Magellan’s RoadMate app for the iPhone soldiers on, and is still a solid option for voice-enabled GPS navigation when driving. The latest version adds a premium safety alert feature and some additional voices (each at an extra cost). Magellan RoadMate remains good enough that you could toss the standalone GPS unit you’re currently using, but it doesn’t quite the cut for our make Editors’ Choice award. The competition hasn’t stood still, either, notably Navigon, which offers more features and a more attractive interface. And our favorite free GPS app, Google Maps, makes spending the money on Magellan RoadMate tough to justify.
User Interface and POI Search
Magellan RoadMate U.S.A. costs $49.99, while the U.S. and Canada version costs $59.99. For this review, I tested the latter version of Magellan RoadMate 2.2 on a Verizon Wireless iPhone 5 running iOS 6.0.2; the app takes up 1.7GB of internal storage.
The main menu consists of a series of large, colorful icons for entering an address, running POI searches, navigating to your contacts, and more. On the map screen, a small icon brings up Magellan’s trademark OneTouch menu, which lets you program favorite destinations and assign them dedicated icons. There are also Yelp and Google Local Search hooks, which deliver restaurants, event destinations, shopping, and user ratings, plus Google’s powerful search algorithm that runs Web-based searches. Unfortunately, Magellan has yet to optimize the app for the iPhone 5′s larger screen, so you still see black bars on the sides of the screen.
In my tests, keying in addresses and searching for POIs was simple; you enter destinations like you do on a standalone device, by choosing the city first, then the street, and then the street number or intersection. The app reacts almost instantaneously, and the type-ahead feature instantly pops up common terms or nearby streets to match what you’re looking for.
During navigation, the dashboard on the side lets you configure each portion by tapping on the appropriate square. This way you can display the ETA, remaining distance, current speed, elevation, or any combination of these statistics to your personal preference. Unlike with Magellan’s standalone devices, the fully stocked dashboard can remain present at all times. You can see more information at a glance with the iPhone app than you can with the standalone models, despite the smaller screen. You can also collapse the icon dashboard, which gives you a larger map view, as well as use the app in either portrait or landscape mode.
Performance and Conclusions
Once on the road, the nav view looks good. The 3D view features a smooth frame rate, with crisp fonts and clearly designated information around the map view itself. Magellan’s usual lane assistance view is in full effect here, with green road signs that pop up over the highway view as you approach each exit or interchange. You also get speed limit signs for the current road. The little sign graphics change from black to red whenever you’re exceeding the speed limit by a set amount.
I did notice a few issues with routing. Just like with Magellan’s standalone devices, the app has a bad habit of thinking of some highway exits are road splits that you have to stay to the left for. This means I could drive up I-93 for 25 miles, but be told to stay to the left at various intervals along the way, with redundant voice prompt warnings. That’s pesky, but where it got difficult was if the app wanted me to exit. It would say “in two miles, stay to the left, and then stay to the right” a number of times as I got closer, only to find out that it was planning for me to exit the highway the entire time. Otherwise, routing performance was good, both with local streets and highways.
Voice prompts were clear and well-timed, if not particularly loud. There’s a bell sound that triggers right before each turn in addition to the voice prompts, which you can turn off or change if you don’t like it; all of this virtually mirrors what you’d hear on Magellan’s standalone portable devices. Real-time traffic reports were accurate in most situations, and adjusted the ETA in real time to compensate. Often the app searched for a faster route, and if it found one, it gave me the opportunity to switch.
The new premium safety alerts cost a one-time fee of $24.99. It adds alerts for red light cameras, speed cameras, other speed traps, occasional live camera feeds, and school zone warnings. You get this kind of thing for free with Waze, which is also free to begin with; if you like the idea of crowdsourced alerts, that app offers a more comprehensive solution.
All told, there’s not much wrong with Magellan RoadMate. Magellan’s OneTouch interface has always been a draw, and any users familiar with Magellan’s standalone devices will also find much to like here. Our current Editors’ Choice for paid iPhone nav apps is Navigon, which is more well-rounded and up-to-date, and offers the most flexibility. Another alternative is TomTom, which offers more accurate and granular traffic reporting, provided you also pop for the $19.99-per-year HD traffic plug-in. It’s also a little better at routing than Magellan’s app, though RoadMate counters with smoother interface graphics and easier POI search. Otherwise, give Google Maps a whirl; you may find it offers all the driving navigation power you need for free, even if it’s not ultimately as informative and driver-focused as Magellan RoadMate.
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Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc