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TomTom Navigator GPS USA

 - posted August 4, 2003 by Tong Zhang, Senior Editor

TomTom is a relatively new name in providing navigation solutions. Founded in 1991 and headquartered in Amsterdam, TomTom has grown to be one of the largest handheld software publishers for travel products in Europe. They offer navigation software, map software and foreign language dictionaries for both PDAs and mobile phones. TomTom’s GPS solution has gained such success in Europe that when they announced they were breaking into the US market, it created massive initial interest in the US. TomTom brought their navigation software to the US combined with Tele Atlas North America map data, hoping to make as big a splash as they did in their native continent.

TomTom offers two types of GPS receivers: wired mouse and Bluetooth GPS models. The wired mouse GPS receiver works in-vehicle only as it needs power from the cigarette lighter and it supports iPAQ 3600-5400 series, T-Mobile/XDA Pocket PC Phone Edition, Jornada 525-568 series, Casio E-115, E-200, Toshiba e330-e750, Dell Axim X5 and more. The Bluetooth GPS receiver works with any Bluetooth enabled Pocket PCs built-in or via Bluetooth expansion cards. Check TomTom’s web site for the complete list of devices supported.

We used the wired in-vehicle mouse GPS receiver with a Dell Axim X5 Pocket PC for the test and review.

TomTom Pocket PC GPS
Above, wired GPS for the Dell Axim X5

What’s in the box?

In the box you’ll find a wired mouse GPS receiver that connects to your Pocket PC’s serial port, a vehicle power adapter, a large car mounting kit that includes 3 different types of well-built mounting systems, a Quick Start Guide as well as the navigation software and map data on 5 CDs.

Installation

The TomTom GPS US package comes with 5 CDs that has a full-featured navigation software and map data for North America. The installation wizard is set up to help you step through the software installation process. While I like the single interface for installing navigation software, map data and accessing to the manual and other resources, the UI (user interface) of this installation program is much less polished. The un-intuitive UI could cause some trouble in the installation process.

After you insert the CD 1 with your Pocket PC in ActiveSync cradle, you will first install the navigation software. This part was very easy and painless. TomTom navigation software comes in 7 major European languages and English, and will give you voice guidance in the native language and accent (there are different voice prompts for US English and UK English). You will need to install 3 pieces of navigation software including TomTom GPS, TomTom Navigator, and TomTom Navigator Voice, total of 5.5MB on your Pocket PC. After this is done, you will be taken back to the main installation menu screen.

After you select Add Map option, you will see a list of the US states and the file sizes along with a visual US map on the left hand side. You can simply select the map files you wish to download; you will see the map filling selected states in red color, and go to the next screen. This is where I got stuck a couple of times. To avoid the same experience I had, here is what you need to do. After you select the map files, the installation program will tell you which CD this map data is on. Now, you need to quit out of the Set Up CD, pop the requested map CD, and use your file explorer to launch the map installation program. TomTom Navigator allows you to install the maps to three locations: Pocket PC, a card reader or your desktop PC. However, you can only install to one location at a time. On the Pocket PC, you have options to install the maps to My Documents (internal memory), Built-in Storage or Storage card.

Once the navigation software and map data are installed, you are ready to navigate and drive with your TomTom Navigator.

Trip Planning

You can navigate your routes right on your Pocket PC. In fact, you don’t have any desktop tools to do the navigation and route planning. TomTom navigation software on the Pocket PC however provides you with an extensive set of tools for route planning, guidance options, changing routes and more. No matter which view you are in, look for a pull-down menu on top left corner in each view to launch the Navigator main menu. You can switch to Map view, Instructions view, Split View (map and instructions on split window) and Favorites by using this pull-down menu as well.

TomTom navigation software seems to want you to plan your trip in the Map View as it gives you many tools for route mapping purposes. Tap and hold your stylus on the map and you will see a pop-up menu for you to enter destinations, add to favorites or POI, search for nearby POIs and reset the GPS for this location. You can enter new addresses as your destination or favorites, or use the addresses already in your Pocket Outlook Contacts database. There are also shortcut buttons below the maps that link to Navigator main menu screen, entering destinations and a slider screen that you can use to define how much detail you wish to see on your map. This is the first time I’ve seen such slider feature and found it very useful when you need to see street details, building details and check or uncheck the POI displays on the map. In addition, you will find a scroll bar on the right hand side, which you can use to zoom in or out on the map. Also very convenient! You can select an area on the map and tell the Navigator to avoid that area when planning a route. After you are done with your route planning, you can even watch a 3D animation demo of your route from the beginning to end with full visual and audio guidance in view.

