TomTom Navigator 2 Review

The Navigator 2 software from TomTom can be bundled with the GPS hardware or purchased separately. There is a separate review of the hardware TomTom GPS product so this review will focus on only the software product as a separate mapping/navigation product and its interaction with the hardware. The product reviewed is the USA Release TomTom Navigator, Version 2.22 (35B). I used it on an iPAQ 3970 PocketPC and a memplug sleeve used to store maps. This product is a follow up of their very successful European product.

Note that TomTom has offered a free map upgrade to all of their customers using this product. I will be updating this review based on the new maps as soon as I get them.

My testing included short trips and long trips of more than 400 miles in California. I also used Nevada maps with mixed results, see below.

Installation

The product arrives with 5 CDROMS in a box with the GPS hardware and a hardcopy quick start and installation guide. The hardware included a mount for my PocketPC and a serial GPS unit along with various pieces of mounting hardware. The power/interface cable is different for each type of PocketPC. It is not included in the base product and the correct one must be ordered separately. The hardware is covered in a separate review. The CDROMs contain road and street maps of the USA and the program itself.

Inserting the first CDROM brings up the setup program which can be used to install the software or the maps. Generally you should install the program first and then return for the maps. Note that the program is really 3 separate installations which was a surprise since it was not mentioned in the installation guide. You must install all three products before it will work properly. The first product is the main program, then comes the voice guidance wave files, and finally the GPS program. The first two can install in main memory or on a card but the GPS program will install in main memory no matter what you select. It is possible to install different voice modules depending on your needs. All three installations are listed separately in the programs list on your PocketPC. The program must be activated from the TomTom web site prior to first use. A code is included on the back of the case for CDROM1 that will be needed as part of the activation process.

After you install the program you will want to install some maps. The maps are installed using the same setup program but they, too, are installed as separate programs and will be listed separately in the program list on your PocketPC. Choose your map selection carefully. TomTom can only work with one map at a time and cannot route beyond the edges of the map so you will need to insure that you select an appropriate set of maps. Note that the reason there are 5 CD's in the first place is because of this limitation, not because the maps are larger than maps from other vendors. You need to select a grouping that makes sense for what you are doing or just plan on reloading other maps as needed. Generally a map is one or more states but California and Texas offers the option of loading 1/2 a state. In the USA edition of TomTom Navigator there are maps for all 50 states plus DC, Puerto Rico, and Guam. The largest multi-state map set you can select is about 160 MBytes. There is no USA highway map so you can only work within a region but some states are in more than one regional map.

Operation

Click on the application menu choice to start it up. It can be found on the start menu. The map screen that appears is shown on the left with the map you have loaded. (An option is available to start up with the Navigation screen showing which is depicted above showing the optional 3D view.) The File menu allows selecting the about screen, GPS options, properties, and map switching while the tools menu shows all the other commands for the unit. There are three icons that permit route planning, searching, and setting the viewing options. An icon for the GPS would have been nice but there is GPS status shown in the upper right corner. The 4 bars indicate the type of GPS service (2D, 3D) by indicating visually the minimum number of satellites tracked by changing color. The number shows the actual number of satellites being tracked. A scale is just to the left of these settings. Note that the units shown are in yards. There is a preference setting for metric or english. The distances in english are always shown in miles or yards. Golfers will probably appreciate the yards designation to help them hone their own estimating skills.

The viewing options icon permits toggling the POI, Points Of Interest, data on and off and permits temporarily overriding the details settings for Places (including road names) and roads. You can tap the bar and then use the key pad to increase or decrease the level. Unfortunately this will only override it for this screen and hitting zoom in or out will reset the values. Generally the detail is handled automatically by the zoom level but there is some hysteresis in that zooming-in sets a different level than zooming-out so if you use the keypad to zoom in until the road names just show you can zoom out one level and they will still show up.

The map itself shows roads and, if selected, POI's. A zoom bar is located on the right. Generally this is only used when making a major change in zoom levels as the rocker keys are easier to use and provide this function as well. The POI icons can be tapped to reveal the name and type in a popup window. Tap the window to get rid of it again. There is a circle with a + in the center that shows where you have tapped which can be a bit annoying as it is blinking all the time. In the center of the screen you can see the GPS position and vehicle direction being shown with an arrow. This will be present if the GPS is enabled. At the bottom of the screen is the name of the road you are on. This data will be replaced with next turn information if you are following a route.

