Magellan Roadmate 800 Review

The Magellan Roadmate 800 North America edition from Magellan is a standalone GPS navigation system for automobile use. It includes the GPS hardware, the display and cpu system, the car mount, two external power plugs (AC and 12V), and everything else you might need to get it going. They even include an anti-glare screen protector. In most instances you won't need this since the screen is very bright but it is nice to see it. If you have glare in your installation then install this. A couple of CDROM's accompany the unit, one for access to the included picture viewer and mp3 player database so that you can import these files and one that provides the ability to import your own POI (points of interest) database. The only copy of the manual is on the CDROM, only a quick start guide is included in hardcopy form.

Accessories include the USB cable to connect this unit to your pc and a set of headphones for listening to music. Note you should not use headphones while driving. There is a built-in speaker for navigation use. Magellan included a slip case to protect the unit against scratches but there is no way to mount it to your belt and it is a little large for you pocket which tends to negate its use as a music player.

This product features a 3.5" touch screen in the landscape position. It has 320x240 pixels full 16 bit color. There are very few specifications available for the unit, either on the web site or in the manual. It uses a 300 MHz ARM compatible Processor. It uses a 12 channel GPS receiver and does not have WAAS support. The GPS receiver is very sensitive, locking onto signals inside my home without problems. It has a patch antenna that folds up from the back of the unit. It is so sensitive that it will generally work even if you fail to open the antenna although it does better if the antenna is horizontal. Using a patch antenna is a major departure for Magellan as they usually use Quad helix designs. But, this unit shows there is no problem with a properly designed patch antenna. There is provisions for an external antenna but you typically won't need one unless your windshield has a coating the blocks the GPS signals.

My testing included short trips and long trips of more than 400 miles in California. I tested using Roadmate 800 V1.04 firmware. The unit shipped with an earlier release but I upgraded it shortly after I received it. You must have a login account to download upgrades from the site. You will also need the CDROM installation for the driver to talk to the unit from a pc.

Getting Started

To get started you only need to charge up the battery and turn it on. You can skip the charge the battery part if you plug it in but the battery makes a nice backup and will last several hours in use before recharging. It will last even longer as an audio player. The audio player automatically turns off the display (configurable) to extend the battery life. The battery gauge is shown in the picture above on the right side. This is the only place it appears. If the battery gets low you will get a low battery warning. If you acknowledge the warning the unit will shutdown but if you just leave it on the screen it will eventually go away. While listening to mp3 files I got almost another hour out of the unit after the low battery warning.

Note that you cannot use the mp3 player and the navigation software at the same time. (See later for a work around)


The installation consists of attaching the suction cup goose neck to the custom mount and finding a place to attach it on your car. Pick a spot where it does not block your vision of the road and provides good access to the unit. The picture on the left shows the unit setting on the dashboard in my Prius.

Once the mount location is determined you need only to route the power cable from the cigarette lighter to the unit and it is fully ready to go. It can also be used as a portable unit with its built in battery but it is too large to be a reasonable handheld.

The unit attaches to the mount easily and removes just as easily. You will need two hands to do the attachment since you have to plug the power into the unit separately. There is a connector on the bottom of the unit to engage power on some future mount which will make this more automatic.

Hardware Tour

The Magellan Roadmate 800 has a full array of buttons in addition to the on screen display. All of the buttons are backlit for nighttime use in a bright blue. The power is on the left and must be depress for a second or so to power up or power off the unit. There is a full power off/reset button on the top of the unit. This does a full reset so you want want to use it unless there is a problem. The only problem I have found that caused me to need to use this switch is a mysterious lockup. I think I have traced this problem down to static discharge as it seems to happen on rare occasions when I touch the power switch. Suddenly the unit locks up and will not power off. I suspect this problem will go away as the weather warms a bit.

Many commands can be done either with the hardware or by tapping the screen but there are a few exceptions. Zoom IN (+) and Zoom OUT (-) are only on the buttons while access to the 3D/2D display and the GPS status must be done with screen taps. You can expect to use the buttons for most things you want to do. The main buttons are in a ring around the 8 direction pad. The direction pad is primarily used to highlight menu items or to pan the map display. The map can also be panned by tapping and dragging the map display with your finger. Panning is the one thing I have found to be sluggish on the unit. Often it wouldn't even respond to key presses. Everything else worked fairly quickly.

