- The Washington Times - Monday, October 3, 2005

Two small, high-tech gadgets may make the life of motorists a lot easier. One, a new GPS device, will tell you where you are and how to get to where you are going. The other, a Bluetooth-based speakerphone, works with many cell phones to let you talk while keeping both hands on the steering wheel.

First up on my hit parade of useful gadgets is the Magellan RoadMade 360, a portable, in-car GPS device, list price $699. It’s an amazing, if occasionally uncertain, piece of equipment, and delivering overall great value at a very good price.

My last experience with a GPS system was the ill-starred (for me) Clarion Joyride, which seemed to have the GPS calibrated about half a mile behind where I actually was — don’t ask me how that happened — and which only had software for the Western United States. That’s great if you are driving in Los Angeles or Las Vegas, lousy if it’s Rockville or Ocean Grove, N.J. The Joyride, you might recall, was a $4,000-list audio/GPS/computer-wannabe system that I wouldn’t wish even on someone I didn’t like.

Enough of the past: The Magellan RoadMate 360 could well be the future. It mounts in a flash, via a suction-cup bracket that clamps to the windshield and holds the GPS at a good level, without obstructing your driving vision. It’s programmed with maps of all 50 states; you select the region or two you need. Type in an address, 99 percent of the time, and you are good to go. The computer and GPS antenna — which read its location perfectly, thank you — will figure out the rest, including the fastest route, the one that uses the most (or least) freeways, or what-have-you.

Once rolling, you will hear a female robotic voice navigating your way and giving half-mile warnings before a turn or other move is needed. If you overshoot a turn, or make a change, it’ll try to nudge you back, but after a while it’ll smarten up and recalculate your route. It took about two miles for it to realize, for example, that I had decided to forsake the 95 South to 495 West to 270 North idea and instead cut across Montgomery County via Route 198. Once it did, the unit steered me along perfectly.

My chief complaint: If you enter “Ocean Grove” for a New Jersey city instead of “Neptune Township,” which apparently is the legal designation, or the one Magellan knows, you can’t find the endpoint of your destination. A friend riding along supplied the final steps needed. At the destination, I calibrated and saved the location and used that as a starting point for the return trip. In short, I wish the RoadMate 360 had a little more local savvy, as when it steered me all over Northeast Washington in a convoluted but successful “shortest route” to The Washington Times’ offices.

Overall, it’s a great product and well worth the expense. The learning curve is low; the graphics display is phenomenal; and it works quite nicely. Details at www.magellangps.com.

Almost no learning curve is needed for the $99 Jabra SP500, a Bluetooth-enabled speakerphone that also is designed for the car. Charge it up, or use the cigarette lighter adapter, and get up to 20 hours of talk time between charges. Once paired with a Bluetooth phone, you can talk hands-free with ease and, on your end at least, clarity.

E-mail MarkKel@aol.com or visit www.kellner.us.

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