The Magellan Meridian GOLD
The Magellan Gold Traveler Value Pack is a kit including a
Meridian GOLD GPS receiver and Magellan’s new MapSend DirectRoute Automatic Car Navigation and Road
Mapping system. This new mapping system
provides fully automatic route calculation capability for the Magellan Gold
(and the Platinum and Sportrack Pro).
This brings the GOLD/Platinum/Sportrak into direct competition with the
Garmin G-60C/G76C/Vista COLOR/Legend COLOR which also offer automatic car navigation
capability. In addition, the GOLD (and Platinum/Sportrak and Garmin units listed) offer the
usual array of GPS features for hiking, geocaching, and limited marine
GPS Traveler Value Pack
By SeaJay Bayne
August 5, 2004
For the past five weeks I’ve used the Magellan GOLD GPS as
the manufacturer intended; as a “do all” handheld GPS. The unit has been fantastic – it’s
performed amazingly well, and exceeded my expectations.Rather than give a detailed description of the exact
features that the GOLD has (that’s already been covered here),
focus on the practical functionality of the unit and the features of
the DirectRoute Car Navigation mapping system – truly impressive stuff
such a small and affordable package.
I am no stranger to working with a GPS – I personally own
two older eTrex handhelds – one that I use as a backup on my boat (mostly for
offshore), and another that I use in my car for driving in unknown
territory. I also have a full-color
Garmin 188C on my boat, and I regularly use the same model when I captain our
local Marine Rescue Squadron’s 17 foot Key West. In addition, I own a copy of Delorme’s Topo USA, one of the
best-known mapping softwares available.
Doubtful that I’d find anything “new” about yet another GPS,
I was pleasantly surprised by the Magellan GOLD and the features it came with –
not to mention the accessory package that makes up the “Traveler Value Pack.”
The Value Pack comes with the GPS unit itself, a 64 megabyte
“SD” memory card, a cigarette lighter adapter, a serial port for connecting
directly to a PC (the latter two in a sort of “harness,” combined presumably to
make wire routing easier), a rather impressively-designed windshield mount, and
Magellan’s version of MapSend DirectRoute software.
I spent the first few days simply using the unit while on
foot. This gave me a clear
understanding of the overall basic functions of the handheld GPS, and allowed
me to become acquainted with the differences between the GOLD and what I’d been
using. In effect, I compared the unit
to my eTrex yellow and blues. Since I
was trail hiking, as expected, the unit simply showed me my route to and from a
destination. It was here that I
experienced the difference that WAAS can make in a handheld – my route was
simply more accurate with the GOLD than it was with either eTrex. I also found the adjustable tracklog time
intervals to be useful. These two,
combined, tracked my trail much more accurately than did either of my eTrex
machines. With them, I was able to much
more precisely track where I’d been and how to get back to those exact
locations. Joe goes into the specifics
of these differences here. The Magellan GOLD seemed to out perform both
of my eTrex (non WAAS) machines in terms of accuracy.
what was even more impressive, from a practical
standpoint, was some of the lesser-mentioned features: The GOLD
had a larger display which provided more detail, and was easier to
decipher. The GOLD's clear acrylic screen was
“countersunk,” providing some protection from scratches and
damage. The backlight feature, for use at night,
had two positions – one brighter than the other. This made the
screen easier to read in all light conditions,
while simultaneously providing some ability to choose between a bright
or a battery-saving ½ brightness screen.
Menus were easier to understand, and the buttons more
functional on the GOLD than on my eTrex machines, too. The GOLD had a simple, well-labeled set of
buttons at its base (which were backlit at night) and included a center toggle
button that allowed manipulation of the screen options with ease. Zoom features were labeled simply “IN” and
“OUT.” Feature operation seemed intuitive, and
without complex menus and side buttons, my learning curve was dramatically reduced.
All of these new features did come at a price, however… In all fairness, my eTrex machines were
significantly smaller, although more awkward to use, due to button
placement. Also, as per the Magellan
reputation, satellite signal took longer to acquire than it did on my Garmin
machines. During bootup, not only did I
have to repetitively press the “ENTER” key to “agree” to certain use of the
GPS, but the unit would simply take longer to figure out where it was. Admittedly, though, the GOLD did tend to keep
its signal better with more accuracy.
Only mildly excited about the GOLD (it was, after all, more
than twice the price), I brought it home to connect to my computer. I installed the Magellan MapSend DirectRoute
software on my desktop, and used the supplied serial cable to connect the GOLD
to my PC.
