Whilst it is impossible to ignore convergence and the growing popularity of satnav functions on your smartmobile, for many there is still a place for a dedicated satnav device. TomTom is hoping that continued innovation will keep pushing sales of their PNDs, the latest flagship model of which is the TomTom Go 1000 Live. We've been living with a pre-production, but fully featured, version of the TomTom Go 1000 Live for the last week.
We're used to the design of TomTom's satnav devices by now, with the Go range being fairly distinctive. An uncluttered design, with softly curving corners and a solid build. There is only so much you can do with what it essentially a flat slab, but there is nothing that offends in the design.
Around the back you'll find a brushed metal plate that adds a little interest to the design, not that you'll ever really see it: it will be facing the windscreen, so perhaps a passing cyclist might shoot a glance and complement you on your good taste.
But the devil is in the details and TomTom has, over the past few years, continued to tweak things like the windscreen mount and attachments. The Go 1000 has a suction mount with a twist ring to lock to the glass and we found it latched on first time and was secure on all our journeys.
But the smartest part of the windscreen mount is at the other end. Now there is a magnetic attachment, so you offer up the PND and it just clicks into place. The power cable has had the same treatment, magnetically popping into position on the underside of the unit.
At first you might think that magnets aren't up to the job, but the unit was plenty secure in its position and bumpy roads did nothing to dislodge it. The magnetic cable means that if you accidentally catch the cable with a wayward hand or foot when exiting the vehicle, you won't wrench the whole thing off the windscreen (this is coming from experience - can you tell?).
TomTom are using a bespoke connector; gone is the Mini-USB of the past which means that you might need to pack the supplied USB cable if you plan to charge or update the maps on your laptop. The supplied power cable connects to your 12V socket, and some might complain about not being able to use it to charge their phone on the fly, but you can't have everything.
So we have a compact unit, that easily and tidily fixes in place. It is a little heavier than your average mobile phone at around 200g, and measures 127 x 80 x 20mm (approx) and features a 4.3-inch screen on the front. It is a capacitive touchscreen display, so avoids some of those aimless prodding moments that plagued resistive display devices in the past.
The resolution isn't especially high, but it suits the job at hand. Text is sharp enough and the screen is bright enough to deal with driving in sunny conditions. The glossy finish will attract fingerprints, but they are easily wiped away and don't cause too much irritation.
The user interface has been completely redesigned from previous iterations of the satnav. We liked the previous version however and didn't think there was anything particularly wrong with it. However, we welcome the changes, making it easy to get going on your route
The main menu is broken into six options, presenting Navigate to, View map, Plan route, Services, Settings and Help. These are all self-explanatory and we like the fact that you can plan a route from the front screen, as we often find ourselves planning journeys in advance to get an idea of the route and time.
TomTom have preserved many of the graphical icons from previous devices, so if you are familiar with TomTom you'll find it easy enough to get around. Head into route planning and you get the normal options of home, your favourites, straight address entry, recent designations and so on. You also get a whole selection of alternatives - there is Google searching, POIs, Lat Long entry and hiding in the menu - "spoken address".
Spoken address presumably exists to reduce the need to press too many buttons whilst driving. It's perhaps odd that it is hidden in the options and requires several presses to go to and isn't being pushed as a major feature. We saw Navigon implement a similar system by touching the corner of the display to activate this.
But TomTom is already one step ahead, letting you make your own "menu". You can, in effect, customise the display screen, dropping function icons onto the screen. Cleverly you can also change the behaviour of these, so opt to add a "navigate to parking" button and it will ask you whether you want it always on, or only as you approach your destination. There are limited choices however, and it would be great to see this expanded to give you even more customisation options.
Voice navigation is only ever as good as the recognition system it uses and we found the TomTom Go 1000 to be a little hit and miss. Sometimes it provided a pain free address entry, but other times we found it picking the most obscure places. Rather than heading to Pinner, we were off on our merry way to some place called Emneth (in Norfolk, no less).
Voice control is also offered, with a dizzying array of commands. So you can say things like "navigate to the nearest camping ground". A great option, but it took us 19 miles to a campsite; by contrast, the Google Local Search found campsites aplenty within 5 miles - so use with caution.
Google Local Search is one of the neat additions that being a Live device brings. Non-believers will dismiss it as a poor cousin to using a smartphone, and yes, a phone with a browser offers more potential, but we like the nice simple integration of the search results none the less.
So finding somewhere to go to is easy enough, with plenty of options on how you locate that place. Some of these options won't appeal to your average business user who plugs in a client address and gets driving, but for the family on holiday, it means you can sit in your Cornish bungalow watching the lashing rain and find somewhere interesting to go.
Other Live services include weather, speed cameras, and the ability to make and share map corrections (although this needs a connection to your computer, is isn't really a Live service). The final live service is arguably the most significant and that is HD Traffic.
