by Darren Griffin
TomTom's x40 series (540, 740, 940) was received to critical acclaim back in Aug 2008.
Following on from the very popular x20 and x30 model ranges the x40 needed to be very good if it was to persuade existing users to dip into their savings and upgrade. And TomTom's LIVE services did just that.
Just over a year later, TomTom announced the x50 range (550, 750, 950). Although the external design remained unchanged, the finish has been subtly altered and the software upgraded to the latest Navcore release, version 9.
The x50 range is fully LIVE services enabled as you would expect with the subscription based service providing access to HD Traffic, Google Search, Fuel Prices, Weather and Safety Cameras.
TomTom claim the x50 range "calculates a route faster than ever before and ensures drivers are ready to go within seconds". Voice Command has been improved as has the speaker and of course, the latest maps are included.
The latest incarnation of Navcore adds an 'eco route option to the route calculation screen and with petrol approaching £1.20/litre and set to increase another 3p thanks to the Budget that could prove very useful.
But it's not all win-win. Unusually in an upgrade, TomTom have chosen to remove some of the features that were popular in the x40 range such as FM Transmitter and MP3 playback.
In the Box
For our review we had access to the entry level GO 550 and the range topping GO 950.
Unlike the x40 range whose feature list proved to be very confusing, the x50 has been simplified with the only difference between models now being the amount of on-board memory and the installed map.
The 550 is the single country model with 1GB of on-board flash memory and, in our case, the United Kingdom and Ireland map. The 750 increases the on-board memory to 2GB and has the Europe map installed and the 950 has 4GB and adds a North America map as well.
All models come with the same list of accessories in the box. You will find the active dock and a 12/24v cigarette lighter charger for in car power. Also supplied is a 'Connect' cable, a cable with a USB plug on one end and the x40/x50 dock connector on the other. This allows you to charge and update your device from a computer.
Also supplied is a quick start guide. Unlike previous versions, the supplied equipment is standard across all the x50 models. x40 models used to come with a desk dock but this is now relegated to the extra cost accessories option list. If you want one, you'll have to pay extra for it.
Active Dock, miniUSB Charger & Connect Cable
Anyone upgrading from an x40 device will be pleased to hear that the unit is identical in size and shares all the same connectors as the x40 before it. So any existing cradles and accessories will continue to work with the new model.
TomTom's LIVE Services line-up remains unchanged with HD Traffic, Safety Cameras, Fuel Prices, Google Local Search, and Weather.
All the x50 models include 1 month's free subscription to LIVE services but TomTom have a current promotion which bundles 1 years access worth £95 out of the box.
The relative importance of each facet of the service is very much down to the individual user. Personally I find HD Traffic and Google Local Search to be the most useful with Fuel Prices being of only occasional benefit and weather and buddies rarely used. The TomTom safety camera data (supplied by Road Angel in the UK) is easy to use but the quality of the data continues to raise concern.
HD Traffic has had its ups and downs. When it works it is the best example of floating vehicle data available but the service has seen a number of outages and on a number of occasions I have received no warning of traffic issues on my route only to be faced with 3 lanes of traffic at a standstill. So clearly there are still a few bugs that need ironing out.
Overall it works well and is certainly a nice service to have when undertaking a lengthy journey. Being able to plan your route and then see an overview of any incidents on route whilst you sip a cup of tea in the comfort of your home is lovely.
Google Local Search is also useful and can be invaluable when looking for an address that is not catered for by a POI. Need to find a shopping mall, or a cinema? A quick visit to the Google Search screen will have the address for you in a few seconds and it can then be automatically set as a destination.
The active dock remains unchanged from previous versions although it is now the standard version with mini-USB only, no aux-out or iPod Connect facility included.
It has proved a reliable dock and is simple to install and secure to the windscreen with a quick turn of the rubber wheel around the outside of the base to secure.
Navcore 9 sees a number of changes and improvements although not all will be met with approval.
When you start up the device for the first time you are presented with the usual preference requests, language, 12/24h time and voice guidance options. You will also note a new addition, an option to configure three destinations that you use regularly i.e. Work, School etc so that you can select them with only a few taps of the screen, a nice touch.
A new feature, create a list of regularly used destinations
The main map display screen has had a refresh too. Now the main information bar running along the bottom is split into three distinct sections.
