(Pocket-lint) - Of all TomTom's satnav offerings, the Via appears to make the most sense. It offers Traffic, meaning it's a full head and shoulders above the entry-level Start model, but it's slimmer and much more affordable than the Go models.
Available in two sizes: on review here is the 62, meaning it offers a 6-inch display; the 52, following logic, offers a 5-inch display and comes in at £20 cheaper, although the feature set is otherwise identical.
So it sounds like a winner. But is this latest TomTom PND the one to choose?
TomTom Via 62 review: Design
There hasn't been a huge variety in design in personal navigation devices over the past years. Based around a central display, there's a fairly wide bezel and some bulk. Compared to the latest smartphones it is certainly a big lump, measuring 162.5 x 104.8 x 23.8mm. It weighs 280g, but as you're not supposed to carry it around in your pocket, this might not matter.
The big differentiator in design between the top-of-the-range Go model and this mid-range Via is the mount. The slimline mount of the Via attaches to your windscreen with a twist to lock the suction cap in place and then the display unit can clip into it.
Although the TomTom Go's magnetic cradle mount is pushed as a feature, it's less useful, as it's much bulkier. When you disconnect the Via, the suction cap folds down against the back meaning it's easy to stow the complete unit in a door pocket or glove box. The TomTom Go, by contrast, often needs stowing in two parts, so this is an immediate win for the Via in our books.
As for the unit design, there's little to say, except we found that the chamfered edge to the bottom bezel had the nasty habit of catching the light and reflecting in bright conditions. It might look neat, but a softer finish might have been better for when out on the road.
TomTom Via 62 review: Features and connectivity
We mentioned TomTom Traffic in the intro and there's a good reason for that: it's one of TomTom's top features, and the biggest lead that it offers over built-in satnav systems and rival standalone devices, including smartphones.
Systems like Google Maps, Waze or the satnav in your BMW all offer traffic, but we've never found any of them to be quite as accurate and useful as TomTom's Traffic. That's certainly a reason to buy the a Via, as it will find traffic, calculate alternatives and find you the best route to your destination.
In this case, however, unlike the Go 6100 with its own data connection, it relies on a connection to your smartphone. That means you'll have to pair via Bluetooth and enable Bluetooth tethering on your phone for that connection to work. You'll also have to have a data allowance on your smartphone, although the data the Via uses is very small, as it's only for updating Traffic data, not downloading maps like some smartphone-based systems.
The Via's other trick is that it offers calling functions and voice control. The former uses that connection to your smartphone to examine your phonebook and let you make and receive calls, using the TomTom's own speaker and mic. That's a handy addition if your car doesn't have Bluetooth.
The second function is voice control. Using the trigger term "Hello TomTom" you can speak various voice commands, which are also displayed on screen so you can see them. This makes it easy to use, as there's very little learning curve to worry about, unlike with most car voice control systems.
Finally, the Via 62 is compatible with TomTom's MyDrive system. Using the account you'll need to activate TomTom Traffic, you'll be able to find and save locations via the website or app and send those to your satnav. That means you can plan a route before you get in the car, so as soon as your device is connected, it will offer to take you there.
That's a clever function, but the TomTom MyDrive app is a little primitive, especially compared to things like Google's smart searching offered through Maps. Still, if you have an address or postcode, it's pretty easy to plan where you're going.
TomTom Via 62 review: Performance on the road
We've long been fans of TomTom's mapping and navigation. The use of live Traffic means you can avoid long delays on your route for an accurate arrival time. The Via 62 neatly shows the current time and the arrival time on its right-hand side so you can always check progress.
TomTom's display on its satnavs hasn't changed hugely in the past few years, but there has been an effort to refine what's offered without adding confusion. Some systems have a huge range of detail, constant points of interest and distractions that perhaps don't matter. With that in mind, we think TomTom's system offers the best solution for drivers, but perhaps not for explorers who want lots of information along the journey.
Navigation is generally sound, and through lots of driving experience we think that TomTom does a good job of finding the best route – and we've driven all over the UK and Europe using TomTom navigation.
There are some weaknesses, however, especially when it comes to picking a direct route on small roads versus a longer route on bigger roads. Driving on A roads or motorways is usually preferable to B and C roads, especially if the time difference is only 10-minutes, and TomTom often takes you on smaller roads to get you there faster, if not in the most relaxed state.
You can change the preferences to take the most eco-friendly route, which aims for the most consistent approach and avoids some more direct routes. But this isn't quite the best compromise - we've had it choose a longer motorway route for more consistent speed instead of a dual carriageway selection, which would have been equally fast but more direct.
The TomTom Via is fairly accurate in finding locations, with full postcode searching available. Sometimes you might appear on the wrong side of a fence or something, given that postcodes cover large areas in the UK. If you're driving into the unknown it is handy to check what your destination looks like before you drive off into oblivion. This is the obvious downside compared to Google Maps, which will show you a photo of the building you're driving to in many cases.
However, with good signage, accurate and timely voice instructions and a clear display, about the only remaining limiter in the TomTom is the lack of pinch zooming. That's a feature that's reserved for the TomTom Go; on the Via you'll have to tap the buttons to zoom in and out, which is a little painful in today's tech world.
TomTom Via 62 review: So what's the problem?
The TomTom Via 62's biggest problem appears to be stability. We spent over two weeks driving with the new PND fitted and found that restarts were common. We'd be driving through deepest Cornwall, about to make a turn on a minor road, to seek out that hidden staycation wonder, and the Via 62 would restart.
On longer road journeys we saw the Via restart about four or five times. Whether this is something that affects all Via models and needs a software update, or is particular to our review unit, we can't say - but it might be worth reading some other reviews to see if similar was experienced elsewhere, before you part with your cash.
Then we come to the Bluetooth connectivity. Although the Via 62 connected with no problems, it would regularly go through a cycle of connecting and disconnecting to our phone - the HTC 10 in this instance - during the first 30-minutes of driving. That means that Traffic would be patchy, which is a shame, because it's one of our favourite features.
The TomTom Via provides a good mix of features for the price. Opt for the smaller Via 52 and you're looking at around £150 for a full package – accepting that you'll have to supply your own data connection. The Go 6100 might give a more seamless experience, but there's a huge price difference and the navigation experience at its core is very much the same.
The navigation fundamentals are great, with good clear mapping that's easy to follow. But our concern remains over stability. The number of restarts we encountered was frustrating; the Bluetooth fluctuations compound this, making the Via 62 difficult to recommend as it stands.