Review: Magellan Premium Car Kit and iOS App for iPhone and iPod touch

Review: Magellan Premium Car Kit and iOS App for iPhone and iPod touch

My iPhone makes a great portable GPS system. This is particularly important because my car does not have a built-in GPS system, and my daily work has me going to a variety of locations with which I am not always familiar. Using the iPhone as a GPS works rather well for the most part. It starts up in GPS mode rather quickly, locks in on satellites fairly efficiently and does quite a good job of holding the signal once it does. There are a few significant shortcomings however. Chief among them is the impact using the GPS on the iPhone has on battery life and the fact that using the iPhone as a GPS at the same time I am making phone calls has led to missed turns more than once.

So while the iPhone can stand in as a GPS system when needed using it as my only GPS system is less attractive the more I try to use it. One solution is to use my iPod touch. As you know, the current generation iPod touch has the same speedy processor as the iPhone 4, the same gorgeous retina display and plenty of storage for loading one of the large GPS applications (those that don’t require a data connection are usually over 1 GB in size.). The problem, of course, is that one of the ways Apple has maintained a distinction between the iPod Touch and the iPhone is that only the latter device has a GPS chip. That is where the Magellan Premium Car Kit for iPhone or iPod Touch comes in quite handy.

On one level Magellan’s Premium Car Kit is a cradle that holds and charges your device but it is much more. Because it has a built-in GPS receiver it brings GPS capabilities to the iPod and turns it into an effective navigation device. This past Monday I had quite a bit of driving to do because of a funeral I was officiating and it gave me a chance to check out the combination of the Premium Car Kit and Magellan’s iPhone application.

Let’s take a look at how well they worked and then I’ll tell you about a way to win both!

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From Magellan:

Transform your iPhone or iPod touch into an innovative 3-in-1GPS vehicle navigation solution with the Magellan Premium Car Kit.

With the built-in GPS receiver, you’ll automatically enhance your iPhone or iPod touch navigation experience. The receiver ensures accurate directions during your entire route. The cradle even works with most turn by turn applications available today, including the Magellan RoadMate for iPhone App.

Running low on battery? Simply place your iPhone or iPod touch into the cradle and connect the power. The Premium Car Kit will charge your phone automatically when plugged in.

The Premium Car Kit also delivers a superior hands-free calling experience with Bluetooth. The powerful, amplified hands-free speaker delivers crystal-clear calls and turn by turn directions.

Navigate in confidence with the Magellan Premium Car Kit!


Built-in GPS receiver enhances performance A powerful, sensitive built-in GPS receiver provides fast and accurate directions every time.

Turns your iPod touch into a GPS navigator* The built-in GPS receiver transforms your iPod touch into a full-featured GPS navigator with real-time, turn by turn directions.

Works with most navigation or location-based apps* While optimized for the Magellan RoadMate app for iPhone, the cradle is compatible with most GPS navigation apps.

In-car charging The cradle automatically powers and charges when connected. No need to worry about running out of battery.

Noise-cancelling, hands-free speakerphone Full duplex speakerphone for crystal clear calls.

Powerful, amplified speaker Use the volume control for loud and clear voice guidance.

Secure, adjustable vehicle mounting Quickly secure the cradle to your windshield or dashboard and easily adjust for portrait or landscape viewing.

Fits hard shell cases or silicon skins Accommodates most cases or skins for maximum flexibility when inserting into the cradle.

* Requires purchase of a GPS navigation app. Sold separately.

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When you first open the package you’ll find that the Premium Car Kit contains the cradle, a windshield mount, a mounting a plate, a power cord that fits into the power port, and a white to prepare the surface if you choose to use the mounting plate.

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The cradle is an interesting accessory. It is designed to hold either the iPhone or the iPod touch whether they be naked or in a wide number of cases. Not all cases will work with the cradle but many do thanks to the adjustable bar toward the top of the cradle and a (difficult to see) back support toward the top that pops out if you are using a thinner case or the iPod Touch. The combination of the top holder and the back adjustment ensure that the device is held securely once placed in the cradle.

A dock connector is at the bottom that serves a number of purposes. First, it charges the device while it is being used. Second, it feeds sound through the cradle and out the built-in speaker that is on the bottom of the cradle.

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On the side you can see the mini-USB plug that charges the device and powers the GPS unit, a 3.5 mm jack that will feed the audio out of the cradle and into your car stereo if you so choose, and the button to release the adjustments that were mentioned previously.

In fact, the cradle has a multifunction controller and Bluetooth. These turn the cradle into a hands free speakerphone if you are using it with your iPhone. The button lets you answer, reject or connect a call if you so choose. It will also activate the iPhone’s (lame) voice dialing feature. It includes noise cancellation to help limit road noise. It works but there are far better speakerphones on the market.

