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September 27, 2006

Garmin StreetPilot c550 vs. TomTom GO 910 vs. Magellan RoadMate 6000T: Who's Cuisine Will Reign Supreme?

Round 8: Search by Nearby Cities / City District Communities
Winner: Garmin StreetPilot c550

This unique feature, only available on the Garmin StreetPilot c550, allows you to search for the different districts within a given city. This makes it possible for users to route to a given district that is within a City instead of a specific address. For example, Burbank district in the city of San Jose, or Willow Glen in the city of San Jose – neither of which can be found under spell City options. To use this feature, under the City icon on page two of the c550 Garmin unit, simply select the cities icon and it will display cities and city districts.

Round 9: Remembering Previous City and Street Names - No need to retype street name
Winner: TomTom GO 910

Remembering previous city and street names is a handy time-saving feature that remembers the previously entered city and street names. So when you want to route to an address, and are presented with the city search page, the unit automatically lists the city you most recently searched for. Same thing for the street name entry page. You can either tap the city that's already listed, or start to type out a new city.

Only the TomTom GO 910 has this feature. When entering a destination address, the 910 not only displays the previously selected cities, but also the street names of previous destinations. For short street names this feature isn’t that much of a time saver. But if your street is named El Camino Real, for example, this nice feature can save time when inputting the city and street names. In our testing we really liked having this feature.

Round 10: Text-to-Speech audio command with street name pronunciations
Winner: TomTom GO 910

Speech quality of the TomTom was clearer than the Garmin or Magellan units. Occasionally, however, it would cut the street name short, which was slightly disconcerting. TomTom also appears to offer more information, such as the turn or maneuver after the first voice instruction, which is helpful in some instances. Overall, text-to-speech on the TT 910 is excellent, and the winner of this test.

The Garmin c550’s text-to-speech was also clear and easy to understand. Speaker volume was excellent, thanks to the c550’s dual speakers (the MRM 6000T and TT 910 both only have a single speaker). Nevertheless, text-to-speech quality was not quite as good as the TomTom 910. Unlike the 910, the Garmin C550 does not announce the maneuver after the first voice instruction (not a huge deal, since some users like this feature, and others don’t).

Magellan’s text-to-speech implementation is significantly improved over earlier RoadMate series (700, 760, 860). The pronunciations are much better and the 6000T gives adequate information. However, despite the improvement from previous models, the Magellan is behind in sound and street name pronunciations, and the clear loser in this round. Both the Garmin C550 and the TomTom 910 had better text-to-speech voice prompts than the Magellan.

Round 11: Audio announcements of final destination: Which side of the roadway, left or right hand side?
Winner: Garmin c550 and MRM 6000T

One of the more useful features of a personal navigation device is the ability to tell you if your destination is on the right or left hand side of the street. This may seem like a small thing, but imagine you are routing to a destination on a major street, like El Camino Real in San Jose. This road is 8 lanes wide in some places, and many of the addresses are part of large shopping complexes that don’t have the addresses clearly marked on the street. It is very useful to know if your destination is going to be on the right or left hand side of the street. Both the Garmin and Magellan (and, by the way, Alpine and even Horizon) have this feature, but the TomTom GO 910 does not. In fact, not a single GPS that uses Tele Atlas mapping data offers this important feature.

We're not sure if it's the Tele Atlas mapping software itself, or if the GPS manufacturers are leaving off the attributes for which side of the street or road the final destination is on. This information is available to the GPS manufacturers, albeit for a fee -- maybe some manufacturers are not willing to pay the additional cost. This is a significant feature to be missing from the TomTom GO 910.

Round 12: Text font size on displays and brightness
Winner: Magellan RoadMate 6000T & Garmin c550

Screen Brightness: we found the Magellan RoadMate 6000T to be the brightest of the three units we tested, the TomTom 910 was the least bright, and Garmin was in the middle.

Text Readability: reading text on the TomTom GO 910 was slightly difficult compared to the Magellan or Garmin. The text font size used on the TomTom 910 is smaller than the other 2 units tested – it looks like they used the same font & size as on their PDA-based device. The Magellan and Garmin units have the same font size, except Garmin’s font is in bold. This round is a tie between the Magellan and Garmin, with TomTom being the clear loser.

Round 13: Ability to plan your route by shortest distance, shortest time, most efficient routing
Winner: Magellan RoadMate 6000T

A trip planner is a feature that allows users to input 10-20 random addresses and the GPS will calculate the most efficient route, telling you which addresses you should visit in what order. This is especially useful for people who regularly need to do multi-destination routing, like delivery drivers, or real estate agents.

