Magellan RoadMate 300 Product Review

by Larry Leviton, AE9E

23 December 2006 Release 10

Original Article Dated 26 August 2005

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The Magellan RoadMate 300 is ideal for a route person needing multiple destinations per trip within a local area.

It's also a good entry-level navigation system for the value conscious GPS enthusiast.

But the RM300 is not a RM700 without a hard disk. There are subtle differences between the RM300, RM700, and RM760. Originally it was expected that consumers would download detailed maps to the RM300 from a personal computer through a USB cable. It was relatively easy to do but time consuming. To stimulate sales Magellan offered preloaded detailed maps that are inserted into the SD card slot. But these have to be mailed to the consumer. Consumers wanted an out of the box solution. So the RM360 was born and the price on the RM300 was cut. Get latest prices HERE.


MAGELLAN RM360

The Magellan RM360 is almost identical to the RM300 except the RM360 contains preloaded detailed maps of North America (except Alaska). If you are planning to use the RM300 for national use, for a small difference in price the RM360 is a better solution. For a review on the RM360, see http://www.gpsinformation.org/penrod/rm360/rm360.html. A preloaded card of all North America is available for the RM300 but it costs $200 (as of December 2006). One advantage of the RM300 is that is permits off-line trip planning (see Trip Planning) where-as the RM360 does not.

MAGELLAN RM300+

The Magellan RM300+ is identical to the RM300 except it comes with a preloaded SD card of all North America. There is no map CD, no USB download cable, and no AC-power supply. Whatever you do, don't accidently reformat memory. I'll talk more about this later.

GARMIN C320

This review points out differences between the RM300 and the Garmin c320 which is a competitive unit. Get latest prices HERE. In general the c320 is easier to use and the RM300 has more features. For a c320 review, see http://www.gpsinformation.us/c320/c320review.html.


WHAT’S INCLUDED

The RM300 kit includes:

* RoadMate 300 14 channel WAAS enabled GPS receiver.

* Pre-loaded major road (base) maps of North America or Europe.

* 80-megabytes of internal memory for downloading detailed maps

* SD slot for downloading up to one-gigabyte of additional detailed maps (SD card not included)

* Suction cup gooseneck windshield mount

* Cigarette lighter power cable

* AC power supply

* USB cable

* CD-ROMs with fully unlocked Navteq maps

* CD-ROM with 156-page user manual

* Basic instruction manual

* Instructions on how to acquire a GPS signal for the first time.

I initially liked the gooseneck mount. It was sturdy, yet allowed the RM300 to be close to the driver and away from the windshield. There is no quick disconnect. Usually the suction cup is difficult to remove. Sometimes it falls off the windshield. Being visible on the dashboard is an invitation for thieves to break a side window and steal it along with other valuables.

The 156-page user manual (on CD-ROM) is thorough and helpful.

The instructions on how to acquire a GPS signal for the first time are helpful, but forgot to mention to scroll down to get to the Diagnostics selection.


Scrolling down is not obvious to the first time user because the Diagnostics selection is not visible until you scroll down. It took me an hour to realize this.


Once the information was entered, it took one minute for the GPS signal to lock in.

Downloading maps through the USB cable to internal memory was relatively easy. The user manual was very helpful when I got stuck.


MAP SIZE

Skip this section if you are using pre-loaded maps.

The RM300 works best when maps are limited to 40-megabytes each. 40-megabytes is large enough to hold a metropolitan area like Los Angeles. There is no limit to the NUMBER of maps a RM300 can hold. Any of the three users can access any map. Maps can be overlapped but only one can be loaded at a time.

The problem with larger maps is that they are slow to compile and download. A 40-megabyte map takes 10 minutes to compile and download using a 1.4-gigahertz computer. Compilation and download times are proportional to map size and computer speed.

To load all of North American requires 2.2 gigabytes of memory. The maps would have to be broken into 256-megabyte chucks, a time consuming process. The user would have to manually change maps when traveling beyond the current map load.

TRIP PLANNING

Multiple destination trip planning allows you to connect a list of addresses into a single route.

Trip planning is best done off-line on a personal computer, but only if you have a map CD. Address entry on a personal computer is easy.The software does not reorganize the addresses into an efficient route, you must do that, but it does show you the route on a large map. New addresses are inserted at the end of the list. There is no way to insert an address in the middle of the list which is a real hassle. The trip is then downloaded to the RM300. The c320 does not have trip planning.

Further trip editing can be done on the RM300 and uploaded back to the personal computer.

The RM300 holds 20 destinations per trip and 20 trips. It also holds 200 addresses per user, three users, and the last 50 destinations. The c320 holds 500 addresses and the last 50 destinations.