HD Traffic has received mixed reviews. There is no doubt that it provides an excellent service for regular road users, but the price has been a little contentious. We've always seen it as a price worth paying if you do a lot or driving, or something worth having if you are heading off on a holiday - even if you just buy a couple of months. The TomTom Go 1000 Live comes with a year of free HD Traffic, so there is plenty of time to see if it impresses - thereafter it is £47.50 a year.
HD Traffic harvests information from the mobile phone network, logging users passing through cell zones (including other TomTom Live users). Using this information, TomTom is able to determine the volume of traffic on the roads and determine whether this is uncharacteristic. It works in tandem with the regular TMC traffic information service so you get both sources.
In practice we've found the HD Traffic does work, and it can be incredibly accurate. It isn't the golden bullet to fix all traffic problems: if you are in the heavy traffic there might be nothing you can do to avoid it, and even when there is traffic on your route, it still might be the fastest route.
You can set the traffic information to update your route if a faster route it detected, or ask if you want to change your route. We found this would reveal some shortcuts we'd never seen before, or provide alternative routes we’d never think of taking. We also like the fact that it will read the traffic situation to you when you plan a route, or when you ask it to update you when driving.
Satnav mapping displays have changed greatly over the past few year. We now have the likes of Navigon with their 3D city displays and ultra realistic views, and Mio with their minimalist displays. TomTom have always been clear with their mapping and nothing has changed: we still find that TomTom mapping is reliable and easy to follow. You get the luxuries of lane navigation, but you also have enough information on the screen to guide you.
Across the bottom of the display are three areas: the first provides speed information, giving you the speed limit and your current speed (it turns red when you are speeding) and acts as a button to toggle 2D/3D views. The second area shows the current command, distance to that action, and will repeat the action when you tap it. You can also change the volume or mute the device here, using a convenient slider.
The final area gives you your time to destination and expected arrival time. Tapping this area opens up a route summary map. This is where you can add additional stops, such as a petrol station, although it is a number of presses (6) before you can select a petrol station.
Traffic ranges down the right-hand side of the display, indicating delays on your route and when you hit them, as well as how much time those delays will add to your route. The route timing is good, and as you near your destination it starts counting down in 5 second chunks.
Tap on the traffic section and you enter the HD Traffic menu where you can select actions – force a route recalculation, display the traffic, or our favourite, read the traffic aloud.
Route selection - taking into account traffic information and using TomTom's IQ Routes - is very good. We've been hitting the suburbs around London and found that the routes it picks are excellent. You can alter the behaviour of route selection in some of the advanced settings too.
If we had one criticism it would be at occasionally it left a direction a little too late, one particular example would be exiting the M25, when the instruction to exit wasn't given with sufficient time to navigate across the lanes due to heavy traffic. Lane guidance is good, but a feature that's now common to most satnav devices. Rerouting is swift and TomTom generally avoids the insistence on turning around when you go wrong, which some rivals do.
You also get a Bluetooth connection for your mobile phone so we hooked it up to a BlackBerry Bold. There are a variety of advanced features on offer here, so the TomTom can access your recent call lists and your address book. On connecting to our phone it imported the address book, but we found it only took some of it, up to the letter J, so beyond that, we had no contacts. We've asked TomTom about this and if we hear anything, we'll update here.
We hit the roads talking and found that we could make and receive calls with no problems. The speaker is loud enough, if a little tinny, to conduct a conversation without issue, although this will depend on the traffic you are in and the car you drive. Callers on the other end reported no problems in hearing what we were saying.
Prices are yet to be announced, but Amazon.co.uk have it listed for £249 for UK mapping and £279 with full European mapping. Considering that you can get TomTom Start for under £100 from the same source, there is certainly plenty to consider when deciding exactly what features you want from your satnav. TomTom have been clear that the Go 1000 Live is the first of a number of devices, so we are likely to see a refresh right across the line, so if the new interface appeals but the price doesn't, there may be a better model for you down the line.
TomTom have based the new Go 1000 on a WebKit platform and tell us that it has been optimised for third-party expansion. At this point in time, there is little evidence of this sort of expansion, and you have to question whether you want apps in the satnav device. Perhaps a McDonald's finder with special offers might appeal, or an English Heritage site finder and so on, over and above what the POIs offer you. It's a great way for you to rack-up loyalty points at a hotel chain, if this is the intended use. As it is, the TomTom Go 1000 looks like a great satnav device and we found it worked perfectly when driving.
Niggles are on the low side, with only some occasional lag when confirming some actions on screen, leading to a double tap of some buttons, so you'll confirm the action and dive into another screen. This seems to happen whilst the traffic information is updated just after turning the device on, so worth watching out for.
These problems might be resolved as TomTom continues to iron out bugs in the run up to the September launch. Although our review model was fully featured, it was still in the pre-production phase, so there will be minor software updates before it hits the stores.
A welcomed refresh to a system we already liked, but as a headline device, the TomTom Go 1000 Live is packed full of features that some might never use, at a price some might not want to pay. There is no question, however, that it is an excellent navigator, and a pleasure to drive with.