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Magellan RoadMate 1700 Review

by The Review CrewJune 6, 2010

Compared with the 3.5-inch screen size standard of older personal navigation devices, as well as current entry-level devices, today’s 4.3-inch and 5-inch units seem downright huge. More screen real estate means easier viewing and faster data inputs. However, the Magellan RoadMate 1700′s 7-inch wide-screen display dwarfs them all. Is this too much of a good thing?

Design
The RoadMate 1700 looks a lot like every other RoadMate that we’ve tested, until you put it side by side with any other GPS device on the market. Its 7-inch wide screen seems freakishly large compared with the usual 3.5 inch and 4.3 inch PND screens. However, while the 1700 is much taller and wider, the device is also one of the thinnest PNDs we’ve tested.

Like nearly all PNDs, the majority of the RoadMate’s visage is occupied by a color touch screen, but there are a few physical interfaces to be found. Along the unit’s top edge is the power switch. This slider has settings for on, off, and reset. When powering the unit off, you are presented with a 10-second countdown and the option to return the slider to On or shut down immediately. If no option is chosen, then the shutdown is completed. If power is disconnected or if the battery level gets too low, a similar countdown timer is displayed on the device, but the length is increased to 30 seconds, at the end of which the device goes into standby.

At the top center of the unit is a microSD card slot. Along the bottom edge are the Mini-USB port for charging and connecting to a computer, a 3.5mm AV input, and a connection for the 12-volt charger. On its back are a speaker and the slotted connection for the windshield suction-cup mount. The 1700 ships with a Mini-USB cable for synchronizing, a 12-volt charger to keep the vehicle powered when used in a car, a suction-cup windshield cradle that attaches to the 1700 with a tongue-in-groove-type connection, and a soft slipcover. In the box, you’ll also find an adhesive disk for dashboard mounting and a nice full-color, multilanguage guide.

Interface
Like Garmin devices, the RoadMate presents a pair of large icons–Go To and View Map–and a bottom bar that contains a the settings menu, where more advanced options are located, and a cancel route icon.

Go To takes you to the destination selection menu, where they are given a choice of address entry, POI search, or address book browsing.

Entering an address or searching for a POI is quick thanks to the 1700′s responsive touch screen and QuickSpell system, which attempts to predict what you’re typing and blanks out invalid letters and numbers to prevent mistyping. Unlike the smaller 1470, the onscreen keypad is laid out in the more familiar QWERTY layout, which is very conducive to two-handed input.

Once a destination is chosen, the destination confirmation screen gives you the option of simply hitting a large GO button to start a route or, through a route options menu, comparing a variety of potentially different routes. Available options include Fastest time, Shortest distance, Mostly freeways, and Least use of freeways. You are presented with estimated times for each of these routes and can even compare all four routes on the same route screen. Typically, these granular routing options are hidden deep in the menu structure. We like that the RoadMate makes them easily accessible.

The second button on the main menu is the View Map button. The RoadMate’s map screen features a volume icon on the right side that brings up a volume slider. Along the bottom is a bank of soft keys, one of which is customizable to display current speed, current time, elevation, time remaining on route, estimated time of arrival, and direction of travel. There are also buttons for zooming in and out, and a menu key.

Tapping anywhere on the map screen puts the map into an exploration mode. Here you can change between 2D and 3D views, zoom in and out, touch and slide to move around the map. Tapping a location in this mode drops a pin and displays an address along the top of the screen. Subsequently touching the icon next to the address chooses that point as a destination and takes you to the destination confirmation screen.

Features
Text-to-speech turn-by-turn directions enable the unit to read street names and exits aloud. English, Spanish, and French languages are supported out of the box, but with only one voice per language. It has graphic lane guidance that helps with navigating complex freeway interchanges by displaying a representation of the intersection and highway signs, while indicating what lanes are valid for the current route.

