Note: Magellan was kind enough to send me a complimentary ToughCase in exchange for this review.
I’ve been looking at alternatives to the GPS Cradle from Dual I currently use for my iPod for a while now, and discovered some time ago that Magellan released something similar called the ToughCase. It also boasts an extra battery and a GPS chip just like the Dual Cradle, but with a more durable container that can not only withstand a considerable amount of abuse, but is also waterproof as well, making it ideal for more rugged outdoor activities.
I could tell right away that it was definitely far beefier and heavier than the Dual Cradle, which no longer makes it possible to simply slip the iPod inside my pockets like I usually do. Instead, a clip is included so you can attach the ToughCase to your belt or backpack.
The ToughCase will ONLY work with earlier generations of the iPhone and iPod Touch. The current iPhone 4 will not fit inside the case, and neither will the current iPod (with built in camera.) I’ve also noticed that unlike the Dual Cradle, there’s no option to only use the GPS chip. You will have to use BOTH the GPS and battery, so the ToughCase’s power drains a lot faster than I’d normally like. There’s an idle mode to extend the battery life when you’re not actively using it, or you can shut it off altogether by opening up the case and switching off the master on/off button. One upside over the Dual Cradle is that you can plug it into a simple USB cable and it will charge both the iPod and ToughCase, although the charge time will be longer for obvious reasons.
The ToughCase does not have a car dock either, but I found a universal car dock I’ve been using with great success called the SoundGate M2. I attached a tiny clip included with the SoundGate kit to the back of the ToughCase and voila! My ToughCase is now officially car-docked.
To complete the ensemble I needed to hook up two cables: a USB cable to power and keep the ToughCase charged, which I then connected to a Scosche reVIVE II USB Car Charger. The car charger is powerful to charge an iPad, so it had no problem keeping the ToughCase fully charged as well. I also needed to hook up the ToughCase to the radio using my Monster RadioPlay FM Transmitter. Once I had everything set up, the ToughCase could now stay charged as well as deliver sound to my car stereo.
The setup though was far more cumbersome than my Dual Cradle, which already comes with a car dock. I could easily slide my cradle in and out of the dock without unhooking any wires whenever I needed to grab my iPod for geocaching or other uses, whereas with the ToughCase I had to manually unhook the wires to disconnect the ToughCase and take it with me. I also found the mic to be underpowered as well, forcing me to crank up the radio volume to the point where I could hear excessive static. The only way I could really avoid this now is if my car had an auxiliary input so I could bypass the need for an FM transmitter. Ah well.
Now for the acid test: I turned on the GPS and after a moment the ToughCase locked onto my location. I decided to pick a nearby geocache to drive to, so I keyed in the coordinates in Navigon and I was off. I drove several miles without any issues until I arrived close enough to the geocache that I could get out and walk the rest of the way. That’s when I noticed a VERY significant problem.
The ToughCase does not update your location when you’re at walking speed. I was maybe 300 feet away from the geocache and yet I walked several blocks without an update. Perplexed, I thought maybe there was a software issue, so I pulled out my iPod and inserted it into the Dual Cradle I brought with me for comparison. Nope, my GPS instantly updated and kept updating without issue. I slid out the iPod again and inserted it back into the ToughCase. Once again the GPS stopped updating. I did a running sprint to see if that forced an update, but to no avail. I also tried using different apps, from Geosphere, to the official geocaching app from Groundspeak, to just plain old Google Maps. None of them would update my location while I walked around. Only when I shut down the app and open it up again does the ToughCase finally update to my most current location. I also noticed that it will start updating again, but only if I move at a fast enough speed, such as when I’m in my car, or when I’m boating or biking. Anything slower and the ToughCase will not actively update your GPS location.
I don’t know if this was an issue introduced with the last iOS update from Apple or if it’s a design flaw (I’m thinking it’s the latter) but the bottom line is that geocaching is virtually impossible to do as a result, along with any kind of navigation that involves merely walking or even hiking. Under these circumstances you would have to constantly shut down and re-open whatever app you’re using to force a GPS update. Oddly enough, the Magellan ToughCase is specifically billed for outdoor use, and yet according to one ToughCase owner who left a comment about my Dual GPS Cradle review, Magellan had responded to his inquiry about this issue by stating that they never tested the ToughCase for geocaching or even outdoor activities, despite its previous advertisements to the contrary.
As a durable case to protect your iPod/iPhone during outdoor activities it works as intended, but as a GPS receiver with an unacceptably short battery life, not so much. For a pricey $180, I expected better quality than this. Worse still, the ToughCase is being advertised at GroundSpeak as a geocaching tool even though it clearly fails as one.
All in all, I can’t recommend the ToughCase if your primary objective is to give your iPod Touch GPS functionality, at least until they address its failure to continuously update your location whether you’re standing still or moving. It seems the design went more into providing a durable case to protect it from the elements, while the GPS/additional battery function was just something they tossed in as an afterthought. Still, $180 is far too pricey for what’s really little more than a glorified waterproof case, especially a case that’s not even designed to fit the latest iPod/iPhone models.
It’s a shame, but I am hoping Magellan will take a lesson from Dual and release an improved ToughCase with better GPS functionality and compatibility with today’s iPod/iPhones. We’ll see!
Update: Magellan has since upgraded the firmware of their ToughCase to improve GPS sensitivity. Here are the details:
For those of you who have had trouble using the Magellan ToughCase GPS for Geocaching, we are happy to report that a new GPS firmware will be made available by Magellan to significantly improve the sensitivity and the accuracy for pedestrian use. This is a firmware update that has to be performed at the factory. So, what this means for you is you will be getting a brand new ToughCase with the updated firmware pre-loaded.
To proceed with a product return, please follow these simple steps:
- Contact Magellan Support
- Hours: Monday through Friday, 6:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. PST/PDT Telephone: 1 800 707 9971
- Obtain a RMA number
- Return your ToughCase to the address provided (Magellan will pay for the shipping)
Magellan will replace your unit with a firmware updated device. They expect to fulfill the replacement orders starting the end of February. We encourage you to contact Magellan now to begin the process.
Please feel free to share this information with anyone else who has been affected by this issue.