In all it is a nice accessory in that it is a secure cradle for your IOS device, adds GPS to the iPod touch and enhances the GPS signal of the iPhone and functions as a Bluetooth speakerphone once paired with your phone. Any one of these features is nice but when you put them together into a single package they are impressive.

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If you are going to use your iPhone or iPod Touch as a GPS system you obviously need GPS software. There are a wide variety of options currently available on the market and Magellan, of course, has their own. It is called RoadMate and it comes in a number of versions with each covering a different geographic area.

At this point most of the top brands that offer GPS navigation apps that are rather mature all have fairly similar features. As a result much of the choice with regard to which one you want to use will come down to minor aesthetic differences, the price, and a few key features and how they are employed on one application or the other.

The Car Cradle will work with most GPS apps but I chose to go with Magellan’s RoadMate. It has some great features .

As Magellan explains:

Want the best driving directions in the palm of your hand? Want to avoid traffic before your stuck in it?

The Magellan RoadMate App is now available with traffic alerts included!!

Featuring full iOS 4 optimization, transform your iPhone 4, 3GS or 3G into an advanced GPS navigator with real-time traffic alerts and turn-by-turn voice guidance with spoken street names.

With the Magellan RoadMate App you will experience the same easy-to-use interface as Magellan’s dedicated personal navigation devices on your iPhone.

And best of all, the Magellan RoadMate App is a one-time purchase with no subscription, monthly fees or additional traffic fees.

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Overall I am quite please with Magellan’s offering. It is full featured and it just makes sense to me to use the application that was designed to work with the cradle. Here’s a quick rundown of the key features.

iOS 4.0 Support: Enjoy seamless turn by turn navigation while on a call or continued voice guidance instruction while using another application simultaneously.

Real-time Traffic Alerts*: With reliable real-time traffic alert information, minimize traffic delays on the way to your destination. No subscriptions or fees required.

POI Sharing: Quickly and easily share routes & points of interests with your contacts via email with the POI Share icon from within the app.

iPhone and iPod touch compatibility: The perfect navigation app for the iPod touch 3rd generation and 2nd generation . With the Magellan Premium Car Kit (sold separately), you can transform your iPod touch into an instant GPS navigator.

OneTouch Favorites Menu: The award-winning OneTouch favorites menu lets you bookmark and customize your favorite places and search listings so you can easily find and select them with OneTouch.

Location-based Coupons and Offers*: Receive real-time offers and coupons in the near vicinity of your route while navigating. Enjoy the offers immediately or save and redeem them in the future.

Highway Lane Assist: Realistic highway signs guide you into the correct lane when approaching interchanges and exits.

3D Landmarks: Incredible 3D images of key landmarks show you the way with stunning visual cues.

Address Book Integration: Easily navigate to contacts saved in your iPhone address book.

In-App Music Control: Take advantage of seamless iPod integration and navigate while listening to your music with gentle volume fades during voice guidance.

Find Your Car: Automatically saves your parking location so you can easily find your way back to your car.

Pedestrian Mode: With pedestrian mode you can quickly find and walk to a destination near your current location.

QuickSpell Address Entry: Our highly-acclaimed QuickSpell® with SmartCity Search allows you to quickly enter addresses into the oversized keyboard, making entry quick and error free.

*Traffic updates along with Coupons and Offers are only available on iPod touch when WiFi connectivity is available.

Among the key features of the application are the inclusion of real-time traffic alerts. These will only work with the iPhone since it requires a data connection. There are also location-based coupons and offers but they too only work with the iPhone due to requiring a data connection. And finally there is the “Find Your Car” functionality that lets you mark the location of your car and return to it. Sadly this only works… with your iPhone since it requires a standalone GPS chip in order to work. It is a drag but it is not Magellan’s fault.

The other feature that I I’m quite fond of is the OneTouch favorites and IT does not quire an iPhone. Yes, this key feature works on the iPhone AND the iPod touch.

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When you first start the application you are asked to choose the unit of measurement you want to have the application employee. It was just one more reminder that the in the United States are completely backward and out of step with the rest of the world.

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The Magellan application includes a number of different voices for giving directions and the app suggests you try different ones.

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Yes, you can listen to Maggie, or Dave, for Carlos, etc. and, in the process, figure out which of them will be the least annoying. (Notice I did not say “most pleasant”.)

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The application provides both two-dimensional and three-dimensional views. A number of the GPS applications I have tried presented views that look almost cartoonish. I was quite pleased to discover that this was not the case with RoadMate.

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Because there are so many features built into this application there are numerous menus that need to be accessed in order to set up the application and find your destination. Navigating the menus certainly wasn’t difficult but it did require a lot of tapping back and forth.