Only the Magellan 6000T has this feature, so it is the winner of this round.

Round 14: Instant Locate by Providing Street Address and Lat/Long Information
Winner: Magellan RoadMate 6000T

The Magellan RoadMate 6000T has a neat feature that will display your current location. Touching the Locate button on the MRM 6000T displays your current street address, city, county, as well as your heading information (i.e. driving west on xyz road in xyz city/county). It also can tell you what street you are approaching, as well as address ranges on each side of the street. If for some reason you prefer raw numbers, the MRM 6000T can give you your current lat and long position.

Garmin and TomTom do have a stripped down version of the Magellan Locate feature, allowing you to save your current location (on the Garmin c550 you save your current location by tapping the vehicle icon on the map), although you cannot view lat/long information on the Garmin.

Round 15: Additional features MP3, Picture viewer
Winner TomTom GO 910

TomTom GO 910 and Magellan RoadMate 6000T both have a picture viewing feature. The TomTom GO 910's interface is more refined than the Magellan, including well thought-out things like allowing you to play music while navigating, and including an option for iPod integration (via optional cable). Garmin StreetPilot c550 does not have a picture viewer, but it does have the mp3 playback feature and SD card expansion for additional features such as European maps, language guide, and more POI’s at an additional cost.

Round 16: Mounting Hardware
Winner: Garmin StreetPilot c550

Round 17: Mounting hardware is my pet peeve. For such an important aspect on a GPS that will be mounted in your car, it sometimes feels like GPS makers consider the mount an after thought. TomTom's GO 910 is the clear loser in this round. Although the TomTom mount is attractive, and has inputs on it for power, microphone, and expansions, it simply did not hold up well in testing. Our mount started drooping downward as we would drive, eventually breaking altogether. TomTom has released a modified mount for the 910 and reports are the mount is improved. But even apart from the quality issue, the TomTom GO 910 is difficult to put on and take off the windshield mount. You have to get the hang of it, and even then it often feels like you might break it.

Magellan's mount is leaps and bounds better than the TomTom mount, but it's bulky and huge.

Garmin's ball-joint suction mount is excellent. It keeps the c550 firmly in place while driving, the c550 can be rotated to almost any angle on the mount, and the mount is inexpensive to boot. Garmin has done an excellent job with their mount design.

Overall Winner: Garmin StreetPilot c550

Consumers today are making PND purchasing decisions based on user interface, fast processors for faster route calculation and re-route time, touch screen, Text-to-Speech, full coverage mapping software without needing to load maps, 3D map view, large POI selection, small footprint with larger screens (3.5"-4" displays), internal rechargeable battery, the extremely sensitive SiRF Star III GPS receiver, Bluetooth hands free phone capabilities, MP3 player, and TMC Traffic Message Channel options.

Future options such as Wifi, TV, MP4 video, gaming, real time POI’s with video feed, etc. are features that will eventually become available to the GPS industry. Surprisingly, XM radio, traffic, and weather data have not been as popular as predicted. Garmin’s flagship units have included some of these features but have not been as popular due to monthly service fees.

Overall all three units proved to be excellent GPS devices packed with lots of features. Basic navigation performance on all three units was outstanding, thanks to SiRF's STAR III chipset. Just a few years ago, GPS performance like this was unheard of. At the end of the day, a navigation device is designed to help get you from point A to point B, and is only as good as the maps it contains. Although TomTom has created a very elegant and refined product with the GO 910, their current choice of Tele Atlas makes their unit not the best GPS to choose for use in North America. Although the Garmin StreetPilot c550 is not as feature rich as the Magellan RoadMate 6000T, the Garmin is considerably easier to use than the Magellan. The Garmin also has the best windshield mount by far. Garmin's traffic implementation is also the simplest and, in our testing, the most accurate. For that reason, the overall winner of this comparison is the Garmin StreetPilot c550.

