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Thursday, December 3, 2009

First Impression Review Of Magellan SE4 GPS

This is a review of one of the four GPS units I bought on Black Friday for evaluation. I have been using this one for the past week or so, so this review reflects my own personal experiences with this GPS unit.

Bought at: Best Buy
Price: $89.99 + tax
Discounts: None
Final Price: $89.99 + tax

Magellan SE4 GPSPackage comes with: GPS Unit, Car Charger, User Manual, Windshield mount, Dashboard mount adhesive disk. The package does not include a USB cable for connecting the unit to a PC, but the USB port on the GPS is a standard mini-USB port, so it should not be a problem getting a suitable USB cord.

Screen: 4.3" widescreen, color, touchscreen. 480x272 resolution. The touchscreen is operated with fingers, and does not require any stylus of any kind (none is provided). The screen does get noticeably smudged after several uses.

Battery: Lithium ion, non-removable. Takes 4 hours to charge fully, can power the unit for about 2 to 3 hours of normal use.

Charger: Only car charger provided. The charger has a built-in 12V to 5V converter (this voltage conversion necessitates a bulky plug as pictured). Straight, non-spiral cord. Plugs in through USB port in GPS unit. However, unit can not be charged by connecting it to a PC using the USB port.
Magellan SE4 GPS Car ChargerCar charger, with bulky 12V to 5V converter built-in

Maps: Provided by Navteq. Contains pre-loaded maps of the lower 48 states + Hawaii + Puerto Rico. Additional maps and map updates can be bought from Magellan. Points of Interest (POI) database contains over 6 million POI's.

Spoken Directions: Navigation directions are provided through on-screen as well as voice prompts. The speaker is on the back of the unit. It was very loud at maximum volume and was clearly audible over the car radio, kids fighting in the backseat, etc. (in fact, the kids had to stop arguing while the unit was spewing out directions because it was so loud!). At the highest volume levels, there was some audible distortion of the sound. There is no choice of voices, but the built-in voice was quite pleasant.

Keyboard: No physical keyboard. On-screen keyboard appears as and when needed. The on-screen keyboard can be set to ABC or QWERTY mode depending on user preference.

Package: The unit comes in a small compact package that is easy to open (and repack). The GPS unit itself is about 3.25" x 5" x 0.75" and weighs 5.5 ounces.

User Manual: The user manual has the same information repeated in English, French, and Spanish, so it seems thick at first glance, but has only a few pages of relevant instructions in each language.

Mount: Comes with a windshield mount based on a suction cup, and a dashboard mount.

Additional capabilities: None (no bluetooth, MP3 playback, video player, etc.)

Detailed Review:

The unit was very easy to set up. It already came with the battery charged (at least partially), so it turned on when the sliding On/Off/Reset switch was slid to the On position. It took a full minute to acquire GPS signals and establish its position the first time it was turned on. After the first time, it usually took between 45 seconds and a minute to acquire GPS signals and start tracking, after being turned on.

The manual does not explain clearly why the On/Off switch has a third Reset position. When the switch is slid from On to Off, the GPS gives the user 10 seconds to change their mind by sliding the switch back to On (the user can also command the unit to turn off immediately during these 10 seconds). When the switch is slid all the way to Reset, the unit turns off immediately with no such warning.

Once the unit is turned on, the user has to agree to terms of use that include the standard legal disclaimer and warning about the unit being solely a navigation aid, and that Magellan is not responsible for traffic violations suggested by the unit or for damage or loss caused by wrong routings. This warning screen is presented to the user every time the unit is turned on and I found no option to skip it.

After that, you are presented with the opening screen that has three options: Go-To, View Map or Setup. Every screen has a back button that can be pressed (repeatedly, if you are several screens deep) to get to this opening screen.
Magellan SE4 GPS Opening ScreenOpening Screen

Setup gives the user options for setting preferences for the GPS unit. On the setup screens, the user can select various things like the units in which the GPS operates (miles and feet, or kilometers and meters), routing options (quickest, least turns, whether to avoid toll-roads, etc.), sound volume, muting, map options (night mode, 2D/3D, POI visibility, etc.), keyboard options (ABC or QWERTY), GPS signal information (satellite signal status and strength), etc.Magellan SE4 GPS Setup ScreenSetup Screen

View Map shows the current location on a map that can be zoomed in or out. If you zoom out fully, the whole of US is visible on the screen. If you zoom in fully, you can get it down to showing only the current location and street. But there is no scale on the map, so it is difficult to judge distances directly from the map.
Magellan SE4 GPS Map DisplayMap Screen

At the bottom right of the map screen is a button labeled Menu to enable you to go back to opening screen. At the bottom left is a box that alternates between current direction, speed, time, or elevation as you tap it repeatedly. If you are looking at the map while the GPS is routing you to a destination, the bottom left box also shows ETA, time remaining, and distance remaining as part of its rotation. There is a Speaker icon above Menu button that enables volume control and muting of the speaker if preferred.

