App Review: Nobeltec TimeZero

September 17, 2013

When people ask me “Which marine navigation app should I buy?” I tell them to start with the charting they are most familiar with. Apps now support Navionics, C-Map, Garmin and others. For loyal users of Nobeltec software on the PC, there was no app solution until now. During the summer Nobeltec released their TimeZero marine app for the iPad. It has many interesting features and a few things you might want to be aware of before purchasing.

TimeZero

Raster chart in Nobeltec TimeZero for iPad.

Before we get jazzed up about the feature set, lets look at the business model, since it varies between different navigational apps. Nobeltec has taken the approach of offering the TimeZero app for free on the iTunes App Store. The concept here is you can download the app, try it with sample charts of Miami, and decide if you want to purchase a chart package as an in-app purchase. U.S. Raster charts are $39.95 for the West Coast, including Southeast Alaska. The Canadian chart package is $49.95 and covers Canadian West and East Coasts and the Great Lakes. It appears the coverage of the Canadian charts extends down to the San Juan Islands but not to the Seattle area and Puget Sound like the vector chart packages from C-Map and Navionics.

Only raster charts are supported at this time. On the internet some have questioned why users have to pay for the typically free US raster charts. The best answer is that the company has to make money somewhere and they did have to go to significant effort to create the delivery engine for the charts for the TimeZero app. Note that charts purchased for the PC version or a chartplotter are not usable or do not provide a license for use in the TimeZero app. In short, you may be paying for the charts twice, though the chart sets are less expensive for the app than for other devices.

The TimeZero marine app is a new product and the comments on the internet show it is going through some initial growing pains, but like most new apps the problems will be worked out and new updates will be pushed out to users. In August, they pushed out version 1.2 with bug fixes and new features and I suspect more releases will be coming out throughout the year.

Most noteworthy in the TimeZero app is their use of a display engine that supports PhotoFusion technology. This allows the raster maps to be matched, overlaid, and blended with satellite images in a two-dimensional, top-down format. It also allows the view to be rotated into a 3D view similar to other TimeZero products. The Canadian chart set, however, does not include satellite imagery. PhotoFusion and 3D imagery are not available in Canada.

TimeZero

PhotoFusion in 3D.

Nobeltec has worked to integrate tide and current and weather data. The weather data is dependent on a link to the internet, either through WiFi or a cellular data connection. This may prove to be expensive when cruising in Canada if you are a roaming using a U.S. cell phone or tablet. It appears that weather information can be downloaded through a Wi-Fi connection from a marina before leaving. If an internet connection is not available for 20 minutes, the weather information will be grayed out on the display. Weather data is gathered from the closest weather station to you, but you cannot set this to gather the weather along your intended route or from multiple locations on your intended route. This limits its usefulness and hopefully is a feature Nobeltec will consider adding in the future.

Once purchased, charts are downloaded in cells. It is critical to download the charts you need before you leave. Unless you have a very good data connection underway, you will not be able to download charts as you need them on the water. But once downloaded, charts are saved on your device and an internet connection is not required to use the app.

While underway, you can track your cruise with the familiar Nobeltec boat icon. A “nav panel” display shows you your latitude and longitude, speed, heading, course over the ground, and weather and tide information. This panel occupies a fair amount of the screen due to the use of a large round visual compass to show your heading. I would prefer a more compact panel to show my nav data in digital form like the PC versions. I suspect Nobeltec will offer additional configuration options for the nav panel in the future.

Other familiar features from prior Nobeltec nav software are available, including the ability to quickly lay down a route and save it. Setting up a route is one of the best features of the TimeZero app. With the ability to pinch and zoom you can quickly establish your route and store it for use again. But the only way to set a waypoint today is with a screen touch. You cannot edit or manually enter the waypoints within the app at this time.
 
One interesting feature is the ability to import and export data to your laptop or desktop version of TimeZero using the iTunes file exchange. For those with NavNet TZtouch chartplotter systems, routes and marks can be transferred through the laptop or desktop version of TimeZero. There is no means to transfer data from the app to a NavNet TZtouch chartplotter without going through the PC version of TimeZero.

There are a couple of other features worth noting. The TimeZero app will continue to track and record your position while the iPad is in sleep mode. Tidal data is now integrated and can be displayed as a graph on screen using data from the nearest tidal station.

For an initial release, Nobeltec has done a good job with this app. For those who have a TimeZero PC based product, they will appreciate the app as an accessory. It would be nice to see more real-time integration where you can change a route on PC or the app and through a Bluetooth connection, both systems will be updated and in relative synch. The capability is there and we shall see how Nobeltec evolves for TimeZero on the iPad. In the meantime you can enjoy cruising with this app.

-Mark Bunzel

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