While the buttons are titled the use is not always obvious. Once you get used to it the operation is fairly simple and some screens include help to guide you on which button to use next. The main screen shows the map display and all commands are referenced from there. The MENU key takes you to the system menu while the ESCAPE key takes you to the Navigation menu. The ENTER key does pretty much what you would expect it to by selecting items from menus but it also serves as a display next screen command for GPS status. When navigating the VIEW button does a display next screen from the map screen but when not navigating it brings up the navigation menu (same as escape). Only the sound on/off toggle button always does what you expect. The LOCATE button brings up a nice display telling you about where you are and if you are on the locate page the same button switches you to the next screen. Don't worry, while it seems confusing it will clear up with use.

The left side of the unit has the USB connector and the headphone jack while the top contains an SD slot the volume control and the previously mentioned reset switch. The SD slot can be used for importing pictures and mp3 files (and a few other things). The right side provides access the battery which is user replaceable and the back has the antenna and speaker. There is an external antenna jack on the edge of the built in antenna. It uses an MCX connector. The bottom has the power input and a covered connector that currently is not used by anything.

The Zoom function provides fixed zoom levels of: 350 feet, 700 feet, 1.4 mile, 1/2 mile at full street level detail. A 1 mile and above it switches to only state highways and freeways and shows no POI's. It would have been nice to have some more detail choices of major surface streets. Zoom levels continue at 2, 4, 10, 20, 50,100, 150, 350, 700 miles. Lakes are not shown beyond 4 miles (unless major) and rivers, lakes, and streams are rather spotty at low resolution. As you zoom out roads become straight line segments. Only major city names are ever shown on the map. These changes are all oriented toward speed of the display at a cost of content.


Power on the unit by pressing the power on button and holding it for a second or so. It will start and show the warning screen. Eventually this will time out but you can press the enter key or tap OK to get rid of it. Unfortunately you can't turn this screen off. Once you leave the warning screen the screen you used last will appear. Generally this is the map screen but the very first time it will be the main menu shown at the top of the page. Tap the compass display to go to the maps.

The map itself shows roads and, if selected, POI's. The users location is shown in the center. The scale will be shown for a time on the left side. Any tap on the screen will make it appear again if it goes away. The lower left corner shows the direction you are traveling (8 points). The right side has an icon that will toggle the display from the 3D perspective display (shown) to 2D. The upper right corner shows the GPS status. It can be tapped to go to the Status page.

Getting started with a route

Press the ESCAPE key to bring up the Route menu. The 7 entries include:

Routes are always computed from your current position. Once the destination is selected you will always see a screen asking what kind of route you wish to generate. Choices include:

You can also view the destination on a map from an icon on this page. Tap the ESCAPE key to return to this page. If it isn't the place you thought you can hit ESCAPE again to make a different choice.

Rather than duplicating the manual with how to fill in all of the various pages to generate a route I will just show them to you.

Note: The images you see of the screen were done with a screen capture program called captCE. An artifact of the way it was done is to leave a small grey line at the bottom of the screen. In a few cases I edited it out. The way the capture was done is to tap the small bar to bring up an command bar and then tap the capture program and then tap somewhere else to make the command bar go away. This can be tricky and more often than not the image will be captured before the bar disappears. In a few cases I managed to make it disappear, in some cases I edited it out of the image, and in some cases I just left it on the screen so you could see what it looks like.

Trip Planning

Trip planning is on the Address Book menu. You can plan a list of destinations but the unit only routes to one of them. When it arrives it will then offer to route to the next. In this manner you can reach them all. This is exactly how the detour to a side trip works as well. You initiate the detour command and then route to a gas station, restaurant, etc. When you arrive you will be offered the choice to continue the route which will then route to the destination from where you are.

In principle this works ok so long as you actually arrive at the intermediate point. Unfortunately the address database is not as accurate as the programmer assumed. If the address in the database is beyond where you are you will never reach the destination. For route plans you can hit ESCAPE and choose the trip choice to force the recalculation. For detours I do not believe this choice is available.

Another interesting use of the trip planner is to force the router to go the way you want. You can build a trip that includes the road you want to travel on and the planner will treat it as a destination. This will make the router do what you want. The only problem with this work around is that the guidance distance and time to go will be based on this intermediate point.

Navigating a Route

Once a route is generated you can just let the unit do the work and follow the instructions. If you decide on a different course the unit will automatically reroute you. I have found that it generates reasonable routes most of the time. The route generation is quick.

