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TomTom One

09/01/07 | by Adam | Categories: Technology, Reviews, Macintosh

Link: http://www.tomtom.com/products/product.php?ID=259&Category=0&Lid=22

Summary: stand-alone car navigation system

I picked up a refurbished TomTom One earlier this year when Future Shop had a special on them. While it's worked pretty well inside the city of Calgary, I wanted to give it a good run for its money and the recent trip around Canada was a good test.

Basically the unit works well but the map data isn't so hot.

Let me go into that in greater detail. The TomTom is a small gizmo about the size of a box of playing cards. It's connected to the computer (OSX and Windows) via standard micro-USB port. The software on the computer is much more advanced on Windows than OSX but it's functional on both. Map data is stored on a 2GB SD card. More can be put on it such as saved routes or additional map data, but there's not a lot of room once the US/Canada data is on there. There's an integral battery which runs for about two hours but the best way to use it in a car is with the cigarette to USB charger supplied with the unit. It comes with a suction cup to mount it to the windscreen or dash; the former works relatively well. The screen while small is bright and clear and the default colour selections are well chosen. Data on the One can be copied back to the host computer. Unfortunately no planning can be done on host computer so all trip planning must be done using the One's slower CPU and smaller screen. There's also Bluetooth support to get current weather and traffic statuses but with Rogers' extortionate data fees I wasn't willing to try it out; besides I reckon it's probably very US-urban focused.

When first purchased, the map database has to be associated with the One. I'm not sure why that's not done at the factory but it should be a straight forward process. I still managed to muck it up and required a call to the support department to unlock the the map data. I couldn't get it to install the first time through and thereafter it wouldn't enable. The second time around after the support call it went smoothly.

It has a good user interface. It's simple to plan a route from A to B as the look-up tool for narrowing down city and street names is intuitive, albeit sometimes a bit laggy. The One is pretty good on placing street numbers so you do get to the correct block and frequently the correct location within that block. The simple route via or avoidance also works well. It's simple in the sense that just one detour is allowed but within the realms of simplicity that's fine. The trip planning tool is a bit more complex to figure out given the general lack of documentation but again, it's not bad as locations can be added, removed and reordered without difficulty. The onboard display allows easy flipping between map and FPS modes as well as daylight and night settings. The GPS location can take up to about 30 seconds from a cold start in a totally new location but generally there's a lock within seconds. Route generation is quick too and seems to take less than a minute for long distances with a fair number of options. While on the road, the unit recalculates alternatives upon a missed direction within seconds. I'm not crazy about the voices supplied but with three American, four English and one Australian there are at least options. Personally I found the Australian one the least irritating.

For navigation purposes, it's mostly good with the limitations mentioned below. Turns and lane positions are announced appropriately in advance. The voices give an extra boost to what it's trying to tell you and don't incessantly warn you about what you already know. Where it sometimes is awkward is when there are two close turn-offs and it can be unclear which is the right one. Normally though it'll say something like "Take the second right" to help disambiguate. I did find a few occasions where it didn't and I missed the turn or more commonly took the first one.

But the maps are not so hot. While it's normally spot-on in cities and is quite current -- for example the traffic patterns around the Elbow/Glenmore interchange were altered to include the temporary bypass -- the highway and rural support is pretty weak. Even on the Trans-Canada, it frequently had the position way off. At Lake Louise the intersection from the TC was in the wrong place with significantly different road options. It never did figure out where we were when driving up to the hotel. Along the old TC between Hope and Cache Creek we were usually depicted as driving about 15-20 feet off the highway. In some places you can understand where the road has been rerouted, albeit long enough ago that the old road surface is entirely overgrown, but in others it's just plain wrong. I thought this might have been due to poor GPS reception in the steep mountain valleys but it also did it along highway 7 in Alberta which is wide open prairie. The routing between Calgary and Vancouver decided that the fastest way was via Jasper. I actually had to put in an override for Rogers Pass to get it to use the TC. Some locations like Tswwassen which should appear as a point of interest (POI) (specifically a ferry terminal) could only be selected by inference rather than explicitly. I never did manage to find the Gardiner Dam in Saskatchewan on the unit although it happily routed us over it when we drove there. Often enough in the rural areas, roads have been re-cut such that right angle turns are replaced by curves. Even when it knows about these changes, the TomTom often tries to route via the old road.

