Magellan SmartGPS - Another Evidence Proves That Smartphone Is The Only Navigator You Need (Part 1)

9/25/2013 11:13:44 AM

When talking to the executives of the Google Maps team, we were reminded that Map had never been a product until 2004. Within less than a decade, one of the most intelligent ideas of Google has changed the whole navigator industry. Along with the navigator’s development, the rapidly increase of the smartphone industry has put some navigator companies into trouble, Magellan company for instance. Not too long ago, the PNDs (personal navigation devices) were one of the most wanted gifts of many people for the holiday season. And in fact, many of the Garmin products have satisfied me in many years.

But nowadays, the PNDs’ companies have a feeling that they are left behind on the market. Some companies have to renew their software as well as cooperating with automakers and fleet-management firms in order to keep their businesses running; whereas Megallan decided to create their own way by introducing a brand new hardware to the market. Apparently, that hardware must be the SmartGPS. Instead of a separated PND that usually sit on the control panel or front window in most of the cars, the Megallan’s device operates at its best when using along with an iPhone or an Android’s application (we really feel sorry to the Windows Phone or BlackBerry users). Technically speaking, the company expected that by making a product that could extend the use of smartphones; the customer would be more willing to spend $250 for the device. However, after one week travelling around the South West of the States, it seems like I personally have another opinion about the device.

The Magellan SmartGPS

The Magellan SmartGPS

Hardware and user interface

Yet, you can use SmartGPS independently of any smartphone’s applications, however, it only perform at the maximum when there is either internet connection around or through Mi-Fi in your car, or being connected with mobile phone via Bluetooth. The device itself is ridiculously huge in size. It has a 5inch screen (low resolution 800x480) and is surrounded by a 3.5x6.4 case. The rest is more alike a mini Nexus 7. When you attach it onto your windshield, it is big, yes, really big! There's an inexplicable amount of bezel here, and I seriously do not know which words to choose to describe how large this thing looks when mounted. You can position it in such a way that it does not block your direct driving field of view, but if you're travelling bypass a few national parks for a week, it is going to obstruct a lot of awesome scenes.

Magellan Smart GPS’s hardware

Magellan Smart GPS’s hardware

The unit goes along with a windshield mount / cradle as well as a cigarette adapter for power. Although it worked well enough in practice, it just feels kludge in today's world of sleek smartphones. For the first time, I finally feel that we as a navigating society are over the "mount this massive screen on my windshield" era. There are simply far better (and cheaper) alternatives, which I'll show you later on.

The screen itself does not have anything to talk about. The resolution is just a nightmare; it not even reaches the standard in today’s market. If you are expecting something like Retina display, you are making fun of yourself. Also, other graphical elements might come from the last century. While other navigating applications such as Foursquare and Google Maps have yet been following the new UI innovation, SmartGPS seems to be using a graphical engine from many years ago. Surely it is not a good thing to look at.


Predictably, one of the features of SmartGPS is that it allows the interaction with other services. In theory, the user has to create a MiCloud account, where they can easily sync their preferences as well as upcoming trips and routes while working on a laptop or pc. After that, SmartGPS would find if there is internet connection; if so the device will transfer all of the information immediately - including your favorites, your new destinations, etc. Moreover, you will be provided with many localized information from Yep and Foursquare while travelling from one city to another, including the cost of fuel and many more up-to-date traffic notifications.

Magellan Smart GPS’s interface

Magellan Smart GPS’s interface

The problem is how the user can sort out this messy program. The way to set things up is far complicated, so if you are thinking of giving this device to your mom or your grandfather then just forget about it. In another words, the device could be described as the scariest nightmare for the elder. In order to put everything together, you are required to install an application on your smartphone, sign up an MiCloud account, fill up the register form on Megallen’s website, pair your phone with the SmartGPS over Bluetooth, plug in your home's Wi-Fi information and ideally, install and log in to Foursquare and Yelp. Even after the whole complicated process above, my review model took a while before the information from Yelp and Foursquare started displaying on the screen.

Once you have done all the things above, you would then be facing with an abnormal complicated home-screen. An easy-to-miss scroll wheel atop the display allows you move the map out of the way, where you're blitzed with tiles that continually refresh to show local recommendations and pricing. Technically speaking, it is grateful to have all of this kind of information in your hands. But in fact, you would kill yourself and other people on the street if you try to read this information while driving. I am an experienced driver – I have travelled to all 50 states of America on my car, and I've driven U-Haul trailers in places that I'm ashamed to admit. But still, I cannot be confident of myself to look at all that information while driving on the highway. Texting and driving are enough terrible, but panning throughout the whole screen and wiping through Yelp’s reviews are different stories.

You can argue that this information would be useful when u already parked your car. But I am telling you that it is way more convenient to use my iPhone and the better interface than using SmartGPS.

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