USER INTERFACE

At first appearance the user interface is friendly. The 3.5-inch touch screen is large and bright. Often the same function is available by touching the screen or pressing one of the large external buttons.

The quick spell feature on the RM300 blocks out keys as names are spelled out. It is very handy. But the touch screen keys were a tad too small for my fingers. I found myself using my fingernails. The keys on the c320 are bigger.

Select Destination appears to be an important screen. But once a route is selected, getting back to Select Destination is not intuitive.


After trial and error I found the Cancel Guidance screen, which shows Route Yes No.


Pressing Yes got me back to Select Destination. This isn’t obvious. I kept pressing No because I didn’t want the same route.

Often the large external buttons don’t respond to being pushed. This is due to software, not hardware.

The color display partially washes out in sunlight, but I did not find this objectionable. It was still readable in part because it is transflective. Transflective means the screen is illuminated from both front and back. The RM300 display is far better than the c320 which claims to be transflective but is not. For pictures comparing the two, see http://gpsinformation.us/joe/gpscompare/gpscarnavscreencompare.html . It is very hard to see the difference inside a store. You're just going to have to take our word for it.

The RM300 lacks an automatic day/night display. The daytime display is too bright for night viewing. The night display makes the background dark blue, but you must manually switch to this screen. The RM760 and c320 do this automatically using time of day which is transmitted by GPS satellites. I got around this problem by leaving the display set to nighttime.

At the time of this writing, some built-in navigation systems dim the display when the headlights are turned on. Is that dumb?

There is no external volume control or brightness control. Both are done from touch screens. I did not find this a problem. If the voice became too annoying I just turned the whole unit off with the on/off button. Usually its very quiet.

DRIVING AROUND

One common complaint about prior firmware versions was that they were slow at automatically recalculating a route when you drove off route. Firmware version 1.65 fixed this problem. One trick software engineers use to speed up calculations is to pick the first successful route, which is not necessarily the best. The RM300 appears to do this but without doing anything stupid like going in a circle or down side streets.

The route exclusion feature allows you to avoid certain roads. But route exclusion turned out to be useless trying to avoid a major expressway. I wanted to use the I-294 tollway to go to Central Illinois. I-90/94 is the shorter route, but is under construction. The easiest way to do this was to drive towards I-294 and let automatic rerouting figure it out. Trip planning would also have worked.

I-294 was a good challenge for the RM300 because there is no direct interchange between I-294 and I-57. Routing by Shortest Time took me off the expressway. Routing by Most Use of Freeways correctly went from I-294 to I-80 to I-57. Some competitor's models lack routing by Most Use of Freeways.

In general, I found the routing to be good. Routing on the c320 was identical.

I liked the split 3D guidance / 2D map, although this cuts the map size in half.


The map screen includes direction of travel (NSEW), distance to next turn, estimated time to final destination, and distance to final destination. Seeing this information while sitting in a traffic jam relieves some stress.

Upcoming street names are hard to see on the full map. Often they are not shown. This is important because at night it’s hard to read street signs. Street names were easier to see on the c320.


Points of interest (POI) icons are displayed on the map. Touching the icon shows its name, address and telephone number. When using POI to find a restaurant you might want to call ahead and see if the restaurant is still in business. Judging from the restaurants in my hometown, I’d say the POI information was about two years old. As of September 2005 20% of the restaurants were out of business. The Navteq map was dated Q1 2004. The Magellan website says that maps are updated every year but does not say how to get them.  While we're on the subject, don't confuse map updates with firmware updates. They are two different things. The c320 does not display POI icons on the map.

Although the unit speaks six European languages plus American English, male and female, only one can be loaded into memory at a time. I loaded American English. The female voice was very pleasant. A pleasant bell chimes before each voice announcement and can be turned off. I particularly liked the double bell just before each turn. The double bell was within 100 feet from the intersection center. The c320's last warning is within 400 feet and the American female voice was too happy. The c320 British female voice was tolerable.

The RM300 also gives several verbal warnings before each turn, starting at 2 miles. There is some variation in the announcements. For example, “approaching next turn” and “1/2 mile to next turn”. I liked this.

Unlike the c320, there was no nagging “off route, recalculating” voice announcement. It simply announced new instructions after recalculating. I liked this. Automatic rerouting can be turned off.

Pressing the Enter button repeats the last voice instruction. Pressing the View button toggles between several navigation screens. Sometimes the screen automatically changes between the split 3D guidance / 2D map and the full map. I liked all of this.

The RM300 does not have 3D maps and the c320 does. I prefer 3D maps but without two units sitting side-by-side I don't miss the 3D maps. "Out of Sight, Out of Mind."

