Magellan has just introduced its latest connected device to the world of portable navigation with their new SmartGPS, and we're already well into testing this creative new device in our lab and on the road. So far, we're impressed with the features and variety of updated information SmartGPS can deliver. But we're not crazy about how this info is displayed and how awkward it can be to access.
The connectivity comes from either a Wi-Fi connection when one is available, or by pairing with your smart phone via Bluetooth and tapping into your data plan.
The SmartGPS makes the most of its connected capabilities, but it packs so much info into its five-inch screen that it can be distracting. Constantly changing graphics point out area restaurants, gas stations, and more. Other selections available include weather information, traffic updates, parking availability and rates with Best Parking, and Yelp and Foursquare reviews and suggestions for stops along the way. (The user reviews within the device can be updated by plugging the device into your home computer.)
To learn more about navigation, visit our GPS buying guide for advice and ratings.
At an inch or so square, each mini display takes up a fair piece of screen real estate, and you can be looking at up to four of them at once while underway. Tapping an icon for a given business can even bring up a virtual discount coupon, which again is nice, but distracting and all but illegible at speed.
A virtual thumbwheel does give you the option of moving the small displays out of view, allowing for a larger map view. That helps with usability, but buttons and fonts are still smaller than we'd like, and even basic functions like entering an address or choosing a recent destination can be a bit hard to find. We're also not big fans of moving the virtual thumbwheel back and forth whenever we want to access more information, especially as the navigator can often be mounted a fair distance from the driver.
And speaking of the screen, another drawback with the SmartGPS is that it's a rather large device, at 6.3-inches wide and 3.6-inches tall. But the image size is much smaller at 4.3-inches wide by 2.6-inches tall, meaning that there's a half-inch border above and below the map, and about one inch to either side. The big dimensions may be needed to allow for hardware to support all its capabilities, but so much blank screen just blocks your view of the road and adds to distraction. Plus, the wide framing makes it look like an old device.
More conventional GPS features include lane guidance, lifetime map updates, speed warnings, and landmark navigation (which helps you find turns using easily recognizable landmarks, like gas stations, hotels, and other buildings).
SmartGPS is available now with retail price of $250, and it has a lot going for it. Maybe that's the problem. Maybe it offers more information than really is smart to have on the road, at least for the driver.
Watch for our full report soon, and updated GPS Ratings with all the newest models from Garmin, Magelllan, and TomTom.