The stylus can be used to drag the screen to provide panning of the display. Tapping a road will reveal is name and approximate address. A tap and hold of the stylus will bring up a local menu that can be used for navigation or saving points captures on the screen in the database. It can also be used to list POI's that are close to the point tapped. You can center the location on the screen or initialize the GPS to this location (see below for more on initializing the GPS) by selecting more from the menu. If the GPS is active you can use the Goto coordinates command on the tools menu to return to the GPS location after panning or if GPS is not active this entry can set the screen to a precise lat/lon location.

GPS

While the maps are useful by themselves and you can even find locations and generate travel instructions the real power of the program is to use it with a GPS. All forms of GPS devices are supported including serial devices supporting NMEA mode, bluetooth devices and and CF (compact flash) GPS devices. The supplied GPS is a serial device.

The image shown is the screen that appears if you select "File->GPS Status". The tab at the bottom will select between GPS, status, or setup a track log recording, but the status page is the main one you will use. The GPS page is where you set up the GPS initially. The status page can be used like a non-mapping GPS display. It shows location, speed, and direction. It also displays the information about the satellites you are using which can be indispensable to understanding what is going on when you are having trouble with reception. Unfortunately the display only shows the satellites you are receiving and not the full position of all the ones that might be available. Note that the sky view may show satellites outside the circle which can make them hard to read when half off the screen. Tapping most anywhere on the screen will return you to the main application maps. Note that this screen is also available as a independent application from the main PPC Start Menu by selecting Settings->System and then tapping the GPS icon. This can be useful if you are in an area not covered by the loaded maps. Note that is display does not provide altitude or WAAS status. If a lock is lost the location data will be set to zero.

Select the GPS tab to get the GPS working in the first place. This will display the screen shown on the right. The upper left corner contains a check box which can be used to toggle the GPS on or off. If unchecked the pull down selections can be used to identify the GPS connection and the protocol. A wide selection of protocols can be selected including a simulator and almost any device you can name. The GPS connection shows the serial port you need to use. Generally this would be a number but TomTom reports the name of the device for CF cards so you will need to recognize the device instead of the port number.

The center of the GPS page shows the user preference items while the bottom shows a map of the world. This map shows the GPS location if you are currently tracking and can also be used to initialize the GPS location on GPS devices that support the initialization protocol. Initializing the device can significantly speed up the initial acquisition of GPS signals if you have moved several hundred miles since the last time you used the GPS. The log tab permits recording a permanent log of your travels or will play it back.

Searches and Route Planning

There are four ways to plan a route.

  1. Select the start and destination from a map using tap and hold to bring up the menu.
  2. Tap the route planning icon at the bottom of the screen which will bring up a form that can be used to select start and end addresses or intersections.
  3. Use the magnifier icon to search for locations. This will bring up a menu that permits selecting address, recent locations, favorite location, POI's or your home location.
  4. Use your address book. This feature is powerful but easy to overlook since it is not on any of the menus. You just have to remember it's there. Open the address book and tap and hold the person you want to see. A menu will appear and there will be two choices for TomTom Navigator. You can look at a map of that persons location or you get set it as a destination.

Generally you don't need a start address if the unit is aware of your GPS location. If the GPS is off and you didn't provide a start location it will prompt you to use the previous GPS position.

The router will generate a route between the two points you have selected. It is not particularly a fast router but I have found that it generally does a good job. It is more likely to select a route I would have chosen than several other routing tools I have used. In addition it supports the ability to control the router using standard quickest, shortest route, or the not so standard walk choice. Other ways to control the router is to actually exert some control over the algorithm using user preferences or to set up avoid locations on the map. These avoid locations are rectangular areas that are as big or small as you wish and the router will not enter the avoid area. I used them to block the router from trying to use private roads with locked gates or to avoid poor roads or roads shown on the map that do not exist. You can also set a road blocks (up to 3) to cause the unit to route around construction or traffic jams. These are primarily intended for freeways to avoid just a section of the road.

To set up an avoid area just display the area on the map and select tools->avoid area which will bring up a box. Define the area graphically by pulling the handles on the box and you are all set.

Once the route is complete you can look at it on the map screen or tap the map entry at the top of the map screen and select instructions to bring up the page shown on the left. The route instructions page is dynamic and the blue bar will change to show the current routing leg. If the GPS is turned off the user can double click on any of the route legs to bring up the details page shown on the right. This can also be selected from the top of the screen using the List pulldown. The entire route can be reviewed on the details page by using the large arrows in the lower right corner. To leave the details page you need to tap the small OK button on the PPC banner which makes it a little difficult.

Looking back on the map page you will find similar arrows on the next turn instructions line at the bottom of the map (again GPS must be off). These arrows can be tapped to review the route on the map page. A large arrow will show the route leg destination that is currently being reviewed on the map. If that isn't enough you can also tap on maps and select spit screen to show the instructions on half the screen and the map on the other half. The two halves can be reversed by tapping the Split View title to bring up the menu. This half screen display will work with the GPS as well and will be dynamic in this case.

You can also try it out by running the route using the GPS simulation mode to see how it will look.

Navigation

Selecting Navigator from the screen title pulldown will bring up the Navigator screen. This acts like a completely different product that shares the same maps and database features. While the map view could be used for navigation and would provide visual turn by turn guidance there are no voice prompts when the map view is being displayed. The Navigator screen provides voice prompts to augment the turn by turn visual instructions. In addition the Navigator screen always shows a map that is oriented with the direction you are traveling at the top while the map screen always shows a map oriented with North at the top. The Navigator screen shows no scale or road names and while icons are shown you cannot tap them to reveal the names of anything. As a matter of fact tapping anywhere on the screen brings up the Navigation menu always. While the previous screens generally require the user to rely on the stylus this screen is specifically designed to be used with your fingers or finger nail which makes it much safer to use while traveling down the road.

While very few things were customizable on the previously described screens almost everything is customizable on this screen. The upper left corner is the button to return to the other screens but you can also program this on the hard buttons if you wish. The ppc banner is missing as shown but this too is customizable. It returns temporarily when you tap the pulldown in the upper left corner so it can always be reached easily.

The upper right corner and lower right corner show the zoom in and zoom out icons but you can turn these off and just use the keypad for zooming (recommended). The screen cannot be panned. The compass display in the lower left can be turned off. The speed setting just under the large distance setting can be turned off and the data on the right of these fields can be rearranged or changed. I found the color of the speedometer and the middle entry in the 3 customizable data fields to be difficult to read in a car during the day. Unfortunately this color can't be changed. The lower right corner contains the GPS status which works well in this position with colors changing if GPS reception dropping below 4 satellites. The very bottom of the screen contains the name of the street for the next turn while the arrow shows the direction and the large number is the distance in yards or miles (If there is a decimal point the distance is in miles). This can be metric if you prefer.

If that isn't enough the map display is also customizable. You can change the entire screen display to 3D if you wish. A 3D display looks very much like the road ahead and may be useful to some folks. After a few days of using it and getting over the "wow" factor I ended up returning to the 2D display since it showed more data since it was not a perspective view and the sky doesn't occupy a good portion of the screen. The 2D is also more responsive to turns. The 3D display looks really good but doesn't depict an accurate skyline or show trees of course. You can also customize either screen to do automatic zoom when you get near the turn or you can even turn the map off entirely and show the screen shown at the right. The directions screen is actually very handy since it shows the next two turns while the regular screen only shows one. It shows the name of the street to turn on and the name of the street you are traveling on. On the navigation map display you can only get the name of the street you are traveling on by turning off navigation. The data at the bottom of the screen is similar to the navigation map screen but it is showing the second turn. The city name is at the bottom of the screen.

The three customizable entries near the bottom of the screen can show the eta (estimated time of arrival), the ttg (time to go) also known as remaining time, the distance, or the current time. All values are for the final destination except the current time of course. For a larger display one entry can be turned off.

From this screen all commands begin by taping the screen to bring up the menu. The first menu screen is shown at the left. The entries on the screen are customizable as well although you only get 5 per screen and there are lots of commands requiring several screens. In addition to the commands shown here there are: Find, Hide/show POI, turn 3d View off/on, GPS status, hide/show map, guidance off/on, Exit, switch map, demo mode, and properties for a total of 15 commands, many of which are toggles, on three successive menus. I would have preferred a few more per page to cut down on the need to use "more..." so much.

