- Review Price: £96.00
There’s not a lot that dedicated sat-nav manufacturers like TomTom can do when mobile phones left right and centre are slowly but surely pulling the rug from beneath their feet. All they can do, like that one quality butcher refusing to be bullied closed by the local hypermarket, is to hang on in there and hope consumers back quality over quantity. But the outlook is grim – and Sony’s recent withdrawal from the market just compounds this.
At least there’s more hope for companies like Magellan. It has been producing GPS devices, like quality sausages, to its own special recipe for years now, and the loss of a bit of in-car business won’t hurt it as much as is likely to hurt specialists. But despite the pedigree, it’s clear from its latest product – the RoadMate 1215 – that it still hasn’t quite got the road going sat-nav in the same way that TomTom has.
It’s a decidedly dated-look product: the map display is basic and pretty ugly to look at in its green, white and yellow colourings. And it’s afflicted with a host of other little annoyances too. The map display, for instance, is slow and sluggish to update and seems to lag behind your on-the-road position, which could prove a bit of a problem in tight urban environments.
The multipoint trip planning feature, bizarrely, isn’t automatic: it won’t direct you to the next waypoint on your itinerary until you poke an on-screen button. If you want to browse the map and select a waypoint on it while in trip planning mode, you can’t zoom right out for a whole country view unless you go to the settings first, and put the device into 2D map mode.
To choose a European destination while in the UK, you also have to visit the settings screen and change regions there – you can’t do it in the address entry screen. And, in addition to all this you can’t change the annoying American woman speaking to you. The list continues: the windscreen mount supplied with the 1215 doesn’t work very well either, unless you don’t mind cleaning the suction cup and glass meticulously every time you attach it. And there are few luxuries here: no Bluetooth for hands free phone operation, no traffic information, no FM transmitter or music player.
But, like that stick in the mud tradesman, who doesn’t like his fancy extras, preferring to wrap his prime rib steak in brown paper instead of a plastic bag, the key strengths of this sat-nav eventually shine through.
First, it’s very cheap. In a surprisingly brave move, Magellan has chosen to go after the budget end of the sat-nav market with the 1215 and as a result, you can pick one up for as little as £96. At that price the lack of extras is understandable, but in terms of core sat-nav features it’s arrestingly well-featured. It has full street-level European maps included – unthinkable until only recently in a device as cheap as this. And it has speed cameras for the UK preinstalled on it too, which is equally impressive.
And while its cuts of meat might not look as enticing as the supermarket ones do, pumped up with colourings glossily arranged in their gleaming plastic packets, the 1215 is pretty tasty when you come to use it. Core stuff like the speaker and screen are pure Aberdeen Angus quality. You can turn this device up loud enough to drown out most in-car chaos without a hint of distortion – for instance. The screen is about as bright as I’ve seen on any device, including a TomTom, which makes it much easier to see the map in bright sunshine than on a phone doubling up as a satnav.
It’s extremely responsive and easy to use. Apart from the one problem with having to changing region before entering an address, I reckon I could give this device to my dad and he wouldn’t have any trouble using it to find its way from A to B. The menus are simple and straightforward, and important stuff mostly a click or two away. Manual rerouting, for instance, is very easy to get to, and there’s also an icon on the first menu screen that directs you to the nearest garage – handy if your car develops a nasty case of automotive foot and mouth. I also like the “POIs at exit” option provided here: click it while you’re on the motorway and the 1215 brings up a list of points of interest (fuel stops, restaurants and so on) that are at or near the next junction.
More important than this, though, is the industrial strength of the 1215’s GPS receiver. Even sat in my kitchen on battery power, the 1215 managed to pick up six satellites and lock on to them in well under a minute – and that’s with the narrowest sliver of sky accessible to it. Usable reception was achieved in a matter of seconds, and route calculation isn’t slow either.
Moreover, navigation simply works. When the next turn is approaching, you can set things up so that the icon representing it occupies half of the screen – making it abundantly clear which direction you need to take. I came across no major flaws in its route choice either or the accuracy of its maps during testing, and the voice instructions, while irritating, do the job in a timely fashion.
So what started out badly ends on a positive note. There’s no doubt that the Magellan RoadMate 1215 has plenty of weaknesses and problems. In many ways it feels every bit the bargain-basement navigator its price suggests: the windscreen mount is particularly bad, and some areas of the navigation software feel unfinished.
But if you can overlook these beefs and manage to get the mount attached securely, you’ll discover a rough diamond underneath. And even in today’s cut-throat market, a competent device with full European maps and speed cameras for £106 is still not something to be sniffed at.
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