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TomTom GO US Review Sunday 28th November 2004

Review by Lutz Bendlin

 

The GO in the US

We have already reviewed the European version of TomTom GO back in June 2004. The following article attempts to expand on that review, and to show some of the US specific aspects of the GO.

 

Coverage

The US version of the GO we are reviewing here came with a 1GB SD card that's filled to the last megabyte. All of the Mainland US, Alaska, Hawaii, Guam and Puerto Rico maps are included. The continental US coverage includes the Major Roads network (for coast-to-coast routing) as well as six large chunks of multi-state maps.

 

It's important to know that the Major Roads map ionly cities, not post codes (ZIP codes).

 

If you plan a coast-to-coast trip you won't see this as a problem but if it's to a close by location in another map chunk then this is somewhat annoying.

 

The coverage of US highways is also mildly disappointing. One of the major arteries in Houston, SH 249, is missing from the map. "These maps really need to be updated" should be the casual greeting when TomTom employees get on the phone with TeleAtlas…

 

In summary, the Major Roads map really only helps you when you want to do a coast-to-coast all on Interstates. If you are after scenic drives then you have to use the other map chunks.

 

If you live on the border of two chunks you will need to switch maps manually – cross map routing is still not possible (same as on TomTom Navigator). My general impression is that the maps are identical to the ones that were distributed ages ago with TomTom Navigator 2.24 for the US. The competition has a clear advantage with newer maps.

 

    

 

    

 

    

 

It's a consumer device

The GO has clearly been designed with the consumer in mind. You switch it on, select the required map, get a fix, and off you go. It is easy to enter a destination, and you can start your navigation and not touch the GO any more until you have reached the destination.

 

The User Interface is consistent with the Palm and Mobile versions, and with the upcoming version for the Pocket PC (version 4). My personal opinion is that the TomTom rendering engine is the one on the market that has implemented Usability guidelines to the highest degree of excellence. Type ahead features, memory of previous entries, big finger friendly buttons, clear lines, clean screens, friendly colors. (Interestingly enough I DO dislike the rounded corners, but that's a very minor detail).

 

Be warned - the GO is not a geek device. Do not expect to be able to navigate to a Latitude/Longitude location. Avoid areas? Nope. Route planning options (fastest/shortest)? Not a trace. And so on. A large number of TomTom Navigator features is missing from the GO. Some of them (like avoidance of toll roads) will hopefully be implemented in new versions; others (like Latitude/Longitude) may never make it into the GO's software.

 

Speaking of new versions – make sure to frequently check the TomTom web site and our forums for updates – at the time of writing the version 4.42 just came out with some improvements to the management of custom POIs as well as other enhancements.

 

Exploring the GO - The preferences

Preferences are very intuitive on the GO, continuing from the good foundation of the Navigator.

 

    

 

The only function that I had trouble with was the fact that the home location is now separate from the favorites list (it was number one of the favorite in TTN).


Turning the screen upside down is a nice gimmick but it does require the active mount with external antenna connector. According to TomTom that mount is still under development and will be available later. "Set Clock" is (in version 4.40) adjusting your GO's clock to UTC (plus/minus), so each time you do this you have to change the hours back to your time zone.

 

    

 

You can select the language of the voice instructions from a variety of speakers. Later in the article we briefly touch on how to add your own voices.

 

 

ASN is the "Assisted Satellite Navigation" feature that allows to continue navigation for a short time after the satellite signal is lost.

 

POIs (Points Of Interest)

 

Since version 4.40 the GO supports not only the built in Points of Interest but also custom POIs. POI groups can be selectively displayed, and can even get enabled for proximity alerts – either directly on the route or a specifiable number of yards away. There is no need for a POIWarner or CheckPOInt add-on - this feature is already integrated in the GO's software.

 

    

 

The GO has no connectivity to the outside world except for the USB connection to the desktop, so for the time being you will need to synchronize your POIs (the OV2 and BMP files) manually to the map directories of the GO's SD card.

 

Alternative routing

The GO has plenty of options to help you when your trip is not going as planned.

 

    

 

Of note is the subtle change in the base color of the dialogs – from blue to red to green, making the user understand the different severity of his or her actions.

 

    

 

You can specifically exclude steps from the route. The GO recalculates and shows the difference in the map (note the bright red original route) and in the summary text (the text in brackets shows the original distance and duration, just to let you know how much time you are losing and to make you feel bad about your diversion). Excluding steps from a route requires a GPS signal – a minor bug.

