Magellan's latest 5-inch GPS navigator aims to differentiate itself from the ever-shrinking portable navigation market with a pair of unique features that should make life easier for sufferers of wanderlust. The RoadMate 5175T-LM Traveler's TourDirector feature helps users to explore unfamiliar cities and Wi-Fi connectivity keeps them connected to the Web while on the go.
The RoadMate 5175T-LM is built in the same slate configuration that we're used to seeing in GPS devices these days. At the core of the design is a 5-inch resistive touch screen with a WVGA resolution. Along the top edge of the device is the power button--the sole physical control to be found--and along the bottom edge is the Mini-USB port where the unit charges and connects to a PC for software and map updates. There's also a microSD card slot on the bottom edge for expanding the unit's memory for storage of more maps for multiple regions.
Out of the box, the unit is preloaded with maps of the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico with about 6 million points of interest.
The Traveler is able to be held in a portrait or landscape orientation thanks to an internal accelerometer. However, because the GPS antenna must always be oriented skyward, the unit can only be rotated in one direction (clockwise) for its portrait orientation.
Users are able to mount the Traveler to their windshield or dashboard using the included suction-cup mounting cradle. The device connects to the cradle by a small groove on its back panel, into which a tab molded into the cradle slides. A 12-volt-to-Mini-USB adapter charges and powers the Traveler when in a vehicle. The Mini-USB connection at the end of this adapter connects semipermanently to the mounting cradle, so users can mount and plug in the Traveler unit with one motion.
Also in the box is a Mini-USB-to-full-size-USB cable for connecting the Traveler to a computer.
The RoadMate 5175T-LM Traveler at its core has many of the features that we've seen in the rest of Magellan's RoadMate lineup. The map screen places its controls in each of its four corners and along the screen's edges, with buttons for OneTouch, volume control, the Main Menu, zoom in and out, travel information, and traffic. While navigating, the 5175T-LM gives live updating spoken turn-by-turn directions with useful features such as spoken street names, highway lane guidance, and speed limit alerts. We especially like the way the system uses chimes instead of speech to signal when it's time to turn, so the system doesn't feel like it's jabbering on endlessly.
From the upper right corner of the map screen, users are able to access Magellan's OneTouch menu where 15 shortcuts to commonly accessed destinations and searches can be saved. Two of these presets are fixed (TourDirector and emergency services) but the remaining 13 can be set and reset by the user.
Lifetime map updates can be downloaded from the Internet using Magellan's Content Manager Software and Lifetime traffic data can be browsed on the unit's map. Traffic data comes wirelessly over the air via the RDS-TMC band. Like most RDS-TMC systems, flow and incident data is mostly available for interstates, major highways, and a few major streets, with the majority of secondary and surface roads going uncovered.
One of the marquee features touted for the 5175T-LM is that it is Wi-Fi-enabled. The unit is able to connect a Wi-Fi hot spot and browse the Internet via a very basic browser. Users have controls for back, forward, refresh, and zoom. Bookmarks can be saved and recalled via a dedicated menu. We had issues getting the browser to connect to our open office Wi-Fi network, which required in-browser authentication, but subsequent tests with home networks without such authentication were more successful. Portable Wi-Fi hot spots or tethered smartphones should work just as well. The unit's low resolution screen and resistive touch screen make it less than ideal for extended browsing sessions, but in a pinch it would do for quickly looking up an address. Additionally, the Wi-Fi connection can be used for software updates, which is actually quite useful.
There's also a feature called TourDirector that aims to help users plan travel itineraries of local attractions, shopping, and restaurants when vacationing in unfamiliar cities.
The stay-cation test
We decided to test the Traveler's TourDirector function by taking a bit of a stay-cation in our home city of San Francisco. We're familiar with the bulk of what this city has to offer its tourists, but for purposes of this test, we'd pretend that we didn't and try to ignore our local knowledge until the end.