The GPS can be set up so that the map is always presented with North being towards the top, or you can change it in the Settings screen, so that you are always driving towards the top and there is an arrow on the map marking North (the latter is the default).

Go To gives you options for selecting an Address, Intersection, Points of Interest (POI), Previous Destinations, Address Book or Home to route to.
Magellan SE4 GPS Go To ScreenGo To Screen

For Address and Intersection, you need to enter a city or zip code before you enter streets and numbers. If you do not know the city or the zip code, you can not enter an address on this GPS. The GPS has a feature called QuickSpell that causes the keyboard to grey out letters that are not options at any given point in the data entry process.

As mentioned before, there are over 6 million POI's loaded into the built-in database of the GPS. They are divided into categories such as Restaurants, Shopping, etc., etc. There are over a dozen categories, and several categories have sub-categories. I found the listing of shops and restaurants quite comprehensive, but I live in a pretty stable neighborhood that is not undergoing rapid growth. I have no idea how current the information would be for newer areas.
Magellan SE4 GPS Points Of Interest ScreenPOI Screen

The Previous Destinations list consists of the last few destinations to which the GPS gave routings. You can clear this list at any time or delete any item on this list.

The Address Book can be used to store frequently visited addresses permanently. Addresses can be in the form of intersections or actual street addresses. Each address can be labeled with a name so that you can find the address you need quickly. This list can be edited one item at a time or cleared completely if needed.

Home is a special location that needs to be set once before you can use the GPS to route for Home. The Home location can be entered as an address or intersection, or you can simply allow the GPS to establish a good GPS signal, and then mark its current location as Home.

Once you select a destination, the GPS asks you to confirm the destination, then starts giving directions. The screen switches to Map View, and shows the map with the calculated route marked in green. If you go back from this map screen to the opening screen, the opening screen now has a Route Options button added. This button enables you to cancel the destination and clear the route, detour around the current road you are on, get a complete list of turns in the route, or get your current location in terms of street/block or intersection.

As mentioned earlier, the directions are very loud and can easily be heard over kids and radio. Warnings are given a couple of miles before a turn, and then a few hundred feet before the turn. At the turn, there is a chime/bell to alert you to the actual turn. There are no warnings until a couple of miles before a turn, so after you turn on to a road, if the next turn is more than 2 miles away, the GPS does not tell you what your next turn or direction is going to be (I would prefer to know at least the direction of my next turn so that I can get into the correct lane more than 2 miles before the turn comes up). You can look at the GPS and see what the next turn is going to be (regardless of how far away the turn is), but there is no voice announcement of it until 2 miles out.

By default, the routing options are set to provide the quickest route (the built-in database obviously has some knowledge of speed limits, etc.), but you can adjust it in limited ways (you can choose shortest distance instead of quickest, minimize freeway use or maximize freeway use, avoid toll roads, and enable or disable U turns). There is no option to minimize road changes and/or turns or provide routings suitable for a pedestrian (in this mode, the GPS unit should ignore one-way restrictions, but would route away from limited access roads which prohibit pedestrian use).

In my testing, the unit provided sensible directions most of the time. If a turn is missed, the unit automatically recalculates a new route to the destination. However, it seems to take a long time to recalculate a route when you miss a turn. This can potentially mean that you miss the next turn on the best route from the missed turn to your destination. Sometimes, the GPS also became confused after a missed turn and had me traveling on a different road than where I was currently, causing it to recalculate wrong routes.

The unit seems to be under-powered to some extent, causing these delays and mistakes. I also found that the unit became noticeably warm after prolonged use in routing. I also found that sometimes, the map shows a turn, but the voice prompt for the turn never occurs. This occurred infrequently and unpredictably, so I was not able to establish why or under what conditions it occurs.

Every screen on the GPS also provides access to an One-Touch menu through a button on the top right of the screen. Tapping this button gives the user direct access to some important stuff like the nearest gas station, ATM, etc. There is also an Emergency category on this screen that can guide you to the nearest police station, hospital, etc. The screen also has a bunch of empty spaces for the user to assign stuff to (can be POI's, POI categories, addresses, intersections, etc.). As soon as an One-Touch menu option is chosen, the GPS will abandon its current destination and route to the destination chosen on the One-Touch screen.
Magellan SE4 GPS One-Touch ScreenOne-Touch Screen

The GPS unit has the capability to get real-time traffic information and route you based on real-time traffic speeds. To enable this option, one has to purchase a replacement power adapter that has a built-in traffic receiver. Theoretically, the GPS unit can interpret the traffic information that this special adapter provides, and route based on that. I have no idea how well the system actually works in practice since I did not invest in the special adaptor required.

The windshield mount is quite versatile, and the suction cup sticks to the windshield securely. The GPS mounting point swivels in different directions with a wide range of motion, so it should not be a problem positioning the GPS unit so that it is visible to the driver (and within arm's reach) without causing him/her any visual impairment. However, the GPS unit can be tricky to maneuver in and out of the mount if you want to mount it just before you start your drive and then store it away someplace safe whenever you park your car.

