As probably any other technology junkie out there, I had been looking at the evolution of car navigation systems and thinking about how cool it would be to have a device that could really make it easy to travel in a unknown area without having to worry about studying maps ahead of time or having another person filling out the role of a navigator.
A friend of mine bought a TomTom One recently and was telling me how great this device was. Not that he's untrustworthy person, but for some reason I accepted the information but didn't decide to take any further action.
On our last trip to Yosemite, I didn't pay attention to the direction I was driving for a moment and forgot to take a turn that I should have. This little mistake cost us 1 hour delay, wasted gas and created some frustration. At that point I revisited the information from my trustworthy friend and started looking for a GPS car navigation system that was affordable, yet feature rich and reliable.
Consumer Reports made it clear that TomTom One is the way to go. Other reviews as well as information from my trustworthy friend confirmed this.
Last week, my TomTom unit arrived, after I ordered it on the Internet. It looks good, is compact, and is very easy to use. In the following days I started to get to know it during my daily commute.
It wasn't until last Thursday, that I had to put my TomTom into a real-world test. The main project that I work on right now at Sun is customization and deployment of Confluence for soon to be launched wikis.sun.com. Atlassian, the company behind Conluence, organized Atlassian User Group meeting in Stanford, that I was joining.
Even though I have been living in the San Francisco Bay Area for 2 years now, I don't know Stanford very well. The meeting was taking place in the Stanford campus, which is beautiful, but can be pretty challenging to navigate through thanks to many little streets with many intersections through out the campus. Combine all of that with my "talent" for doing things last minute and you get a person rushing to get somewhere where he's never been before. Sounds like a good challenge for my brand-spanking-new TomTom, right? ;-)
Well it really was. I left from Menlo Park campus much later than I originally planned to, so I quickly jumped into my car, input the destination address and headed out into the unknown.
TomTom picked a route that most likely I would have picked as well if I studied the maps or used Google Maps*. The fact that I didn't need to watch out for turns and making sure that I was on the right street made the whole "rush" much easier.
One thing that I observed during the first ride with TomTom was that the 3D maps that TomTom uses by default are really good. At first it seemed unnatural for me to use 3D maps instead of birds eye's view 2D maps. But after driving with the 2D maps on I quickly switched to the 3D view. It really is much easier to keep track of where you are and where you need to go on the 3D map!
There was one point during my travel to the meeting, when I truly appreciated having my TomTom. When I was already in the Stanford University campus, navigating through a maze of little streets, my TomTom said "Turn right", I tried, really tried - but the sign "Road construction. Road Closed" didn't let me go through. I had to take the only possible turn that there was and ignore the instructions. If I had just a small scrap of paper with driving instructions on it, I would have been lost. With TomTom there is no need for panic, I just took the only turn that I could, TomTom realized that something went wrong and recalculated the route taking into consideration my current position, successfully navigating me around the road construction.
I got to my destination on time and it wouldn't have been like that if it weren't for my TomTom One.
No product is perfect (at least not in my eyes ;-) ), so here is a few things that I'd like to see improved:
- Reorganized menu - some items that are often needed are buried deep in the menu structure (e.g. clear route), others are not found where one would look for them (e.g. edit favorites)
- Map Share technology recently announced with the TomTom Go 720 model, should become standard feature for all TomTom GPS products - to make this feature really useful they need to gain critical mass and to do that they should offer it in all products
- Redo the TomTom Home application - currently I found almost no value in this app - it's just shopping desktop application that happens to be able to backup your TomTom. Did I mention that it crashed on me at least 5 times on my Mac during the few minutes that I used it so far?!? All in all the app is next to useless. Features like creating an itinerary, reviewing past trips, showing some statistics are lacking.
- There are absolutely no statistics offered for the current trip, or just after reaching the destination. Americans love statistics, so it's interesting that such a feature is missing in a product that is successful on the American market ;-)
- Rama brought up a good point while we were talking about the device - there is no way to tell your current elevation. Isn't that like the most basic feature of a GPS device?
- The device seems to be a closed platform - software-wise as well as hardware-wise. I wish it was possible to write plugins that would make it possible to add some of the features that I miss. I haven't found any "developer" section on the tomtom.com website. If it was possible to connect the device with something else than bluetooth cellphones, it would be interesting to see what could one do with a combination of a TomTom and a SunSPOT - temperature, atmospheric pressure, humidity and acceleration readings, anyone? How about switching TomTom to the night mode when it gets dark outside? How many other possibilities would opening the platform enable?
- Last but foremost - I'd appreciate having a button which when pushed would make a car in front of me disappear. There should be a limit on how many "clicks" one can make per day or week though, to avoid a large scale abuse of this feature, which might have undesirable side effects :-D
See also: TomTom One Caught Speeding!
* btw have you heard of the new real-time route adjustment feature? It would be really great if it was this easy to adjust the route in TomTom.