At first glance, the Magellan RoadMate 1200 looks to be a good entry-level in-car GPS. It has a compact, no-fuss design that’s perfect for first-time buyers, and you get the most essential navigation features for an affordable $199.99. Sounds good, right? Not so fast, once on the road the RoadMate 1200 tells a different story. It’s sluggish to perform tasks, such as route recalculation, and lacks some of the functionality that similarly priced systems offer. That said, if you’re in the market for a basic portable navigation system, we’d recommend the Mio C230, which also adds text-to-speech functionality, or the TomTom One 3rd Edition.
The Magellan RoadMate 1200 is one of the smallest portable navigation systems we’ve seen in recent memory. It measures a petite 3.6 inches wide by 3.3 inches high by 0.6 inch deep and weighs a light 4.9 ounces. It’s roughly the size of a deck of cards, so you could even mount it to a bicycle or use it as a handheld navigator while traveling on foot. Too bad the system doesn’t offer bicycle or pedestrian routing modes. While the RoadMate 1200 feels solidly constructed, take care when transporting the unit between vehicles as the plastic shell could crack with a nasty tumble.
Now, the one trade-off to the RoadMate 1200’s small frame is you don’t get the larger 4.3-inch displays found on some of today’s systems. Instead, you get a more standard 3.5-inch diagonal touch screen that admittedly looks cramped after having tested the wide screens, but it’s still bright and sharp and we had no problems reading the maps. The touch screen is also responsive to commands.
The user interface is fairly intuitive and simple to master with clearly identified icons. Like other Magellan models, the RoadMate 1200 has a QuickSpell feature to aid in the text entry process. As you start to input the numbers and letters of an address on the virtual keyboard, QuickSpell dims any characters that don’t match any of the city or streets located in the system’s database.
Some final things to note: There is a SD expansion card slot and reset button on the right spine, while there’s a mini USB port on the left and a sole power button on top of the unit. The Magellan RoadMate 1200 comes packaged with just a bare-bones list of accessories, which include a car charger and vehicle mount (windshield and dash). An AC adapter would have been a nice addition.
The Magellan RoadMate 1200 is a basic navigation system, so there really aren’t any bells and whistles to this in-car GPS. It ships with an SD card preloaded with maps of the 48 contiguous United States, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico and has a 1.3 million points of interest database. To plan your trip, you can enter a specific address, an intersection, a zip code, or select a location from your Previous Destinations list. There’s also a Trip Planner for multidestination journeys.
The POI catalog includes all the major categories and more specialized entries. As with systems today, you can search for restaurants by cuisine type and tapping on any POI icon will bring up the address and phone number if listed. The database is comprehensive, but we checked a number of businesses around San Francisco and found some out-of-date entries. There’s also an Exit POI feature that will alert you to popular points of interest (e.g., restaurants, gas stations) along freeway exits, though this tool was hit or miss–mostly miss. We often got the message, “Exit POIS are not available for this road.”
The RoadMate 1200 can calculate routes based on fastest time, shortest distance, least or most use of freeways, and without toll roads. As we mentioned earlier though, we’re disappointed at the lack of a pedestrian or bicycle mode. There’s a route simulator to give you a running demo of the trip, as well as a detour option if you want to avoid a certain portion of the route. If you happen to get off course along the way, you can rest easy, as the Maestro does automatic route recalculation. In addition, by pressing on the tow truck icon, you can get the coordinates of your current location, heading, and nearest cross streets.
Maps are available in 2D (north up or tracking up) or 3D modes with night or day color. In addition to that, you can get just a list of maneuvers or a split-screen view that shows both your 3D map and your next maneuver. To supplement the visual aids, the RoadMate 1200 provides text- and voice-guided turn-by-turn directions as well. Unfortunately, unlike the Mio C230, it doesn’t support Magellan’s SayWhere text-to-speech feature, which gives the Mio C230 an advantage in that department.
General performance on the Magellan RoadMate 1200 was slow. There was a bit of lag from the time we tapped an icon to the time a command was registered or we got the appropriate menu. Let’s just say we spent a lot of time looking at the hourglass icon turn. For our road tests, we took to the streets of San Francisco and from a cold start, it took the unit about 3 minutes to get a fix our on position under clear skies. Subsequent starts took just a few seconds and the receiver did a good job of keeping its lock when driving throughout the city.
We also entered our standard trip from the Marina District to CNET’s downtown headquarters. The RoadMate 1200 took its time returning with directions compared with other systems we’ve tested. However, the prescribe route was accurate. Once on the road, the voice-guided directions were loud and clear, and it punctuates its upcoming turn announcements with a chime (you can change the sound or turn this off under User Options). Unfortunately, road performance also suffered some setbacks because of the slow speeds. On a couple of occasions, the RoadMate 1200 would alert us to a turn right as we were passing the street, but it was worse with route recalculations, which got to be very frustrating.