I love the look of aviation charts. low-enroute charts, sectionals, whatever. They make great desktop wallpapers, expired sectionals wrap a good present and can even be printed on tyvek envelopes to make wallets. But of course what they should be best acknowledged for are how easily they can be read, and more importantly interpreted in turbulence, and at night, or both. When I started my instrument rating, I thought a while about whether I should go the NACO option, or the Jeppesen option. Here's a run-down on what I've found so far as a student pilot:
NACO Charts / plates
Cheap and easy to maintain. No doubt about it, they are cheap, come in one bound or unbound pack when you want them, no subscription required, and you just recycle the old ones, no inserting random updated plates into the book as Jeppesen does. If you are rated and don't fly instruments often, they are free in fact because you can print out whichever ones you'll need for a particular flight.
Clean look They are minimal, and easy to read. There's not a lot of clutter, so you can identify what you need quickly. Plus, take a look at this plate for the NDB 5 at KLWM, one I use often in training. It's almost art-deco, no?
A little too minimal at times. Compared to the Jepp, they don't include all the cross radials for that can be used to identify fixes in the event one station is offline.
The TERPS layout. Handy things are in other places in the publication. I.e. airport taxi diagrams aren't grouped with their approach plates, important information such as raised minima from equipment failures aren't on the charts, but in a table in the beginning, the list goes on.
What you need is where you would need it. The airport diagram is behind the first approach plate for the airport. Low visibility taxi diagrams for Class B and C airports are also right there with the plates.
Rates of descents worked out for you. This is huge. As an instrument student the FAF (final approach fix) to the MAP (missed approach point) is a very busy time. On all the non-DME VOR, NDB and ILS approaches (in case the glideslope goes out of service) the Jeppesen charts have both time from FAF to MAP, but also rate of descent right there where you need it. With speeds at 70 and 90 knots, there's also no need for interpolation - just what you'd want while sweating under your foggles.
Everything is pretty much spelled out Procedure turns, missed approach instructions, frequencies and morse identifiers for off-chart radials and resources are all right there. It makes the chart a little busy, which could easily fall into the cons list, but overall this is more of a help than hinderance.
Price. A subscription (In September 2009) to NACO plates and charts for New England runs around $95 or so. Jeppesen New England (CT, ME, MA, NH, RI, VT) costs $138.
Paper quality. I guess I can see the point of having really inexpensive paper if you're going to be printing so much of it so often, but seriously - these are like tissue paper. Taking out one of these charts and handling them in a bouncy plane, attaching them to a yoke clip, or putting them in a kneeboard sleeve without shredding them can be quite a feat.
Conclusion The deal breaker came from my friend who flies for American Eagle. He said, if you're going to be professional, use what professional pilots use. Plus I was leaning towards them anyway. So I plonked out $138 for the year's subscription, and now all my charts, plates and updates are mailed to my door every few weeks. Of course, I keep well versed in both. They're both pretty intuitive, and easy to pick up on their differences. Besides - the FAA written Instrument test uses NACO charts, naturally.