Not so long ago you either paid a fortune for a dedicated satellite navigation unit fitted into your car’s dash or struggled with a PDA and a separate GPS receiver plus a tangle of charging and connecting cables festooned around the steering column.
Even then, you could barely hear spoken instructions without amplifying them through your car radio (yet another cable), and trying to tap instructions with a stylus while driving was about as safe as steering with your knees while texting on a mobile phone.
When self-contained portable sat-nav devices began appearing, they were cheaper than in-car devices but dearer than adapted PDAs, but we’re now seeing a new generation of advanced, low-cost stand-alones such as the TomTom ONE v3, which makes the PDA option look overpriced and antiquated. Shop around and you can get a TomTom ONE UK for £127 and the European version for £145.
Powered by a lithium-ion battery, the ONE runs for two hours without an external power source, or indefinitely when connected to your car’s cigarette lighter via a USB cable. A separate USB cable is provided for connecting to a PC, which charges the device and enables it to connect with TomTom’s online services. The screen is bright enough to be visible in strong light and the built-in speaker is loud enough to be heard over whatever in-car entertainment is playing, unless your idea of fun involves a boot full of sub-woofers.
The finger-operated touch-sensitive screen is 2.75 inches (70mm) wide, though TomTom refers to it as a 3.5-inch screen, measuring it like a monitor or TV screen across its diagonal. There is no problem selecting the on-screen icons or tapping in addresses and postcodes using a normal-sized finger, and in order to assess its suitability for those with large hands we were able to operate it with equal ease using our thumbs. A secure windscreen mount is provided and there are numerous third-party devices for attaching the ONE to dashboards, air vents and interior panels.
So, how good is it at giving directions? Well… not as good as a trained navigator but way better than the average human passenger. Things you have to get used to are occasionally being told to turn left or right when you would probably regard the turns as being merely bends; and mini roundabouts with two exits are described as conventional left or right turns. Crossing a major trunk road is treated as driving straight ahead, so no warnings are given when approaching this sort of junction.
You can learn to live with these quirks. What’s important is that the maps are accurate and up-to-date, route planning is quick and the instructions are clearly voiced. The unit is quick to latch on to GPS signals, especially if you attach it once a week to your PC so it can download local co-ordinates for satellites instead of having to search the entire sky. It also downloads map corrections made by other users and permits you to upload your own corrections for public consumption. Changes are vetted by TomTom before being released to the public.
As well as getting you where you want to go, the ONE can warn you if you’re approaching a safety camera or other potential hazard, and with a couple of taps it can re-route you around obstacles and hold-ups. There is no way of planning an itinerary with multiple stops, but there is a ‘Travel Via’ option, through which a single intermediate stop can be planned. This is usually enough to coax the TomTom into using the route you want it to take if it suggests one you don’t like.
On first use of a new TomTom ONE, you can go online and update both its maps and its database of speed (sorry, safety) cameras for free, so you’re sure of having the most up-to-date versions even if your TomTom has been on a retailer’s shelf for some time before you buy it.
An add-on RDS-TMC device is available for £70. This is capable of receiving free traffic information over the FM waveband, enabling the ONE to automatically route you around accidents or jams; but unlike the previous version of TomTom ONE, which had Bluetooth to communicate with a mobile phone, with this one you can’t subscribe to TomTom’s phone-based traffic services.
There’s a host of neat touches that make the ONE a pleasure to use. These include a volume control that is linked to the car’s speed, the option to be warned if you are exceeding the local speed limit, different screen intensities and colours for day and night driving, 2D and 3D map views, and routes planned for walkers and cyclists as well as motorists. There’s even a facility to change the screen layouts so that the most often-used buttons fall into place for left-handed users.
The only feature that didn’t work correctly on the review machine was the ‘Help me!’ service, which gave incorrect directions to doctors, police stations, pharmacies and dentists in cases of emergency. Once TomTom was aware of the problem, which applies only to devices running map version 7.05, a fix was quickly posted on its support site. Owners of any TomToms with the same glitch can download amended points of interest for the emergency services from www.tomtom.com/7892.
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