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Buying a Sat Nav is, in my experience, somewhat of a bewildering experience due to the increasing amounts of features, free or purchasable maps and other services such as traffic or speed camera alerts that are on offer from the manufacturers of these devices. My needs are simple; I need a device I can rely on when on to get me from A to B on family days out be they in the UK or Europe, and occasionally for work purposes. I don't do a huge amount of mileage but I do often venture to pastures new.
I bought this device back in November 2012 purely and simply as I had been keeping my eye for out for a new one; it was a Black Friday offer, at £94 compared to its usual selling price of £134, with free lifetime maps. I've found it to be a mixed bag and to not be without its frustrations and unnecessary functions. It's undoubtedly better than the ancient Navi-G I owned prior to this but it's taken me so long to write about it as I haven't found it an intuitive or easy device in some ways, despite being fairly clued up on using similar devices. I hope that my experience might be of some use if you are currently trying to work out which sat nav to buy.
What you get:
The Sat Nav, which has a 4.3" screen and 45 country maps, comes ready to go and charged with a standard USB cable and an adapter for the cigarette point of your car. Set up is easy, you connect to your computer and there is a downloadable piece of software to guide you through the process and any updates needed. Initially this process was somewhat hampered by my free lifetime maps offer not being recognised. A frustrating series of emails to Customer Service who failed to understand that amazon.co.uk was the same thing as amazon eu sarl (and therefore disputed the validity of my receipt), and eventually I was good to go. After a rocky start I have had no issues updating maps regularly through my account.
The device itself is quite sleek looking and I really like the integrated holder that goes straight onto the dash or windscreen. This folds down nicely and its compact for transport - I bought a case to go with it from TomTom, that was worth the purchase. Build quality is good and the speakers are clear and nicely integrated in the rear. It's compatible with the TomTom travel receivers - I don't have one of these. There are a range of features with this including voice recognition, and hands free blue tooth for use with your phone, and the satnav also has integrated info about local attractions such as petrol stations and car parks.
One thing that I find a little bewildering about this TomTom is the difficulty I have switching it on in the first place. You have to hold down what is a fairly weird feeling button on the back of the sat nav for more time than seems possible to turn it on, a good 10 seconds or so. There is *no* LED or anything to tell you if the sat nav is charging, on, off or dead forever. The amazon review pages of this device are full of people who said they couldn't turn the sat nav on because it didn't charge, I can only wonder if it's because they didn't persist with that button; understandably. It's a continual source of frustration for both me and my husband who also finds it annoying and I really don't understand why there isn't an LED, pretty standard fare in most devices and a strange thing to leave out here. The battery does seem to hold a charge well though, certainly there's been no journey I've been on so far that has defeated it.
Once on, the menus are navigated via the touch screen. Things go slightly better here, though it's a resistive and not a capacitive screen - so not eg as touch quick as an iphone, and it does feel a bit clunky if you are used to more sophisticated fare. It's ok, though the menus could be more intuitive. The home menu is accessed via touching anywhere on the screen - again something I took a while to work out. I have found the options fairly easy to configure, you can change the theme colours and voices to some extent, with more voices such as celebrity or comic ones being available on the Tom Tom site.
I'll talk about navigation first because that's, let's face it, the main thing you want to do with this device. There is good and bad news. The bad news is that despite my best efforts the voice recognition is pretty well a waste of time. Even with zero background noise and having what I would judge to be a fairly RP voice with no strong accent my TomTom thinks "Birmingham" is a strangely spelled town in Belguim, can't figure out Reading at all, although it did work out "Bournemouth". It recognises "14" as "42" and makes me want to shout at it. Even using the integrated help pages which suggest commands to use is no help at all - I can read off a suggested command such as "drive home" only to find that it's of no use at all. Do not buy this satnav because you like the idea of voice recognition, or you will be disappointed, I'm used to Siri on my iphone which gets it right most of the time but, despite trying a fair bit I have failed to learn to communicate with TomTom. One of us needs to go to Call Centre School.
The onscreen keyboard is a much better way of inputting a destination, and the search and calculating of route are good. Maps are updated via the TomTom site, and have, in the main been ok. It did try to take me through the Queen's Windsor Estate once, and failed to help me find my hotel on a recent Spanish trip (to be fair given the speed of construction on the Costa del Sol this is forgivable). Mostly though the directions are good, I've tried them out in a fair bit of the UK, France and the aforementioned Spain. The screen is clear, graphics are good and I can see which junction to get off and am able to configure the satnav to my personal preference. I have had a few issues such as not being able to work out how to turn off an annoying tone whilst driving - there is an alert if you are going too fast and for some reason my satnav thought the limit was 30 when it was 50. I found this distracting but it's not a frequent happening. The speed camera alerts can be useful but must be turned off in some countries, notably France where you risk a fine for their use. I have been able to add favourites and look for nearby car parks with relative ease. All in all the navigation is good and I can mainly rely on it, which ultimately is what I want.
You can use your phone hands free via bluetooth - I haven't used this much as my car already has this feature, it may be of use if you don't have this in your car but again bear in mind that the voice limitation effectiveness may hinder your actual use of this, I suspect that given the issues I have had with number recognition I may end up calling outer Mongolia if relying on my voice to input a number. I can't comment on use with TMC Traffic Receivers as I don't have one.
So then, good but could be better would be my analysis of this satnav. Specifically the voice recognition is a waste of time and the menus and screen could be a bit less busy and more intuitive. Interestingly I am lucky enough to have been recently sent a more expensive model (the tomtom 600 Europe model) to try out which has a capacitive screen and less menus and features, and so it does seem that tomtom are moving in the direction of making things simpler and sleeker, so far I have to say I prefer the 600 to this, even though it has a huge screen. The integrated help in this model is good though, but it's not better than using the satnav feature in my husband's android phone as a comparison. In what is a competitive market I think consumers probably expect something a little better than this, I know I do, I was expecting it to be more of an upgrade from my previous ancient satnav than it actually has been in practice, it's something that does the job but I can't say that I'm in love with it. Worthy of consideration if you can find it at a low price, but not a must buy.