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Satellite navigation has always felt slightly magical - a real-time blend of the conceptual world of maps with the physical world around us. But we're still only scratching the surface of what is possible with a location-aware device. Now TomTom is promising to unlock a new generation of capabilities via its LIVE system.
Lots of sat-navs offer extra features if you hook them up to your mobile phone, but the TomTom LIVE devices have a Vodafone GPRS connection and SIM built in. We tried the system out in the guise of the GO 540, the model which ships with UK maps only, and were rather impressed.
LIVE turns the TomTom GO 540 into more of a personal information device than just a sat-nav, adding a host of new features. Foremost amongst these is something which TomTom is rather confusingly calling HD Traffic. Pretentious name aside, this does offer a significant improvement. In the past, we've not been entirely bowled over by traffic updates.
On the one hand, you will find yourself nose-to-tale but the sat-nav has no indication of the jam, and conversely you could be told of an hour-long delay which actually only takes a few minutes to get through. But most importantly, if the traffic report matches what's ahead, the best route round the situation isn't obvious, and will almost always involve manual changes to the route. Not exactly safe, even when stationary in traffic.
The GO 540 LIVE is different. It gets traffic updates over its mobile connection as well as via an RDS-TMC receiver. Where the latter only updates every 15 minutes and covers mostly major highways, HD Traffic updates every three minutes and includes many more roads. The extra information is derived (anonymously) from mobile phone signals as they move along roads, for a much greater sample. So the LIVE system can be much more proactive.
For example, as we travelled between the TrustedReviews office and North London, a message popped up asking if we wanted to try an alternative route which would save us 55 minutes. Of course we did, so a quick prod of ‘Yes' calculated the new direction.
We discovered the reason why half an hour later, as we travelled down the M4. Active road signs began to mention an accident ahead, causing a major tailback between a couple of junctions. Just before we reached these junctions, the 540 suggested we turn off and take a route we hadn't thought of before. We followed the advice, and although it proved to be a slightly longer way in distance terms, we encountered no traffic jams at all. This kind of active suggestion is precisely what you want from a sat-nav, and far safer than anything we have used before.