With its ever-growing library of navigation apps, the iPhone seems like a great way to get turn-by-turn directions without getting a whole other device. However, with a loudspeaker the size of a pinhole, GPS draining its battery, and occasionally questionable location accuracy, even the mighty iPhone could use a little help.
The Magellan Premium Car Kit aims to fix all of these issues by combining a 12-volt charger, a noise-cancelling Bluetooth speakerphone, and a built-in GPS receiver for more accurate GPS location. If this all sounds familiar, it's because we've been down this road with the TomTom Car Kit for iPhone, which we criticized for being too pricey.
The Magellan Car Kit features a good deal of adjustability in its design. The cradle mounts to the vehicle's windshield or dashboard with an adhesive disk, using a strong suction cup that locks into place with a lever. At the top of the mount's neck is a ball joint that can be positioned freely and then locked into place by tightening a knob. Even when locked in at the ball joint, the cradle can be spun 360-degrees for portrait or landscape orientation, with stops in 90-degree increments.
The cradle features an adjusting retaining arm at the top that can be extended to accommodate hard cases for the iPhone or shortened to accommodate the shorter iPod Touch. You simply press the retaining arm release button on the right side of the device and move the arm to the appropriate height. At the back of the cradle is a switch that adjusts the back support block to keep your device firmly locked in. Even the 30-pin dock connector at the base of the cradle is slightly elongated to reach into thick cases and features a few degrees of wiggle room, thanks to its rubber mount.
Along the left edge of the cradle, you'll find the volume dial and, if you look closely, a pinhole microphone. On its right edge, just below the release button, are an auxiliary audio output and a Mini-USB port for connecting the included 12-volt power adapter.
Besides holding your iPhone or iPod Touch in place, the Magellan Premium Car Kit features a noise-canceling speaker phone that pairs via Bluetooth to your device. After pairing with a four digit PIN, phone calls are routed through the Magellan's speakerphone. The system doesn't seem to support A2DP audio streaming; but with an iPhone connected, the Magellan makes use of the dock connector to send audio and spoken turn-by-turn commands to the loudspeaker.
For even better sound, the Magellan Car Kit can be connected to a car's auxiliary input via its 3.5mm audio output.
The Magellan Kit includes its own GPS receiver, which means that it enhances the accuracy of the iPhone's positioning and, more importantly, allows the second-generation iPod Touch to be used with navigation apps for turn-by-turn directions.
The Magellan Premium Car Kit performed as expected. Calls were indeed louder and easier to hear over road and wind noise. Meanwhile, on the other end of the call, listeners stated the audio quality was considerably less hollow. Also, because the Magellan's speakerphone is full duplex, conversations flowed smoothly with fewer awkward pauses.
While it is difficult to tell how much the Magellan system is actually assisting the iPhone's GPS accuracy, we did notice that GPS positioning was less jumpy amid the high-rises of downtown San Francisco. However, the biggest jump in functionality is when the Premium Car Kit is paired with a second-generation iPod Touch. Where there was once only Wi-Fi triangulation, and then only when connected to a Wi-Fi hot spot, the Magellan system adds true GPS satellite navigation that, when paired with Magellan's RoadMate app or any other navigation app, lets the iPod Touch be used for turn-by-turn directions. Of course, whatever app you're using will need to store its maps locally, as once you're out of range of your hot spot, you won't be able to pull data from the cloud. However, that's an inherent issue with the iPod Touch, not the Magellan Premium Car Kit.
Priced at $129, the Magellan Premium Car Kit for iPhone and iPod Touch faces the same major criticism that TomTom's Car Kit for iPhone faces: it's just too pricey for a product that duplicates functions the iPhone already possess. Sure, these functions are enhanced, but there are many people who will have a hard time justifying the expense over a simple $29 suction-cup mount.
However, the Magellan system does have an ace up its sleeve that the TomTom kit doesn't, its adjustability to accommodate the iPod Touch. Adding a completely new feature to the iPod Touch is a much easier expense to justify in our opinion and because the Magellan pairs via Bluetooth, you can use the kit with your iPod Touch and your Bluetooth phone at the same time, which is very cool.