Remember when everyone had a portable GPS unit? I do. I recall the Best Buy commercials in the mid-2000s telling us it was the hot gift for the holiday season. I was so convinced in the awesomeness of having your very own satellite nav system I bought two, both TomTom units. My heavy travel for business, both in the US and Europe made me the ideal user. And the benefits locally, well just try to find that one hidden ball field right before the big game!
Fast forward five years and having a portable GPS unit ranked up there with cassette tapes (what are those?) crank windows and beer that wasn’t from a micro-brewery. It just wasn’t. The smart phone had seemingly triumphed. That do it all device that took the world by storm. Now everyman (and woman) has a camera, music player, email and yes, GPS based navigation in their pocket.
I jumped in with both feet and exclusively used phone based navigation for three or four years. And I am talking about navigation. Not looking on the map for something. Actually using it to drive around cities big and small looking for my client’s offices and shuttling three kids to far-flung sports venues. And while it worked and so many of us swear by it is far from ideal. Battery dead? No phone. Where will I put it in the rental car? Ugh the service here is terrible and I really have to turn. Missed it. Illegal U-turn anyone? Wait that’s my boss calling but I have no idea where I am going so let it go to voicemail. The boss never likes going to voicemail. But the trend was set. I would deal with it. I was a minimalist and my phone does it all. And besides I am pretty sure they don’t even make cassette tapes or portable GPS navigators.
And then one day the good folks at TomTom sent us a GO 500 unit for review.
Let’s start with the basics. The GO 500 is a 5-inch touch screen unit with included car dock. It is also available as a 6-inch model. The 500 series features lifetime, quarterly map updates and lifetime traffic alerts. TomTom has built a great car dock. It easily locks to rental car windshields, cold or hot, and even in the dark of night. The dock allows you to pop the unit in or out in seconds for ease or programming. No more stretching to set this unit up. The unit goes into sleep mode when the power is cut. Either when you turn the car off or pop the unit from the dock. Saves battery and ensures it comes on quickly when you are ready to go again. Even mid route. The G0 500 adjust screen brightness when it’s dark, automatically changing to-night mode.
Set up and use is a breeze. Install the mount in 10 seconds or less. Initial power up takes about 30 seconds. Touch through to the menu screen and load your destination. I found that the included data base features most points of interest and commercial locations such as gas stations and rest stops. Schools, office parks, and significant buildings are also loaded. TomTom recommends checking for map and software updates regularly. This step is accomplished by creating a TomTom MyDrive account and connecting to your computer. A quick 5 minutes and you will have the latest POIs.
You can customize the route references to avoid tolls, highways etc. And it will feel like using your favorite smart phone as it is touch based.
Once en route the benefits of the standalone GO 500 becomes clear. The routing, voice guidance and map display are all superior to phone based systems. You have a system optimized to get you where you need to be.
TomTom has not forgotten that most of us carry smartphones. Their traffic solution relies on you having that smart phone with you. Download the MyDrive app onto your phone and link via Bluetooth to the GO 500. The phone supplies the data access to display live traffic updates on your TomTom. In my use and testing, it worked great. The right side of the display clearly showed accidents and road construction. A key improvement would be the ability to load routes from the phone app and see them appear on the GO 500. Who doesn’t sit on the couch planning trips? But it would be a nice feature to have.
I am certain the smart phone is here to stay. But I am just as certain that if you travel heavily investing in a standalone unit like the GO 500 makes your life on the road easier and safer. The ease of use. The traffic updates. Lifetime maps. The best in-car dock I have ever worked with. I am not giving this back!
- Visit TomTom.com