The MapSend DirectRoute software proved simpler and more
intuitive than my Topo USA software, and consequently receives kudos from me in
regards to user functionality. Happily,
both my Delorme Topo USA and the MapSend software communicated with the GOLD – which
was great, because I had a lot of waypoints already on several Topo
profiles. These downloaded into the
GOLD without a hiccup.
Using the DirectRoute software, the GOLD did an amazing
thing; it allowed me to upload a “detailed” version of my local road map onto the
unit’s (furnished with kit) 64 megabyte “SD” memory card.
That’s when the GOLD really began to shine.
Joe had tested the GOLD before and had remarked that
previous versions were unable to commit detailed map information to the memory
card’s full capacity. Specifically, a
user had to upload a series of selected maps (each no larger than 16 megs) in
order to utilize the full 64 megs of memory.
I am happy to report that with this version (5.09), I was able to select
one large detail area of my MapSend software and upload the entire thing to the
full capacity of the SD memory card.
In layman’s terms, I was able to select an area from just north of Atlanta,
Georgia then to the east coast of the U.S., and upload everything from that line south… Including much of South Carolina
and Georgia, and all of Florida and the Florida Keys. In essence, every street name and corner in that area was now
loaded into the GOLD. Impressive stuff
A moment about this process: 64 megabytes of information takes forever to upload into this
machine through a serial port! I think
it took close to an hour and a half – Magellan – if you’re listening – the GOLD
had enough memory to warrant a USB port!
I can’t imagine how long it would take to fill the optional 128 meg
card! To be fair, Magellan does offer a solution for this problem. Magellan makes available the optional
SD Card loader (both PCMCIA and USB versions are available), but does not come
with the GPS Traveler Value Pack, and is sold separately.
The detailed map is nothing shy of impressive. Many users of $1500 automotive GPS systems
would consider the feature standard – the ability to select an address of any
street in a large regional area and be routed directly to it. However, for a handheld (especially one at
this price point), this is truly amazing.
Like the handheld mobile phone did to the “in-car” cellular phone, I
suspect that handheld GPS’s with the capacity to give street routes (right down
to the “turn here” arrows) will compete successfully against the much more expensive optional navigational systems
offered by automobile manufacturers.
Travelers will now be able to take a GOLD with them on their trip and
route themselves with ease, even when moving to a rental car not equipped with a navigational
I utilized the GOLD’s ability to plug into a cigarette
lighter and power itself from the car’s electrical system. Good thing, too, since I’d used a good bit
of battery life with the screen’s backlight feature the night prior. For reference, Magellan says that the pair
of AA batteries that power the handheld last 17 hours, but like Joe on his
previous test, I got closer to 12 hours before needing replacement. Using the backlight feature cut that number
by more than half, even on the “low” setting.
A word about the backlight feature: The backlight feature has a manual “on” and
an automatic “off” at four minutes – which is a user-definable parameter. I could make the backlight automatically
turn off after a variety of times, but I found that four minutes seemed to work
well. It could also be turned off
manually, but to do so I had to scroll through “low” then “bright” then
“off.” This design could be improved
(more than once I inadvertently turned the unit off), although I found it much
better than the relatively short backlight feature of my other handhelds. Again, the screen was larger, too, so I was
able to get more information in a shorter span with the GOLD. In terms of usability, the GOLD has one of
the best designs I’ve seen – but could still stand improvement in terms of
simplicity and intuitiveness.
A word about batteries:
Like most modern handheld GPS receivers, the GOLD uses two AA Cells,
alkaline or NiMH preferred. The GOLD
would benefit from the feature of a built in rechargable in place NiMH battery,
similar to a wireless phone. Given that
the cost of regular battery replacement on a well-used GOLD could be
significant, I would recommend that Magellan consider this. Of
course, the user can install NiMH or NiCAD batteries into the
GOLD, but the batteries would need to be removed for charging.
Despite the “wow” factor of a handheld GPS on its
impressive-looking mount on the dash of my truck, I found the suction-cupped
device somewhat annoying. The device
was large and ungainly, and although I found a place on my windshield where it
would not interfere with my line of sight, it was still obtrusive, due to the
chore of having to hold a relatively weighty GOLD. The screen, which seemed large and optimal as a handheld, was too
small to be seen with any detail when it was placed far ahead of eyesight on
the dash of my Ford F-150. Frankly, the
GOLD made a much better handheld – and as such was used in-hand even while
riding in the car. With the unit’s
ability to track up to 12 satellites simultaneously, lock with the GPS
satellites was generally not a problem, even with a truck roof overhead and
without an external antenna. I did find
exceptions to this, however, in heavy tree cover and especially with wet trees
blocking the signals. (Note: Rain, snow, fog, etc., have no effect on GPS
signals but wet tree leaves do.) For the most part, though,
after the long period of synching up with the proper satellites, continuous
contact wasn’t really a problem (at least here on the flat East Coast of the
U.S.) Thus, I found myself using the
GOLD as a handheld, even while in the car, despite the fact that the unit DOES
work best when it has a clear sky view.
