Edmunds Tech Test: Magellan RoadMate iPhone Navigation App

Magellan's New App and Cradle Rock Phone-Based Navigation


  • Magellan iPhone Nav App

    Magellan iPhone Nav App

    The car dock that's available for the Magellan iPhone nav app incorporates an external GPS receiver and amplified speaker as well as Bluetooth connectivity. | May 11, 2010

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Magellan, a major player in the car-navigation market, may have sat on the sidelines while lesser-known upstarts jumped into the iPhone nav app space. But when the longtime navigation device and map provider did show its hand in the app game, it threw down an ace: a Premium Car Kit that both powers and boosts the unit's performance.

While there are currently any number of mounts available that are compatible with the iPhone and iPod Touch, Magellan's new dock raises the bar by incorporating features such as Bluetooth connectivity and a GPS receiver.

Design

With the cradle, the Magellan RoadMate nav app ($60) becomes a road warrior, adding a device charger, a Bluetooth hands-free car kit and an amplified speaker to boost Text-to-Speech (TTS) nav prompts. It also provides an external GPS receiver that boosts the iPhone's less than robust GPS specs, and that's especially good news for iPod Touch 2G owners, too, since adding the Magellan car kit gives them the GPS functionality the device lacks. But at $130, the cradle is also expensive.

The car dock's design allows it to be easily adjusted for landscape or portrait views. Another feature that separates Magellan's dock from other units is that it accommodates skins and protective shells thanks to an adjustable dial that contours the mount to your particular iPhone and its protective casing. And if you happen to be rocking a nav app other than the RoadMate on your iPhone, Magellan says not to worry — its dock has been optimized for most currently available applications.

Installation

Downloading the RoadMate app from the iTunes store was straightforward and went without a hitch. But if you have an 8GB unit, be forewarned: The app will eat up 25 percent of your iPhone's capacity. So if you have loads of songs, images or other data installed on your device, you may want to dump some of it first — or even upgrade to a higher-capacity phone.

Regarding the dock, I had trouble getting the unit to adhere to the dash, but attaching it to the windshield was child's play and felt very secure, even during multiple adjustments between landscape and portrait views.

On the Road

I tested the app and cradle over a few weeks in Los Angeles and on a drive up to California's Central Coast. Overall, the digital duo made a road-worthy tag team, especially on the long drive to a region I wasn't familiar with. But that's not to say there weren't a few glitches along the way — or that it's time for you to ditch your portable or in-dash navigation system.

A feature I liked right off the starting line was the OneTouch Favorites menu and its oversized button. I input my home address, the gym and a few other frequent destinations and searches like "Nearest Coffee Shop" that proved very useful, especially during those under-caffeinated moments. Another welcome feature — especially in an aggressive, big-city driving environment like Los Angeles — is the TTS guidance, which allows drivers to keep their eyes fixed on the road instead of glancing at the nav unit.

And spoken guidance that may have been lost under the thump of the stereo or clamor of traffic had I been relying on the iPhone's puny speaker was crystal-clear thanks to the dock's amplified sound. The Bluetooth-ready cradle's speaker also allowed me to make and receive hands-free calls, seamlessly integrating my iPhone contacts and addresses.

I relied on the oversized graphics of the Lane Guidance feature multiple times, including once during a tricky highway transition in California's vast San Joaquin Valley (one wrong turn here and you can be stuck on a lonely highway passing turnips and lettuce for miles on end).

I also found myself frequently making use of the Turn History list view, which is a one-touch ready reference for upcoming turns, including their direction and distance. Another go-to reference screen, Route Options, gives you multiple choices to plan your route: Fastest Time, Shortest Distance, and Most and Least Use of Highways.

The POI data was extensive and came in handy, particularly when I had let the gas get low during a long rural stretch. Since it was in an isolated area with no cellular service, the fact that POI data was cached onboard proved especially valuable, and it loaded quickly. Other POI search categories include emergency services, banks and ATMs and, oddly, casinos for when you're suddenly feeling lucky.

Biggest on my bummer list is that with an iPhone 3G, which I'm rolling with, the app can suddenly crash your phone if you're using the 2D view. This happened several times, and Magellan confirmed this issue but claimed there is no such problem with the 3GS iPhone. So I had no 2D view, even though it is my favorite perspective because of the ability to zoom out extensively in unknown areas.

And while we're at it, the RoadMate app doesn't offer a satellite view, real-time traffic info or voice query. And although I loved the utility of the oversized buttons and interpretive function of the QuickSpell and SmartCity search buttons, after I have searched "Los Angeles" 10 times, is there really a reason I should be given "Los Alamos, New Mexico" as my first choice every time I query?

Why You Want It

Overall, the Premium Car Kit completely transforms the RoadMate nav app experience, albeit at a price. I can't even imagine enduring the map-download times (especially with a 3G unit) without the GPS-enhancing performance and Bluetooth functionalities the cradle provides. Well, actually I can, because I did a test — and they're horrendous, a no-go zone.

But, big picture, the idea that the same device I would normally use to text a friend or tap in a restaurant reservation could also land me at my hotel 400 miles away with digital maps and via advanced functionalities like TTS and lane guidance is pretty cool. I would definitely give it a thumbs-up for the next road trip, with the preceding provisos.

Others To Consider: CoPilot Live, Navigon MobileNavigator, TomTom iPhone app

The manufacturer provided Edmunds this product for the purposes of evaluation.

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