Other screens display satellite information, latitude, longitude, altitude, a compass, and a speedometer. Lat and Long might come in handy during an emergency, especially when off road or out of area. The altitude does not correlate to sea level. The c320 does not display satellite information, latitude, longitude or altitude.

The RM300 also includes a track recorder which records where you’ve been. The recorded information can be uploaded to a computer and displayed on a large map. The c320 does not have a track recorder.


DOWNLOADING MAPS

Skip this section if you are using pre-loaded maps.

The CD-ROMs contain detailed maps of most of North America including the continental US, Hawaii, Canada, Cuba, Greenland, Puerto Rico, Caribbean Islands, Yucatan Peninsula, Central America, and parts of South America. It does not include Alaska or Central Mexico.

When loading maps to the SD card occasionally the USB port would not detect the RM300 but succeeded on the second try. You must remove the SD card to download maps to internal memory which is a hassle. But I had no trouble loading maps greater than 80-megabytes. This is an improvement from the original firmware.

Joe Mehaffey and I found regions awkward to understand. A region is a sub-map. Regions cannot overlap, are limited to three regions per map and the total map size cannot exceed 240-megabytes.  A flyer that comes with the RM300 says “We also recommend, for faster performance, saving the maximum of three regions in one map file rather than one region in each of three separate map files.” I know what they're trying to say, but this statement just adds to the confusion.

The purpose of regions as explained in the user manual is to create detailed street maps along a route and use the base map to connect the regions. Once I realized this, regions made sense. But it took me two weeks to realize this.

When a map contains more than one region you must select the region when entering a new address.


The Magellan web site warns that only certain SD cards work with the RM300 and lists the manufactures. The web site also includes an automated facility for computing authorization codes for new SD cards.


REFORMATING INTERNAL MEMORY

I found the Repair selection on the Diagnostics menu and thought it might erase my one-gigabyte SD card. There was no mention of the Repair selection in the user manual.


Pressing Reformat SD Card showed “WARNING! This repair operation causes data loss. Please go to www.magellangps.com or call us for more information. Continue?”


Pressing Yes shows: “Are you sure you want to delete the contents of the SD card? Please go to www.magellangps.com or call us for more information. Continue?”


Pressing Yes shows: “Format Passed”. This took two seconds and erased all the maps on the SD card. I had no problems downloading new detailed maps and I did not have to reauthorize the SD card.

So…

I tried reformatting the internal memory and…

lost all of the base maps. The RM300 displayed “Map not found” even after downloading detailed maps to the internal memory. All of the Select Destination features were locked out.


CUSTOMER SERVICE

I filled out a customer service request on Magellan’s web site. I did not try telephoning.

The next business day I received the following response:

From what you have emailed, the unit will have to come in if it is showing no maps and you reformatted the internal memory. That option is not for the customer to perform... I will need to issue you a return authorization number.

As far as loading maps using the internal memory, only when you need memory will the unit ask for you to delete a region to make room for the new ones. You cannot simply delete them; there is no option for that.

Let me issue you a return authorization number so that you can send in your GPS for service. Please send the GPS, a note with the problem, and a copy of your proof of purchase so that we may cover this for you at no cost. Once the unit is received at our service center, a replacement or the repaired unit will be shipped out by UPS ground. In-house turn around time is between 5-10 working days from when they receive the GPS.

I was disappointed that I had to send the unit in. The USB port was still working.

I sent the demo unit in and received it back 9 days later including shipping time. I also received an email when the unit arrived at the service center and when it was shipped back to me. The unit I received had all the languages loaded into it including sound files. When I downloaded a detailed map, the personal computer software notified me that it was removing all but the last selected language.

Two days after sending the unit in I received an email that the base maps (NA_BSMAP and EU_BSMAP) were on my map CD. They just didn’t get downloaded. I could have downloaded them by copying them to removable drive F which appears when the RM300 is connected to the USB port. See Question and Answer section for more details.

Side note: The CD-ROMs that came with the review unit RM300 would not load maps onto Windows 98SE. The CD-ROMs that came with a new RM300 did. Both worked on Windows XP.


MAJOR PROBLEM FIXED

A major problem with prior firmware versions was that there was no search by city when selecting street names. After entering a street name, the user had to select the full street name from a list that included prefixes (N,S,E,W) and suffixes (AVE, BLVD, RD, ST).

This caused problems for common street names and produced long lists of streets and cities. The larger the map area, the longer the lists and the longer it took to build those lists. Most reviews failed to mention this problem leaving customers disappointed when they purchased the product.

Firmware version 1.81 (released Sept 2005) fixed this problem. Immediately after entering a street name the user selects the city. If there are more than five choices the user is asked to spell the city name.


After selecting the city the user selects the full street name from a list that includes prefixes and suffixes. This step is skipped if there is only one choice. Entering the numeric portion of the street address completes the process.

