Magellan Maestro GPS: From AAA to Z

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You've just landed in an unfamiliar city after a cross-country flight. You fire up your portable GPS device for directions from the rental car parking lot to your hotel. You wait for the GPS signal to kick in. And you wait. wait some more.

Many portable GPS devices I've tested, such as Hewlett-Packard's iPAQ rx5900 Travel Companion, take their ever-lovin' time to find a GPS signal. HP's GPS/PDA often took 5 to 10 minutes to get a signal after being in Off mode.

But the Magellan Maestro 4040, which I tested recently in San Francisco and in North Carolina, is a sweet exception. Switch it on, and boom--in most cases, the portable GPS device is as ready to roll as you are. Overall, I recommend the Magellan 4040--though like every other GPS device I've tested, it has room for improvement.

What I Like

The Maestro 4040, which comes loaded with maps for the U.S., Canada, and Puerto Rico, almost always picked up a GPS signal right away and rarely lost it. The Maestro 4040's antenna is integrated into the body, too, which makes for a sleek design. And the device has a gorgeous, 4.3-inch color touch screen that's easily legible even in bright sunlight.

Whenever you create a new route, you can select the fastest time, shortest distance, or least or most use of freeways. It's also easy to re-route using a different option--changing a route calculated using "fastest time" to one using "shortest distance," for example.

For the most part, routing suggestions were good, though not as straightforward as I'd like. For example, the Maestro 4040's shortest route from my home to a movie theater across town had me on eight streets; I can get there with just five. However, this is far better than the 19 streets that HP's iPAQ Travel Companion's shortest route suggested for the same trip.

AAA TourBook travel information is integrated into the GPS device's mapping software. As you travel along a recommend route, the map displays icons for gas stations, restaurants, ATMs, coffee shops, and recommended hotels and restaurants, among other points of interest. Clicking an icon takes you to a screen with more information, such as a restaurant's address. Some points of interest include a phone number, which you can click to call if your Bluetooth-enabled cell phone is paired with the GPS device (more on that later). You can also click to automatically revise your route to include the selected point of interest.

What I Dislike

As I mentioned, the Maestro 4040 can be paired with a Bluetooth-enabled cell phone. Aside from clicking a phone number in the GPS's AAA TourBook data to place a call, you can use the Maestro 4040's speaker for speakerphone conversations. However, it took more than six attempts before I successfully paired my Palm Treo 650 to the Maestro 4040, and I nearly gave up. Once paired, the Treo and Maestro connected automatically.

After calculating a route, the Maestro 4040 doesn't display the directions for that route until you actually start moving. This means that to check the directions, you have to physically move a few feet. I'd much prefer to have the route shown to me right away. HP's iPAQ Travel Companion, for example, displays an animated demo of a route, and you don't have to move a muscle to see it. (Check out a video of this feature on my blog, Traveler 2.0).

As with all portable GPS devices I've tested, the Maestro 4040 provides voice prompts for its turn-by-turn directions. However, the voice also parrots back basic menu selections you make. For instance, if you select the Show Map icon, the voice says "show map." Thanks, but I don't need this level of feedback. An icon that's always displayed on the screen allows you to easily mute the audio--but that means you can't hear the voice prompts for your turns, either.

Who's It For?

If you want a GPS that's quick to locate a signal, gives you a better speaker for speakerphone conversations, and features a large, bright screen, the Magellan Maestro 4040 is a worthy option--as long as you don't mind spending $500. (You can find it online for a bit less, however.)

Travelers with only casual GPS needs would be better served by the Garmin Mobile 10, which I've seen for about $160 online. Also, bikers and walkers should look elsewhere, as the Magellan 4040 doesn't include routing options geared to those modes, as some GPS devices do.

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Contributing Editor James A. Martin offers tools, tips, and product recommendations to help you make the most of computing on the go. Martin is also author of the Traveler 2.0 blog. Sign up to have the Mobile Computing Newsletter e-mailed to you each week.
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