Practical Sailor Test Drives Nobeltec’s Admiral 9.1
Product instability and poor user-interface hold back Admiral 9.1. We suggest waiting for Nobeltecís next updated version or going with Maptechís Coastal Navigator Pro or MaxSea.
Admiral Version 9.1 improves upon VNS, adds support for a marine navigation network with failover and redundancy, and handles multiple monitors better. Overall, however, Admiral 9.1ís new features arenít impressive compared to other navigation software programs available. Practical Sailor spent several weeks evaluating the new Admiral, comparing it to Admiral V8, as well our favorites from our last navigation software test. In Practical Sailorís view, Admiral 9.1 was released before it was ready. The product had stability problems that Admiral Version 8 did not have, documentation was incomplete, and it was awkward to use.
Practical Sailor evaluated and compared seven different navigation software programs ("Software Wars," September 2006), including Nobeltec VNS 8.1 and Nobeltec Admiral 8.1. Both products are made by Jeppesen Marine, a subsidiary of Boeing Commercial Aviation Services, which recently purchased chartmaking leader C-Map. Since that test, Nobeltec has released updates to both programs, and Practical Sailor had the opportunity to give the premium navigation software, Admiral 9.1, a comprehensive test drive. (VNS Version 9 is a $490 entry-level product that offers a few more features than the version tested in September. Rose Pointís Coastal Explorer and Maptechís Chart Navigator Pro remain Practical Sailorís favorites in that category.) As to be expected in the software world, a newer version (V 10) of Admiral is due out in the fall.
Admiral 8.1 was among the most sophisticated software programs we evaluated in the 2006 review. It could be a considered an alternative to RayTech RNS 6.0 ("RayTech RNS 6.0," April 2007) and Maxsea 12 (September 2006), both of which are closely allied to makers of stand-alone marine electronics, Raymarine and Furuno, respectively. Nobeltec has built up a loyal following and seems ideally positioned to become the Switzerland of nav software&emdash;with no firm alliance to a single hardware maker. However, an ability to seemlessly integrate with a wide range of hardware is not its strongest suit. Its radar overlay feature, for example, lags behind MaxSea and Raytech.
Admiral Version 9.1, which retails for about $1,200, improves upon VNS, adds support for a navigation network with failover and redundancy, and handles multiple monitors better. Overall, however, Admiral 9.1ís new features arenít impressive compared to competitorsí.
spent several weeks evaluating the new Admiral, and compared Admiral V9 to V8, as well our favorites from the 2006 test. Selected add-ons that are compatible with VNS and Admiral were also evaluated.
How we tested
As with the previous evaluations, testing emphasized stability, ease of use, and features before focusing on specific functions.
Although evaluating user-friendliness is inevitably subjective, stability and usability are readily compared between products and versions. If the system slowed to a crawl, computing power was checked by using Windows Task Manager.
The National Marine Electronics Association (NMEA) Talker by SailSoft allowed the simulation of any desired sailing conditions and configuration of NMEA-compliant instruments.
The test computer was a new Dell Latitude D620 with a 1440 x 900 resolution screen, along with a 1600 x 1,200-resolution, stand-alone monitor to test performance with a secondary video output. The laptop had an Intel Core 2 Duo processor with 2GB RAM and a 120 GB hard drive.
Unfortunately, Nobeltec isnít fully optimized for multi-processor architecture, so that compute-intensive tasks such as 3D bathymetric renderings take longer than they should with a dual processor.
Testers installed to a fresh Windows XP Professional system. Testers also upgraded a previous installation of V8.1. The upgrade installation process was quick and easy, but the new installation provoked a confusing message asking for a site key, which was obtained by activating the software. (Admiral is supposed to run for 30 days without activation.)
As with its predecessor, the program covers the entire screen upon startup, an intrusive function on a slower computer.
VNS and Admiral are compatible with a wide range of charts, however, only small-scale world charts in vector format are provided with the program. Competitive products provide free NOAA charts with navigation software. Compared to other software products, Admiralís method for downloading Electronic Navigation Charts (ENC) is problematic.
Importing and copying raster charts required some fiddling, and importing the charts we wanted took about half an hour. To the testerís chagrin, there was no way to monitor the progress of this operation.
With Jeppesenís recent acquisition of
C-Map, Nobeltec will have extensive world wide vector chart coverage. Version 10 with C-Map Max Pro data is due to release this fall.
GRIB Weather Data
GRIB files are generated from computer models, and require some interpretation. These tailor-made files, downloadable on-demand, have become increasingly popular among offshore sailors. Typically, GRIBs are more useful in the open ocean than when coastal cruising. As with most weather forecasts, projections beyond 24 hours are increasingly inaccurate, but GRIBs are useful for tracking well-established, intense high- and low-pressure systems.
Admiral users can subscribe to OCENS WeatherNet, which can be installed along with Admiral 9.1. GRIB files are saved to disk and are automatically opened in the chart window. Nobeltech users may also tap a several sources of free GRIB files, such as saildocs.com, which work with a variety of GRIB aware programs.
Pracical Sailorhas previously covered some of these and will revisit the topic in our upcoming review of free and cheap nav software.
(http://www.ocens.com/)is a system designed to optimize the download of weather products via wireless connections. It offers thousands of continuously updated weather products &emdash; text, images, charts, buoy data, radar, GRIB files, and more &emdash; that can be easily and efficiently downloaded on demand. Itís not cheap. If you want weather by satellite phone, the cost is $699 for 500 minutes with activation of OCENS WeatherNet and one year of OCENS Mail, plus $1,395 for an Iridium satellite phone.
The new version also lets you access satellite weather via Sirius (see "Satellite Weather," June 2007), but, unlike GRIB data, this cannot be analyzed using routing or navigational software.
Contrary to Nobeltecís marketing materials, our tester could not see any notable improvements to the softwareís relatively limited GRIB data capability.
The free daily data forecast is reasonably useful, but other vendors such as Raymarine, MaxSea, Rose Point, and Maptech provide free data at shorter forecast intervals that is roughly equivalent to the data Nobeltec charges for. For example, Raymarine provides six-hour intervals, while Maptech provides one-hour intervals. With the other programs, it is interesting to watch an animated forecast&emdash;something that a daily update cannot provide.
Nobeltec doesnít have a button to return the forecast to the current date and time. After running an animated weather forecast map covering several days ahead, the only way to get back to the present is to click the back button dozens of times.
Testers later discovered that OCENS WeatherNet had replaced the test computerís host file without notice, a serious breach of installation etiquette.
Practical Sailor used OCENS online chat to inquire about the change to the hostís file, and received a response after an hour wait. The tech support person did not know what we were talking about.
Strip charts are a new Admiral feature that enhance the NavInfo panel previously found on earlier versions. Because of the amount of space they take, they should be considered only for very high resolution monitors (1600 x 1200 or better), or multiple monitor setups. Optionally, a trip can be recorded and played back later. Racers may be the most interested in strip charts, which let you quickly correlate performance and particular sail or heading changes.
Running Nobeltec 9
Admiral locked up and/or crashed twice when using NavInfo. The program locked up after playing with strip charts. After 20 minutes of processing, the Route Wizard was unable to plot a course between two points five miles apart in the open ocean. Clicking on the "Stop Processing" button did not work. Testers had to kill Admiral with Windows Task Manager. This buggy behavior is contrary to what
PS found when testing the previous version.
Help is only available as a PDF file, but a PDF viewer is not provided, nor is there a convenient means of downloading one. Some of the chapter references in the text are incorrect, and some terms used in the program (such as "layline") are not mentioned in the documentation. A standard help file, particularly with such a sophisticated product, is sorely needed.
PSís view, Admiral 9.1 was released before it was ready. The product had stability problems that Version 8 did not have, documentation was incomplete, and it was awkward to use. In our opinion, there arenít enough new features to warrant a major version bump.
For practical, stable, economical, Windows-based software with easy interface, Maptech CNP and Rose Point Coastal Explorer remains our favorite (MacENC is our choice for Mac OS). If you want high-end features, MaxSea is tops. The clunky interface has been improved since we last looked at it, and their documentation is much better. Their online videos should be supplied on DVD with their product.
RayTech RNS 6.0 is the
PS pick for those who want to interface with an all-Raymarine environment. The interface is similar to that of its hardware, so Raymarine gets lots of points for consistency. Furuno and MaxSea have completely different user interfaces, so the learning process is twice as long.
Whether Jeppesenís acquisition of C-Map will change this overall view will be interesting to see.