Magellan heads in a different direction with SmartGPS device

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LAS VEGAS—Most GPS devices excel at getting you from Point A to Point B. Where they come up short is in telling you about all the stuff in between.

Magellan thinks it can change that with its forthcoming SmartGPS device. Slated for a spring release, the device aims to do a better job of identifying what's around you than the traditional points of interest.

Specifically, as you go about your route, Magellan's SmartGPS will present location-based information on its 5-inch LCD screen—with restaurant, hotel, and gas price data served up alongside weather and traffic. The data on the SmartGPS includes reviews from Yelp and special offers from Foursquare, adding what Magellan executives tout as a "social connective aspect" to the directional data at your fingertips.

"From a societal standpoint, you get a deeper level of knowledge of an area," said Stig Pedersen, as he gave me a walkthrough of the SmartGPS device at CES this week. "It makes you smarter about the neighborhood around you." Pedersen knows from personal experience. He's been driving the same commute in Southern California for around a decade, but it wasn't until he tested SmartGPS that he learned about a wine shop he'd been driving past for years.

"[SmartGPS] is constantly giving information that's relevant to who you are, where you are, and where you're going."

SmartGPS serves up all this info in square tiles on the right side of the screen. Granted I took the unit for a test drive in the safety of a CES booth and not behind the wheel of a car, but I found it pretty easy to flip through the tiles, just by flicking my finger.

Magellan has plenty of motivation to provide this kind of specific data. Standalone GPS units have fallen out of favor with some users who find they can get navigational data just as easy on the smartphones they're already carrying with them.

In what may be a case of if-you-can't-beat-'em-join-'em, SmartGPS boasts a cloud-based ecosystem that syncs your travel data between the GPS device as well as computers and mobile devices. (iOS and Android apps related to Magellan's SmartGPS offering will arrive at the same time as the device.) It's a good idea—I find that researching my trips is a task better suited to the comfort of my computer. And when I park my car, I still may not be at my final destination. SmartGPS would let me sync my trip between my GPS unit and my iPhone so that the mobile app can take me the rest of the way.

"We had to figure out to dom something complementary between the devices out there," said Juha Christensen, CEO of CloudMade which is supplying the back-end cloud support for SmartGPS.

Magellan executives told me the standalone device could arrive by April. When it does ship, it will cost $249. It will be compatible with Magellan's $150 Wireless Back-Up Camera, which allows the device to become a rear-view monitor when you're driving in reverse.

For more blogs, stories, photos, and video from the nation’s largest consumer electronics show, check out complete coverage of CES 2013 from PCWorld and TechHive.

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