For example, to select 1200 N. Milwaukee Ave, Glenview, IL, enter MILWAUKEE. Press OK. Enter GLENVIEW. Press OK. Enter 1200. Press DONE. Simple enough?

Firmware version 1.81 also added predictive spelling. For example, suppose you want to spell CHICAGO. Entering C displays Cabery. Entering CH displays CHadwick. Entering CHI displays CHIcago. Press OK to complete the selection.

PROBLEMS UPDATING FIRMWARE

I had difficulty updating the RM300's firmware. See Pre-Configured SD Card.


PRE-CONFIGURED SD CARD

I also evaluated a pre-configured 256-megabyte SD card. When I first inserted the SD card it said “Detailed Maps Not Authorized”. Powering the RM300 off and on cleared the problem.

The pre-configured SD card needs to be removed when updating firmware or configuring a new unit. This is because the SD card comes with the lock switch set to the lock position, causing the installation software to not detect the RM300 through the USB port. The installation software and Magellan web site need to mention this.

Overall the pre-configured SD card saved me time by giving me detailed maps and POIs over a large area.


NO INTERNAL BATTERY

The RM300 does not have a battery to keep the receiver powered when external power is lost. It can take a minute for the RM300 to acquire a GPS signal. Starting a vehicle causes the RM300 to loss its GPS signal due to the high current consumption of the starter motor. This is normal for many vehicles. I did not find this objectionable.

On one occasion the cigarette plug came out just as I was making a critical turn. There was nowhere to pull over. All I could do was plug the power back in, wait, and pray. To my surprise the RM300 did not go through the usual start-up procedure but rather displayed a message asking whether I wanted to resume from the current position. After pressing YES everything went back to normal. The total elapsed time was about 15 seconds and I did not miss my next turn.

The c320 has an internal battery that keeps the unit powered when external power is lost.


CONCLUSION


The RM300 with the latest firmware provides good routing at a bargain price and has a very readable screen. It has a lot of little conveniences that make it a delight to use. It also has some annoyances. Detailed maps are limited to 240-megabytes and the user must manually change maps when traveling beyond a 240-megabyte map load.

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS


Question:
I accidentally formatted the internal memory and now my RoadMate 300 displays "no maps found" even though I try loading the detailed maps. Could you please tell me how to load the base maps onto my RoadMate so I wouldn't have to send it in for repair?
 
The base maps are on your RoadMate Manager Application CD. For North America the file names are NA_BSMAP.MGI and NA_BSMAP.NLT. For Europe the file names are EU_BSMAP.MGI and EU_BSMAP.NLT.

Use Windows to install them. Click on each one and right click COPY. Then click on the drive connected to your RM300 (mine was F: ) and right click PASTE. Its that easy and everyone who has emailed me with this problem has reported back with a success.

Note that the copy process checks for additional files other than the ones mentioned. So if you don't have a map CD, don't email me with a request for these two files as it is insufficient. If you don't have a map CD, you'll have to send your unit to Magellan to be repaired.

Question:
What type of problems can I expect in cold weather?

The RM300 is rated to operate at 0 C (32 F) but I have had no problems at temperatures as low as -20 C (-10 F). In cold weather water condensation gets under the suction cup, causing the suction cup to lose its grip and the RM300 falls off the windshield. After a while this became so intolerable that I rearranged the gooseneck mount to hook into the air vents near the windshield and rest the RM300 on the dashboard, but the coiled power cord tends to pull the RM300 to one side when I make turns.

Question: When I use Search by Intersection I usually get the error message Streets Do Not Intersect. What am I doing wrong?

You're not doing anything wrong. The intersection feature selects the primary street by city and then searches for the intersecting street in a different city. After a while you'll learn not to use this feature.

Question: Does the RM300 have a detour feature?

No, but driving off route usually serves the same purpose
. The RM300 will quickly recalculate a new route. The c320 has a detour feature but I didn't find it any more useful than driving off route.

Question: Is there a fix for downloading maps using Windows 98SE?

Magellan has special software drivers for Windows 98SE that might help.
 
Question: I can't acquire a GPS signal even though I initialized the unit. What are the possible causes?

Joe Mehaffey and I had a long discussion about this. Water vapor, clouds, and rain do not affect GPS. The most likely cause is that the GPS receiver can't "see" three or more satellites. Possible causes are a windshield that contains metallic tint or a large roof overhang. An external antenna will solve this problem.

Question: I cannot enter the city names in New York Bayshore or Brentwood. It only wants the township name. Is there a fix?

According to Magellan customer service, there are problems with certain cities in New York, Pennsylanvia, and Texas. These problems have been fixed in the RM360, but not the RM300.

Questions? Comments? Suggestions?

Email LARRY

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