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Magellan unveils cloud-connected Smart GPS

LAS VEGAS — Magellan’s new Smart GPS portable navigation device works with your smartphone, connecting to the cloud to make getting from point A to B, well, smarter.

The Smart GPS hardware is part of a three-pronged approach (hardware, smartphone app, and cloud synchronization) to decentralizing the way users navigate. The new device features a 5-inch capacitive touch screen that behaves similarly to a multi-touch smartphone, responding to flicks, pinches, and swipes.

The most interesting and obvious new feature of the revised Magellan software that powers the Smart GPS is the new bank of up to 8 customizable information squares that can be swiped out from the right edge of the device’s screen. These customizable squares display location-sensitive information–such as nearby fuel prices, Yelp reviews, Foursquare tips, or traffic and safety alerts–that updates on the fly in a manner that is reminiscent of Windows Phone’s Live Tiles feature. The driver has control over which, if any, of these information squares are visible while driving.

Users can display up to eight live updating information squares beside the Smart GPS’ map screen or simply hide them all.

The data that drives these information squares comes from Magellan’s cloud-based Smart Ecosystem, which consists of a Magellan web portal that is accessible via personal computer and a Magellan Smart GPS app for smartphones. The Smart GPS hardware features built-in Wi-Fi which it uses to connect to your home network when your car is parked in your garage or any other nearby open hotspot when on-the-go to access and sync the data that it needs. Filling in the connectivity blanks between hotspots is your Bluetooth-paired smartphone running the Magellan Smart GPS app. Magellan tells us that the Smart GPS pulls a minimal amount of data when connected to a smartphone, so users on limited data plans needn’t worry about blowing through their cap.

One of the major benefits to a cloud-connected navigation device is that data, such as favorites, can be seamlessly synced across devices, For example, a user can search for and save a destination using the Magellan web portal on a laptop and have that destination automatically populate the Smart GPS’ favorites when he reaches the car. If a friend texts you the address for a party, you can just beam it to the GPS on your dashboard from the Smart GPS app.

No doubt, may users would rather just use their phones to navigate rather than bother with a second bit of hardware. For these drivers, Magellan will be updating the Magellan Roadmate navigation app for smartphones to add the new information squares feature and the benefits of the Smart Ecosystem. We were able to play with a very early build of this app and while it looked great, it was too soon to actually road test it.

Clicking on any of the information squares pulls up more data from the web, such as this Yelp review.

An advantage that the Smart GPS hardware retains over its app counterpart–aside, of course, from its more sensitive GPS antenna–is compatibility with the Magellan Wireless Back-Up Camera which we found to be easy to install and a great improvement to vehicle safety when we reviewed it last year.

The Magellan Smart GPS will retail for $249 when it hits retailers in Spring 2013. It’s a slick bit of hardware. The new info squares interface and cloud connectivity are very cool, but I expect that a large part of the GNz audience will be more interested in the much less expensive update to the Magellan Roadmate app when it comes available at around the same time boasting similar features.

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