Maps and POIs are provided for all 50 United States, Puerto Rico, Canada, and Mexico. In addition to the millions of POIs in Magellan’s database, the 1700 includes a AAA database of approved auto repair shops, AAA branch offices, TourBook Destinations, and POIs that offer discounts to AAA members. If you’re a AAA member, the RoadMate 1700 can also help to get you in contact with Roadside Assistance; however, without a Bluetooth hands-free connection built in, we presume that you’ll have to do the dialing yourself.

One of the most useful features of the 1700–and one that is, as far as we can tell, unique to the RoadMate series–is the OneTouch menu. This is a customizable shortcut menu where you can store up to six quick links to commonly accessed searches and locations. For example, we were able to store a link to the CNET offices and a search for our favorite fast food restaurant. In addition to the six customizable links, the OneTouch menu also features permanent links to Home, Previous destinations, Local Info, GPS status, and Emergency services.

On most of the map and menu screens, the OneTouch icon lives in the upper-right corner. Tapping that icon causes the OneTouch menu to slide down.

The unit doesn’t include traffic monitoring out of the box, but can be upgraded with an add-on FM receiver. At the bottom of the unit, there is an input for a 3.5mm mini-jack AV input for connecting external video sources such as portable DVD players or video iPods, so you can put that big display to use when you’re not navigating from point A to B.

Performance
Starting with a cold boot and a clear sky, we powered up the Magellan RoadMate 1700. From the flip of the switch to the display of the home screen took a scant 30 seconds. Selecting View Map and waiting for our position to be confirmed was almost immediate, which is rather impressive. However, subsequent tests from within the urban canyons of downtown San Francisco took much longer to establish a satellite lock, the longest being about 2 minutes.

The destination selection process is also identical to that of the smaller RoadMate units, with easy auto-completion on POIs and the Route Options button on the destination confirmation screen. Calculating alternate routes was considerably slower on the 1700 than the same test on the smaller 1470, but its average time was still less than a minute. Clicking the preview map button in the bottom right hand corner, we were presented with four color-coded routes overlaid onto the same map. That the RoadMate could calculate four routes in the time that most units calculate one is impressive in its own right, but the level of flexibility that this feature affords the driving enthusiast is quite cool.

During our freeway testing of the RoadMate 1700, we ran into a few situations where the PND inaccurately tracked of our position. We’d be riding along and, suddenly, the 1700 would place our marker on a surface road adjacent to the highway instead of the highway itself. This lead to incorrect turn-by-turn directions until the 1700 could get itself sorted out. Granted, this happened during a rainy and overcast day, which no doubt had an effect on the 1700′s satellite accuracy, but the other PNDs we were testing concurrently did not experience the issue.

Battery life isn’t usually a big selling point for GPS devices, but the RoadMate 1700 distinguishes itself by having one of the shortest. From a full charge, our 1700 showing low battery messages within 20 minutes. If you plan to keep the device plugged in at all times, this isn’t much of an issue.

For long trips on the open road, the RoadMate 1700 comes into its own. With a clear view of the sky, the GPS tracks flawlessly. Its very loud speaker is easily audible over road and wind noise.

As we rolled down the highway, an undocumented feature came to light. When approaching freeway exits, a large green button appeared in the lower left corner with icons for lodging, food, and fuel. Clicking this button brings up a list of available amenities and POIs at that exit. This is a cool little feature for finding things in unfamiliar territory, such as during a cross-country road trip.

In sum
The RoadMate 1700 does a good job of matching the performance of the competing TomTom and Garmin units when it comes to basic functions (such as routing, booting, positioning, and so on). While we really appreciate the extra interface real estate provided by that huge 7-inch screen, this is really a GPS device that’s too big for a normal-size windshield. However, we think that it would be right at home in a big ol’ tractor-trailer or an RV, where there’s plenty of space to spread out. The automatic searches for roadside POIs further lead us to believe that this is a long haul type of PND. Like the big trucks it is suited to, the 1700 also seems better suited to the open road and rural areas, as complex freeway interchanges and tall buildings seem to confuse the device’s accuracy at times.

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The Review Crew
The Review Crew is a group of beat editors, writers, and consultants that have been working together for years. They know just about everything about everything collectively and have published their collective work under the Review Crew brand moniker for almost 20 years.

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