TomTom Go Review

The TomTom Go Navigator from TomTom is a standalone GPS navigation system for automobile use. It includes the GPS hardware, the display and cpu system, the car mount, external power supplies, and a custom copy of the TomTom Navigator product. This product features a touch screen. It also has its own web site, TomTomGo.com. To view the correct data on the TomTom site you need to tap the "change language". This does more than just translate the site, it changes the contents as appropriate for the location. Select USA English for the product that matches this review.

My testing included short trips and long trips of more than 400 miles in California. I tested using TomTom Go V2.21, V2.40, and V2.42. I have recently upgraded to V5.0. Many of the 5.0 features are for some of the newer 300, 500, 700 units but a few are applicable to this hardware. Note that the original GO that I tested is most like a GO 300 without the Bluetooth hardware. However the basic functions of all the units are the same.

The screen shown at the right (taken from the TomTom web site) displays some of the major screens available in the product. The main screen shows the map with guidance data and other status information shown at the bottom. Tapping the lower right corner with your finger will bring of a screen with a smaller map of the entire route along with additional information about the GPS status and routing data. Tapping the GPS area on the right of this screen will bring up the full GPS status display. Tapping Done will return you to the main screen. This sequence is shown on the rotating pictures.  The actual screen brightness is not up to par with many other models. See a comparison of the "GO" with other popular car navigators HERE.

There are other areas of the main screen that can be tapped as well. If you tap in the lower left corner where the next turn is being displayed you will hear the audio route instructions for the next turn. Tapping the upper left corner or the upper right corner of the display will cause you to zoom the map in or out respectively. Tapping anywhere else on the map will bring up the menu system for commands. All functions are obtained by tapping on the screen somewhere. There are no command buttons on the device. The screen buttons are relatively large and easy to hit with your finger.

The hardware

The hardware consists of a 200 MHz ARM navigation processor, a 3.5" diagonal TFT color screen, 32 Meg of RAM, an SD memory card, an audio system for voice prompts with built in speaker, the GPS receiver using an SiRF chipset, a rechargeable Lithium Ion battery, and an inertial system that provides some navigation capabilities if the GPS signal is lost. This is all packaged in a plastic case.

The buttons on the front are used to power the device on and off and to eject the unit from the automobile mount. The SD memory slot is shown on the lower right.

There is also a 12 Volt power cable, a 110 Volt power box, a USB cable, and a vehicle mounting bracket.

The inertial system is unique in a product in this price class. Most built in automobile systems have inertial systems but these systems cost $1000's of dollars. There are only a few portable systems with inertial assistance. The system in this unit does not use any external input it consists of two accelerometers that respond to speed changes and direction changes. It was enabled in 2.28 and then disabled until 5.0. In 4.28 I found that while going across the bay on the lower level it showed me that I was suddenly accelerating to more that 110 miles per hour while it seemed like the car was moving at a steady speed. I haven't tried this bridge after updating the firmware but I did find that under an overcrossing which I thought I was stopped I suddenly started spinning around and around. This GPS certainly reveals information I seemed not to have noticed! Seriously, it works for short times of lock lose but don't depend on it. If these kinds of things are annoying you can shut off the ASN mode.

Getting Started

To get started you only need to charge up the battery and turn it on. You can skip the charge the battery part if you plug it in but the battery makes a nice backup and will last up to 5 hours in use before recharging. The included SD memory card already contains the OS (an embedded version of Linux), the navigation software, and some maps. The preloaded maps are very dependent on which product you ordered and may include all of your mapping needs or just a sample highway map. The test machine included a 256K SD card.

Installation

As stated you may or may not need to do an installation depending on what configuration you ordered. If you need or want to load maps or upgrade the software then this section will be applicable. There

The product arrives with 8 CDROMs in a box with the GPS hardware and a users guide. There is also a vehicle mount and a case for the unit. There are many CDROMS because the product cannot switch maps automatically and the loader can't assemble a custom collection for you. The 8 CDROMs contain many different configurations of states so that you can load a region of several states that has the states you frequent. You can load more than one set of maps but you will have to select one set to use at a time.

There are two power cables, one for 12V and one for AC. These cables drop the voltage to 5V to power the unit. You will use the AC adapter primarily for loading maps and charging the built in battery. There is a USB cable that permits map download, backup of your personal data, and download of the software.

Inserting the first CDROM brings up the setup program which can be used to install the software or the maps. You will not need to install the program unless you have downloaded an upgrade. You can install the map sets as desired. 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.

The unit comes with a windshield mount. The windshield on my Prius had too much rake and I could not see the screen well when mounted this way since it was either too high or two far away (out of arms reach). I ended up using the supplied disk to stick on my dash board. I then mounted the suction cup to the disk. This worked but the disk did have to be permanently mounted. A longer goose neck or extension would have been a nice option for my installation. I also found the unit was not easy to attach to the stand. It usually takes me a couple of tries to get it to stay on.

Operation

Power on the unit by pressing the power on button and holding it for a second or so. It will start and show the main screen. It is similar to the one shown on the left. This main screen shows a 3D image of the road ahead. You can set a preference for a 2D map if you prefer.

The map itself shows roads and, if selected, POI's. Zoom boxes are located in the upper left and upper right corners. These can be tapped to change the scale of the image. In addition the map image there is data about the turn ahead and quite a bit of information shown in the lower right corner. The top row of text shows the total distance for the trip in miles and the current time. A bar chart on the right shows the GPS reception status like the signal bars on a cell phone. If inertial guidance is in use the letters ASN will replace the bars.

The second line shows the total trip time, the estimated time of arrival (ETA), and the current speed. If the battery is low a battery gauge will alternate with the speed. The third row shows the name of the street for the next turn. If you like to drive in the right lane of the freeway or are in heavy traffic a lot you may really like the ETA number. If you tend to push the envelope a bit in the left lane you will find it pretty pessimistic. I found that having so much data in such a small space made it more difficult to glance at the screen as get the information I needed.

The lower left corner shows an icon indicating the direction of the turn and the distance to the turn in yards or miles. This is easy to use even though thinking in yards if a bit new to me. You golfers will be right at home with this. The turn data is augmented with a clear and distinct voice that prompts you with the turn data. You can choose from several different voices and switch voices anytime you wish. The voice clarity was excellent but you pay for this in the weight of the unit which is fairly heavy due to the weight and bulk of the speaker magnet. The voice does not provide much data which may please some people that prefer their unit to be silent most of the time. For example, on freeway exits it just tells you to exit without saying which side of the freeway the exit is located on. Be sure and read the highway signs.

The screen is bright enough but it behaves like a mirror and the glare can make the screen impossible to read at times. This is a 3.5" screen which is a common size for PDA use but it is turned sideways. This limits the distance ahead that can be displayed. The screen needs a screen protector with anti-glare properties to be seen in the daytime.

Getting started with a route

Tapping the map will bring up a menu screen with icons. The 5 entries include:

Routes are computed from your current position and there is no control over the way the route is computed. It always attempts to compute the quickest route. No options does simplify the interface a bit but removes some choices for the user.

A sixth position brings up another menu that has:

Running a Route

Once a route is generated you can just let the unit do the work and follow the instructions. If you decide on a different course the unit will automatically reroute you. I have found that it generates reasonable routes most of the time and tends to do better than some other tools in the countryside where its maps are generally the best there are available. In the cities the maps are not quite a good as some other vendors.

The generated routes have some funny quirks occasionally. These include taking an exit and then getting right back on the freeway or indicating a turn when you want to go straight.

The route instructions have some funny quirks as well. When exiting off of highway 237 in CA I needed to go south bound on Lawrence expressway. At that point Lawrence expressway and Caribbean expressway come together with Caribbean going North. The program told be to go south on Caribbean, which is, of course, incorrect. In another case as I was traveling North on I-880 it told be the next turn was onto I-680 but they are parallel roads. It left out the street that you need to turn on to get between them. In all cases the map correctly showed the turns. The program has a feature to turn off the maps and just have the turn instructions. This provides a screen that is easier to read with nice large text and arrows but given the above situations you will probably not want to use the feature.

You need to set the correct time on this unit. It can compute the correct time from the GPS solution but it does not update the clock automatically. If you sync it to GPS time it will set your clock to GMT (England) and you will have to correct it for your time zone. The clock does drift so you will have to periodically reset it to the correct GPS time and then recorrect it to your time zone. This could have easily been made automatic and is automatic on most systems where the correct time zone is only entered once.