The map screen at the left shows the view while navigating. The top line shows the street you are on while the bottom text shows the next turn. While I generally don't like landscape displays since the map doesn't show near as much of the road ahead this display does attempt to show a little more map by using a transparent background on the text so the map shows through. In 2D mode the text at the top is also transparent.

The arrow at the left shows the direction of the next turn, but if it shows left it can also mean just keep left (go straight ahead). The bottom line shows the navigation details. From left to right they are:

The time to go is generally pretty accurate for regular travel. However, I wish the display included ETA (estimated time of arrival) instead of time to go. ETA can be computed, of course, but it is a fixed number unless there are delays in the trip so it provides a good way to access the impact of traffic problems.

When you get really close to the turn a turn bar appears over the this line showing a graphic that shows how close to the turn you are. At the point of the turn a bell sounds. You can change the sound it makes but you cannot turn it off without turn off messages too.

The two screens shown above can be reached from the map screen by pressing the view button. This only works when navigation is in progress. The Maneuver screen shows text directions for the trip. Tapping any one of the directions offers to exclude it from the route. This is only temporary. If you tap a second entry it is likely to reuse the first one.

The split screen, shown with night colors, shows a direction display arrow and a 2D map. This makes good use of the landscape mode. This display can be set to appear automatically when you get close to a turn.

The ESCAPE key will offer to recalculate or cancel the route while the ENTER key will offer a detour. The detour can be to a close by POI or a route detour. Route detours are based on a distance and the default is a user configuration option. You can also configure and automatic detour. This is a feature where the unit places an icon on the map screen anytime you are traveling slow in traffic on the freeway. You can tap the detour icon to initiate the detour function. The capability is pretty simplistic however. If, for example, your route is already planning to take the next exit the automatic detour will still come up and if you accept the detour it will keep you on the slow freeway!

The unit always uses road lock so, while you could take it walking in a city, it is a little cumbersome to carry in your hand and it will not guide you off road. The antenna will fold back far enough to hold the unit horizontally and still provide a fix.

The unit always prompts you about an upcoming turns two miles ahead which is a little to far in my opinion particularly when the speed is slow. The prompts are very clear in a human voice (man or woman configurable). The names or numbers of streets and roads are not given. The prompts are loud enough for highway driving but I would have liked a little more head room. The volume control needs to be almost at maximum. A noisy truck may find it is not loud enough. There is a plug for external headphones and then could be used to send the signal to an external speaker for more volume. The volume control can be pressed straight down if you need the unit to repeat a message.

I have found the guidance to be pretty good based on the maps. However, the unit does tend to prompt you about upcoming turns more often than it should. This is usually just a minor annoyance but can be dangerous in a few instances. For example, take the case of a standard clover leaf turn from freeway to freeway. The unit tends to think the right turn off of the freeway is a fork in the road and will tell you to turn left which you are likely to interpret as stay in the left lane. If the next turn you need is to take the clover leaf turn which is the very next right turn you could be in trouble. By the time it tells you about the upcoming right turn you could be too close to get over safely, particularly if it means changing 4 or 5 lanes. It is a good idea to review the maneuver list ahead of time.


The GPS status is shown in the upper right corner of the map screen. It is display in the style of a cellphone and worth about the same. The bars do not tell anything about how good the fix really is. You will need to tap the icon to determine if you have a 2D or 3D fix and notice the colors on the tracking bars to see how many satellites you are really using. There is no button to reach this screen. Pressing ENTER on the status screen will display two more details text screen, the second of which actually tells you how many satellites are in use. None of the GPS screens show the altitude but it is available on the location screen. It seems to me that the altitude reads lower than I would expect. I am not sure if the Geoid tables are missing or just at a very low resolution.

The locate button displays the screen shown on the above right. This shows the data that is missing from the main GPS display. Pressing the ENTER key while on this page will save a waypoint (location) in your list of saved places. You can navigate to these places but there is no icon so you cannot see them on the map. If they are saved off the road you won't really know when you get there.

Speed, heading, and altitude are also shown on this screen making it a good screen to watch when you are tired of looking at the map. The speed is truncated to whole miles/hour which means if you are traveling at 65.9 it will show 65. Pressing LOCATE again while you are on this screen will show a new screen with more information about where you are. Press ESCAPE to get back to the map or whatever screen you were on before pressing LOCATE.

If you use the reset button on the top of the unit the GPS almanac will be thrown away causing the next fix to take several minutes. You can speed this up by selecting the city you are in. Use Menu > Navigation Options > Configuration and scroll down to GPS Options and choose Set GPS Positions. Then you will have to type in the city name, street name, and address. It is so many buttons deep that you will likely just wait. Although this trick is good if you want to set the location for a simulation.

