Smartphones and tablets are “category killers” that have decimated numerous standalone products. As I have written previously, from one perspective the iPhone and the iPad are like “Rorschach devices”. They are “blank slates” (pun totally intentional) that can take the form and function of a wide range of devices depending on whatever software they are currently running. That means that, with the right apps, they can double as a camera and do photo and video editing on the fly. The result has been the demise of the Flip camera and some serious “hurt” on the point-and-shoot camera market. (Once the iPhone 5 and its 8MP sensor is released watch out point-and-shoots!)
Similarly, smartphones and tablets can not only replace any other portable media player you might otherwise use but, most of the time, they do a better job than the single-purpose devices.
Another example of the iPad’s disruptive power can be seen in the aftermarket automobile media player sector. After all, why would anyone spend $1500 to add a video player to a car when a $50 mount can turn the iPad into a great video player for kids?
The same holds true in the GPS market. Why would I spend hundreds of dollars on a stand-alone GPS unit when I can get the same GPS software the unit runs right on my iPhone or iPad (or even iPod touch if I get a GPS cradle)? That’s the question that I brought with me into reviewing the Magellan RoadMate 9055-LM. The 7″ GPS unit has an MSRP of $279.99. Is it worth the price? Let’s take a closer look and then try to answer that question.
To be fair there are issues with using your phone as your GPS. To a large degree it prevents you from using the phone as a phone (although since you are driving perhaps that is a good thing), it can be slow to reconnect if you are kicked off the tracking because a call comes in, and, let’s be honest, if you’re going to be tracking visually rather than by audio prompts the screen of the iPhone or iPod Touch is a bit small and the iPad is overkill. Despite these caveats, however, the iPhone and iPad DO make perfectly functional GPS units and if you already have one why in the world would you spend an extra $279 for a separate unit?
Then again, since using your phone or tablet as a GPS ISN’T perfect, if you don’t have one built into the car perhaps it IS worth getting an aftermarket GPS. That’s where the Magellan RoadMate 9055-LM comes in. It immediately differentiates itself from using the iPhone or iPad as a GPS thanks to a 7″ screen that sits squarely between the two. If that 7″ screen is the “sweet spot” for a GPS, which I think it is, it just MIGHT be worth the cash.
The Magellan RoadMate 9055-LM is a premium GPS navigator with a huge 7″ touch screen and packed with features including lifetime map updates, Bluetooth calling, OneTouch™ favorites menu, free lifetime traffic alerts, highway lane assist and built-in AAA TourBook®, plus much more.
Premium navigation features:
The 7″ touch screen provides routing and POI information on a huge display that is 50% larger than a standard 4.3″ screen.
Enjoy hands-free calling and a noise-cancelling microphone with our advanced Bluetooth technology. Making great sounding calls from your GPS navigator is now easier than ever.
The OneTouch favorites menu lets you bookmark your favorite destinations and searches. Find your favorites anywhere you travel. With a single touch, find your favorite café or restaurant when traveling within any city.
Free Lifetime Traffic provides real-time traffic information. Avoid traffic jams, detours and construction zones. No subscription-fees ever!
Highway Lane Assist shows realistic highway signs to guide you and ensure that you’ll choose the correct lane when approaching an upcoming interchange or exit.
Only Magellan products include the built-in AAA TourBook® guides for US and Canada. This Magellan-exclusive feature gives you ratings and descriptions on AAA-approved places to stay, play, dine, and save. No membership required!
Easily keep your eyes on the road as you drive because spoken street name guidance announces the street name and direction of each turn.
Ready to roll:
QuickSpell quickly narrows your address and city searches, as you type, making destination entry easy. Find cities and streets without worrying about misspelling them.
You’re always ready to travel with preloaded maps and points of interest for United States, Canada and Puerto Rico.
We have also added an A/V input so you can watch movies or listen to music during your downtime.
Find over 6 million of points of interest at your command and easily locate gas stations, restaurants, ATMs, coffee shops, and much more. Even search for gas stations, restaurants, or lodging, near upcoming highway exits.
Need roadside assistance? Get support fast with the AAA Member Roadside assistance phone number and your exact location displayed on the GPS navigator screen. Magellan makes getting roadside help easier than ever. (Requires AAA membership. Visit www.AAA.com/GPS for more details.)
Multi-destination routing lets you plan your trip with multiple stops in the order you want or automatically optimize for the most efficient route, helping save time and money.
Navigate in confidence:
Perfect for any size vehicle, especially trucks, RVs or SUVs, the Magellan RoadMate 9055 has the premium features that allow you to navigate with confidence anywhere you go.
The unit measures 7.5″ x 4.5″ x .6″ and weighs in at 7.8oz. It houses a Li-ion that offers a ridiculously short 30 minutes of battery life. (I get the fact that the GPS unit is for in-car use and, as such, will be plugged in but including a battery that gives just 30 minutes is a joke.) The 7″ display is touch sensitive (more in a bit) and has a WVGA resolution. The GPS lock is accurate to 3-5 Meters.
