As I documented in my recent trip to Palo Alto, I had expected to use the Garmin 296 car kit to navigate my way through the silicon valley area. Unfortunately, the Garmin proved to be too smart for me. It also requires transferring map information of areas you expect to travel from a PC into the limited memory of the Garmin 296. After a few hours of unsuccessful attempts to get the Garmin 296 to work (I admit, I didn’t have a manual handy, but come on, I’m a software engineer!), I drove down to a local Costco and picked up a Magellan 4040.
My first impression was WOW. And this device only cost $299 (at Cotstco)? How can that be! The 4.3″ touch-screen slim Magellan 4040 is extremely easy to use. Entering addresses is a piece of cake and it provides voice-prompted turn-by-turn directions to anywhere. It also has millions of Points of Interest including the essential Starbucks in case you couldn’t spot one in the corner of the current road you’re on. It contains maps for US, Canada and Puerto Rico without the need to transfer anything from a PC (although this is common among all the portable car GPS systems, it was a pleasure to see when compared with the Aviation GPS systems).
Coming from airplane avionics and equipment pricing, the price of the Magellan is hard to believe. At $299 it’s less than 1/4th the price of a similar device for aviation. Even built-in car navigation systems are generally $1,500 – $2,000 and often provide less functionality. The Magellan kit includes a suction-cup based windshield mount. At first, I assumed the suction cup would be relatively weak and cumbersome to work with, but the device has a latch that when clipped hugs the windshield so tight it’s nearly impossible to pry off and it’s rock solid. The included car charger is also great and it senses when the charger is turned off (usually because the car is turned off) and will automatically turn the device off after 30 seconds to conserve battery when your car is off.
Although the built-in rechargeable battery should be good for about 2 hours of continuous operation, I rarely used it on battery power because most of the time it was in my rental car connected to the cigarette lighter.
Bluetooth and Speaker Phone Included
One of the major surprises was that the Magellan 4040 included bluetooth wireless and the ability to act as a speakerphone for any bluetooth enabled phone. That was a welcome surprise, but I figured there is little chance that this little unit could actually do a good job with sound quality and practicality of using it as a phone. I was dead wrong. Amazingly, the speakerphone was loud and clear on both ends of the conversation. Pairing my phone was relatively easy, although bluetooth in general is still a pain to synch.
Upgrading to the Magellan 4250
This past weekend, I noticed that Costco had put the Magellan 4250 on sale for just $349, so I promptly went back and upgraded my unit. The interface of the 4250 is nearly identical, however, it’s a slightly more attractive unit that is a little bit slimmer and provides built-in voice recognition capabilities. You start the voice recognition (which is impressively always on) by saying “Magellan”. It responds with “Say Command”. You can say things like “Nearby Restaurants” and a list of the nearby restaurants appears with assigned numbers. At that point you can say “one”, or “two” to make your selection. It works very well because of the limited vocabulary that it has to recognize.
Overall, I have been extremely impressed by the Magellan GPS systems and pleased with my purchase. Both devices seem to be solid and a great addition not just for a traveler, but also for the day-to-day use for any car that doesn’t have a built-in navigation system.
If there was one complaint I would say the system was a bit slow when using the touch screen to move the map. That was my experience with both the 4040 and the 4250 units. It just doesn’t seem to follow your finger as fast as one would expect when you want to move the map to look around an area. It would also be nice if you could choose the information that it displays on the main screen (such as your current speed, elevation, etc.). I was unable to find an option for that.
But if you want a nice portable GPS for your flight bag, this is the way to go. Don’t bother with the car kit upgrade of the Garmin 296.