Review: Magellan RoadMate 2010 North America
At some point, GPS apps for the iPhone 3G and 3GS started to look so similar to one another that we essentially lost interest in the product category, apart from budget-priced options that might make more sense than buying one of the many sub-$100 dedicated GPS devices available today. Thus, we were less than completely enthusiastic when Magellan released RoadMate 2010 North America ($100/$80) on the heels of CoPilot, TomTom, Navigon and several other GPS apps, adding yet another option that is barely distinguishable from its peers except in name -- and pricing.
In a nutshell, what RoadMate 2010 brings to the table is a GPS software package with NAVTEQ’s United States and Canadian maps, a point of interest database that—like most but not all of the other apps out there—its a little out of date, and turn-by-turn voice-guided directions that are pretty good, but not great. Turn RoadMate 2010 on and you’re presented with a forced 3-D perspective of the immediate area, complete with clear street labels and two zoom buttons, a speed/time/direction/time remaining indicator, twin menu options, and a musical note icon to bring up a music player. In addition to switching its orientation automatically when the iPhone is turned on its side, RoadMate 2010 also permits swipe and pinch-based gestures to pan, rotate and/or change the perspective angle of the map, as well as switching between 2-D and psuedo-3-D modes.
One of Magellan’s two menu buttons opens OneTouch, essentially a bookmarks page for user-selected destinations and “important” buttons—emergency locations, gas stations, and coffee shops. By comparison, the standard Menu button contains the typical collection of settings and database searching options: addresses, POIs, intersections, previous destinations, and so on. OneTouch is primarily useful once you’ve spent a little time customizing the unit with your personal list of places to visit and re-visit; until that point, using the traditional menu is a better idea.
As a GPS navigation device, RoadMate 2010 offers few surprises. You can select from car or pedestrian navigation modes, and allow the device to dynamically adjust its amplitude and day or night color scheme without user intervention, features found in most of the other navigation apps these days, as well. With a destination programmed in, it provides voice guidance in your choice of multiple male or female voices, with a limited number of voices designated TTS for “text to speech.” When one of these voices is active, a droll man or unevenly enthusiastic-sounding woman provides both generalized and street-specific instructions, calling out the names of locations as they’ve been listed in the database. For some reason, directions on Maple Road were repeatedly enunciated as Creek [Number] Maple Road, an issue we heard with another street, as well, but generally, both the speech and its timing were useful: apart from RoadMate’s refusal to talk when the iPhone’s ringer switch is turned off, its prompting comes just at the right time before a turn. We also found its chime and menu selection noises to be relatively charming—less punitive than some of the in-car systems we’ve heard. On-screen turns, however, are generally indicated with small arrows, so this wouldn’t be the first GPS product we’d choose for its visual cues.
Although RoadMate 2010’s GPS signal strength is based largely upon the position of your iPhone 3G or 3GS in your vehicle, the application—either through fault tolerance or luck—did a good job of giving the impression that it was reliably satellite-locked during all of our test drives. Notifications of a lost signal were non-existent during our testing except when we went indoors, and for those who are concerned about signal strength in their own vehicles, Magellan will be releasing a mounting, speaker, and antenna-boosting accessory for $130 in the middle of this month. Though we haven’t tested it, the price is surely high enough to discourage casual purchases, and the software did well enough without antenna assistance that we’re curious as to just how large of a benefit an accessory would really offer. Your car and experiences, of course, may vary.
RoadMate 2010’s interface had some other ups and downs that were worth noting. Magellan’s predictive keyboard is one of the better ones we’ve seen for street entry, and the software does a relatively quick job of searching its database for named points of interest, but year- or two-year-old restaurants we searched for in our immediate area were missing, and Canadian entries were more likely to appear. For the time being, Magellan also lacks the various Internet-enabled features of some of its rivals: there’s no realtime traffic or weather data built in or sold as an option, and the point of interest database can’t be expanded using Internet searches. As with all of the other navigation apps out there, it’s impossible to know whether these issues will be fixed in a near-term update; the current extent of RoadMate 2010’s iPhone integration is its ability to access contacts, make telephone calls to businesses in its database, and access iPod app music—all with interface pauses that could really stand to be eliminated.
Though the application’s other shortcomings certainly need attention, one thing we’d really like to see addressed is the integrated media player. Rather than making a few smart assumptions to get music rolling immediately, even on shuffle mode, RoadMate 2010 presents you with a music player screen that does nothing until you’ve dug into Apple’s standard third-party iPod database interface, created a playlist, and then gone back to the music player to hit play. Then, rather than ducking voice guidance in and out of the music, RoadMate 2010 stops the music every time a voice comes on, and since the voices aren’t always continuous samples, you’ll sometimes hear the music stop and start several times between phrases indicating route recalculation and turns. From interface to stuttered playback, it’s just annoying—the sort of experience one would expect from a standalone non-Apple GPS device, rather than something with such powerful iPhone and iPod hardware inside.
As we’ve said in prior reviews, the critical factor impacting our interest in the Magellan software is its price: with entirely capable and more expandable CoPilot software out there for $25, it’s hard to think of any reason that a $55 to $75 premium would be worth paying for RoadMate 2010—the same dollars could buy a complete color touchscreen GPS device these days, leaving the iPhone 3G or 3GS free to play music, run other apps, and work as a phone without needing to double as a mapping device in your car. Though it’s straightforward to use and works well enough that we wouldn’t discourage you from trying it if you really needed software you could carry around in your pocket with your phone, we’d wait on an update or significant price drop before buying in to the Magellan package; for the time being, it’s expensive and in need of something special to stand out from the pack.