On the left is speed, compass direction and time. In the middle are the turn instructions and distance to next turn whilst on the right is displayed your ETA, time of arrival and distance to destination.
The new information bar
Each section of the info bar has another function as well. Tap the left hand section to get the volume adjust bar and to hear the last turn instruction repeated. Tap the middle section to switch between 2D/3D view modes. When no route is planned the middle section shows the 2D/3D buttons as shown below:
Tapping the right hand section pulls up the route overview page:
The overview page has a 'LIVE' tab which allows you to an at a glance view of the traffic situations on your planned route.
The changes are minor but are welcome improvements. All the information is logically displayed and presented in an easily digested format. It's one of the features I like most about TomTom that all the information is displayed on the map display at all times in a way that neither clutters the screen nor results in tiny fonts that cannot be read.
As before, HD Traffic information is presented in a small strip running up the right-hand side of the display. The strip displays all the incidents on your planned route with your departure (or current location once moving) at the bottom and your destination at the top.
In the example on the right here you can see there are three incidents on our route.
The incident flag shows you that the first issue is queuing traffic, 39 miles from our current position and it is estimated it will add 2 minutes to our journey time.
You will note that there are a further two reported issues affecting our route further ahead and again, queuing traffic. At the top is a flag that shows the total delay for all the incidents on our route, in this example, 16 minutes.
Tapping the HD Traffic info bar pulls up the HD Traffic page:
The map colours have also seen an update with the colours being much warmer and easier on the eye in my opinion.
Voice Control has been much improved in this release and if that is something you use a lot then you'll be pleased to hear that it works much more effectively than in earlier versions. Personally I don't see the point in such a facility when it requires you to press the screen to activate it.
The rest of the software is all very familiar to users of other TomTom's. Despite TomTom's claims about improved route calculation speeds I found it could be sluggish on occasion even when calculating relatively short local routes. It is also particularly slow when re-drawing the Traffic Map and overlaying all the HD Traffic incident data.
The removal of a music playback facility on the 950 is clearly a move to reduce costs. Similarly, without the facility to play music, an FM Transmitter becomes surplus to requirements (and indeed possibly illegal). Whilst many of us have iPod's, the facility to load up a memory card with some MP3's was popular despite TomTom's belief that it was rarely used but the need to keep the shelf price low has meant it is no longer available. In the end I agree that it is much better that these devices concentrate on navigation.
The only media options now remaining are a document reader and photo gallery, both rather pointless.
I only briefly tested the hands free facility as I am of the belief that mobile phones should not be used when driving full stop. But for the purposes of the test I paired my Blackberry and made a test call. Voice quality was good, the other end reported my voice was acceptably loud with only minimal engine/road noise etc.
TomTom's user interface has always been a model of user friendliness. They got it so right from the very first release that subsequent updates have been able to offer little more than new features. It is still seen as the benchmark against which all others are compared.
As for the x50 hardware, it's well made, nicely designed and svelte enough to slip into a pocket or handbag without any issues. The dock works well, it's easy to attach the device and similarly simple to remove so full marks there.
Points were deducted for the removal of MP3 playback capability and the loss of FM Transmission in the higher end 950 model. Personally I never had much success with any FM Transmitter and if I want to play digital music I have my iPhone/iPod hooked up the car stereo.
The software features offer a great set of services, HD Traffic still has some way to go but has come on in leaps and bounds since it was first released. Google Local Search is a boon when you need to locate an address that is not covered by the pre-installed POIs.
I have purposely not covered the safety cameras as we will not be seen as unbiased in this area. I will simply say that despite TomTom's purchase of Road Angel data for the UK, there are still some very surprising omissions and errors.
In conclusion then, another very good product from TomTom, still the best user interface available and some very useful services from the LIVE subscription. if you are in the market for a new satnav then this ticks all the boxes. If however, you already own an x40, this is not an upgrade but at best a side-step. Keep your x40 and update the maps instead.
||127 x 85 x 23mm
||4.3" wide screen
||480 x 272 pixels WQVGA
||Rechargeable - up to 3hrs quoted life
||1GB internal flash plus ext microSD card slot
||2GB internal flash plus ext microSD card slot
||4GB internal flash plus ext microSD card slot