Of all the routes I’ve mapped out, a few of the results did not come back with the best routes. You need to play with the routing options to see whether the Quickest or the Shortest route is the most suited for you. Nonetheless, the routing results always led me to the correct destinations.

Driving with TomTom Navigator

After you’ve planned out your routes, you can use a 2D map view, a text driving instruction view or a 3D map as your guidance. TomTom also offers a split screen where you can see both 2 D maps and text instructions in the same view. Use the pull-down menu on the top left corner to launch these views after you’ve calculated a route.

 

 

 

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To help you tailor the guidance system to your specific needs and re-route your trips on the fly, TomTom provides you with many options in the main Navigator menu. The Navigator main menu has 3 screens filled with large buttons for you to perform any function in TomTom. Navigate To allows you to navigate a route using addresses in your Home Address, Recent locations, Favorites, POI or new addresses you can enter here. There is a large on-screen keyboard that will help you type in the addresses. Note if you don’t have Home or Favorites yet, you need to go back to the Map view to add these addresses first. If you run into unexpected road conditions while driving, you can do a quick re-routing by selecting Alternative route, or tell the TomTom that the next part of your route is blocked and plan a new route avoiding this part of the route. Other options in the main menu include Turn 3D view on/off, Sound on/off, switch Night colors or Daytime colors, Find a specific location, Turn 2D or 3D map on, and much more.

The voice guidance (“Lori” in US version) feels on-target with frequent voice prompts not only before each turn, but also confirms the direction when you pass major intersections. There are other general options such as set Safety speed, map style, left-handed toolbar and much more in TomTom Navigator. We cannot cover everything. Explore the application for all the features.

GPS Status

TomTom also offers very extensive information about your GPS status and options to set up your GPS. In the Status screen, you will see general GPS info such as position info, moving speed, number of GPS in-sight and tracking, status indicator and more. In GPS screen, you can set any GPS receiver including TomTom Navigator GPS, select Com port, check your measurement system (Mph, Kmh, Kts), set power saving and sound options for your Pocket PC while connected to GPS. There is also a Log screen where you can playback saved trips.

TomTom GPS gets great signal strength once it’s got a fix. The cold start is a bit flaky. Make sure that your GPS receiver has full access to the sky, or put it outside of your car during the cold start for a faster fix time. The warm start takes very little time. I was able to get at least 6 satellites with strong signal strength.

About the Map Data

TomTom licensed Tele Atlas’ North America map data and bundled it with their Navigator USA GPS package. Tele Atlas is one of the major mapmakers who offers both US maps and international map data. They claim that their North America map data provides 100% basic attributed coverage for all of the U.S. and Canada. Basic attributed maps contain a complete street network, address ranges, ZIP codes, and geographic area codes. Tele Atlas employs a large professional field data collection force that drives the North American road network each day, gathering new information and updating their map data and POI database. You can check out a sample of Tele Atlas’ map on this site: www.mapsonus.com.

In addition to the maps, TomTom also bundled a POI database with 4 million entries. So far, I’ve been able to find all the streets I tested on, though the maps don’t indicate on which side of the streets your addresses are located. What TomTom didn’t bundle from Tele Atlas is the real time traffic report.

Conclusion

TomTom entering the US market could only mean good things for the consumers. Not only do they offer additional choices for those who are looking for GPS solutions for their Pocket PCs, but also for people who travel to Europe frequently, they can use a single solution. The navigation software is one of the best I’ve ever seen with rich features that make the GPS convenient to use. The extensive map view features such as detail slider, pop-up street names when you click on the map, zoom scroll bar and 3D map view make TomTom GPS very easy to use. The Tap and Hold approach to navigating routes on your map is also a nice design.

What to watch out for? When you plan your trip, make sure you play with the options of Quickest, Shortest, etc. to ensure the perfect route. I didn’t always get the best routes on the first tries. The navigation software itself is very polished and stable, but installation program was full of UI gaffs that could easily be fixed by the manufacturer. The user manual is one of the briefest I’ve ever seen in a GPS package and is too short. There are some parts of the software that are leftover from the European version, such as the Congestion Area to avoid in London metro. The GPS gets strong signal strength once it’s fixed a position, but I experienced flaky cold starts. Make sure you have full access of sky, preferably outside of your car during a cold start.

Price: $319
TomTom Website: www.tomtom.com