The number of portable navigation systems coming out these days is pretty astonishing, but the thing is, we’re finding that when it comes to the core navigation functions, they pretty much all offer the same thing–text- and voice-guided directions, extensive POI databases, automatic route recalculation, and so forth. So in order to differentiate itself from the competition, GPS manufacturers are adding more distinct and advanced features, and in the case of the Magellan Maestro 4250, this comes in the form of voice commands. With this function, you can operate the in-car GPS device with the sound of your voice. For the most part, it worked well during our test period, and we think it’s a great safety feature. However, the functionality is a bit limited at this time, (e.g., you can’t enter addresses via voice) and you have to create a pretty quiet environment in your car for optimal results. Voice commands aside, the Maestro 4250 is a solid mid-level portable navigation system that also offers text-to-speech functionality, integrated Bluetooth, and accurate directions. It’s available now for $499.99.

Design
At 3.2 inches high by 4.8 inches wide by 0.7 inch deep and 6.8 ounces, the Magellan Maestro 4250 is more compact and lighter than the Magellan Maestro 4040. While the difference in size isn’t significant, we definitely noticed that the Maestro 4250 felt less clunky and the slimmer design makes it that much more portable and easier to slip into a bag during travels. We also like that the company throws in a soft carrying case to protect the screen and case.

Though the overall size of the system may have shrunk, fortunately, the screen size didn’t shrink. Like the Maestro 4040, it sports a 4.3-inch touch screen that shows off 64,000 colors at a 480×272 pixel resolution. Maps and text looked sharp and vibrant, and the display was readable in various lighting conditions. For the most part, the touch screen was responsive, but there were several occasions where there was a bit of a delay from the time we tapped an icon to the time the system actually registered our command. The system also froze in a couple of instances (see Performance for more).

The user interface is intuitive and simple to master. As with past Magellan products, the Maestro 4250 also includes the QuickSpell feature to aid in text entry. As you start to enter addresses on the virtual keyboard, QuickSpell grays out any characters that don’t match the city or streets located in the system’s database. It’s quite handy and worked well during our test period.

On the right side, you will find an FM antenna input, a mini USB port, and an SD card expansion slot. The power button is located on top of the unit, while there’s a reset hole on the bottom. Finally, the backside houses the speaker and external antenna jack.

The Magellan Maestro 4250 comes packaged with an AC adapter, a car charger, a USB cable, a vehicle mount (windshield and dash), a protective pouch, and reference material. The vehicle mount is sturdy and easy to install, but the side-mounted cable connections make the overall setup a bit of an eyesore.

Features
The Magellan Maestro 4250 is equipped with an SiRFStarIII GPS chip and comes preloaded with Navteq maps of the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and Alaska. To start planning a trip, you can enter a specific address; choose a point of interest; or select a location from your address book, recently visited destinations, or favorites list. The system has the ability to calculate routes based on fastest time, shortest distance, least or most use of freeways, and toll-free roads. Alternatively, if you don’t need directions to a specific place, you can just tap the Show Map icon to get a general overview map, which can track you as you drive around the area.

The system provides guidance by way of text- and voice-guided turn-by-turn directions, plus text-to-speech functionality, which Magellan calls SayWhere, so the system will speak actual street names. There’s also a simulator mode that you can turn on to view a running demo of your trip before you actually hit the road. Maps are presented in 2D or 3D mode with day and night colors and a split-screen mode that shows the map on one side and your next maneuver on the other. For those who are interested, there is a trip computer that collects data, such as average speed, trip time, drive time, and trip distance.

So far all of the Maestro 4250 features have been pretty standard, but the unit does stand out from its competitors for one reason: voice control. While we’re seeing this technology pop up in upcoming models, such as the TomTom GO 920, this is the first model with voice commands that we’ve actually been able to test. Unlike the GO 920, the Maestro 4250 doesn’t allow you to dictate street addresses, but you can perform a limited number of tasks with the sound of your voice. This includes rerouting; finding points of interest; routing to your home address; and getting your current location, distance to destination, and roadside assistance. You can check out the Performance section for experience with this feature.