 

 

Long distance routing

I briefly tested the routing performance for very long routes, and there were no surprises.

 

    

 

It did take a few seconds to calculate the route, but by far the longest time is spent writing the route instructions – be patient there.

 

The final result looks reasonable and you are good to go on this afternoon stroll.

 

 

Mounting the GO in the Car

The suction mount that comes with the GO has an outer plastic ring that extends beyond the suction disk. I have to call this a design flaw. Why? Because for curved windshields like on my car this means the plastic ring is preventing the suction disk from making sufficient contact with the glass. This results in the suction cup falling off from certain areas of the windshield where the curvature is too strong. Make sure you test the mount thoroughly before you put the GO on to the mount because otherwise you may just see it tumble down onto the floor in no time.

 

    

 

I mentioned that the GO is pretty heavy. This translates into quite some vibrations unless you find a way to rest the mount either on the dash or somewhere else – I found a halfway satisfactory solution by squeezing the GO against the A column of my car (Note: American car with steering wheel on the left). That helped quite a bit to get the GO stabilized, and in passing also provides a sufficient sky view.

 

 

Speaking of which - the GO's antenna seems to be pretty sensitive, and is capable of locking on to a sufficient number of satellites even when there is no optimal skyview. Positioning the device directly on the dash or in front of the radio should still give you the four or five sats you need for uninterrupted signal.

 

The Inside

Here we go again. Time to open up - but only for me. Please do not open your GO – it will void the warranty!


One of the biggest achievements of the GO is the speaker. It simply blows everything else on the market away. TomTom have done an amazing acoustics job here. Lets see how they did it. .

 

 

The front comes off after some fingernail work.

 

 

The main unit is very compact.

 

 

The back casing is a big contributor to the sound of the unit. Sturdy yet flexible.

 

 

But when you turn the base unit around you see the secret behind the success – the speaker is just HUGE. Compare this to the mediocre speakers that are used in today's Pocket PCs and powered mounts, and you know why there is such a big difference.

 

 

By the way, most of the weight of the GO actually comes from the speaker. So next time you complain about the GO's considerable weight, you know it is heavy for a (good) reason.

 

 

This picture shows the antenna. So where is the ASN? The "Assisted Satellite Navigation" - a three dimensional gyroscope with no moving parts, this mystical device that is supposed to stand in for the GPS when the satellite signals are gone, for example in a tunnel.

 

Now there are not many tunnels where I live so I could not really test it. And the parking garages don't really count… And in urban canyons it doesn't help either – there you have too many conflicting signals rather than no signal.

 

Anyhow, I could not find any trace of the ASN. Anyone?

 

Extreme GO tuning

This paragraph goes into some detail on the software of the GO – please skip it if you are not interested.

 

The GO is – as you may or may not know – based on Linux. Since that's open source, TomTom have provided extensive information here: http://www.tomtom.com/gpl . The site says: "TomTom GO currently uses version 2.4.18-rmk6 of the ARM Linux kernel, with modifications by TomTom, which provide drivers for the specific TomTom GO hardware".

 

Does that mean the GO software should also run easily on the iPAQ Linux?

 

The core

Anyhow, a closer look at the SD shows that there are three crucial files.

  • system - the bootloader
  • ttsystem - the Mini-Linux that also includes the TomTom Go software
  • data.chk - contains all strings and the non-localized sounds (ding dong etc)

Another pair of files contain the localized voices that you can select from the GO's configuration menu (DATAxx.CHK), and their control files (VIF).

 

Last but not least you find the map directories, with pretty much the same file structure as in the TomTom Navigator 3 version. Note: You do need to own licenses for both versions (TomTom GO and TomTom Navigator 3) to swap maps between them.

 

The voices

There is a big selection of local voices included, amongst them two female and one male American English versions.

 

The voices are, true to the Linux motive, OGG Vorbis encoded and then compacted into CHK files. Apart from that they are mostly identical to the WAV voice files that are used by TomTom Navigator.

 

What this means is you can indeed influence the way the GO speaks to you. I, for example, do not like the word "After" being spoken at every turn. So I replaced the "after.wav" file with a nearly empty copy (completely removing the file doesn't work).

 

For the GO I simply re-encoded the WAV files into OGG Vorbis format. You can do this for example with the freely available oggenc.exe, or you may want to use a more sophisticated program if you want to raise the volume, normalize the sounds, or if you want to record your own voices.

