Go, TomTom Go, Go!

January 5 2005

I've been asked a few times how I like one of my new holiday toys, the TomTom Go navigation system.  In short, I like it a lot!

Despite my earlier blog entry on the topic, I ended up finding a different supplier and buying a TomTom GO+, which is the US-sold version that has all of the detailed maps of the US pre-loaded.  Basically, the main difference is that it has a 1 GB SD memory card, so it can carry the entire country with it at a time.  That even includes Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and Guam!  Maps of Canada are included, shipped on CDs which can be downloaded to the GPS unit.

The user interface on the TomTom GO is excellent.  I ultimately chose this product over the Navman ICN630 because of the simplicity of the UI and the touch-screen interface.  It's so simple to use.  A few touches on the screen and you've entered your destination; a few seconds later, the route has been plotted and is ready to go.

The 3-D navigation view is pretty cool -- it's like a VR view of the road ahead.  It's kind of funny to see avatar-like icons spring up for points-of-interest -- gas stations, restaurants, etc.  As in, "the TomTom shows there's a restaurant on the right -- oh look, there's a Subway!"  And unlike the Magellan system that is used in the Hertz rental cars, the TomTom isn't chatty.  Its voice prompts are useful, but minimal.  
As for navigation itself -- I haven't really taken any drives of more than about 5 miles in it yet.  In 90% of the test cases, I've known where I was going but decided to test it out, anyway.  It's given me good routes, the routes I would have taken, in almost every case.  In one case, where I didn't like the route it suggested, I drove about two blocks in the direction of a different route, and it recalculated...coming up with the route that I did in fact want to take.  In three cases though, it has suggested three lefts to make a right turn -- not sure why.  The other somewhat strange suggestion was to take what I considered a side street at one point.  Once I did, I understood why -- that street had a section that proceeded at a diagonal, thus making it literally the shortest distance between two points.  Still, that street also had a 20 mph speed limit, meaning that the time saved by distance was wasted in slow driving.  Unlike the Hertz/Magellan units, the TomTom doesn't let you specify shortest time, shortest distance, or use of freeways.  That's fine.

The other drawback I see is the chunking of the map data.  The TomTom asks you which map you want to use.  Thus, I have it set right now to use a midwest US map.  If I want to drive to Florida, I'd have to change maps -- to "major US roads".  This is OK for major point to major point, but then when it comes time on the other end of the trip to find the destination, it would mean switching maps again.  It only takes a few seconds to change maps, but it is a small PITA.

The unit is small and lightweight.  It is easy enough to read; there were some complaints of glare in some of the online reviews, but I don't really see much of that.  The battery life is very good; so much so that so far, I haven't even recharged it, much less used the 12-volt adapter.  And I went and put the CD in the computer today to see what was on the 6 discs shipped -- basically, it's just map data.  There's no real need to use the computer with the TomTom, especially this model, other than for software updates.

I'm looking forward to bringing the TomTom with me on some of my travels; it will be nice to have for navigating the less-familiar cities, and as vowe said, for keeping cabdrivers honest. :)

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