Secret Commands

Magellan has an almost public secret command that brings up addition menus and screens for most of their models. The sequence is + + - - + - which is done using the zoom keys on this unit. However, this time it unleashes the fact that the whole product is setting on top of WinCE 4.2. Please check with the folks over at GPS Passion for more information on this feature. They have prepared a download to allow you to take advantage of some of the WinCE features. I would suggest you put it on an SD card and mark it read only. This will keep it from being erased after the installation. If you do a hard reset on this unit the WinCE tools will be lost and this will permit you to re-install them. They add a copy of OziCE that will work with the GPS in this unit on COM2. They also include another music/movie player that is excellent.

This is not a Magellan supported feature and not everything works well but you can have some fun with this. One of the things you can do is place music in the background while navigating which cannot be done with the Magellan supplied player. Use the command TNShell to return back to the main navigation screen. If you can't see the icon such as after a low battery warning you can bring up the start menu and browse to it in the Flash Disk area.

The maps and database

Magellan uses Navteq maps for their road database. For a description of Navteq maps check my article on map makers. Once the decision was made to use Navteq maps there is very little control that Magellan has over the map database. Whether you will think it is good or bad is very dependent on where you happen to live. Map databases are all inaccurate in places and fairly accurate in other places so if you happen to live in a place with good accuracy and coverage you will be pleased with the maps but if you live in a neglected place you will not be pleased.

The supplied POI database is fairly complete although there is also plenty of information that is out of date. The choices include Restaurant, Bank/ATM, Gas Station, Roadside Assistance, Hospitals/Clinics, Vehicle Services, Airport, Camping & RV, Car Rental, Casino, City Center, Clothing, Convention Center, Education, Emergency Services, Entertainment, Golf Course, Grocery Store, Hair & Beauty, Health Care, Home & Garden, Hotel/Motel, Marina, Misc. Services, Nightlife, Parking Area, Parks, Professional Services, Public Buildings, Rest Area, Shopping, Ski, Sports & Recreation, Tourist Attraction, Transportation, Winery, Worship. Each have their own icon.

The POI's are shown on the map and you can tap on them to reveal the name, address, phone number for the POI. The screen that appears will also let you route to the location. There are a lot of misc category entries so the icons often show the bell. They do try and show the side of the road the location is on but the size of the icons sometimes makes this difficult to determine.

You can add your own database of POI's using the supplied PC executable.

The preloaded North America maps cover the USA, Canada and US Territories. Maps of Europe are preloaded but must be purchased separately.

Customization Setup

There are some customizations that can be done from the preferences. These include:

You can save addresses in an address book and locations based on your GPS location in a list. They do not have icons. User POI's can have alarms.

Picture Viewer and Music player

The picture view and music player will find files on both the Storage card and the Hard Disk. To use the Hard Disk you will need to run the Magellan RoadMate Tools program on the PC to move the files. The Picture view does have a utility that can move picture files. Neither of these applications use the buttons very well (except MENU) so you will have better luck tapping the screen. You can use the direction pad for some commands.

The Music player does support a playlist and has an equalizer for only predefined settings. Selecting a directory will play all of the files in that directory.

The picture viewer will display one picture or cycle through a set. Use ESCAPE or double tap to stop the cycle. When displaying one picture double tap to make it full screen. It can view several picture types including Jpeg and BMP files.

These are mutually exclusive programs, you cannot play music while viewing pictures.

Bugs and Tips

The unit locks up on occasion. I think it might be static discharge but that is only conjecture.

You cannot control the path the router chooses but you can use an intermediate point in the trip planner as a work around.

The left turn arrow does not always mean left turn. It might mean straight ahead.

The low battery warning does not work correctly.

There is no local time display and it is not clear how the day/night display switch figures out your time zone. At one point it clearly got out of sync and I had to go to WinCE to fix the time. It showed a night screen in the middle of the day.


Overall this is a good autorouting product and provides an easy to use navigation screen with good attention to user interface features. The guidance was good but added extra messages that could get you in trouble. I found the autorouter was fast and it did a pretty good job most of the time.

The GPS was very sensitive and locked quickly. The included mp3 player was disappointing in that it could not be used while navigating.

To talk about this review please visit the gpsinformation forum.

By Dale DePriest - All rights reserved.


initial release 2006/2/17
small revision on time and zoom 2006/2/27