The dashboard mount simply consists of a plastic base that is supposed to be affixed to the dashboard with its own adhesive backing. The windshield mount's suction cup is then affixed to this plastic base. I did not test the dashboard mount since it is not clear how easy it would be to remove the plastic base off the dashboard once it is affixed there.

Summary:

The Good
  • Excellent screen (good colors, good touch sensitivity)
  • Huge number of POI's, categorized and sub-categorized for easy access and search
  • Home can be entered as an address or you can set current location to Home (this is important if your home address is not in the map database because it is a new development, for instance)
  • GoTo screen has Home prominently on it, thus enabling you to select it quickly instead of going through lots of screens and inputs to select it
  • Lots of one-touch buttons, including user-assigned ones for quick routing to commonly used destinations
  • Address book to store frequently visited locations (the manual, however, does not mention what the capacity of the address book is, or even whether it has one)
  • Loud speaker that can be heard over road noise, radio, etc.
  • Has emergency locator to find nearest police station, hospital, repair shop, etc.
  • QuickSpell to reduce typing errors when entering street and city names
  • Power supply through USB port rather than proprietary plug (this may be important because third party power supplies are available for this architecture)
  • Ability to take real-time traffic input even though it requires the purchase of a separate product

The Bad
  • Not comprehensive enough set of routing options (no pedestrian mode, for instance)
  • Rerouting after missed turns is slow, and sometimes completely wrong
  • Flaky routing with some voice prompts missed
  • No routing options to avoid specific roads, etc. Only very basic functionality to detour around a particular road once you are on it
  • No announcement of next turn until you are within 2 miles of it
  • Can not route to a series of destinations (only one destination at a time), or add a stopover destination to an existing routing
  • No nice-to-have features like parked car locator. It does not seem as if the GPS is designed to leave the car at all
  • No scale on the map display, so it is difficult to get a feel for distances
  • No way to change anything about the map or POI database, as far as I could tell (except by updating the map by purchasing a new one)
  • The voice prompts announce every key press you make on the GPS, announcing things such as "Go To" or "Map". This is totally unnecessary, and can be quite annoying, especially if you are fiddling with it late in the night after everybody has gone to sleep and you forget to mute the speaker!
  • Does not come with carry pouch, etc. Thus if you want to carry it around with you rather than leaving it in your car, you have to get your own pouch or risk the screen getting scuffed or scratched because of being carried around in your pockets with other stuff like keys and coins
  • Very basic user manual (though it is in 3 languages, making it more bulky than it needs to be). Most functions are not fully explained, some are not even mentioned. For instance, the manual mentions map updates, but has no explanation of how to do them. Most of the functions under the Setup screen are not mentioned at all. Luckily most of them are intuitive and don't require instruction, but, for instance, one button was labeled "Add Feature", and pressing it produced an on-screen keyboard with no explanation as to what I was supposed to do at that point
  • The GPS provides you no way of retracing a particular route, either in the original direction or in reverse (so, for instance, if you discover a scenic route by accident and want to store that route to drive on once again, you can not)
  • Does not come with USB cord for connection to a PC
  • No way to download previous routes or driving history (locations, routes, speeds, etc.) to your computer for record-keeping or analysis purposes

4 comments:

Telemike said...

My 1440 does multi-destination routing with optimatization. You can change routing options on the fly en-route: hit the turn list (upper left) and then change options to anther routing method. So you can go from fastest to shortest enroute. If you are enroute and get stuck in a traffic ja, SmartDetour on the 1440 pops up and gives options to detour.

Blogannath said...

Thank you for the review of the 1440. Is the 1440 the same as the Magellan SE4 (just a different name used in markets outside the US or something like that)? If it is not, then I will try to check out the 1440 when I have a chance.

Anonymous said...

I recently purchased the Magellan SE4 from Best Buy, on-line for only $85. Have been using it for a number of weeks and so far have about 95% trust and faith when using it. And believe me, with my courier job, I REALLY depend upon it to get me there. I was very interested to read your review to see what you thought and to compare with what I have found. I only found two discrepencies with what you reported.
With regards to the Previous Destinations list, it was stated that it was possible to delete all or any item from the list. I have found no way of deleting single items from this list. Only all or nothing.
Secondly, you state that it was not possible to route a series of destinations. Not true. It is easily possible and I do it daily. It will even list multiple destinations in priority order. I find that tool to be invaluable.
As far as what I think of the unit? For the money, it is amazing. Gives verbal command of street names among other features. Of course, it doesn't have all the bells and whistles of more expensive models but for the price, it is way worth it and has many great features for a low end gps. I recommend it. 4 out 5 stars.

Blogannath said...

I am glad you like the SE4. And that is a pretty good price too. I apologize for the mistakes in the review. I tried to do all sorts of things with the unit to test it out thoroughly, but some things may have been done in a hurry or in a mistaken way, resulting in wrong information in the review. Comments like yours will enable other viewers to get more accurate information, so thank you, and please keep up the good work!

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