The serial port/power supply harness thing that’s equipped
with the GOLD in the Traveler Value Pack seemed to miss the mark slightly,
too… Magellan would do better to keep
the serial port and the cigarette lighter power supply separate instead of on a
harness together. After all, with the
GOLD hooked up into the power supply, I had a long cord and a serial connector
that proved awkward. This certainly
would not have been the case if I’d been plugged into a laptop inside the car
(running the DirectRoute software), but for use as a stand-alone GPS, the
“double harness” really wasn’t a “clean” installation. Still, the triple connector harness worked fine.
Speaking of clean installations: The Magellan GOLD matched the
interior of my truck! Yeah, I know… Who cares, right?
Well… I do. The tan/graphite color on the unit matched
the leather of my F-150, and would likely match the interior of most
equipped with tan or graphite leather.
This made the unit look “right at home” inside my vehicle and since has
become a permanent fixture.
Using the GOLD inside a moving vehicle was a really cool
experience – GPS units like the GOLD are becoming so user-friendly and
functional that the original intended use is now becoming a reality. I could put something like, “10 Main Street”
into the GPS, tell it to map me there by streets, and it simply took me,
play-by-play, directly to my selected location. The input method for doing this was quite methodical, intuitive,
and effective (the GOLD has a data entry system similar to a virtual
keyboard). By far, this was my favorite
feature of the unit, and really what set it apart from its competitors in the
marketplace. Other GPS units that can
do this too, but Magellan’s system works better and is much more through and
intuitive than any other system found in a handheld.
Here’s how the MapSend DirectRoute Car Navigation System works:
After a user has uploaded the detailed map using the MapSend
DirectRoute software (necessary so that the GOLD can route over all
by address), they press the “GOTO” button and select whether to route
Point-to-Point (“as the crow flies” – useful for marine and aircraft
navigation) or by Street Route. It’s
the Street Route function that makes this handheld something very
unique. A virtual keyboard appears, and using the
arrow keys, a user can select letters…
Spelling the name of a street, road, or highway. Once that’s been
found (the unit finds the
correct name automatically, then asks you to select which one if
streets are found with the same name) the GOLD asks you to select the
portion of the address… Such as the
“10” in “10 Main Street.” To me this
seemed a bit backwards, and took some getting used to. Once the
complete address has been selected
(and you’ve chosen which one if multiple addresses are possible – there
be a “10 Main Street” in both Orlando and Savannah, for example), then
spends a few seconds calculating the best route for you to take.
What constitutes “best” is not a
user-definable parameter – that is, you can not tell the GOLD to stay
highway as long as possible or take the shortest route regardless of
of the street. Thus, navigating around
town with the GOLD can sometimes produce routes that are not what you
be fastest due to the number of lights, stop signs, etc. Other
destinations besides addresses are
available too, such as “waypoints” or ”previous destinations,” but I’ve
the unit to be most useful in routing me to places that I’ve never been
the easiest way to find those places is to simply key in the
address. The GOLD then automatically selects a zoom
level (which can be overridden either permanently or temporarily) and
bolded on the map. It also shows two fields – “Distance” and
“Total Distance.” “Distance” is the
distance in miles (or kilometers) to the next turn, and “Total
distance to your selected destination.
These two fields are user-definable…
A user can optionally select preferred information to display, such as
Distance, Speed, Heading, ETA, and the like.
Optionally, the two fields can be disabled, although they return the
next time a Street Route is selected.
One thing I found to be a “bug” in the GOLD’s Street Routing
software was that I could select to customize these fields – for example,
instruct the unit to show me “Heading” and “ETA,” but these settings were
forgotten the next time I did a Street Route.
The fields always defaulted to “Distance” and “Total Distance.”
While moving toward a destination, the GOLD mapped the route
nicely – I simply followed the bold line.
