).

  • Dimensions: 4.5″ x 3.25″ x 1.25″ (114mm x 83mm x 32mm)
  • Weight: 305g
  • Antenna: Internal Iridium
  • Concurrent GNSS: US NAVSTAR GPS, GLONASS, Galileo
  • Durability: MIL-STD 810F
  • Ingress Protection: IP65
  • Operating Temperature Range: -10°C to +50°C
  • Storage Temperature Range: -20° to 60°C
  • WiFi Frequency and Range: 2.4 Ghz b, g, n (up to 30 meters)
  • WiFi Interface: Iridium GO! API
  • Included Applications: Iridium GO! (Phone, SMS, SQS) and Iridium Mail (Mail, Photo, Weather)
  • Number of Users: Up to 5 with Iridium GO! App
  • Battery Specs: 3600 mAh providing up to 5.5 hours talk time/ Up to 15.5 hours standby
  • Battery Charge Time: 4 hours
  • Interface Connectors: SIM, Micro USB, External Antenna
  • External Antenna: TS-9 (TS-9 to TNC adapter available)
  • Regulatory Certifications: FCC, Industry Canada, CE, ITU, RoHS
  • Phone - Make or receive phone calls on your smartphone with a new satellite phone number.
  • Email - Send and receive email and email attachments via the Mail and Web App.
  • Instant Messaging - Sent a text to any phone number or email address. 
  • Web Browsing - via the Opera Mini (iOS) or XWeb for Android devices. 
  • Files - Send files or photos from the Mail & Web app.
  • GPS & Tracking - Show current position - GPS button instant texts/email once or at selected intervals.
  • Twitter - Send a tweet directly from the Iridium Go app.
  • Facebook - Connect to your Facebook account through the Mail and Web app.
  • SOS Button - Send an emergency message, or set up to send an SOS to a defined text address/email.                        
  • Weather App - Press the weather button inside the mail and web app for local conditions.
  • Wi-Fi Hotspot up to 100' (30 meters) from the device. May connect up to 5 devices (Smartphones and Tablets only).
  • 100% Global Availability, Pole-to-Pole, land, sea, air
  • No roaming charges.
  • Voicemail, Contact Lists.
  • Offline email composition. Write emails anytime and send only when you connect.
  • Advanced Screens - Firewall controls, Wi-Fi security, device passwords, Tracking configuration
  • Compatible with Iridium external antenna
  • Display shows signal strength, data Internet access, number of connected users.

Satellite Network

The Iridium satellite network is the most complete and offers world wide coverage. The 66 LEO, low Earth orbiting satellites provide coverage to every corner of the earth. This is great for world cruisers who are often crossing remote oceans and are out of touch with land based communications. The network was originally designed for voice communications so it is not a high speed datalink. 

Iridium Go Hardware

The Iridium Go is a ruggedly constructed device which is designed to be waterproof and shockproof.  It has a compact form factor of only 4"x 3".  It can be mounted in a variety of ways but must have clear view of the sky to pick up the satellites. Simply flip up small antenna and the unit turns on automatically.  An optional external antenna can be used to provide more mounting options.

While turned on the unit provides a WiFI hotspot for up to 5 mobile devices connected simultaneously.  The unit connects with either an iOS or Android version of the app which are used to make voice calls, text, download files, send SOS and browse the internet.  The unit has a rechargeable battery and will last about 8 hours of active use or about 15 hours in standby.

Iridium GO App

The Iridium go app is your user interface to the hardware unit.  It was designed for a variety of tasks. Your phone is connected to the Iridium GO unit with a WiFi connection. You can then make voice calls, sent text messages, Tweet, track your GPS position and send an SOS if case of an emergency.

The main screen of the app has icons for the various functions. At the top of the display it shows connectivity and battery strength.

You will need an Iridium service plan and a login to access the network.  Iridium Go has 4 Monthly Rate Plans ranging from a minimum of $49 to the unlimited plan for $125. Two Pre-paid Data Plans are also available. The monthly rate plans provide an increasing number of GO Data minutes per month. There are no roaming charges when you use Iridium GO. There is a one-time activation fee of just $50 with any of the Monthly Rate Plans.