Overall Comparison Matrix

  c550 MRM 6000T TT 910
SiRF Receiver Test      
Time to first fix (cold boot) 60 seconds 45 seconds 45 seconds
Time to first fix (warm boot) 35 seconds 15 seconds 15 seconds
Time to first fix (hot boot) 1 second 1 second 1 second
Urban canyon environment GPS lock good GPS lock good GPS lock moderate (it was the first unit to lose signal)
Tunnels & Bridges GPS lock good GPS lock good GPS lock moderate (it was the first unit to lose signal)
Time to re-acquire after signal loss 2 seconds 2 seconds 2 seconds
Mounting Hardware Excellent Good Poor
Battery Life ~6-8 hrs ~4 hours (beta unit) ~4-6 hours
User Interface Excellent Fair Good
Mapping Software NavTeq NavTeq Tele Atlas
* NavTeq releases 4 mapping data updates per year. Tele Atlas release 2. NavTeq is slightly more accurate than Tele Atlas for North America.
Traffic Service Clear Channel TMC NavTeq Traffic RDS TomTom Plus Traffic (requires Bluetooth cell phone)
Traffic TMC Hardware included? Yes Yes No
Traffic Information Accuracy Good Acceptable NA (not available in North America yet)
BlueTooth Interface Very Good Good Very Good
Audio Quality Very Good (dual speaker) Good Very Good
Text-to-Speech Quality Good Acceptable Very Good (but cuts off some names)
MP3 Music Storage 700MB internal, SD card expansion 1GB + SD card expansion 12GB HDD free for music/pictures
Enroute PIO, nearby POI on your route No Yes No
Language and Voice      
Spoken Voices 40 3 36 languages / 50 voices
Language Text 20 3 23
Display Size (diagonal) 3.5" 3.5" 4.0"
2D or 3D display view Yes Yes Yes
Display performance under direct sunlight Good Good Fair (slightly washed out)
Text readability Good Good Fair (smaller text)
Quick Spell input search feature No Yes Yes
Trip Planning (multi-destination routing) No Yes Yes
Route Exclusion (avoid a certain street or highway) Yes Yes Yes
Detour function to offer an alternate route Yes Yes Yes
Route by Lat/Long input No No Yes
Audio out port / Headphone audio out Yes Yes Yes
External Mic port for hands free phone Yes No Yes
Automatic Vehicle Location Service (AVL) No No No* (will be able to track via the Buddy System Plus Service)
Anti-Theft PIN security capability Yes Yes No
Internal battery replaceable by owner No No No
European Maps Yes, but requires $400 purchase for SD card with additional maps Yes, but requires $250 purchase for unlock code Yes
Calculation speed for routes <20 miles 8 seconds 6 seconds 5 seconds
Calculation speed for routes >1500 miles 30 seconds 15 seconds 89 seconds
Reroute speed for routes < 20 miles 4 seconds 2 seconds 2 seconds
Reroute speed for routes >1500 miles 6 seconds 9 seconds 9 seconds
Search and route by zip code Yes Yes Yes
Search by nearby cities Yes No (only previous cities) Yes
Search previous city shortcut No Yes Yes
Route simulator mode Yes (with GPS turned off) Yes (set manually in options) Yes (select option demo mode)
Previous street name remembered No No Yes
Route Options      
Fastest Time Yes Yes Yes
Shortest Distance Yes Yes Yes
Most use of freeways No Yes No
Least use of freeways Yes Yes Yes
Avoid tolls Yes Yes Yes
Avoid unpaved roads Yes No No
Avoid U-turns Yes No No
Avoid carpool lanes Yes No No
Avoid Traffic Yes Yes Yes (with Bluetooth phone + TomTom Plus Service
Walking route / pedestrian route No No Yes
Bicycle route No No Yes
Limited speed No No Yes
Vehicle Type Options      
Car/Motorcycle Yes No No
Truck Yes No No
Bus Yes No No
Emergency Yes No No
Taxi Yes No No
Browse map, select destination on map Yes Yes Yes
ABCD, Qwerty, Azerty keyboard options font size No No Yes
Picture viewer No Yes Yes
Mute MP3 when turn-by-turn direction is available Yes No Yes
Custom POIs Yes Yes Yes

(Note: Test comparisons were performed in San Francisco, Alameda and Santa Clara County, CA area only. Test results may vary, depending on location and vehicle type.)


Reviewers note: this review was made possible by testing data performed by James S Keh of Auto Nav 2000 Plus, Inc. Auto Nav 2000 Plus, Inc. is a leading brick-and-morter and online GPS retailer, and has three locations in California:

Auto Nav 2000 Plus, Inc.
Corporate Office

438 S. Bascom Ave.
San Jose, Calif. 95128
1-408-292-3621 Fax 
Lat- 37.19.243
Lon- 121. 55.895

Auto Nav Palo Alto
481 Page Mill Road
Palo Alto, Calif. 94306
1-650-328-8836 Fax
Lat- 37. 25.399
Lon- 122. 08.502

Auto Nav Cupertino
10919 N. Wolfe Road
Cupertino, Calif. 95014
1-408-255-8417 Fax
Lat- 37° 20' 08.12"N
Lon- 122° 00' 54.37"W