The TomTom GO 500 is a fully featured 5-inch widescreen sat nav with lifetime traffic and map updates. The last time TomTom made a major upgrade to its range was the introduction of the GO 1000 LIVE around 18 months ago. But the GO 500 is potentially an even larger leap. Not only does the GO 500's body mark a change in physical design, but it also has a completely redesigned menu system and reappraisal of interactive features.
TomTom's menus have evolved over the years, and although the GO 1000 LIVE included some significant – and welcome – improvements, the overall look and feel was familiar after previous models. With the GO 500, however, the menu is almost unrecognisable, and works in a rather different way.
No longer can you call up the menu by simply pressing the map. Instead, a circle containing four dots on the bottom left-hand side of the screen is used. The menu itself is completely different from previous TomTom generations, with the traditional division between addresses and Points of Interest erased.
Instead, a single Search option leads to a two-paned results screen with addresses on the left and POIs on the right. You can enter an address or POI by keyword, without needing to know which town either is in, although you can also enter a full seven-digit UK postcode.
You will even see results from other countries, so you don't need to switch between them, and these appear dynamically as you type in letters. Navman's Spirit interface has used a system like this for some years, and once you get used to it we consider a unified keyword search the most friendly way of finding a destination, so we're pleased to see it on the GO 500.
Overall, the menu system is very easy to use. There's a My Places option where you can navigate to a Home location, favourite or recent destination. There are also menu entries to find Parking and Petrol Stations in the area, although we couldn't find other categories of POI.
The menu feels sparse, but the interface is uncluttered. There are icons where previously you would have found text, but once you figure out what the icons do, all the necessary functions are available. The new menu system is an audacious step, and in our opinion a genuinely clever progressive step in user-focused design.
Aside from the completely redesigned menu, the other surprising change is that the GO 500 is a live-enabled device, despite not having a model name with LIVE in it. This means you get live traffic updates and traffic updates, but not the more advanced features of LIVE TomToms. TomTom has adjusted its policy, in part presumably because other manufacturers are offering live-enabled services at this price, for example the Garmin nuvi 2598 LMT-D.
For the TomTom GO 500, LIVE services are delivered via your smartphone's data link through a Bluetooth connection. It uses the Personal Hotspot function on iOS or Bluetooth Tethering on Android. TomTom specifies iOS 6, Android 4.0 or Blackberry 10 as a minimum, but we had no trouble connecting to services via an iPhone running iOS 5.1.3.
Once you have hooked up to a smartphone, the two LIVE services available are traffic and speed cameras. The traffic service is for the lifetime of the device, but speed camera updates require a paid-for subscription, although the first three months are free.
These are the services most travellers will want to use. TomTom doesn't call its traffic service HD Traffic anymore, but the TomTom Traffic service is the same thing. Our experience is that this is still the most detailed and frequently updated traffic service available, and we found the GO 500 was just as good through a smartphone.
However, it's worth noting that although TomTom claims the data consumption is minimal – just 7MB per month for an hour's usage a day during peak traffic times – you will need to ensure your smartphone has enough power to maintain the connection for your entire journey, or you will lose the service. The LIVE services also don't include extras like local search, weather or travel digests.