Pre-paid plans offer you a pre-set number of GO Data Minutes that you can apply to all your data, voice and messaging needs. So, if you want to make a voice call to any landline or mobile device you will use have a set number of minutes of voice calling.  There is no activation-fee with the prepaid plans. Prepaid plans can be re-new at any time, and un-used minutes roll over when you renew your plan before the expiration date. 

Voice Calls:

Satellite communications systems were developed by a couple of Motorola engineers back in the 1980s.  Iridium had the first operating satellite network system which started offering service in November 1998. 

Voice calls are made using the Iridium GO app. Simply connect to the Go WiFi network and access the keypad for dialing.  The app can access all your contacts so it make it easy to make calls.

You can make and receive calls from your smart phone over the Iridium network.  All incoming calls are free. However if someone calls your Iridium number they will rack up a pretty large phone bill. This is because they will be charged international rates.

Iridium does offer a cheaper way to do this. The user must set up a +1 number to allow the caller to first call an access number and then dial the Iridium users phone number.  The caller will then pay standard long distance rates.
 Text Messages
Texting is almost more popular than talking these days.  I know I do more texting with my kids than talking.  The ability to send and receive satellite text messages is probably the best feature of the app.
While your in remote places exploring the world it is a nice feature to be able to send you spouse or loved ones a quick text letting them know you are ok and still alive.  You can update them on your travels and any change in your arrival times to put their mind at ease.
Tap the Message icon on the main screen to access the text feature.  A familiar looking screen show your conversations.  Messages can be up to 1000 characters.  Two of the Iridium Go service plans allow unlimited texting. 
SOS, GPS Position and Tracking
The Iridium Go has an an board GPS receiver that can be used to provide your location.  This location information is useful and can be sent in a Text or Email.  These position updates can be sent out manually at anytime or they can be set up to be sent out at regular intervals.  The recipient of the message can then view the position data on a map.  This is a position only and not a tracking feature.
The SOS feature is a free service and can be used in an emergency situation to summon help from anywhere in the world.  The feature is set up ahead of time by providing emergency contact information so authorities know who to get ahold of.   The SOS messages are monitored by the GEOS Alliance. If they receive an SOS from you they will initiate contacts with local law enforcement and rescue personnel. The SOS can be started with the dedicated button the Iridium Go unit or on your phone under the SOS Icon
The Tracking feature is accessed with the Tracking Icon. It uses the GPS data of the Iridium GO module to provide a track of your travels. This is a bread crumb like trail of where you have traveled.  This can be used for tracking mobile trucking assets, planes, ships and hikers if needed. 
Social Media
Social Media can be accessed also.  If you want to Tweet or post an update you can do that also through Iridium GO.  The Twitter Icon lets the user access a Twitter like feed. This is an Iridium app so the functionality will not be the same as the regular Twitter app.
Iridium Web and Mail App
I am not sure why Iridium has two different apps. The main screen of the Web and Email app is shown on the left.  It also has a Twitter icon, Facebook, Weather, Web, Photos and Mail.
The Mail, Facebook and Twitter icons are self explanatory just select these to email, post your status or Tweet.
One of the coolest features is access to the Internet.  This not going to be a high speed connection. It is more like the old dial up modem speeds if you are old enough to remember those.
To access the Internet you will have to use the Opera Mini app.  Make sure to set the Image Quality settings to low to maximize compression of images. You will not be able to stream videos or visit other broadband intensive sites.  It can only be used for basic web browsing and file downloading.
Iridium has made an awesome device that can be interfaced with about any mobile device.  The price of the device is kind of steep at $800 buck but the monthly service plans for unlimited service is only $125 per month.  I pay almost that much for my family plan for a few cell phones.  If you travel to remote locations it might make sense to pick one up. If your a world cruiser it will give you worldwide communications and the ability to download GRIB weather data files for programs like Predict Wind or Weather 4D.  Is anyone using the Iridium Go while cruising?  I would love to know what your experience has been.
~~~ Sail On ~~~ /)

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Volvo Ocean Race App - Life at the Extreme

Application: iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, iOS 7.0 or later
Function: Multimedia, tracking and race details
Rating: *****
Cost: Free

All images courtesy of Volvo Ocean Race App
Hot off the presses is the Volvo Ocean Race App for the 2014-2015 race. I can't believe it is about to start all over again in just a few days.

This will be the 12 edition of the Volvo Ocean Race which is held every three years. The race started back in 1973 and was originally known as the Whitbread Round the World Race. Whitbread is a famous British brewing company that was one of the original sponsors of the race. Back then 17 boats ranging from 32 to 80 feet competed. The Mexican entry, Sayula II skippered by Ramon Carlin won the first race.

This years official race starts in Alicante Spain on October 4th 2014. The 39,000 mile course takes
the sailors around the world in 11 months in a west to east route.  Stops include Cape Town South Africa, Abu Dhabi UAE, Sanya China, Auckland, New Zealand, Itajai Argentina, Newport Rhode Island, Lisbon Portugal, Lorient France, The Hague Netherlands and finally Gothenburg Sweden.

In port races will take place at each location and give the spectators a close up view of the sailing action. Seven teams made up of 66 sailors, men and women are competing in this years event. One unique thing about this years race is that all boats are of one design, built to be exactly the same so all boats will be evenly matched.

The Volvo Ocean Race is one of the greatest sporting events in the world today. The high tech 65 foot yachts will be used in the next two Volvo Ocean race series.

  • Feeds, enjoy video and multimedia feeds
  • Teams, SCA, Abu Dhabi, Dongfeng, Brunel, Alvimedica, MAPFRE, Vestas Wind
  • Routes, check out the race route around the world.
  • Tracker, follow the teams in real time around the world
  • Life at the Extreme TV
  • Notifications of Breaking news, Live Events and Position Reports

Download the free app and start enjoying the sailing coverage that this app will provide. It will take you inside the races and give you access to videos, pictures and podcast of all the race action.

Who you betting on? Go Team SCA!

