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Magellan has worthy contender in the GPS sweepstakes

Mel Martin

Just in time for the holidays! I was excited when Magellan announced a new iPhone GPS software product, and was eager to get it downloaded to test. I spent two days driving around (well, not the whole 2 days) and generally had a positive experience.

Magellan has been around the GPS business for a long time, delivering the first GPS handheld unit back in 1989. They also pioneered the Neverlost system in Hertz rental cars. The company has a lot of experience getting travelers to their destinations on vacations, business trips, and for the holidays.

They've put quite a lot in this first version for the iPhone which they call the Magellan Roadmate 2010. It sells for US $79.99 [iTunes link] for a 'limited time', then it goes back to $99.99, and it's a 1.36GB download. The app has text to speech, lane assist, iPod control, and a pedestrian mode, which is a nice touch.

The maps, which are sourced from NAVTEQ, include the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico.

As a bonus, iPod touch users can use this app with the optional Magellan Premium Car Kit with a built-in GPS receiver. The car kit hasn't been released yet, but it's imminent.

Driving around using it was a pleasant experience. The maps are clear and easy to read, and work in portrait or landscape mode. The maps change colors for a night view automatically. If you like the look of the dedicated Magellan units you'll certainly like it on the iPhone.

Text to speech is clear, and you can have the unit talk to you in a male or female voice. You can get a list of all the turns you will make on your trip, and you can turn on a feature that auto zooms the display as you approach a turn so you can get more detail at intersections.

Gallery: Magellan Roadmate 2010 screen images | 4 Photos

Read on for more impressions...

The Roadmate software has a pretty good POI list, and integrates well with your contacts. Another nice feature is the 'One touch favorites menu' which allows you to save any destination to a button displayed on a scrolling page of options.

You can save your location easily by clicking anywhere on the map, and you can use that point to mark where you parked your car and easily return to it. It's a nice feature that I'd like to see more nav apps have.

The Roadmate also will give you a 3D presentation of buildings in the bigger cities. It isn't really needed, but I like it, and it could be helpful in some circumstances to recognize landmarks. If nothing else, it will impress your passengers.

Data entry is fast and easy, and the keyboard fills in what your are trying to spell, but the keyboard is not a QWERTY layout, which I think is a minus. It's alphabetical instead, and just not very comfy to use. You can see it in the gallery above.

A few times I think I got my turn announcements a little late, but generally it gave me good information. If you lose the GPS signal, a voice tells you that the signal is gone, which is better than trying to see a signal strength meter.

There is only limited zoom out. I'd like to be able to zoom out to see more of my route, but you can't do it from the map.

For a first-time entry this is a solid app. It doesn't have traffic info built in, but I understand it is coming as an in app-purchase.

Of all the apps I've used and reviewed, I think this app and the Navigon app have the best on screen presentations and are the easiest to use. Since the POI list is on the phone, and does not stream in as data, neither app is going to be as up to date as apps that connect to real time databases. On the other hand, having all the data on the phone means it will work well when you are out of cellphone range, and I think that's a more important feature.

If you're looking for something quick before you pile into the car for that big turkey dinner in another state, I'd put the Roadmate on my list. If they add traffic, and get rid of that horrible keyboard, the Roadmate will be almost perfect.

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