- Review Price: £299.99
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.
Another LIVE service is the real-time fuel pricing. Not only do you get to see which petrol stations are nearby, but you can also find out which ones currently have the cheapest prices. Updates aren’t automatic – these must be initiated manually, downloaded over the built-in mobile data link. But we found the prices accurate for the areas we tried. You can check the cheapest petrol on your current navigated route, too, making it easier to plan the most cost effective stop. Why have your wallet raided by a motorway service station when there’s a cheaper alternative just round the corner when you turn off?
Speed camera data is kept up-to-date automatically over LIVE. Alerts come via Road Angel, and include regularly updated mobile safety camera information, plus potential accident blackspots. Google Local Search also operates via the LIVE connection. Where most sat-nav POI databases can be patchy, Google Local Search will even include the local village pub or a nearby dogs’ home, although it isn’t infallible. You can also get a five-day weather forecast for your current area, or any other destination or POI, again downloaded over GPRS.
The IQ Routes system introduced with the last generation has been improved still further using LIVE, too, with more timely updates on historic traffic density. This means the TomTom calculates routes based on a more realistic estimate of road speed, rather than simply using the speed limit. The final LIVE feature is a Buddy system, which finds and tracks friends. But they also have to be TomTom users with an account, and be willing to be tracked.
The LIVE system sounds like a revolution in sat-nav functionality, and it adds some genuinely useful capabilities. But there’s a catch. You only get the services free for three months. After that they are £7.99 a month, which means that to get most of the GO 540 LIVE’s new features you will be spending close to £100 a year. LIVE is also only available in the UK at the moment, as international roaming agreements aren’t yet in place.
As with the last TomTom we looked at, the 540’s other big downside is that all these myriad features make the menu system overly complicated, and you will probably only use a small subset of this device’s abilities. So it’s easy to forget where a feature is and find yourself wading around the menus to locate it. That’s only a minor criticism, however, and you can choose to limit the menu choices.
The voice recognition system was already surprisingly effective in previous TomToms. Now it has also been given greater functionality with the x40 series TomToms, although you don’t need to subscribe to LIVE to get this. Instead of just being available for entering addresses verbally, you can touch an on-screen icon once, then enter a host of operational commands. In fact, you can calculate an entire route without needing to touch the screen after the first time. However, we didn’t find the voice commands quite as reliable as the address recognition. For example, the system misrecognised the all-important ‘Navigate to an address’, regularly thinking we’d said ‘postcode’ instead, and on one occasion that we wanted the nearest restaurant. It then keenly routed us to a nearby Pizza Hut.
The GO 540 now also has a screen cradle with a proprietary connection, called Active Dock. Garmin has a similar system in its higher-end devices. You plug this into the cigarette lighter power cable, so that placing the sat-nav on its cradle is all you need to do when heading out. It’s a convenient way of sidestepping some of the mucking about involved with taking a sat-nav in and out of your car. On the downside, the PC docking station requires this same connection, instead of USB, so if you don’t have this with you it won’t be possible to access your TomTom Home account for updates.
The TomTom GO 530 wasn’t exactly cheap when it was released, and the 540 is even more expensive. However, whilst the 530’s new features didn’t seem sufficient to buy it over its cheaper predecessor, the 540’s LIVE capabilities are a revelation. TomTom is even giving away £30 of fuel with the 540, which probably isn’t delivered along with the device itself. So long as you can stomach the £7.99 per month subscription, the TomTom GO 540 LIVE takes sat-nav technology to a new level.
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