~~~ Sail On ~~~ /)

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Navionics Boating for Windows

Application: Windows PC or Tablets with Operating System of 8.1 or higher
Function: Marine Charting and Navigation
Rating: *****
Cost: App is Free, in app purchases for charts and features

Hey, who said apps are just for tablets and phones, how about Windows PCs.  Navionics has just introduced their popular Boating app for the Windows operating system.  The Boating app came out in the spring of 2014 and is now Navionics main marine app.  It had been available only on mobile devices running iOS or Android until now. Navionics now offers a version of the popular navigation and charting app for free on Window 8.1 compatible laptops and Window tablets. It can be download from the Windows Store. I did not even know Windows had a store.  Score this app for free and get started!

The trick is that it will not operate on all PC or Window machines.  The app is free so download it and give it a try. If your device does not have an onboard GPS like a tablet, you will not be able to follow your position on a chart or navigate to waypoints. It states that they do not support 3rd party GPS units. That is a real drawback. It would be great if they could support Bluetooth or USB GPS units that are cheap and readily available. It would be a good planning tool for your PC if nothing else. Several tablet models are supported including some Dell and Nokia models.

  • Processor requirements: x86, x64, ARM
  • System requirements
  • GPS features require that the device has a built in GPS sensor. Navionics does not certify use with third party GPS accessories.
  • Supported devices, Nokia Lumia 2520, Surface Pro2 4G LTE, Dell Venue 8 Pro, Dell Venue 11i Pro
  • Large selection of Marine Charts worldwide
  • Record your travels with Tracks
  • Create routes for your trip.
  • Measure distance between points.
  • Share you travels through email 
  • Share you local knowledge with Community Edits. 
  • Search a wide variety of Points of Interest 
  • Tides and Currents forecasts and graphs 

The main display has three soft keys at the bottom center of the screen. Select Tracks, Menu or Route to get started.  Navionics charts are available with an in app purchase.  Select Menu then Charts to purchase the region and charts needed for your travels.

Navionics has worldwide chart coverage so your sure to find charts for your cruising grounds.

The app provides many of the same great features found in the iOS and Android versions.

Routes can easily be added to the chart with a tap of the screen. Continue tapping to add additional waypoints to your route. Routes can be modified by adding or deleting waypoints or moving waypoints to new locations.

The Navionics Windows app also has Tidal and Current information available. This feature is not free but can be acquired through an in app purchase.

Select Menu and locate the Current and Tides selection. Locate the tide station nearest you to check on tidal information. Save your favorite tidal locations for later viewing.  Forecast for currents direction and speed  is also available within the app.

Points of Interest are also a popular feature. The app allows searching for marinas, restaurants, hotels, marine stores and other services that you may need on the water.

This feature also requires an in app purchase to access the Points of Interest feature.  So if you don't mind paying a few buck you can access these premium features. What do you expect from a free app, they have to make money somehow!

Navionics is really making a push to cover all platforms when it come to marine charting. I have to give them credit for making it available to all kinds of different devices.  Unlike many other apps that only concentrate on iOS or Android devices, Navionics Boating is almost universal.

I don't have a Windows 8 tablet yet, so I could not check out all the features of this new Windows app. Has anyone downloaded this yet and tried it out?  Let me know what you think!

~~~ Sail On ~~~ /)

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Transas iSailor 1.7 Update

Application: iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, iOs 6.1 or later
Function: Marine Navigation, GPS, Charting, AIS, NMEA data
Rating: *****
Cost: App is Free, in app purchases for charts, AIS, NMEA data and weather.

Transas iSailor is a real contender if your looking for a iPhone or iPad marine navigation app.  I have reviewed the iSailor app several times over the years. The developers have continued to add functionality and features that all of us boater want and need.

The lastest 1.7 release in the App Store this month adds a slew of new features and options to an already great app.

New Features:
• Multi-language support: English, German, Spanish, French, Italian, Russian, Korean, Chinese.
• Internet AIS Service: real time map view of ships via global AIS Internet Service. This is a 1-year subscription option (Requires iOS 7.x.x and internet availability)
• Theyr Weather: Global coverage real time Weather Forecast. Wind Speed & Direction, Pressure, Wave Height, Precipitations. 1-year or monthly subscription option
• New types of AIS targets include Aids-To-Navigation (AtoN) and Base Stations
• New symbols include Cardinal buoys, Service symbols
• Cursor ‘Call Up’ window (ERBL, AIS Target data)
• Improvements for the graphical Route Editing mode (no linkage in ‘Ahead’ plotting mode)
• Boat Dimensions settings additions
• New colors for Ownship contour, Motion Vectors and Route
• iPhone interface update 

One of the most anticipated updates is the multi language support for the app. The app now supports not only English but German, Spanish, French, Italian, Russian, Korean and Chinese versions. This will allow many more people around the world can use this great app.

The language can be changed in the Settings Menu. Select the Gears icon and go to Units & Language and then Language to view optional languages.

 Make your selection and view the app in any of the 8 provided translations.

The language support option is free of charge.

Internet AIS

Internet based AIS systems have been around for several years.  Land based AIS receivers pick up
the AIS data of ships on the coastal regions of the world and re-broadcasts this data over the Internet from various sites. 

iSailor can now pick up and display these internet based AIS targets on the iSailor app. Class A and B transponders, AtonNs(Aids to Navigation) and base stations are now supported. 

Ship information can be displayed along with the closest point of approach, bearing and speed information of the vessel.

This option can be unlocked in the Settings menu under Sensors.  A one year subscription for the Internet AIS option is enabled with an in app purchase for $15.99.

An Internet or cell connection is needed for this option to work so it will not work if you are offshore and out of cell service range.

iSailor also offers the NMEA AIS option for displaying AIS transponder data via TCP and UDP in the form of VDM sentences. If you have an oboard AIS transponder this data can be displayed by the app over WiFi. This option will cost you another $9.99.

Weather Overlays

The Theyr weather service data can now be displayed in the iSailor app.  This is the same weather data service that is used by the iNavX app. World wide coverage is available for the display of weather forecasts, wind speed, direction, atmospheric pressure, wave height and precipitation.

The Theyr Weather service can be unlocked in the Settings Menu under Subscription Options. One month can be purchased for $6.99 or a yearly subscription will cost you $19.99. iOS 7 is required for you iPad along with an Internet connection to receive the data.

New iPhone Menu Interface

iSailor has changed their User Interface several times over the years to improve the functionality of the app.  The 1.7 version of the iPhone interface is noticeable different from the iPad interface.

Menu and settings options for the iPhone display can be accessed by tapping the Tools bar at the bottom of the iSailor display. The Route, Waypoints, Tracks and settings can then be selected from the on screen menu.

The Navigation display can be accessed by tapping the NAV bar at the top of the display. COG and SOG information are then displayed. Page to the right to see four additional pages of navigation data including bearing to waypoint, distance to waypoint, cross track error, time to waypoint and ETA.

Display options for the iSailor charts include North Up, Head Up, COG Up and Route Up. The last page show the GPS source, accuracy and GPS position.

Transas continues to improve their iSailor app and make the needed changes and product enhancements to keep it fresh and up to date.  Many of these features require in app purchases which is kind of annoying but on the other hand it allows you to pick and choose which options are important to you.  The initial app is free so that is a plus. In app purchases for charts, AIS, NMEA data and weather options however, do add up.

Anyone using the iSailor app out there? Like it? Love?  What are your thoughts?