The ASN feature for dead reckoning is unique in a unit of this price class. It works ok in the tunnels that I drove though. I also saw it turn on when I was stopped under an overpass. The distance to the turn jittered about 5 yards while I was standing still. When I started it switched back to GPS before the GPS actually had a fix. This could clearly be more transparent and smoother in operation. This feature can be turned off.

The GPS worked well on its internal antenna. The GPS status screen showed the necessary information to pick up signals and the status on the main page was a plus providing all essential data. There is no altitude display. The unit always uses road lock so while you could take it walking in a city it is a little cumbersome to carry in your hand and it will not guide you off road.

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 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, beaches, Border crossings, camp grounds, Car dealers, Casinos, churches, colleges, some companies, concert halls, convention centers, courthouses, cultural centers, dentists, doctors, embassy, exhibition centers, ferry terminals, Garage (care repair), gas stations, golf course, government offices, Hospitals, hotels/motels, ice skating rinks, Legal Attorneys, Legal Other, leisure centers, library, marinas, mountain passes, Mountain Peaks, Movies, museums, nightlife, open parking, parks and recreation areas, parking garages, pharmacy, places of worship, police stations, post offices, Railroad Stations, rental car places, rental car parking, rest areas, restaurants, Scenic views, shopping centers, sports centers, stadiums, stores, swimming pools, tennis courts, theaters, tourist attractions, tourist information offices, veterinarians, wineries, zoos. The type of restaurant is not supported and I could do without all the lawyers in exchange for a grocery store or two.

Five of the POI's had quick access, these include stores, gas stations, restaurants, Parking Garages and most recently used one. These entries would move around which was a bit disconcerting. The reset were in a list that you could only see two (three with small keyboard) at a time. An onscreen keyboard helps you zero in on the category. All POI's are sorted by distance from your location.

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.

The supplied USA maps cover the USA and Canada. Maps of Europe are also available.

Customization Setup

There are some customizations that can be done from the preferences. These include:

The maintain POI and maintain Favorites allows you to manage the unit locations you have saved. For POI's you can create your own categories and provide your own names for locations. These can be used a proximity alarms so that an alarm sounds when you get near one. In England these are sometimes used to store the fixed locations for "Safety cameras", speed traps. Distance is only by category. There are likely to be third party poi databases available at some point.

Bugs and Tips

The biggest problem on this product is after the route is generated. Sometimes the route directions shows duplicate turns or leaves out turns. Sometimes the route itself will leave the road, only to return in a few feet. Sometimes the name of the road will be incorrect, particularly if the name changes near the turn.

I had a corruption of the SD card while loading maps. I needed to use a card reader to remove the extraneous files generated by a checkdisk program.

When changing versions of the software the voice may stop. Select the voice name again to reenable it.

You can use multiple SD cards but a copy of the program and a copy of the voice files must be on each card along with whatever maps you intend to use. If you generate favorites on multiple card there is no way to merge them so be sure you keep them straight and don't overwrite one with another.

To look for stuff graphically switch to the status screen and tap map. You can then drag the map around, tap places of interest, even save a map location in your favorites or poi's.

The state roads were shown with the federal highway shield around the number.

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 reasonably fast and it did a pretty good job most of the time. The user can guide the router after the fact with an alternate route using the route via which worked well but they had be be previously defined locations. Not everything is intuitive. For example if you wanted to add a via location with the map you cannot use the Alternate Route menu. Instead you use the status screen, display the map, move the cursor where you want and then tap the cursor key to reveal a Travel Via entry.

There is the ability to modify the computed route with avoids and roadblocks (detours). The avoids are not remembered for future use. The maps are some of the best available in my area (out in the country) 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 but others may prefer the simplicity. You can switch to a map screen that lets you tap on the POIs. The 3D display has a high "wow" factor and I am sure this will be the favorite screen for some users.

The lack of routing options may affect some power users but the ease of use will appeal to the casual user.

The screen glare was the worst feature of the product, but this can be corrected if you buy a screen protector with anti-glare characteristics.

By Dale DePriest - All rights reserved.

revision

initial release 2004/12/10
revision based on 5.0 upgrade 2005/6/1