After powering up the Magellan Traveler, we headed into the main menu, then into the TourDirector menu. We were then presented with a trio of destination categories to choose from: Attractions, Shopping, and Restaurants. Tapping any of these categories displayed a list of destinations that can be clicked to display detailed information about each. This information included detailed descriptions about what each attraction was, an address and phone number, open hours, disabled access, accepted credit cards, and even e-mail and Web site information if available. (Unfortunately, despite the presence of a Web browser, these URLs are not clickable.) Most interestingly is that each attraction also had a time estimate for how long one should expect to spend enjoying themselves. So, for example, San Francisco's Palace of Fine Arts can be seen in half an hour, but the Zoo will take considerably longer. We were able to choose multiple destinations by checking boxes near the destinations that interested us.
We were able to choose to display destinations near our current position, near a city center, or near a user-set address, but each category would only display the 50 nearest attractions near our selected reference point, so a user looking for destinations near their hotel in San Francisco's SOMA district wouldn't see the Golden Gate Bridge on their list of available destinations because it's technically too far from the city center. They would, however, be able to visit the more obscure Saint John Will-I-Am Coltrane African Orthodox Church.
We started our trip from Ocean Beach, selecting about seven locations from the list of available destinations including the Painted Ladies in Alamo Square, the Japanese Tea Garden, Twin Peaks, the aforementioned Church of John Coltrane, and the Yoda Statue. After making our selections, the Traveler displayed all of our chosen POIs in a list with arrow keys for reordering them and an Optimize button that automatically reorganized the destinations for the most efficient trip. We were even able to specify a preset ending location for our trip.
Hitting the road, the Traveler took us to the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park without issue, but had issues getting us to our next destination at Twin Peaks. After the navigator attempted to lead us up a private road, then up a foot path, were surmised that Magellan's address for Twin Peaks was inaccurate and elected to skip to the next destination.
We were lead to the little bronze Yoda statue in front of Lucasfilm's offices in San Francisco's Presidio district without issue and despite being asked to make a few weird turns that double back on themselves, we quickly found ourselves at the gates of the Palace of Fine Arts. Next up was the Painted Ladies at Alamo Square, then quick stops at the Church of St. John Coltrane (which was closed) and the African-American Historical & Cultural Society.
With the exception of a few odd turns and the Twin Peaks incident, the Traveler got us everywhere we wanted to go in San Francisco. Upon arriving at each destination, we were presented with the option to find nearby parking, and upon resuming navigation, we were asked if we wanted to resume navigating to the next destination in the list. Because the entirety of our tourism navigation test happened on surface and secondary roads--where the 5175T-LM Traveler's lifetime traffic service doesn't really supply flow and incident data--on a few occasions, the navigator would lead us directly into traffic jams, and road construction slowed down our progress.
At the end of our little stay-cation, we think the Magellan RoadMate 5175T-LM Traveler's TourDirector trip is a nice travel tool to break out a free day or during down time on a vacation--those times when you're not really sure where to go in a strange city and would like to kill some time hunting smaller attractions in the area without going too far. However, there were plenty of great San Francisco destinations that were left out of TourDirector's listings because the system sorts destinations by distance rather than rating, relevance, or awesomeness. It would be a shame to miss the Golden Gate Bridge or Northern California's redwood forests just because your hotel is a few miles too far, so we'd recommend that you use TourDirector in conjunction with a good travel guide to make sure you don't miss the good stuff on your vacation.
During subsequent testing for highway navigation and commuting, the RoadMate 5175T-LM Traveler proved to be both accurate in its positioning and routing. Routes chosen to our frequently visited destinations more often than not matched our local knowledge of the best routes.
As we mentioned earlier, we like the TourDirector feature as a supplement to more thorough vacation planning. This feature combined with the system's standard multidestination input gives users the ability to quickly put together a driving tour of an unfamiliar city.
On the other hand, the Wi-Fi connectivity and Web browser are nice bullet points to put on a list of features, but we don't think that most users will get much mileage out of these in a world increasingly populated with smartphones that offer better screens and seamless Internet connectivity.