The unit feels light and a bit too “plastic” for my taste. The touchscreen looks good but not great and the touch-responsiveness leaves a good bit to desire. After using an iPad, a BlackBerry PlayBook and a number of different Android tablets going to this screen reminded me of… none of them. The closest cousin I can think of is the touchscreen experience with one of the Archos tablets (crap) or the Camangi Tablet Judie and I threw money away on some time ago (even crappier).
On the plus side is the fact that the 9055-LM is not actually a one-trick-pony. No, this GPS device is actually two devices in one. Yes, it integrates a Bluetooth speakerphone right into the unit. Since a decent Bluetooth speakerphone can cost $100 or more this is immediately a value-added proposition that MAY help you justify the $279 MSRP. At the same time, using the GPS as your speakerphone re-integrating your phone and your GPS tracking into one system. For me that neutralizes some of the benefit. After all, the IDEA was to keep tracking and calling separate. Add in the fact that Jabra’s recent speakerphones have spoiled me and this quickly becomes less of a selling point.
The 9055-LM comes with a superb cradle. (More on that in a moment.) To set things up you need to take the included miniUSB plug and set it into this back plate.
It took me a minute to figure out the right positioning but once I did the mini USB slipped into place.
The back piece then slips onto the GPS unit. It is all made of plastic but it did feel rather strong and secure.
The windshield mount that comes with the 9055-LM is fantastic. It grabs on the windshield quite well and is beefy enough that it doesn’t bounce around. The arm is longer than any other windshield mount I have seen. That means it can be adjusted in far more ways than most other cradles. That, in turn, translates to being able to position the screen where it is easiest to see AND least distracting.
This gives you an idea of just HOW LONG the arm is.
The 9055-LM features:
Huge 7″ color touch screen is easy to view.
Free lifetime map updates for the life of the GPS navigator.
Enjoy hands-free calling and a noise-cancelling microphone for superior sound quality with advanced Bluetooth technology. Even store your contact information.
OneTouch™ favorites menu offers instant access to your personalized bookmarks of favorite places and searches anywhere you travel. With a single touch, find your favorite café or restaurant in any city.
Free Lifetime Traffic provides real-time traffic information. Avoid traffic jams, detours and construction zones
A/V input to enjoy movies or music during downtime.
Highway Lane Assist shows realistic highway signs to guide you and ensure that you’ll choose the correct lane
Built-in AAA TourBook® guide provides ratings and descriptions on AAA-approved places to stay, play, dine, and more.
Spoken street names and directions so you can hear upcoming turn directions.
Highway exit POIs search finds gas stations, restaurants, hotels, and more near upcoming highway exits.
QuickSpell® narrows your address and city searches, as you type, making destination entry easy.
Multi-destination routing lets you plan your trip with multiple stops. Choose the order you want or automatically optimize your route. Saving time and money.
AAA Member Roadside Assistance shows the AAA phone number and your exact location on the GPS navigator screen for easy reference.
Preloaded premium maps give you the latest maps and directions as you travel the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico.
6 Million of points of interest (POIs) help you easily find gas stations, restaurants, ATMs, coffee shops, and much more.
Route customization lets you choose the shortest distance, fastest time, most use of freeways, or least use of freeways.
Address book enables you to create and store contact information.
Auto night view adjusts your screen’s color and contrast for easy night viewing.
Automatic re-route lets you quickly get back on track in case you missed a turn.
The Magellan 9055-LM comes preloaded with maps of the US, Canada and Puerto Rico. It includes Points of Interest, Turn-by-Turn Routing, Multi-Destination Routing, a OneTouch Favorites Menu and Spoken Street Names.
That all sounds great until you realize that Magellan sells an iOS app for $49.99 (US and Canada) that includes all this and… more! Here’s what the iTunes App Store says about it:
Travel, work, and play – your way. Hold the world in the palm of your hand by transforming your iPhone into an easy-to-use, voice-guided, best driving directions GPS navigator. The Magellan RoadMate app 2.0 has a brand new optimized interface for iPhone. With lifetime maps and real-time traffic updates at no extra charge, and live Google® Local* search at the touch of a button, the RoadMate 2.0 just got that much better.
And with Yelp!®* integrated into the RoadMate app, instantly search, browse ratings, and navigate to places that interest you, all from within the app.
Best of all, the Magellan RoadMate app is a one-time purchase with no subscriptions or hidden fees.
FEATURES & BENEFITS: Yelp API, Google Local Search, New User Interface, Includes Lifetime Maps, Includes Lifetime Traffic
Fully optimized for iPhone 4: High-resolution display provides stunning visuals. Turn-by-turn background navigation while you’re on a call or using another application.
Both Portrait and Landscape Views: Easy-viewing screen modes adapt to whatever works best for you.
Points of Interest (POI) Sharing: Quickly and easily share routes, current locations, and points of interests with your friends and family via email.
OneTouch Favorites Menu: The OneTouch favorites menu provides instant access to your bookmarks of favorite places and searches.
