Magellan has once again raised the bar for the handheld GPS market. The company's SporTrak Color, touted as the "ultimate in color GPS," lives up to the hype. The device features a rich color display, an electronic compass and barometer, and a built-in map database, all within an attractive, waterproof housing. At $499.99, the SporTrak Color is a bit expensive, but considering it's one of the first truly portable color handheld units, we think it's worth it. Keep an eye out for a competing product from Garmin. Decked out in a two-tone silver metallic casing, the Magellan SporTrak Color is constructed using the same impact-resistant plastic as Magellan's of GPS handhelds, but the SporTrak eschews its cousin's heavy, rubberized look, though it has a rubber grip around the lower portion. The SporTrak Color is also smaller (5.6 by 2.2 by 1.2 inches) and lighter (6.1 ounces) than the Meridian units. The compact dimensions and the slick color scheme give the device a high-tech sheen; plus, it's easy to carry in a pocket.
However, the unit's 2.2-by-1.4-inch VGA color screen with 240x160-pixel resolution is the showstopper. In addition to its crisp 16-color display, it has two levels of backlighting for viewing in any lighting environment. All nine function buttons, including an eight-way rocker panel, are located below the screen and are also backlit for easy viewing at night.
The SporTrak Color uses the standard 12-channel quadrifilar helix antenna, is WAAS (Wide Area Augmentation System) enabled, and meets the IPX7 standard for water resistance-- conveniently, it floats too. Although the model comes with 32MB of internal memory, 10MB is used by the built-in mapping database, leaving just 22MB for storing waypoints, routes, and additional detailed navigational data. However, that amount is sufficient for detailed maps of the New York tristate area or the whole of central California, covering a rectangular area fenced by San Francisco, Yosemite, and Fresno. In addition to the standard features you'd expect in a handheld GPS, such as on-the-fly waypoint, route, and trackpoint storage; satellite status; and sun/moon-position screens, the Magellan SporTrak Color includes an electronic barometer and compass. The barometer provides atmospheric pressure readings and is ideal for extended hiking excursions. The three-axis compass is easy to calibrate and is accurate regardless of the angle at which you are holding the unit.
The device's built-in maps include major roadways, parks, waterways, and airport locations, as well as nautical navigational aids such as buoys and lighted beacons. However, to view street-level maps and local points of interest, you'll have to spend an additional $149 for Magellan's optional MapSend DirectRoute software. Unfortunately, the SporTrak's memory is not expandable, and the unit does not have an SD (Secure Digital) slot, so you'll have to choose your detailed maps wisely. Loading street-level maps of the New York tristate area took more than 30 minutes via the included nine-pin serial cable and consumed almost 16MB of memory; if you're planning a long-range trip, you'll have to bring along a laptop to replace detailed maps as you go. Among the concrete canyons of New York City, the Magellan SporTrak Color performed admirably, maintaining a strong satellite lock throughout most of our walking tour. A driving tour resulted in the same stellar results. We were also pleased with the device's tracking abilities. It was accurate regardless of how fast we were traveling, and it even managed to locate our position from inside an elevated train. In all cases, the handheld took about 30 to 60 seconds to lock onto the satellites--60 seconds after the initial power-on and 30 seconds after subsequent activations (45 seconds if we were already in motion at the time).
The display was readable under every lighting condition, and the brightly colored maps made it easy to identify interstate roadways, grasslands, and waterways. Even the buoy markers were represented in color.
In our battery-drain test, the two included AAs gave us the promised 14 hours of power without backlighting, which is in line with the battery life of comparable monochrome units. The low-battery alarm sounded with five minutes to spare.