(Pocket-lint) - The TomTom Start nudges its way into the entry-level point of TomTom's range, a position previously enjoyed by the TomTom One. The launch price wasn't too different from the TomTom One's current £129.99, but the Start has since been dropped to an RRP of £99.99, however online discounts still see the two models closely matched.
A differentiator that the Start has is the new StartSkins - interchangeable covers which slot on to the back to bring some colour to your device. You can easily choose one to complement your car colour, or bring some life to an otherwise boring interior. It's a move that's likely to appeal to younger drivers and in a world of drab grey and black boxes, it's a welcome change.
But the StartSkin covers will cost you £14.99, so once you factor in the cost of your StartSkin, you're back to the price of the TomTom One, which muddies the waters somewhat. We tested the UK and Ireland version of the device, but it also comes with European mapping for £20 more.
In terms of the hardware, the TomTom Start measures 94 x 81 x 20mm, although the 20mm depth doesn't include the EasyPort suction mount, which brings the total depth out to about 32mm. It is easily small enough to slip into a jacket pocket straight out of the car, which is a real positive for smaller format devices.
Like the TomTom One, you get a 3.5-inch display with a resolution of 320 x 240 pixels. It isn't the sharpest of resolutions, but works with the simple mapping and icon-based menus that TomTom use. That EasyPort mount is also very good, offering compact and simple attachment to your windscreen.
Dive into the user interface and it has a familiar TomTom look and feel, but the menus have been simplified and this is where the real difference lies between the Start and the rest of the TomTom range. In simplifying the menus, they've actually cut out functionality, limiting your options and presenting the Start with the bare essentials.
Luckily TomTom has a strong heritage in navigation, so what you are left with is a basic but reliable satnav system. If you have never used a satnav device before, you'll probably find that it does everything you want it to, but the advanced options here are missing. Compared to the TomTom One, you don't get TMC traffic integration or Advanced Lane Guidance and you don't get some of the more advanced navigation options, so the real decision in choosing between the two is whether these things are essential.
What you do get, however, is an easy to use system that poses questions to guide you. The opening question for navigation is "Do you want to leave from where you are?" and once you have selected your destination you are given the opportunity to leave now or on another time or date. These questions may not seem important, but it focuses on how people actually use their devices. It isn't just about jumping in the car and navigating to a postcode. It's about planning routes, passing on estimated times of arrival, deciding when you need to leave the house to get to that wedding in Swindon and so on.
TomTom Start makes these things very obvious from the outset, something that high-end rivals tend to hide in menus. Perhaps it is because there are few other options here - there is no chance to indicate a preference for your route profile, such as what types of roads you want to drive on.
You also get other essentials in the form of safety alerts (easily switched off if you can't handle the constant beeping) and points of interest. Usefully the POI selection includes the likes of petrol stations and cash machines, the sort of thing you always need in a strange town. POIs can be browsed in map mode, but you aren't shown them all as you drive around, something that rival devices offer. You can add POIs to a route easily, however.
Full postcode navigation is as solid as ever in the TomTom Start and route planning is very much as it is in models higher up the range. It features TomTom's IQ Routes, which aims to deliver the best navigation option for you depending on the time of day you are travelling, hence the "are you leaving now?" question. It does make a difference and we are always pleased to see TomTom navigate us like a local, rather than just sticking to the A roads which are only faster in theory.
Address entry isn't as good as on larger screened models, but doesn’t present a problem. If you are going to be using the device heavily, then you might find that a larger screen makes it faster to enter those addresses, but for the occasional user then you'll be perfectly happy with what the Start offers - and it is the same experience as the TomTom One more or less because of the same screen size.
Amongst the more advanced offerings is TomTom's Map Share system. This lets you correct maps when you find a mistake, which can then be shared with other TomTom users through the desktop software TomTom Home. By the same process you benefit from corrections made by the rest of the community, be it changes to speed limits, turning restrictions, incorrect road names or just reporting a more substantial change.
The result is a capable but compact device, which can add a little colour to your car. It's a device that should satisfy the navigation needs of many people, making it easy to get to those obscure places, whilst still slipping into a pocket or bag on arrival. The navigation is as solid as ever, the routing and re-routing is fast. The experience is bettered by the more sophisticated systems out there, but at the same time there is something lovable about the cute TomTom Start.
The TomTom Start is a convenient all-round package that should appeal to a great number of people, but we do feel it is a little too expensive given the proximity of the TomTom One, which offers a more complete feature set. If the TomTom Start was rolling out at around £80, we'd say that it offered excellent value for money considering the navigation it actually offers you.
As it is, the TomTom Start comes with some obvious novelty value in the StartSkin covers, but we'd probably shop around for a good deal on the TomTom One to get the more advanced features on offer in that device.