TomTom Navigator Hardware Review

The Navigator product from TomTom arrives with 5 CDROMS a serial GPS and several pieces of mounting hardware. A power and interface cable is supplied in a separate box and is custom for the ppc device you own. The hardware is reviewed on this page. The software review is available here.

The GPS receiver

The GPS receiver ships with the Navigator solution from TomTom. A separate product is available with a BlueTooth receiver. This unit is a mouse like device that is intended to lay on the dashboard and hook directly to the PPC external power cable. So far as I can tell it is not available for purchase separately. This may be a modified version of the Leadtek 9532.

Installation is easy. The cable has a small integrated suction cup that can be used to help hold the unit in position so just stick this to the windshield and lay the unit on the dashboard. There is no weight on the suction cup so it sticks nice to the windshield and solves the problem of the unit sliding around on the dashboard. Next, just plug the 4 connector telephone style plug into the power cable. Be sure and push it far enough that you hear the distinct click. Installation is complete and the unit can just be left on the dashboard if you like. There are other mounting options that may also be used. The unit has magnets built into its base. If the dashboard is metal the GPS will simply attach itself to the dash wherever you place it. In addition there is a small metal plate that is supplied with the unit that has double sided tape on the back. This can be stuck to a suitable location and the GPS will attach itself to the plate using the magnets. It is also possible to lay the unit on top of the car and route the signal wire into the car via the door but there is no indication that the unit is waterproof so I would not suggest this option.

Some cars have an athermic heat shield in the windshield that will effectively block all GPS signals for this or any other unit. You may find that a spot up near the rear view mirror is clear and the unit can be mounted at this spot. The unit must be upright and lying horizontally for best reception so you will have to devise a mount. The supplied manual suggests an external antenna but there is no connector on the unit for an external antenna. A re-radiating antenna would work of course. Other options include mounting the unit on the rear deck by the rear window and using an extension cable to reach the ppc connection.

The operation is simple as well. The GPS is on whenever the cable is plugged into a live accessory outlet. Power on is indicated on a small LED that can be seen near the top of the figure shown on the right. When the unit has a fix the lamp will blink slowly. When the unit is having a bit of trouble with the fix such as when driving under dense foliage the lamp will blink quickly and erratically as it tries to recover. The lamp can be difficult to see in the daytime but is bright enough to be annoying at night. The reception capability good and comparable to other mouse type GPS receivers I have used and better than many of them. It is augmented with the excellent Dead Reckoning mode in the software when being used with TomTom Navigator.

TomTom is very secretive about the capabilities of this GPS and provides no real information on their web site or in the manual. It seems to use the SiRF chipset so it should match the specifications of any other GPS device using this chipset. The built in antenna seems adequate to provide good reception from the dashboard position. They warn that it can take up to 45 minutes the first time it is used to search the sky and find the initial fix. I see no need for this warning since the supplied software provides an adequate method of initializing the position of the GPS sufficient to guarantee a much better first fix of well under 5 minutes. Under general use it will provide a first fix in about a minute or if your accessory outlet is live all the time and the car is left outdoors with the GPS installed you will find that it always has a fix.

While this unit comes with TomTom Navigator there is no reason why it can't be used with other programs as well. It supports standard NMEA out messages which is used by the vast majority of programs available for ppc devices.

Vehicle mount

The vehicle mount that is supplied with this unit is well built but poorly designed. The ppc is expected to lay on the mount and is held in place with friction by pressing the ears on either side of the mount. The problem is that the ears are located at the bottom of the unit and the ppc can easily tip forward and fall out of the mount. The ears should have been further up on the sides of the unit. If you use the mount you may want to use a rubberband near the top to insure that the unit does not tip forward or make sure that the entire mount is tipped back so that gravity will keep the ppc in place. Note that tipping the unit back increases the glare problem on the face of the screen. TomTom sells a separate carkit that contains a much better mount than this one.

The problems with the supplied mount increase with age. The ears on the side are held closed using only a friction mechanism and this will tend to slip as the units gets older. In addition there is a spring pushing the ears apart which exacerbates the situation. To solve this problem take the unit apart by sliding the gooseneck off the holder and lay the holder facedown on a table. Remove the 4 screws and you will notice a spring at the very bottom of the assembly. Remove and discard this spring. Carefully reassemble the unit and it will now work much better at holding the ppc in place although it still suffers from incorrect leverage. At least the ears won't open up by themselves.

There are several mounting options for the ppc mount. It can be attached directly to the windshield with a large suction cup or a more permanent attachment can be made using the supplied hardware. They include bulkhead mounting options, air conditioner outlet mounting (which can be removed), and horizontal mounting.

External Power

The power cable is integrated into the interface cable. It plugs into the 12V or 24V accessory outlet on your car and contains a regulator in the connector to drop the voltage for the PPC and the GPS. The connector also contains a user replaceable 1.5 A fuse. The PPC end of the connector is custom for the PPC you own so you will need to make sure you order the correct one. My iPAQ connector was assembled backwards so the arrows to indicate the places to release the connector from the unit were on the back instead of the front where they belonged but otherwise worked well. It made a positive connection to the iPAQ unit. A Y harness arrangement permits power to both the GPS and the PPC while also providing the serial connection via the same cable. The GPS can be detached from the cable as it has a separate connection if you wish to use a different GPS such as the BlueTooth unit offered separately by TomTom. The power connector will charge the internal battery of the PPC.

Final Note

I have obtained comments on this review from TomTom to ensure that it is technically accurate, but the opinions and ideas are mine.

By Dale DePriest - All rights reserved.

2003/09/04 original release
2003/10/14 added modification to mount