Other navigation functions include automatic route recalculation, a detour function, multidestination trips, and support for traffic capabilities. Using the included car charger, which has an integrated RDS/TMC receiver, you can get real-time updates on the road conditions. Magellan includes a complimentary three-month subscription to Navteq Traffic. With it, you can find out where there is congestion, lane reductions, road work, and accidents, and the Maestro 4250 can even reroute you around the area if you have this function selected in the User Option menu.

The points of interest (POI) gets a healthy boost, increasing the number of entries from the Maestro 4040′s 4.5 million POI to 6 million. This includes all the major attractions, such as gas stations, ATMs, lodging, and restaurants by cuisine type, as well as more specialized categories, including camping grounds, golf courses, and movie theaters. While the database is extensive, we found some of the information to be out of date. For example, we did a quick scan of the restaurants around the Marina neighborhood of San Francisco, and found at least half a dozen listings that had been out of business for at least a year.

On a brighter note, the Maestro 4250 continues to offer access to AAA TourBook listings for AAA Diamond-rated lodging and restaurants, complete with information such as hotel amenities, restaurant description, and hours of operation, admission prices for certain attractions, and so forth. AAA members get a bit more benefit out of this feature since you can view listings for establishments that offer discounts to AAA members, and AAA-approved auto repair facilities. In addition, in case of an emergency, the unit will display the AAA member toll-free help number and your exact location, so you can give the operator all your information.

Finally, the system has integrated Bluetooth, so you can pair your Bluetooth-enabled cell phone or smartphone and use the Maestro 4250) as a hands-free speaker system. With it, you can place and accept calls, view your call history, search the device’s address book, and redial. You can also directly dial any number associated with a POI. Unfortunately, your phone’s address book and call history list does not automatically synchronize with the portable navigation system.

Performance
As we stated earlier in the Design section, we experienced some performance glitches and delays with the Magellan Maestro 4250. There was some lag between triggering a task to the time it was actually executed. The first couple of times this happened, we thought the touch screen simply didn’t recognize our tap so we pressed the icons again. This ultimately led to the system freezing, so we had to power on/off, and it got pretty frustrating.

For our road tests, we took to the streets of San Francisco, and from a cold start, it took the Maestro 4250 about two minutes to get a fix on our position under clear skies, while subsequent starts were almost instantaneous. The system did a good job of tracking our position on drives throughout the city. The receiver was strong enough to survive the skyscraper-lined streets of the financial district, but as expected, the signal dropped once we drove through the Broadway Tunnel. The good news is that the Maestro 4250 was able to quickly pick up our location again once we exited the tunnel.

We also entered our standard trip from the Maridio district (Marina/Presidio) to CNET’s downtown headquarters. The system quickly created directions, and a quick glance at the maneuver list showed that the course was accurate. The voice prompts were loud and clear, and we were pretty happy with the text-to-speech directions. The voice wasn’t too robotic and did a decent job with street pronunciations. We also like that the Maestro 4250 alerts you to upcoming turns by playing a chime. That said, there were a couple of instances when the voice prompt would tell us to make a turn right as we were passing the street. Fortunately, route recalculations were fast and accurate, but still, we’d rather have ample warning of upcoming maneuvers.

As for the voice commands, we found it to be useful and certainly a safer option than taking your eyes off the road to look for POI on the map screen, checking your current location, and so forth. However, it has its restrictions. First, be aware that you have to say, “Magellan” to activate the voice-command function and to get the best results, you’re pretty much going to have to turn off your radio and roll up your windows. Once we did that, the Maestro 4250 did a good job of understanding our voice commands and performed all the functions. At times, we couldn’t help but think it would be quicker to use the touch screen, but again, if you’re driving, this is a safer option.

We had no problems pairing the Maestro 4250 with the Samsung BlackJack II, and was able to easily make and receive calls. That said, we found the call volume was pretty low. And again, we also wish all our phone’s information was automatically synchronized with the Maestro 4250.

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