Magellan has struggled a bit in the U.S. GPS market recent years, but not because of anything wrong with the company’s products. It’s thanks to the dominance of Garmin and TomTom. The new Magellan SmartGPS ($249 direct) represents a complete rethink of how a GPS device is designed, and how it’s used on a daily basis. The idea is to link your smartphone with the SmartGPS to access real-time content, and so that all of your settings, destinations, and other preferences are stored in the cloud. It’s an intriguing concept, but given the execution, for most people, it’ll be more trouble than it’s worth.
For this review, Magellan supplied us with a SmartGPS device and an Apple iPhone 4 with the free SmartGPS software preloaded. Companion apps are available for both iOS and Android devices, but not Windows Phone 8 or BlackBerry 10. Measuring 3.6 by 6.3 by 0.5 inches (HWD), the and 7.5-ounce SmartGPS is a little big compared with its competitors. The top edge contains a Power button, while a capacitive Home button sits on the top left corner of the display. On the bottom edge, there are microSD, 3.5mm audio output, and A/V input ports, along with a combination micro USB charging and dock connector in the center. The back panel is diamond-textured plastic, and has a single oversized mono speaker.
The 5-inch glass capacitive screen features 800-by-480-pixel resolution. It’s bright, sharp, and colorful, and responds quickly to finger taps, which isn’t something I can say about a lot of PNDs on the market. The biggest issue is the oversize bezel; competing devices with 5-inch screens are significantly smaller, thanks to their thinner bezels. The SmartGPS is large enough that it blocked a significant portion of the windshield in the Honda Insight I drove during the review period—enough to make it difficult to make left turns with the unit positioned near the driver’s side A-pillar.
Hardware, Setup, Connected Services, and POI Search
The connected services break down into several key functions. Localized Yelp and Foursquare content is pushed to the SmartGPS’s screen in real time. Cloud-based content like fuel prices and weather forecasts are also delivered. You can search for points of interest (POIs), Yelp reviews, and Foursquare locations from your smartphone display, and then send the results to the GPS on the windshield immediately. What Magellan wants to accomplish is to let you use the appropriate device at the appropriate time: Your smartphone when you’re holding it and searching for something, and the SmartGPS when you need navigation help behind the wheel.
On board is a 1GHz processor, 4GB of storage, and the SmartGPS is running what appears to be a customized version of Android, judging by the look and option layout of the Browser settings pages. The connected OS and integrated Wi-Fi mean that the device can receive over-the-air firmware and OS updates, so you don’t have to bring the unit inside and connect it to your computer with a USB cable.
So how does this all work in action? It’s certainly different than the way most portable navigation devices operate, including all of Magellan’s earlier efforts, such as the older RoadMate 9055 and last year’s budget-priced RoadMate 5230T-LM. Unfortunately, it’s also overly complicated.
You have to install the app on your phone, set up an account on a desktop or laptop PC at www.magellangps.com, pair the phone with the SmartGPS, enter your home Wi-Fi network in the SmartGPS settings page (for data updates), and make sure everything is up and running and communicating properly. This process took me about 20 minutes, and it was a while longer before the SmartGPS home screen’s live tiles started updating on their own. You can skip all of this and still use the SmartGPS, although it won’t be “smart;” it will just function like any other non-connected GPS.
The SmartGPS’s home screen is unusually complex, with a cluttered view that splits between the 3D map, a pair of live tiles, and top and bottom toolbars. You can also finger swipe to the right and see more live tiles, all of which are customizable. You can bring up weather, nearby gas stations, and other information in some of the other tiles. For navigating to destinations, you can input addresses or run POI searches via several different methods, and the POI search categories are helpfully broken into useful sublevels, such as the kind of food you want and the kind of shopping you’re planning on doing.
That said, it’s tough to navigate the various menus; each screen seems to have its own button layout. For example, some have Back buttons, others let you go backward by tapping a button named after the prior page (“Settings”), and still others have no way of navigating backward at all; you have to tap the Home icon and start over if you want to try a different selection.
Performance and Conclusions
Once on the road, the SmartGPS works a lot more like the company’s earlier models, aside from the split screen view. The map animates smoothly, though not as nicely as the Garmin nüvi 3597LMTHD. The SmartGPS displays the current road’s speed limit, and the font turns red when you’re actually exceeding it by a set number of miles per hour. The Yelp live tiles started recommending nearby restaurants that are highly rated, along with special deals; helpful, but it was a little weird if a restaurant listed as two miles away is in Queens and I’m in Manhattan.
You can disable the split screen view by swiping left, which brings up a full map view that’s closer to what you see on other GPS devices. Great, except that the view lacks almost all information except about the next turn ahead and the current time. Tap the clock, and most of the missing information will pop up: ETA, current speed, elevation, and so on. But then the pop-up hides again automatically after five seconds, which seems silly. Older Magellan RoadMates did this too, but at least their main views were informative enough; to see enough information for casual navigation with the SmartGPS, you need to use its cluttered split-screen view, which is unfortunate.
Otherwise, routing performance was fine, although not spectacular; it still didn’t know the best ways through Manhattan and Queens in several cases, and I ended up overriding it. On the audio side, voice prompts sounded full and clear. The SmartGPS employs natural language when possible, such as “turn left at the gas station,” or “turn right next to the school,” instead of “turn left at 21st street.” A red light camera alert popped up as I crossed 34th street in Manhattan, which is always helpful (don’t accelerate if the light turns yellow!).
Real-time traffic services worked about as expected during the review, but as with all devices of this type, you only get traffic information for highways and interstates; secondary roads and city streets are largely left out. There are plenty of settings you can change, such as the kinds of routes you want to take, the POIs that appear on the map, and so on, but nothing that cleans up the interface to an acceptable level.
Overall, the Magellan SmartGPS forces you to jump through lots of hoops for a dubious payoff. For all of the bluster surrounding its cloud-based ecosystem, it doesn’t actually do a whole lot, aside from delivering updated Yelp, Foursquare, and weather information. It’s a solid navigation device, and it’s a great way to get a capacitive glass screen on the cheap; that alone could make purchasing it worth it.
Still, there are better options. Our Editors’ Choice remains the Garmin nüvi 3597LMTHD for its more detailed views, much simpler and cohesive interface, smaller size despite the same 5-inch display, and useful magnetic mount, even if it’s $130 more expensive and lacks the SmartGPS’s connected services. If you want to spend the same $250, the Garmin nüvi 2597LMT steps down to a plastic resistive screen with lower resolution, but it’s still much easier to use than the SmartGPS. The TomTom VIA 1605TM is another solid option, as it’s $20 less expensive and offers a larger 6-inch screen, although it’s also plastic resistive and not glass capacitive like the SmartGPS.
|3D Lane Assistance||Yes|
|Display Type||Capacitive Touch|
|Screen Resolution||800 x 480 pixels|
|Dimensions||3.6 x 6.3 x 0.5 inches|
|Multi Segment Routing||Yes|
|Speed Limit Display||Yes|
|Free Lifetime Maps||Yes|
|Bluetooth Hands-Free Calling||Yes|
|Free Lifetime Traffic||Yes|
|Power to Device||Yes|
|Power to Mount||Yes|
|Display Size||5 inches|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc