I started instrument training not too long ago and pretty quickly I came to the realization that paper charts needed to go. Besides the fact that it was difficult to find what I needed while flying, all the required publications take up a lot of space in my flight bag and weigh a metric ton. Add in the fact that they expire every 56 days and keeping up with the FAA can start to eat into your AvGas budget. I have a Nexus 9 tablet running Garmin Pilot that has all the charts I need and could be a great substitute for the paper versions, I just needed a way to secure it in the airplane that was quick, easy, and didn’t obscure any of my view out the window or of the instruments. MyGoFlight’s Universal Kneeboard Folio C seemed like the perfect fit.
The concept is pretty cool: a tablet case that you can use as a kneeboard, and that includes a clipboard as well for general note taking. It seemed perfect for my purposes, since it looked like I would be able to either fly with the case closed or open and still have access to a scratch pad for note taking. It turns out I was only half right.
Let’s start from the beginning. The Folio C is a soft leather tablet case at heart, and the first impressions are that this thing is very high quality. The leather used for the case is smooth, the stitching is solid, and the rails on the back of the case are not only functional but attractive.
On the reverse of the case, the metal rails provide two functions. First, they give the case a solid base to rest on instead of just the leather, which keeps the leather from getting scratched up and the tablet from moving around when being used on a table top. Second, it provides the attachment point for the leg strap. The ability to use this as a kneeboard is one of the major selling points and it looks like they didn’t cheap out on the construction. The rails are solid enough so that you can really crank that leg strap on tightly and ensure that the kneeboard isn’t going anywhere mid-flight. In the cockpit those rails sit on either side of your leg, very comfortably cradling it and providing more stability for the case.
On the inside, the attachment system is truly universal. Four elastic clips are arranged on the corners of the tablet keeper and are designed to retain tablets of almost any shape and size. These clips are just about perfect for my Nexus 9 tablet, but they would work equally well with any other larger tablet on the market. For those using smaller tablets like the Nexus 7 or the iPad Mini there’s a smaller version of this same kneeboard that would fit those devices — they are too small for the clips on this one.
That tablet keeper is able to rotate through 360 degrees, so in the cockpit or on the ground you can rotate the device to best display the information (or movie or whatever) that you want to see. I thought that was a pretty nifty feature, but there’s a downside. In order to make the tablet keeper swivel, they needed to add another leather panel into the kneeboard. This thing was already going to be chunky thanks to the puffy leather covers, but another leather layer adds even more bulk. I think I would have preferred if they left that feature out and went with a slimmer design.
Did I mention that this was chunky? Because it definitely is chunky. The case is so large that, when closed, it interferes with the controls on the Piper PA-28-200R Archer that I’ve been flying recently. I need to keep the case open throughout the entire flight, which makes the cockpit feel cluttered to me. I wanted a case that gave me the smallest possible footprint, not a piece of furniture (no matter how rich the leather upholstery may be).
I know the tablet is the star of the show here, but the metal clipboard is vitally important. Especially when you’re trying to copy down a clearance you don’t want to have to bring up a notepad app on your tablet or navigate away from your charts in order to take down the instructions. That’s where the removable clipboard comes in handy, as it gives you that old familiar paper to scribble your notes on before responding to ATC. The clipboard in this case is held in place with magnets on the four corners, and little bits of metal in the case itself provide a medium for the clipboard to latch on and stay put. When the case is open across your lap (as shown) this works great, and the clipboard doesn’t go sliding around even during steep turns and maneuvers.
I will note one major gripe here: there’s nowhere to keep your pen. I’ve looked all over this case, and I can’t find a single place to stash the pen. Most kneeboards like this will have a little cloth loop so you can clip your pen conveniently for easy access, but there’s no such feature on the Folio C. I’ve taken to clipping my pen to my leg strap, but that’s not an ideal solution and it often gets lost in the cockpit.
Flip the case closed and another bigger problem rears its ugly head.
The concept behind the case is that it can be used either open or closed, which I really like. When I’m on the ground taxiing around the airport I like to keep the case closed to give my legs plenty of room to move the rudder and keep clutter to a minimum, but I need to be able to have access to the clipboard to copy down clearances and taxi instructions. The MyGoFlight website claims that the clipboard can be attached to the front of the case, but that’s not really practical.
The front of the case sports a stiff leather strap that is intended to be used to secure the case closed and prop up the case when using it on a desk to make using the tablet easier, but I’ve only used it for that once compared to the dozens of times I’ve needed easy access to the clipboard in the air. With the strap secured over the case it is impossible to get the clipboard to stick properly on the front — the magnets are too far from the metal and too weak to firmly attach, so at the first standard rate turn the clipboard goes sliding off the case and onto the floor.
The other option is to fit the clipboard underneath that strap, but even then the magnets still aren’t strong enough to hold it in place. I had to buy a self-adhesive strip of Velcro hooks and stick that to the back of the clipboard to get it to stick in place properly — it wouldn’t do it any other way. The other downside to this method is that now you’ve got a thick leather strap blocking your access to your clipboard. You can tuck that strap under your leg to get it out of your way, but that’s awkward and not an elegant solution.
I was expecting more from this kneeboard. It’s a good start but overall the thing is chunky, using the clipboard when the case is closed is awkward, and there’s nowhere to stick your pen. I can deal with the chunkiness and the lack of ink stick storage, but that awkward clipboard thing might just be a deal killer for me. There has to be a better way for them to design this case so that the stiff front strap isn’t necessary, and to keep the clipboard from sliding off the front. But they didn’t, so here we are.
MyGoFlight Universal Kneeboard Folio C
Tablet Size: 9-10 inches
Overall (out of five): * * 1/2
Get rid of that rigid front strap and we’ll talk about getting some of those stars back. Also on my list of things I’d like to see are a pen holder, and possibly a version of this using cloth instead of leather to make it slimmer and easier to use in small planes. Heck, you could just permanently attach the clipboard at that point — make it so that the front cover folds in half, and you can bend the clipboard around back when you open it up for the lap board functionality. That would be pretty cool.