(Pocket-lint) - Last year we saw the excellent HD Traffic system incorporated into TomTom's high-end devices, but with the XL Live, we now see the same offering at a much more affordable price. It's a move that makes sense, because the Go models can be a little over-the-top for a UK driver who just wants navigation for holidays and the occasional far-flung wedding.
Ok, so the XL Live European edition comes in a penny under £250, a £50 premium over the standard IQ routes edition of the XL, an excellent device in itself. It might look expensive compared to the array of device available for £100 or more less. However, we think it is worth every penny.
If European mapping doesn't interest you, there will also be a UK-only version of the XL Live which will cost you £229.99.
The design remains the same as previous TomToms, with a solid construction, sporting a neat black bezel and sleek lines, measuring 123 x 80 x 18mm, however the EasyPort mount and suction pad makes it 40mm deep, a size that you could very easily throw into most bags or even a cargo pocket without too much hassle.
It has a 4.3-inch touch display, which handles all the controls, save for powering on and off the device - a discrete button on the top handles that. It is a good bright display and a convenient size to glance at whilst driving. On the bottom is a Mini-USB, which accepts power from the 5V source in your car, as well as updating the unit via TomTom Home on your PC or Mac.
TomTom has for many years had a simple user interface and little has changed here. While the rivals compete to find some sort of innovative twist in their interface, TomTom remains the easiest to actually use. Being able to input letters and numbers from the onboard keypad is just one example, meaning entering a postcode a straight-forward action.
Setting-up your route is easy, both for immediate use or planning in the future. We like the fact that TomTom make it easy to plot out your route for a certain time of day in the future, giving you a decent indicator of your actual arrival time, rather than one based on theoretical maximum speeds on the roads. It also understands that motorways don't always make for the fastest driving, but at the same time, minor roads often make a poor choice. It's all about experience and TomTom manages to get it right, with IQ routes stepping in with local knowledge to guide you along.
Route guidance is excellent. Some people criticise the visually basic map display, but in reality, you want to be keeping your eyes on the road, not watching pretty pictures flit by on your satnav. But when you need more info, TomTom provides it with clear lane guidance and signage. The MapShare feature also means that updating maps within the TomTom community is incredibly easy.
In this, the XL Live hasn't changed much over previous versions, or indeed from the One below it or the Go series above it. The Live status of this model, however, does make a difference.
TomTom's HD Traffic service is the biggest part of the Live offering, and most likely to be the part that warrants the most attention. After all, fuel prices and traffic cameras are not unique to TomTom, with many rivals providing their own service.
Google Local Search means you can punch in pretty much anything and get local live results, which is ideal for finding things like a chemist or a curry when you really need one.
HD Traffic, however, is unique to TomTom. We reviewed it on the Go 740 last year and found to it be incredibly useful. What we didn't tell you was that we hung on to the review sample and continued to use it for months after the review went out. Surprisingly it threw up new routes for common journeys we were making until we soon found ourselves addicted.
TomTom would like you to use HD Traffic in this way, every time you hit the road. Of course, they have a financial incentive here, but in doing so you also contribute to the stream of data feeding into the system, providing a better service for other TomTom users. You get the first 3 months of Live services for free and you can bulk buy a year (£79.99) through TomTom Home.
But at £7.99 a month, you can easily buy a month for your holidays and head off with the premium service packed in. The fact that you don't have to have the service when you don't need it (perhaps for 10 months of the year), takes the sting out of the ongoing costs.
New to this version too is added support for European motoring. TomTom has a huge following in it's native Holland, but you'll also benefit from HD Traffic (and other Live services depending on territory) in Germany, France and Switzerland, with support for those territories in the XL Live European edition: ideal for touring holidays or those with caravans (The Caravan Club offers downloadable site POIs for TomTom as well as Garmin and Navman devices).
One thing we always mention is the suction mount. Some mounts won't last your journey, spilling your satnav into the footwell somewhere on the M1. TomTom's EasyPort mount is not only secure, but blindingly easy to use. Why others don't follow suit, we just can't fathom.
You also get points of interest with your TomTom with phone numbers where available too. But the company has always been clear that it is about navigation, not about entertainment, so this model won't be a PMP too. It also lacks features higher up the range that some rival units sport at this price: there is no Bluetooth for your mobile phone connection or FM transmitter to broadcast to your car's sound system.
The unit does have an internal battery, but on journeys over a couple of hours, you'd want to make sure you have the cable packed in. Satellite pick-up is also very fast, as is re-routing.
Overall TomTom XL Live emerges as our favourite model of satnav. The size is great for seeing exactly where you are going and the HD Traffic contributing to an already leading navigation system. Yes, you do pay a little more, but we'd rather spend the money and reap the benefits, than save a little and spend our holidays sitting in traffic.
Yes, some of the more advanced features are absent, but in reality, this is a device all about navigation, which TomTom pulls off with a flair randomly found elsewhere.