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One of my favorite features helps reduce the number of screen taps. The OneTouch menu lets you set your home address, determine where you parked your car, lets you find your current location, helps find the nearest gas or the nearest coffee shop and all of it is done with a single screen tap. In addition, there are a number of additional buttons that you can set yourself so that all of the key locations that you visit on a regular basis can be preset and accessed with one touch of a button– hence the name.

This may sound like a little feature but once you have set up the locations it is incredibly convenient. Yes, it does take some planning to add the Custom OneTouch locations but after that one-time setup the app becomes far easier to use.

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Finally, as this screen indicates once you input your destination all of the information is presented quite clearly. If text is clean and easy to read and the icons are quite easy to understand without having to have written titles attached to them.

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And this brings me to my use of the application this Monday.

I had to go from northern New Jersey down to southern New Jersey for a memorial service. From there I needed to go out to Long Island and then, after a brief “stop” I needed to finally get home. It was a great chance to really test the car kit.

First I set up the car cradle in my Subaru Outback. This took just a few seconds and once I put the iPod touch in the cradle it locked on the GPS signal within a few moments.

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I needed to get some coffee. Fortunately RoadMate gave me OneTouch access to local coffee shops and reminded me that we have a Dunkin’ Donuts just 1.7 miles away. I drove to get my java and then set out on the rest of my trip.

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Finding my first stop was easy. I use the quick location feature of the application and within a few moments had found the memorial chapel needed to visit. I had never been to this particular location but the application guided me there perfectly.

Once we were done there I got into my car and set out to Long Island. Then I realized I needed gas. Once again I used the OneTouch feature to locate a gas station and, minutes later, the car had a full tank.

It didn’t all work perfectly though. For some reason the cemetery in Long Island was not in the database of the app.  Others are but not this particular one. I tried three different spelling but none worked. I was able to Google it on my iPhone and then input the address but that kind of defeats the purpose doesn’t it? Out of curiosity I tried another GPS app that I use and it too had a difficult time finding the location.

The cemetery issue was the only glitch I had the entire day and, as noted, it was not unique to the RoadMate app. I was impressed and loved not locking my iPhone up as a GPS since I made numbers phone calls while on the road.

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And when I was not making calls listened to a ton of music. Thanks to RoadMate being iOS 4.0 compatible the music player is not built right into the app. It is a nice feature that even let me decide it I wanted the music to pause or simply stop when turn by turn directions were being given.

The Magellan Premium Car Kit for iPhone and iPod touch is available directly from Magellan. The RoadMate app is available in a variety of versions that offer different geographic areas at various price points.

MSRP: The Car Kit is $129.99; the RoadMate app $34.95 and up

What I Like:

Car Kit: Let’s the touch function as a GPS; Holds the iPhone or touch securely; can be used when device is in most cases; charges the device; includes Bluetooth speakerphone capabilities; has line-out for audio; windshield or deck mounting

App: Full-featured; loads rather quickly; turn-by-turn directions; integrates music player; one-touch destinations

What Needs Improvement:

Car Kit: Speakerphone is nice addition but not on part with standalone units; line out feeds most but not all audio out;

RoadMate: Some destinations not in database; Some of the best features are iPhone only thanks to Apple not including a GPS chip in the touch

We will be giving away both the Magellan Premium Car Kit and a copy of RoadMate later today so check back then!

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About the Author

Dan Cohen
Having a father who was heavily involved in early laser and fiber-optical research, Dan grew up surrounded by technology and gadgets. Dan’s father brought home one of the very first video games when he was young and Dan remembers seeing a “pre-release” touchtone phone. (When he asked his father what the “#” and “*” buttons were his dad said, “Some day, far in the future, we’ll have some use for them.”) Technology seemed to be in Dan’s blood but at some point he took a different path and ended up in the clergy. His passion for technology and gadgets never left him. Dan is married to Raina Goldberg who is also an avid user of Apple products. They live in New Jersey with their golden doodle Nava.

5 Comments on "Review: Magellan Premium Car Kit and iOS App for iPhone and iPod touch"

  1. RT @geardiarysite: Review: Magellan Premium Car Kit and iOS App for iPhone and iPod touch

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  4. Important Question: Does the USB port pass though data to the iPhone dock connector and vice versa or is it power-only? Thanks!

  5. I would highly recommend for people interested in purchasing the Kit for iPod Touch to be aware that there are issues than need instructions in setting up the iPod Touch that are not included in their poor manual. I had these issues and Magellan customer service could not resolve them for more than 6 months. Finally and after sending numerous complaints an expert in the company admitted to their fault and instructed me how to link the iPod Touch with the Kit.
    If you have a choice, buy a stand alone application and avoid the hassle of dealing with their customer service. 

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