A couple of months ago, we reviewed the Magellan Maestro 4040 and liked it for its nice interface, performance, and value. Now, the company has added an even more affordable solution to the Maestro family. Aimed at the first-time buyer and budget-strapped, the Magellan Maestro 3100 offers the most essential navigation features for a reasonable $299.99. It accurately and easily got us to our destinations. That said, it doesn't offer quite the same sleekness or smooth operation of a TomTom One or Garmin Nuvi 350, so if you can find a deal, we'd recommend buying one of these two portable navigation systems. Magellan also offers a step-up model, the Magellan Maestro 3140 ($399.99), that adds text-to-speech functionality, Bluetooth, and AAA support.
The Magellan Maestro 3100 is basically a scaled-down version of its bigger brother, the Maestro 4040. The unit measures a compact 4.2 inches long by 1.1 inches wide by 3.4 inches high and weighs 6.5 ounces, so you can easily move it between cars. However, the smaller size also means that you don't get the luxury of the larger 4.3-inch display like the Maestro 4040. Instead, the 3100 is equipped with a responsive 3.5-inch diagonal touch screen. While maps were readable, we thought the color was a bit washed out and wished there was a little more contrast. Lowering the screen's brightness helped slightly, but it wasn't quite up to par with some other systems we've seen.
Aside from the power button on the right side, you will use the Maestro 3100's touch screen to perform most functions, from entering addresses to adjusting the volume. This allows the device to have a simple and clean design. There are no external controls cluttering the face of the 3100. There's just an SD/MMC expansion slot and a reset button on the left spine, and a mini USB port, a 3.5mm headphone jack, and a power connector on the right side. The unit's speaker is located on the back, and since the GPS receiver is integrated into the device, you don't have to worry about dealing with a flip-up antenna.
The Magellan Maestro 3100 comes packaged with a car charger, a vehicle mount (windshield and dash), a USB cable, and reference material. The windshield mount did a good job of holding the unit in place, and there's a lock mechanism to reinforce the seal between the suction cup and windshield. However, we found that it takes quite a bit of wrangling to dislodge the system from the mount's backboard.
The Magellan Maestro 3100 is all about delivering the basic navigation features without any extra fluff. It's equipped with a 20-channel, WAAS-enabled SiRF StarIII GPS chip and comes preloaded with Navteq maps of the continental United States. If you plan on traveling to Canada or Puerto Rico, you might want to consider the Maestro 3140, since those regions are included on that system.
For simple tracking, you can use the Show Map function, which brings up an overview map with your location, otherwise you can select Enter Address to start planning a trip. You have several options for picking your destination; you can enter a specific address or an intersection, or for longer, multistop journeys, you can use the Trip Planner, which can handle up to 20 destinations. Like many other Magellan GPS devices, the Maestro 3100 has the handy QuickSpell feature to aid in the text entry process. As you start to input the numbers and letters of an address on the virtual keyboard, QuickSpell dims out any characters that don't match any of the city or streets located in the system's database.
The Maestro 3100 can calculate routes based on fastest time, shortest distance, least or most use of freeways, and without toll roads. There's a route simulator to give you a running demo of the trip, as well as a detour option if you want to avoid a certain portion of the route. The system provides text- and voice-guided turn-by-turn directions, but unfortunately, the basic 3100 doesn't support Magellan's SayWhere text-to-speech feature. This means the system won't speak actual street names but will give you more generic directions like "Turn right in 0.5 miles." We do like that the unit will alert you to an upcoming turn with a chime (or bell or beep). If you do happen to miss a turn, you can rest easy, as the Maestro does automatic route recalculation.
The 3100 offers several map screens. First off, you get your choice of 2D (north up or tracking up) or 3D map modes with night or day color. In addition to that, you can get just a list of maneuvers or a split-screen view that shows both your 3D map and your next maneuver. We particularly liked this screen, as it gave us a better view of the next turn, which can sometimes get lost with the smaller text and icons when in map view alone.
The Magellan Maestro 3100 points of interest (POI) database contains 750,000 entries, which isn't quite as robust as other systems in terms of numbers. You do get all the major categories, including gas stations, ATMs, and restaurants by cuisine type. You can drill down to more specific interests, as well, with more specific POIs, such as museums, coffee shops, and sports stadiums. American Automobile Association members may be disappointed to learn that the 3100 doesn't have the AAA features found on the Maestro 4040, meaning you can't access information for AAA-approved auto repair facilities, AAA Diamond-rated lodging and restaurants, and more, from the device. There is a nice safety feature, though. If you need roadside assistance for any reason, you can tap on the tow truck icon on the main menu page and get your exact location, closest intersection, longitude and latitude coordinates, and other information, for easy reference.
The Magellan Maestro 3100 got off to a bit of a rocky start when we first fired up the device. We went through the typical setup procedures of picking our time zone, units of measure, and accepting the user agreement. However, at the end of this process, the system froze on us and we had to restart the device. This happened two more times before we actually got to the Main Menu page--not good.
We took the Maestro 3100 for a test-drive in San Francisco, and from a cold start, it took about 2 minutes for the unit to get a GPS fix under cloudy skies; subsequent starts were faster. It was able to retain a strong lock as we drove throughout the city and accurately pinpointed our location. We also programmed our standard trip from the Marina district of San Francisco to CNET's downtown headquarters. The 3100 returned with directions in less than a minute, but route recalculations were a little more sporadic. For the most part, the system generated a new route quickly, but there were several times where we missed a turn because the 3100 instructed us to take the next street just as we drove past it. The Magellan Maestro 3100's battery is rated for 3 hours (with the backlight at the dimmest setting), which is on the low side.