Tapping "Navigate to" brings up a menu of destination choices similar to the ones already discussion in the route planning section: home, address, recent locations, favorites, or point of interest. Don't forget that you can also use the address book which isn't mentioned. If you select poi you will be offered the type and the results will be sorted based on your distance from the location. Once you select your destination the route will be generated from the current GPS location to the destination if you are on a road currently. Unfortunately if you are setting in the supermarket parking lot when you select the next destination you may see a "unreliable GPS" message. This is unfortunate because you did the right thing by setting the destination while safely parked and the message itself is totally bogus. This is an overworked message that means the GPS doesn't have a fix or, as is the case in the example, you are simply off the main road currently. You will also get this message if you are not displaying a map that shows your current location. The calculation for your route will not even begin until you drive to the road so I hope you know which way to turn at the beginning since the instructions won't appear until the calculation is complete.

Once the instructions appear you will be given turn by turn instructions to the destination street location. These are visual and can be audible as well. The choice of voice and language can be changed at any time by loading from the several voices available on the CDROM. I found the voice to be clear and plenty loud on my iPAQ 3970 from the internal speaker. It provides two notices for each turn, an advance notice based on speed some time before the turn appears and a second announcement just at the turn or a little before. The first announcement includes the distance to the turn and if you didn't hear it you can repeat the message prior to the turn by tapping the turn arrow on the navigation screen. Note that this only repeats the earlier message, it does not provide updated distance information. The visual display is constantly updated of course. Once you arrive you can cancel the route but this is not necessary since a new navigation will automatically terminate the old route.

If you miss a turn or decide to go another way the autorouter will compute a new set of turn by turn instructions. If it can get you back to the original route in a few miles this will be done very rapidly and will get you back on track. If the new route requires more distance then it will simply generate a new complete route from your current location, which will, of course, require more time. If you decide that you would prefer an alternate route because the one you are on is blocked up ahead, for example you can tap the alternate route choice. At this point you can generate an alternate route or be guided around a roadblock. I have found the alternate route is very tenacious and if you take it you must stay on it. It will always guide you back to the route and will not generate a new route. If you need a new route switch back to the original route and let its rerouter generate the route. If you now switch back to the alternate it will generate a new choice for you.

One feature I really like was the ability of this product to perform dead reckoning. This relates to the capability to continue to report your position on the road even if the satellites are not cooperating. I did a lot of testing in the mountains under heavy tree cover which caused the TomTom GPS laying on my dash to lose lock occasionally. This is nothing against the GPS as all GPS units have trouble on these mountain roads. However, I noticed that, in spite of the loss of lock or dropping below the minimum of 3 satellites the software would continue to show a moving position on the map. This product uses roadlock so, even in normal operation, the car is locked to road if the GPS shows anywhere close but in this case the GPS was clearly not reporting a fix and the program was able to recover as if nothing was wrong. If I hadn't been looking carefully at it I would not even have noticed. At one point the speedometer reading dropped to zero and the track continued to show progress via the dead reckoning feature. This is a great feature for temporary lock loss.

The maps and database

TomTom uses TeleAtlas maps for their road database. For a description of TeleAtlas maps check my article on map makers. Once the decision was made to use TeleAtlas maps there is very little control that TomTom has over the map database. They will provide user discovered errors to TeleAtlas and they do have an area or their web page to collect this data. However, from the user perspective the database can make the product useful or worthless so I will give a few comments on it now. Note that the impressions about a map are very dependent on where you happen to live. Map databases are all inaccurate in places and fairly accurate in other places so if you happen to live in a place with good accuracy and coverage you will be pleased with the maps but if you live in a neglected place you will not be pleased.

In my case the maps were the most accurate that I have seen of my area. There are fairly up to date but not perfect. There are still plenty of errors to be fixed. One thing I did like was that there were no messages about bogus turns that I have experienced in other databases and programs. The database works very smoothly with the application.

The supplied POI database is very large and fairly complete although there is also plenty of information that is out of date. The data information supplies the name and kind of the POI and nothing else. It includes Airports, Amusement Parks, auto repair Facilities, automobile dealers, beaches, camp grounds, Casinos, churches, cinemas, colleges, some companies, concert halls, convention centers, courthouses, cultural centers, dentists, doctors, embassy, exhibition centers, ferry terminals, gas stations, golf course, government offices, Hospitals, hotels/motels, ice skating rinks, legal/attorneys, legal/other, library, mountain peaks, museums, nightlife, open parking, parks and recreation areas, parking garages, pharmacy, places of worship, police stations, post offices, rental car places, rest areas, restaurants, shops, shopping centers, sports centers, stadiums, swimming pools, tennis courts, theaters, tourist attractions, tourist information offices, train stations, veterinarians, wineries, yacht basins, and zoos. While all these types are supported I did not observe all of them actually in the database. The type of restaurant is not supported and I could do without all the lawyers in exchange for a grocery store or two.