~~~ Sail On ~~~ /)

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Attack of the Drones

The latest rage on the Internet besides the "ALS Ice Bucket Challenge" is drone photography and video.  If you have not seen or are not familiar with drones, go to YouTube and start searching. You will see some amazing photos and video that have never been possible before. The small size of the drones lets them capture a unique perspective never seen before.  Drones get shots that can't even be done with most helicopter.

Drone are now being used in all sorts of industry and security applications.  The military uses them for both domestic border surveillance and reconnaissance missions in Afghanistan and elsewhere around the world. Other industries use them for law enforcement, advertising, tourism, farming, tower and pipeline inspections and more. Amazon even wants to use them to deliver packages to customers. By 2025 drones are expected to be a 80 billion dollar industry employing hundreds of thousands of people. Just when you thought all the million dollar ideas were thought of, we now have drones.

Drones capable of carrying an HD camera come in a wide range of prices ranging from as little as $500 to $2000 and up. Some come with cameras but many models allow the mounting of a GoPro camera onboard.

I follow several sailing blogs and YouTube channels that use drones to capture footage for their sites. Drake Roberts is a long distance sailor and cruiser who is now in Scotland and has used a drone to take amazing video of his time in Greenland and Iceland. He just started a new YouTube channel called ParagonSkies where he will display all of his amazing drone footage.

Mick Bergsma is a GoPro enthusiast who shows tips on how to use all features and accessories of the GoPro cameras.  He also uses drones to take some awesome video. His latest video of Costa Rica is excellent.

Rick Moore is a Canadian who has found a way to make a living while working off his 50 foot yacht, Sophisticated Lady in the Caribbean. His Ambient Real Life Videos give you a glimpse of the cruising lifestyle.  He recently purchased a waterproof Mariner Drone that he uses to make advertising videos for the many island villas in the islands.

I have been following Brian Trautman and the crew of Delos the past few years as they work their way around the world. Brian and his crew recently purchased a drone to capture some awesome shots of their boat while cruising in Thailand and the Philippines.

DroneFly is the site of DJI, a distributor of one of the most popular model of drones. They have a great site with many breath taking videos taken using their products.

If you are using a GoPro with your drone they have their own GoPro App that you can use to control the camera only.

The app is compatible with the Hero 3+, Hero3 and HD Hero 2 with WiFi backpack. Software upgrades will need to be done for the last to options.

    • See what your camera sees with live preview for easy shot-framing
    • View photos and play back videos*
    • Copy photos and videos* to your device, then share via email, text, Instagram, Facebook or other app
    • Browse and delete files on the camera’s microSD card
    • Watch the GoPro Channel and get your fix of the latest GoPro videos from across the globe
    • Wirelessly update your HERO3+ camera software
    • Wirelessly update your camera Wi-Fi network name and password

There are of course mobile apps which can be used to control and fly your drone. The DJI Vision app is used exclusively with the DJI Phantom 2 Vision drone.

The DJI Vision App is used with the Phantom 2 VVision. It allows full remote camera control through a mobile device. This App is only for the operation of the Phantom 2 Vision.
The app allows first person view while flying. It has a long WiFi range and with the WiFi Range Extender up to 300 meters.  It displays real time flight parameters onscreen.  The location of your device is also locked on radar.

The onboard camera takes 14MP Still Photos and 1080p30/60i Full HD Video.  Other controls include camera tilt, pitch and yaw axis controls through your mobile device.

The DJI40 app is used with the DJI Phantom 1 drone. This app enables you to remotely control the FC40 camera installed on DJI PHANTOM 1, including photo capturing, video recording, album management, etc.

After watching all these great videos it is inspiring me to by a drone and get started. As many of your sail and cruise around the world a drone might be a great way for you to document your trip with photos and video. 

There has been a lot of concern lately over regulation of drones by the FAA and other organizations so make sure you check out what is allowed in your specific country as far as avaiation rules governing the flying of drones.

~~~ Fly On ~~~~ /)