Magellan, a longtime manufacturer of commercial GPS devices, boasts an extensive line of consumer-oriented navigation devices, but the Meridian Platinum is certainly the most versatile model of the bunch. In addition to being a powerful GPS receiver, this handy little gadget has pretty much everything an outdoors enthusiast could hope for in a handheld. The $300 Meridian Platinum is as feature-packed as Garmin's closely competing ($275), but unlike its competitor, this Magellan device also offers expandable memory. The Meridian Platinum's gray-and-black-plastic casing and black-rubber wraparound grip create its rugged look. Measuring 6.5 by 2.9 by 1.2 inches and weighing 8 ounces (with batteries), the device is slightly bigger and heavier than of handhelds and not nearly as attractive, but the placement of all nine function buttons on the face of the unit is a welcome trade-off. Unlike the eTrex units, the Meridian Platinum's buttons are large and well spaced, and an eight-way rocker panel makes it easy to navigate through the various menu screens. Nocturnal navigators will love the backlit buttons and 2.2-by-1.75-inch grayscale display.
In addition to using a 12-channel receiver and a quadrifilar helix antenna to lock on to up to 12 GPS satellite signals, the Meridian Platinum utilizes WAAS (Wide Area Augmentation System) technology for increased accuracy. The unit is also water resistant to IPX7 standards, withstanding submersion in up to three feet of water for up to 30 minutes; we soaked the device in a sink for 30 minutes and found this claim to be true. Plus, although the device's main memory of 16MB is taken up entirely by the built-in mapping database, the Meridian Platinum includes a Secure Digital (SD) memory expansion slot in its battery compartment. An additional bit of built-in memory is set aside for storing waypoints and routes. A built-in 16MB North America mapping database contains interstate roadways, city maps, highways, and major local roads, as well as waterways, parks, and airport locations. The Magellan can locate all points according to your position, and it also works if you specify a city or place the cursor over an area on the map. Unfortunately, the base map doesn't cover street-level detail such as points of interest; you'll have to part with an additional $149 for Magellan's MapSend DirectRoute software and more bucks for an SD memory card to hold the extra maps. Once you've done this, you can simply connect the Meridian Platinum to your PC via the included PC (nine-pin serial) cable to transfer more maps to the device.
One of the Meridian Platinum's coolest features is its electronic barometer, which gives you plenty of time to get in and out of the weather before it starts and provides a 24-hour history of barometric-pressure readings, including highs, lows, and trends. The Platinum also boasts a built-in three-axis compass that is incredibly accurate, and unlike other electronic compasses, it doesn't matter how you hold it--it's dead-on at any angle. Of course, the Meridian Platinum has all the standard features you'd expect in a serious GPS device, including storage for up to 500 waypoints, 20 routes, and thousands of track points. Conveniently, all of these can be created on the fly, so no computer is necessary. You can even set alerts for proximity to and arrival at your desired location, and if you're out on the water, an alarm sounds when you've drifted from your anchored spot--a must-have for the night fisherman. We took to the streets of Manhattan armed with the Platinum and were pleasantly surprised. It's not easy to maintain a strong satellite signal in the Big Apple, but the Meridian stayed locked in throughout our tour. We were also impressed with the unit's performance in the car; even though it was sitting in a cup holder with a fragmented view of the sky, the device functioned just as well as it did when we were on foot. Although the screen was readable in direct sunlight, we noticed a bit of washout in the brightest areas.
The Magellan is rated for 14 hours of battery life using two (included) AA batteries, but we managed close to 15 hours of juice without backlighting. As for accuracy, the Meridian was on the money. While on the road, it could pinpoint our position on the device's map, and we had no trouble navigating to the multiple waypoints we created while hiking in our local state park.