All the POI's are locked to the road so you can't tell which side they are on and they tend to stack on top of each other. There is no way, on the map, to separate them out except to just try and zoom in more. I didn't find them to be particularly accurate as to location.

Customization Setup

There are lots of customizations that can be done from the 'file->properties' command (which would be better called preferences). Most of the customizations apply to the navigation page and some have side effects. For example, you can customize the speed setting for the various road type to more properly match the way you drive and improve the arrival time calculation but when I did this I received a warning that the route calculation time would increase. Since it was already longer than I liked I quickly reset to the default. I found the customizations a bit hard to use since every setting is separate and if you want to swap two menu items to need to change them both places. If you set up a hard key for the navigation screen it will only work on the navigation screen. However, once you get it the way you want it then these are not likely to change.

Bugs, Issues, and Tips

As I am writing this I noticed that the software has be revised on the web site so some of the bugs mentioned in this version may already be fixed. I will be checking for these fixes in the new version and will revise this review as needed. In addition to the few items I already mentioned I encounter two serious problems which I am documenting to save the user time if they encounter them as well. I spent quite a bit of time troubleshooting these problems.

  1. I decided to add a second map to the Northern California map that I had loaded so I added Nevada. Northern California is 33 Meg (more that I have ram space for) while Nevada is only 8 Meg. After I added Nevada the tool would no longer startup. It would begin, display a frame window, and never complete. I found that if I double tapped the Nevada map using the file explorer it would load fine and startup fine but I could not switch to the larger California map. Removing the map(s) did not help or re-installing individual pieces of the tool did not help. My only recovery was to totally uninstall everything and reload from scratch. I suspect that loading several smaller maps would work fine which is why this problem was not found.
  2. The second problem I encountered was after using the product successfully for many weeks. I happened to switch GPS devices (something I do frequently for testing) to a device that hadn't been in use for a while and this time the product would not come up. Basically when I tried to start TomTom Navigator my whole ppc bogged down to running at 1 MHz instead of 400 MHz or at least that is what it felt like. I tried all the fixes I could think up, erase files, reloaded everything several times, piecemeal and all at once, complete uninstalls, upgrades, nothing worked. Finally I found that if I just let it run it would eventually display an empty map screen and if I clicked on things and then came back many minutes or hours later I found that the commands had been executed. Using this technique I manage to get the GPS screen alive and managed to click the button to turn the GPS off. When this command finally got executed a few hours later everything was back to normal again and the product worked fine. During this whole time which lasted several days the ppc would work fine with GPS devices and other applications so long as I didn't start this one.
  3. One tip for users is: if you want to turn the maps off on the guidance page I would recommend you move this setting to the first page of the menu so that it is easy to toggle. I like the non-map instruction page but there are times when you really need to see the map to understand what is going on. Placing this toggle on the first menu page facilitates this use.
  4. Programming the left rocker and the right rocker to switch to the instruction page and map page can be very useful although you still can't get back easily.
  5. If you see an X on the map screen this is an avoid area. Do not accidentally tap the avoid or you will erase it and you will have to put it back in again.
  6. The memorize position button places the results in recent places. I would have preferred favorite places but it can be copied to the favorite places using find. The only way to directly add to favorite places is to graphically click on map locations. There is a way to add descriptions later using find but these locations will not give you the lat/lon values.

Conclusions

Overall this is a good autorouting product and provides an easy to use navigation screen with good attention to user interface features. The guidance was good. I found the autorouter a little slower than some others but often produced superior results so the time seems well spent in my opinion. The user can guide the router with avoid areas which worked well. The maps are some of the best available in my area and are well integrated into the product. The navigation screen is uncluttered but I would have like to be able to tap on a POI to find its name or see the name of the next side street but others may prefer the simplicity. The 3D display has a high "wow" factor and I am sure this will be the favorite screen for some users.

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.

revision
initial release 2003/09/08
added note on new maps 2003/12/29