The Magellan Premium Car Kit is a feature rich mounting solution with a lot of promise, but for $130 it ultimately leaves you wishing for a bit more. We'll break these attributes down in detail later on but a brief overview shows the kit boasting a Bluetooth speakerphone, adjustable 360º bracket, GPS booster (with iPod Touch support), and in car iPhone charging through a 12v port. Built similarly to TomTom's mount, Magellan's Car Kit is designed to be used in conjunction with the company's own $90 (currently on sale for $60) turn by turn navigation app, Magellan RoadMate 2010 (reviewed separately). Other navigation apps can be used successfully with this kit but some of the unique features may not function fully, more on that later also.
Bracket & Mounting Performance:
Using a suction-cup system the MPCK (Magellan Premium Car Kit) can be mounted very securely to any part of your windshield without fear of it falling or slipping. The only issue with this is one of aesthetics, being that the kit is powered off of the car means it needs to be plugged in 100% of the time and this results in an ugly cable hanging down from your windshield. To help with this MiTAC includes an adhesive dashboard disc for the mount to attach to, which while It doesn't get rid of the cable entirely, it certainly does help with concealing it. The bracket attaches to the mount via a ball-joint which allows for a smooth 360º rotation. Be cautioned though, since the power cable hangs down rotating the mount too many times in one direction causes the cable to become taught and tangled.
The clip for securing your iPhone or iPod Touch is one of the best designs I've seen yet. Most hardware makers, like TomTom for example, create clips that are device specific meaning that if you buy a mount for an iPhone but down the line get an iPod Touch then you're out of luck. The MPCK on the other hand uses an adjustable top arm and rear support switch to accommodate for devices of varying heights and widths meaning it not only allows for both iPods and iPhones but also leaves enough room for most cases to fit comfortably.
Audio & Bluetooth:
The bottom facing amplified speaker assures that all of the turn by turn directions called out by any navigation app are easily heard throughout the vehicle and its loudness can be adjusted using the manual volume control on the left side of the unit. While the speaker can also be used to casually listen to music, I can't really see anyone using it over their in-car speakers. Fortunately MiTAC seems realize this and has added a 3.5mm audio-out port for connecting the dock to a car's radio auxiliary input. This is another basic feature that TomTom has overlooked in its design and even though you need to provide the 3.5mm cable yourself, having the option is huge. The internal speaker's 3rd act is its bluetooth speakerphone capabilities. Described as a premium noise canceling speaker phone on MiTAC's website, it's a great bonus but I found it to fall a little short of my expectations. It does support a slew of multi-function bluetooth controls which can be seen here and it allows you use the speaker phone without the iPhone being docked but the biggest drawback seems to be sound quality.
I made a couple dozen phone calls using the speakerphone and while I was able to hear others perfectly fine, most of them had complaints of hearing too much background noise over my voice. It seemed to get worse at higher speeds leading me to believe it's more the proximity to the windshield rather than the actual build quality of the speaker itself but that hardly makes it any more useful. The saddest thing to me is that the bluetooth doesn't support music playback through the speaker or auxiliary out. This would be an amazing feature that would allow anyone who has an iPhone to pair with the dock and play their library through the car stereo with no extra cables. At CES this year Scosche was showcasing a product that does exactly this, while it's still in preproduction I thought the idea was brilliant and adding something like it to the MPCK could make that $130 price tag much easier to swallow.
Power & iPod GPS:
One of the coolest features the MPCK is advertising is the added GPS support for iPod Touch's. It does this using the added GPS Chip that's built into the mount itself which can also boost the reception for iPhones currently with GPS. As interesting as it is, it's not as unique of an idea as it sounds and MiTAC is doing it with more limitations than some of its competitors. One such limitation is that it only adds GPS to the 2nd generation iPod Touch while TomTom's version adds it to both 1st generation iPod Touch's and iPhones. In addition, MiTAC states that the added GPS support will only work when using their RoadMate app while Dual Electronics' XGPS300 Navigation Cradle adds location services to all apps on the device. The XGPS300 also has an advantage as it's not limited to in car use since it sports its own rechargeable battery pack. The MPCK does use a mini USB port for power which makes it more universal if you have friends without iPhones needing a charge on the go.
For $130 the Magellan Premium Car Kit does leave you wishing you got a bit more bang for your buck but that's not to say there aren't already plenty of features packed into it. Sure maybe some alternative kits out there offer additional niche features but many of them are also missing the basics this one has mastered. The truth is that these car kits only work for a certain market and there is a growing debate as to whether or not spending $200+ on a kit and app for an iPhone is worth more than buying a dedicated unit for cheaper or with more features. If you're looking to make an iPhone your navigator then definitely go with Magellan over TomTom, but it may be worth exploring other stand alone units first.
Model Reviewed: Magellan Premium Car Kit 3G/S
-Fits both iPhones & iPod Touch's, including cases
-Adds GPS to 2nd Gen. iPod Touchs
-Charges with mini USB
-Amplified Speaker & Audio Out
-No Battery power
-iPod Touch requires Magellan's app to function
-Bluetooth does not support music playback
-Speaker phone picks up a lot of background noise