When I approached an intersection where I was to turn, the unit warned
me with an audible alarm (which was nice at first, but really annoying after a
while) and by flashing a large arrow and the new street name on the screen –
not necessarily a good thing! After
all, as the arrow “splashed” up on the screen, the map was obscured for several
critical moments. The audible alarm got
to be irritating as well, and I ended up disabling it. The GOLD definitely could use some work in
this area. Pressing the “ESC” button on
the GOLD sometimes made the “splash” arrow move out of the way of the map, but
sometimes I found myself inadvertently scrolling through the menu of the
GOLD. There seems to be no functional
way of telling the GOLD, “Okay, I’ll make this turn. – you can stop beeping at
me now – and give me back my map view…”
Inevitably, a driver makes a wrong turn despite the clear
instructions of the GPS… Happily, the
GOLD makes “re-routing” an almost instantaneous and painless affair. Simply hit “GOTO” and then “ENTER,” and the
unit recalculates from your current position.
Arriving at a destination was similar to arriving at a turn
– the splash screen would come up on the screen, obscuring the map which was
needed, and a big stop sign would be displayed. Prior to disabling the audible alarm, the GOLD beeped incessantly
at the destination, until I pressed a button or until it timed out – which
seemed like a really long time. Without
the audible alarm, the GOLD was less annoying, but I still had to interact with
the unit to try to get the splash screens to go away every time so that I could
see where I was. This definitely needs
to be improved.
Nonetheless, this street routing feature combined with a
detailed map has never before been featured on a Magellan handheld… It’s an impressive feature, exceedingly
useful, and I foresee a move in the marketplace towards handheld GPS units that
have this ability. What the GOLD may
lack in terms of functional refinement it makes up for in ground-breaking
features that make other GPS units obsolete.
On the water, the GOLD did equally well. While it was missing the advanced functions
of my marine GPS units that I regularly use, it definitely made for a great
backup GPS unit and in some ways had advantages over them.
The missing advanced features were not surprising; my marine
GPS units go into great detail on the water in terms of markers, buoys,
soundings, and land masses. The GOLD,
not specifically designed as a marine GPS (it is available as an “upgrade”),
was missing this level of specificity.
The unit also showed where land was at mean low tide, meaning that
sometimes I could be in the river with my boat at high tide, look at my GOLD,
and it would report that I was on land!
Of course, at low tide I WOULD have been on land – so it’s not really
the fault of the GOLD. My expensive
marine GPS units dealt with this by showing soundings (expected depths) and by
“fuzzying” land masses, generally showing with some accuracy bottom profile and
what to expect in terms of water depths.
In all fairness, this is a consistent problem for the boaters in this
area; the tide rises and falls an average of almost nine feet, twice
daily. Often what was clear sailing at
one time during the day can be dry land a few hours later. Thus, any GPS is inaccurate to say that
there’s water in a certain area or land in a certain area, during any time of
The priciest GPS’s today are utilizing real-time tidal
information provided by NOAA to resolve the exact problem above. However, the massive tidal flow locally also
produces an annually changing bottom profile, so the issue becomes further
complicated. My point is, however, that my $1500 Marine specific GPS dealt with the issue
better, but the GOLD still exceeded my expectations, especially for a handheld.
I have used the unit in the worst of seas, at night, and
during torrential downpours. I have had
no problems whatsoever with the GOLD, and have found it waterproof (and buoyant
– don’t ask me how I know this), durable, and trustworthy.
…Which brings me to my last point about the practicality of
having a handheld or “backup” GPS on the boat:
I have found it at times to be an exceedingly useful tool, despite the
abbreviated marine features available on a handheld GPS unit. During rough seas, a dash-mounted GPS unit
can be difficult to read and understand due to all of the boat movement. This is not a problem with a handheld, and I
have found myself utilizing the GOLD offshore even when my expensive dash-mount
is available. Additionally, a handheld
allows you to hand the entire GPS off to another individual so that they can
navigate using a tool which is within arm’s length. No longer will people fight the captain for space while they try
to help navigate. Lastly – and perhaps
most importantly – the handheld can easily be taken off the boat, hooked up to
your desktop computer, and made to function in such a manner that allows you to
upload information such as user waypoints, map detail, firmware updates, and
the like. Not only does this serve to
create a theft deterrent, but adds some ease of functionality not generally
provided in many marine GPS units.
The verdict on the GOLD is “two thumbs up.” The unit has proven to be durable and
functional, and exceedingly accurate.
Especially impressive is the mix of features which makes this a great
choice no matter what you need your GPS to do for you. Mine now lives in my truck, probably due to
my favorite “street routing” capability – but this handheld is equally at home
on the trail or on the water as well.
Therein lies its strength – in its ability to be a “jack of all trades”
by offering so much, especially at this price point. Magellan has truly “raised the bar” on handhelds with the
Omissions?> Contact SeaJay Bayne
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