Highway Lane Assist: Realistic highway signs point you in the right direction – so that you can be sure to choose the correct lane well before your next turn.
Address Book Integration: Easily save addresses in your iPhone contact list so that you can route to them quickly and easily with the touch of a button.
In-App Music Control: Music intelligently fades when you’re navigating.
Find Your Car: Automatically save your parking location so that you can easily find your way back.
Pedestrian Mode: You can quickly find and walk to a destination.
Smart Address Entry: Magellan’s patented search technology guides you through address entry, allowing you to quickly enter addresses error free.
iPod touch compatibility: The perfect navigation app for iPod touch (3rd and 4th generations). And, with the Magellan GPS Car Kit (sold separately) transform your iPod touch into an instant GPS navigator.
For maps and traffic data, “lifetime” is defined as the life of the product or 3 years, whichever is reached first, or until Magellan no longer receives relevant map and traffic data.
*Yelp, Google Local, and Traffic features require data or Wi-Fi connectivity.
Realtime traffic, Yelp integration, integration with you iPhone contacts, pedestrian mode and a lot more battery time than the 9055-LM’s 30 minutes of battery all add up to the iOS app being remarkably powerful and in some ways even better than the standalone option. (It is amazing to see how far these iOS GPS apps have come since they first appeared in the App Store.)
So after using the Magellan RoadMate 9055-LM for the past week and a half my feelings on it are a bit mixed. On the one hand, as this picture shows, the combination of the 7″ screen and the excellent mounting system lets you set the GPS in such a way that it is simple to see but does not obscure your vision. The 7″ screen is much much easier to see than the iPhone’s small screen. That is a safety issue whose importance cannot be overstated.
But here’s the thing. While I do believe the iPhone is a bit on the small side when it comes to easy viewing, and I do believe the iPad is overkill, there ARE other options out there that hit the 7″ sweet spot. For example, I went into this review having used a 7″ Android tablet for a week or so. The result of that experience was that, when I first set up the Magellan RoadMate GPS, my first, my second and even my third thought was, “Why would I spend $279 on a dedicated 7″ GPS unit when I can get this 7″ Android tablet for just a bit more and use IT as my GPS?”
It’s a really simple matter of economics – I can spend less than $330 and get the 7″ Acer Iconia tablet that Michael reviewed the other day and it will function as a GPS unit for me quite well while also doing everything that a 7″ Honeycomb tablet can also do. It can be an e-book reader, and e-mail device, a video and music device and so much more. True, in order to use the tablet as an effective GPS unit I would need to buy a mount but even after that expense I think I would come out far ahead with regard to price versus utility then I would find this dedicated device. This is especially true if I were to use Google’s free mapping software. Of course dedicated GPS apps are preferable and while Magellan does not have an Android app other companies do offer them.
That does not, however, mean there are some good arguments for getting this dedicated GPS unit. Let me run them down-
As noted previously, the cradle that comes with the Magellan 9055-LM is probably the best windshield mount I have seen. It is strong, flexible, and has a long reach that means you can adjust it to be just below your byline site and not scaring anything that you wouldn’t otherwise see through the dashboard windshield.
A dedicated GPS is always there in the car ready to go. If I’m using a smartphone or other tablet as my GPS I need to take it out, mount it, fire up the GPS application I’m going to use and then wait for the tablet or phone to grab a GPS lock. With this dedicated device every time I got in the car and turned on the ignition it was immediately on and getting the GPS lock without my even having to think about it. That means that by the time in the car started moving the GPS had a lock and was tracking my trip. There is something to be said for that degree of convenience.
It worked just fine in all my testing.
Other than that, however, there really isn’t a huge argument to be made for choosing this over a 7″ Android tablet. The touch screen is mushy and far less responsive than any of the current crop of 7″ tablets, the screen is fine but not stunning, the speaker is good but not great, and the integration with other devices is there but not all that sophisticated. If you like the idea of a dedicated GPS unit I would definitely consider getting this instead of one with a smaller screen. (And I would definitely spend the few dollars for the added features of the 9055-LM over the 9055.) The large screen really did make a difference and increases the ease of use over using the iPhone. That alone, however, doesn’t make it worth the money.
At the end of the day I’m sorry to say that I think the standalone GPS unit is going to go the way of the Dodo, the Flip and the point and shoot camera. Not today, not tomorrow but in the foreseeable future there will be fewer and fewer option available. If this review unit were staying here with me I would definitely use it but, were I in the market for a 7″ GPS this is not the route I would go. Moreover, when I get my next car I doubt I will add a GPS package unless it is part of a larger trim package. I just don’t see the point anymore.
MSRP: $279.99 (Highly recommended over the 9055 at an MSRP of $249.99)
What I Like: Nice big screen; Great windshield mount; Always there and ready to go when you start the car; Nice Bluetooth speakerphone integration; Lifetime maps; Doesn’t take over your phone when navigating
What Needs Improvement:Mushy screen with mediocre touch sensitivity; Audio quality good but not great; Phone-based solution much cheaper overall