- Review Price: £219.99
When we first took a look at TomTom’s LIVE system in the shape of the GO 540, we could see it was a huge leap forward in sat-nav technology. Although further testing has shown that it’s not completely perfect, we still think this is the most significant development for some years. However, LIVE has remained a premium feature, requiring a monthly subscription and is only available in top-of-the-range devices. So now TomTom has decided to give LIVE slightly more mass appeal by offering it in a lower-end model, the new XL LIVE IQ Routes Edition.
At first glance, the XL LIVE looks similar to its higher-end GO cousin. It sports a 4.3in widescreen and has the same general interface. However, the differences are obvious as soon as you try to mount the XL in your car. Instead of the streamlined Active Dock screen attachment now offered with the latest GO LIVE range, the XL keeps the Easyport of the XL and ONE.
This makes the whole unit simpler to move from car to car, as the mount can be left attached. But the device isn’t that easy to detach and reattach to this mount, and you have to plug in the USB connection for the car power adapter first as well.
Fortunately, the core LIVE features remain unchanged. The main benefit is HD Traffic, which goes far beyond the capabilities of the usual RDS-TMC traffic services offered by other manufacturers. You can read exactly how this works in our recent article on HD Traffic, but in a nutshell it offers updates on more roads than services based on TrafficMaster camera information, and these are more frequent as they’re delivered via mobile data link every three minutes rather than over an FM radio signal every 15 minutes.
In our long-term testing, we have found HD Traffic much more effective at avoiding nasty jams than anything which went before, although you still need to second-guess suggestions from time to time, as we explained in our detailed feature on the subject.
The remaining features of LIVE also revolve around the built-in mobile data link. The Fuel Prices system links into the petrol station category of the Points of Interest database, allowing you not only to find convenient pumps, but also the cheapest ones. These can be nearby, on your route, or at any location you choose. The prices are regularly updated for each fuel type, and we have found them generally accurate.
LIVE also incorporates Google Local Search. This provides access to a much larger database of Points of Interest than is stored locally on the device, and also goes far beyond the usual categories. So you will be able to find things like dog rescue centres and racing tracks by name and approximate location alone, without needing the full address. The mobile data link is also used to download the very latest safety camera locations and weather forecast information for any destination, including Europe.
However, although the XL LIVE is cheaper than any current GO LIVE, or indeed any member of the GO range, the LIVE services cost exactly the same. So you get a three month trial in the box, but after that prices start at £7.99 a month. This does also include safety camera updates, but it will be a mere two years before the subscription costs equal that of the unit. As undeniably good as LIVE is, therefore, you still need to be a frequent traveller to justify the extra expense.
On a more prosaic level, the XL LIVE is currently only available with full European maps for 42 countries. But this is also the first UK LIVE device to be offered with HD Traffic functionality beyond the UK, although this still only covers Germany, France, Switzerland and the Netherlands. This feature will be rolled out to the GO LIVE range before the end of 2009.
As with the most recent TomTom XL release before this, the XL LIVE also incorporates IQ Routes. So instead of using the speed limit or distance alone to calculate the optimum route, it will take into account real average road speeds at particular times of day. If a route is always jammed during rush hour, IQ Routes may calculate a quicker option via less frequented streets when travelling at that time.
The XL LIVE also incorporates Advanced Lane Guidance, TomTom’s take on the now-ubiquitous full-screen graphic which makes sure you know which carriageway to be in at a complex motorway junction. This pops up in plenty of time to avoid the mad scramble across from the fast lane when you realise your turning is rapidly approaching.
The overall interface follows TomTom’s standard design, and hasn’t changed significantly for a few generations, although the menus have been streamlined for recent iterations. The map takes the lion’s share of the screen, with a bar along the bottom providing pretty much every piece of information about your journey you could want. The plain presentation of this bar makes the morass of details feel rather opaque at first, but it’s extremely handy when you get used to it. The traffic bar down the side is similarly functional.
So the XL LIVE lacks none of the important innovations which have made the last couple of GO generations the best all-round sat-navs on the market. But there are a few things missing. Gone is the excellent voice activation system, which allowed you to control most aspects of the GO LIVE verbally, after just an initial finger press to kick off the process. There is also no Bluetooth connectivity or FM radio transmitter built in. Of all these omissions, Bluetooth will probably be the most sorely rued, as this means you can’t hook the XL LIVE up to your mobile phone and use it as an in-car hands-free kit.
It’s great to see LIVE already filtering down to less pricey members of TomTom’s sat-nav range. But with the subscription costing the same this isn’t yet LIVE for the masses. We can’t really criticise TomTom for wanting to maximise its income and not annoy those who have already purchased a GO LIVE. Nevertheless, this does dilute the XL LIVE’s argument somewhat. On the one hand, it’s £100 cheaper than the equivalent GO LIVE with full European maps (the 740). But the identical monthly fees mean this isn’t quite the value proposition it seems, even if it is still a great sat-nav device.
Score in detail
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