As TomTom continues to push what it expects a dedicated satnav (or PND) to do, the company has announced its latest flagship model, to both woo and show drivers around Europe (for the time being) what they can expect if they go TomTom.
But are the new features, just more things that you'll perhaps use, rather than actual functions that will get you from A to B? We jumped in a car with a prototype model in Amsterdam to find out.
Despite a completely new hardware design and a completely new software design, the unit should remain familiar to previous TomTom users. On the hardware front that means a 4.3-inch capacitive screen, an ARM 11 500MHz processor, dedicated graphics processor and 4GB of storage for plenty of maps.
The design has shifted towards that huge glass screen (yes it looks like it will be overly reflective at times) as you might expect, and that means there are zero buttons on the shell itself. Instead you get a smooth gun metal design. Even the cup socket for the widescreen holder has disappeared in favour of a strong magnet to hold it in place.
Although we don't have the actual weight of the device at present, it's light in the hand and more importantly in your suit pocket. The design is solid and looks to be well built when we got our mitts on it.
But as we've said it's not just hardware that has changed. The operating system, now based on webkit browser platform, that the iPhone and just announced BlackBerry OS 6 is based on, means a more fluid, graphically pleasing, interface.
TomTom, judging from our in-car demo around Amsterdam, seems to have worked hard to make this as consumer friendly as possible. Out are the multiple tiles and menu pages, in are contextual menus that change according to what you are trying to do. That means you'll never get more than six options on a page. The map is now the homescreen rather than, as Garmin offers, a "Take me" somewhere command.
That's very refreshing and a move that seems to work from our brief play. Like the TomTom Go Live 950, you can even opt to cut out the option to choose between fastest, eco and the like and just get on with what you want as standard each time.
On the road the map layout is smoother and softer. The webkit platform really helps here with menu transitions quick and fluid. In the mapping the company has opted for a more pastel colour scheme with details like distance to turn sitting on a bar that is akin to Apple's Mac OS X dock. Amusingly, when we pointed this out, our demo dude said that there was an ex-Apple employee in the software dev team.
Talking to a number of product demo chaps at the launch event, that capacitive screen is promising gesture control, a la iPhone, but they weren't working on our prototype unit, with TomTom officially staying coy as to whether it would make it to the final build.
With the ARM 11 500MHz processor and the webkit offering, TomTom is also promising fluid navigation. It won't take time to recalculate your route, it will do it automatically. unfortunately, however, our prototype took a good couple of seconds to spring into action when we forced our driver to go off route. That's not to say it's still not fast, because it is, but it's something we are going to hold judgement on until a final review unit comes in to the office.
This being the top of the range flagship model you get plenty of toys too. Mainly the inclusion of TomTom's LIVE services for the first 12 months for free. That's a hefty saving and gives you access to a number of different services like speed camera data, but most importantly HD Traffic, TomTom's very clever traffic system that micro-monitors (20 metre) stretches of road.
HD Traffic will automatically tell you what traffic is on your route, allow you to reroute automatically and give you the choice to either stick in the traffic jam or opt for a quicker route. The 2D interface is taken from the iPhone version suggesting there could be cross-pollination expected in future models.
What TomTom is creating here is a new beginning, taking an already popular and successful format (they've sold over 45 million devices so far) and moving it to the next level. With the webkit platform as a base, TomTom will be able to create something that has far more potential in the future as it will be updatable.
While the prototype was still shaky when it came to overall performance, we believe that all will be fixed in the 2 months or so before launch. The good news is that the company has a foundation for something that will achieve much, rather than something that will just plod along.
With the price still undecided we can only go on the assumption that it will be similar to that of the current flagship - £299. While that, for the occasional user, is a lot to pay when free alternatives are available on the market, this is still the most feature-packed device we've seen this year.
Promising, but only if they can iron out issues we experienced in our test drive with the prototype.
The TomTom Go Live 1000 is expected to be available in the UK and Europe sometime this summer.