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Magellan Roadmate 1700 GPS

Magellan Roadmate 1700 I was excited when Magellan announced that it was coming out with a GPS unit that had a 7-inch screen, the Magellan Roadmate 1700. Seven inches… wow. Who says size doesn't matter? That is two inches bigger than any other mainstream unit on the market from Garmin or TomTom, but it is only about one-half higher. So, this is a long unit side to side. And a funny thing, after weeks of using it, this size now seems normal, and other units look puny in comparison.

Upon opening the box kindly provided by Magellan for Consumer World to review, one discovers that HUGE screen, a small mounting bracket, an adhesive disk, and a 9v car adapter. A small booklet gives you the basics about operating the unit.

I always check the manufacturer's website to see if an update is available, and sure enough there already was a new version of the unit's software to be downloaded and installed. There was just one problem: the instructions say to fully charge the unit for four to six hours first. If the box included an a/c adapter, that would be no problem. But are they really expecting users to drive for four to six hours before the unit can be properly updated (or to run the car in the driveway for that long)?

Their friendly PR guy helped me with my dilemma and sent an a/c adapter (previous versions don't work on the unit because it requires a barrel-tipped connection). Doing the update was a breeze. While the instructions say it could take hours to download and install the update, I was done in about five minutes.

I used the provided mounting arm, which you have to assemble, and put it on a dashboard beanbag mat that allows me to throw the whole thing in the trunk when leaving the car. After three weeks of use, the suction cup is still stuck on the thing and has not needed re-applying. Placing the whole contraption on the dashboard is a bit of a challenge, however. Because many cars' windshields slope at a rather steep angle, you cannot push this unit too far back on the dashboard because the top of the unit will hit the glass (even though the mounting bracket is quite low to the dashboard).

The first time you turn on the unit, it takes a LONG time to get a fix on the satellites - in my case, about eight minutes. After that, coming out of the garage, it linked to the GPS signal either almost instantly, or within three blocks most times.

The unit has a top switch with three positions: on, off, and reset. The problem with this type of switch (instead of the momentary push type), is that when the unit turns itself off automatically when you turn off the car, the switch is still in the on position. That requires you next time you want to use the unit to first slide it to off, and then to on again.

The first thing you will notice about the unit when you turn it on is the large, beautiful screen. And unlike the two previous Magellan's that Consumer World tested (Maestro 4350 and Maestro 4700), the screen on this one is very readable even in full sunlight. Now, don't get me wrong. It still washes out somewhat, but not nearly as badly as other units and brands.

The navigation on the 1700 is decent but not perfect. The female voice is the same gravelly one on the 4700, she still speaks street names, but her voice is louder now. Unfortunately, she keeps mistaking forks in the road for turns. Too often she says "slight right turn" when in fact her advice should be "stay right". As with the 4700, her commands come at regular intervals for upcoming maneuvers, and toward the end of the advance announcements, they will be at the half mile mark, the two-tenths of a mile mark (which typically overstates the actual distance), and then ding-dong.

"Ding dong" is the sound the unit makes just prior to the turn. Unlike the 4700 which NEVER made a mistake, the 1700 dings about 100 feet before most turns, but sometimes sounds off as close as two feet before the turn. The "ding" is a feature that every GPS unit should have, and only Magellan does. I can't live without the "ding." It will go "ding-ding" at the point of a fork, instead of "ding-dong" which typically indicates a turn.

The unit takes a full 14 seconds to recalculate a route if you miss a turn, and is not necessarily as intuitive as other models to realize that maybe you wanted to go a different way rather than honestly having missed the turn. The 1700 does not say it is recalculating, and that is a mistake, in my view, that manufacturers make today by not announcing that the driver has gone astray.

In one instance when driving in an unfamiliar area, the unit directed me to turn left. Immediately after that it instructed me to make a u-turn, as if I should have gone right instead of left. I could not duplicate the erroneous instruction. Another problem only occurred once: it told me the destination was on the right side of the street, when in fact it was on the left. And one other time, when I was supposed to make a right turn on Commonwealth Avenue, an arrow showed the right turn, but the voice command just noted the street name (with no turn command given).

For some reason, when the unit is set to navigate to a destination but does not have a satellite signal, sometimes the turn-by-turn list comes up of its own accord. This is quite annoying when it happens particularly in tunnels. You can dismiss that screen, but it keeps coming back until the satellite signal returns.

Looking up a point of interest to navigate to can be done by category or by entering a name. Despite having six million points of interest in its database, this unit had difficulty finding listings of some stores (that were not newly opened). What is wonderful about programming your destination, however, is the type-ahead screen-based keyboard. You might just have to type a few letters of a city or street to have it finish it for you, or show you a pick list. Every time you type a letter on the huge letter keys, the unit vocalizes the letter. This also makes data entry very quick.

The 1700 does not have a lot of fancy features, but rather just a very intuitive interface similar to recent Magellan models. There is no traffic service, and no bluetooth, but in my book, who needs them. It does have AAA listings for sightseers, and can easily navigate you to multiple destinations in one trip. It also has advanced lane guidance, so on multi-lane highways, when you need to be left or right, images that simulate overhead green traffic signs come up, with arrows pointing to the appropriate left or right sign you are supposed to follow. The problem with this is that the font used on the now more than one inch wide signs is tiny. Come on, guys, make this readable on my 7-inch screen, you've got the room.

That huge screen, incidentally, is an energy hog. In my tests, you could only run the unit on its built-in battery for 34 minutes before it conked out. There really is no reason to run this on batteries, however, since you are not going to walk around with it.

All in the all, the best part of the Roadmate 1700 is its big, bright(er) screen, and the signature Magellan "ding". It really needs another software update, however, to better distinguish its "turn left" and "stay left" navigation commands, and to recalculate missed turns more quickly. The unit lists for $299, but was as low as $199 on Black Friday.

December 7, 2009

Consumer World®, launched in 1995, is a public service, non-commercial consumer resource guide with over 2000 links to everything "consumer" on the Internet. Edgar Dworsky, an avid bargain hunter, is the founder of Consumer World, editor of – an educational site devoted to exposing the fine print loopholes in advertising, and a former Assistant Attorney General in the Consumer Protection Division of the Massachusetts Attorney General's Office.

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