 

Next, there is a tool available on the web ( http://ghostwheel.de/viftool.zip ) that allows you to pack the OGG files into a CHK file. The tool will also create the required VIF file. Let me know if you need more details on this process. If you can understand german you can also hear it directly from the author of the tool here.

 

The last step is to copy the file pair onto the SD card and select the newly created voice from the GO preferences menu.

 

The maps

As mentioned previously the 1 GB SD card is pretty well packed to the maximum. If you are planning to add POIs you will have to delete something off the card.

 

    

 

You can delete voice files that you don't need (the DATAxx.CHK files) or you can get rid of some of the maps that you may not need (no offense, dear inhabitants of Alaska!) – either via the preferences menu or by connecting the GO to your desktop or notebook computer and deleting the map directory from the SD card via the "card reader" (the GO, so to speak).

 

If you need the deleted maps back you can copy them over from the backup you have made of the SD card when you received the GO. You did make a backup, right?

 

Oddities

One of the most glaring omissions on the GO is a power save mode. If you forget to switch it off then it will drain it's battery completely. Fortunately this is not too big of a problem since most of the preferences are quickly changed back to what you had before the power outage.

 

Another annoying omission – there is no indication about the charging process when the GO is switched off. The front LED will be on whenever power is applied, it does not blink while charging. To know how far the charging process has gone you will need to disconnect the GO from the mount and look at the charge meter.

 

Route Planning

In the US it is very important to be able to enter a street name before you select the city – simply because many streets in suburbia extend through multiple cities, and you never quite know which one it is this time. Having the choice of cities (even better: ZIP codes) and distances will then allow you to pick the right one. With the TomTom GO it's hit and miss. You will have to try all the cities until you find your street or intersection.

 

Here's another one: Say you want to plan a route ahead of the actual trip. You sit at home, are planning the route from A to B, and you then want to block certain parts of the calculated route.

The TomTom GO refuses to do so and instead gives you a not so subtle error message.

 

E-roads

E roads are trans European roads. A highway in Germany may have a name like A9, and another "european" name like E44. The setting to de-emphasize E-roads will call the road A9/E44 rather than E44/A9 on the map display and the turn instructions.

 

Of course this is irrelevant in the US and this setting should have been omitted from the User Interface. Simply ignore it.

 

Strange maps

Maps are still quite a bit of a disappointment, but this is not just limited to the GO. TomTom have again not used the opportunity of the GO launch to deliver new maps. Instead, the maps are exactly the same ones that were out of date already when TomTom Navigator 2 got rolled out in the US. I would estimate them to be from mid 2002.

 

Here are some of the bloopers, some funny, some outright dangerous.

 

 

Those of you who know Corpus Christi will know what's funny about this picture.

 

    

 

This one's just plain funny. Reminds me of a divining rod. Maybe there's oil underneath that road…

 

 

This one is not at all funny. Despite multiple requests into both TomTom and TeleAtlas this dangerous intersection mistake (the one way arrows in the U-Turns point in the wrong direction) is still not fixed.

Of course these map errors are not specific to the GO. You will find them in the TomTom Navigator, and in the versions for Palm and Smartphones.

 

Pro's

  • high optical appeal and cuteness factor
  • fantastic sound
  • functionality reduced to the max
  • All of the US maps on the storage card

Con's

  • Old maps
  • No automatic standby mode
  • Suction mount not suitable for curved windshields
  • Too bulky to take out of the car
  • Expensive

Conclusion

The TomTom GO is an excellent consumer navigation device that can be used in one or more cars. (It is of limited use outside the car because it's just too heavy and bulky for that – even though the battery can last about five hours when fully charged). It can truly be used "out of the box" with little to no training.

 

The GO does not have the complete feature set of its sibling TomTom Navigator, but there is still a good deal of customization that you can do to it. Most notable is the support for custom Points of Interests and the built-in proximity alert.

 

The GO would be the perfect device if it had newer maps.

 

 

References

Manufacturers Website TomTom GO
Pocket GPS Contributor
   
Rating  
Durability
Mount Strength
Acquisition Times
Car Power Cable Quality
Ability to plot route and follow
Voice Navigation Quality
Re-routing Quality
Map Detail
   
Overall Rating 77.5%
How did we achieve these ratings ? Review Ratings
   

 

Comments ?

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