To be fair, I really liked the POI support, keeping in mind that trying to have updated list of restaurants or gas stations is impossible. The search routine for locating stuff is pretty good though as it allows keywords and then sorts by proximity. In Swift Current, Saskatchewan, I used it to locate Shell petrol stations and CIBC bank machines. While in Eston SK, I used it to locate the nearest open restaurant one night (On a Monday at 8 pm that would be Kindersley, about 60 kilometers away.) I also really liked knowing where I was even when I wasn't using it to navigate. For example, on country roads with few signs or reference points knowing that you're only 30 kilometers from your destination gives a pleasant sense of security. The on-screen compass was useful for making sure you were going where you expected if you didn't have a route planned and were in unfamiliar territory. Adding one's own points of interest or favourites is great. That said, if you added a custom POI a bit off the roads it knew about, it would refuse to tell you how to get there stating there was no route to that location... There is further commercial support for updated POIs (like where to find Wi-Fi hotspots around the globe) but that's not in the base package.

Where the design of the TomTom One is weak is using as a general navigation device. It's great at planning a route from A to B but not if you're unsure where you want to go inbetween. It's not good at trying to view the predicted route and saying "Oh, I want to go there". The graphical route view doesn't show town names until zoomed in quite close and the textual route view usually includes only the intersections. You can force it to change by driving to the location but I found I was still pulling out the paper map when doing the semi-random driving to choose the next destination. The shortest route option should also be used with caution. When driving from Vancouver to Cache Creek, we were routed through residential neighbourhoods. The route probably was shorter than the default fastest but all we really wanted to do was find an alternative to driving on the Trans-Canada. Another annoyance was trying to figure out what road you were on. Sometimes it appeared to show the road you were connecting to instead which got a bit confusing. The ETA was typically off as it seemed to use the generic US 55 MPH speed which didn't map well to the Canadian 100 KMH speed limit on most roads.

Although it was never supposed to have it, I would still have loved to set it to record my path in an extractable format so I could then dump it to a KML file for use in GoogleEarth. Ah well, that's just wish-list stuff.

The TomTom One is a decent unit but the map vendor really needs to update the road content. The unit only came with a one year update for maps so I'm rather hoping that they get on that. The performance when viewing maps is not great but it is acceptable. I expect that the newer model, the XL, addresses that. I like it though and will recommend it to people who like gadgets and something to get them out of messes that they've driven into. At under $300 Canadian for the refurb it's not a very expensive unit and it does work better than I'd expected.



Comment from: dena [Member]  

I appreciate the run-down on this, Adam. :) Ritchie and I are thinking of getting one for my folks for a Christmas present, so it is good to know the strengths and limitations… especially since they often *would* be using it in rural areas.

It is still a hot contender in our minds. :)

09/01/07 @ 22:40
Comment from: Adam [Member]  

The TomTom maps did appear to have almost all of the rural roads I travelled on so your parents should be covered. If you want to borrow my unit for a couple of days and drive around where you expect them to use it, give me a yell.

09/02/07 @ 12:50
Comment from: clunga [Visitor]

I have problems with tomtom one. It works perfectly, but… my pc is not capable to see it when I connect it ( properly ), using last version of TomTom home 2.5

However if I look at the drive F ( Tomtom one ) the opc can read all files

Can anybody give me some suggestions?

01/24/09 @ 13:20
Comment from: Nimble [Member]  

No idea what trouble you’re having, clunga. Not too many people pop by here with TomTom issues. There’s one person I’ve seen on the ‘net have troubles through TomTom Home 2.5 because of files in their extensions folder:

C:\Documents and Settings\"user name"\Application Data\TomTom\Home\Profiles\"*.default"\extensions

They deleted them and all was fine.

I would highly recommend searching through TomTom Forums (http://www.tomtomforums.com) and then posting if you have troubles finding anything on your topic.

02/07/09 @ 01:41
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