TomTom 6 goes Cross-Country
Here's a review of TomTom Navigator 6 USA by cgavula, a member of GpsPasSion since 2002 (#125 !) and experienced PocketPC GPS user who recently reviewed Route 66 Navigate 7 for Pocket PC.
Tom Tom is one of those names that have been around the GPS business for quite a while. They’ve had some excellent products and they’ve even produced a dud or two. Tom Tom Navigator 6 is the latest in their software lineup for PDAs. Although it’s not commercially available in the United States yet, I had the opportunity to evaluate its functionality and the current U.S. maps that come with it. Tom Tom 5 has been one of my primary navigation tools for the past year or so and I was anxious to see what improvements had been made.
So What’s New in Version 6?
Upon initial startup, Tom Tom 6 looks nearly identical to Tom Tom 5, but in fact, Tom Tom 6 offers a number of improvements in both functionality and usability. You notice the differences right at the startup – namely, the program now starts up quite a bit faster than before (around 10 seconds versus the older startup that took about 30 seconds).
The installation process has been simplified - it can now be done by simply inserting the memory card (MiniSD) or DVD and following the prompts. Device activation hasn’t changed; you send in your Device ID and get back an activation code which youenter into your PDA. It’s probably the hardest part of the whole process, and it isn’t very hard at all.
There have been enhancements to the 2D display mode. You can now select either “heading up” (the only choice in version 5) or the new “north up” mode. As has been mentioned on this site before, this means that you can now actually use the program as a pedestrian without having the direction constantly trying to spin and adjust to the direction the GPS “thinks” you are going.
Important to a lot of us is the fact that TT6 offers updated maps, which should, in theory, improve the accuracy of ETA estimates. In my testing, it was actually about the same, or in at least one case, worse than before (but only by a small amount). There’s still some confusion (on my part as well) about which version maps are in use for the North America map, but the most common belief is that the N.A. map are from the Tele Atlas 2006.1 set (as opposed to Europe which is using mostly 2006.6 and 2006.7 maps). Similar products with North American maps are primarily using the Tele Atlas 2005.2 maps.
While we’re on the topic of the new maps, there’s a neat new feature where tunnels appear as a shaded version of the roadway.
Looking at a stretch of I-10 that passes through a tunnel under the Mobile River.
Related to your ETA, there’s a new “arrival time” feature that will, via color coding, help you know if you’re early or late, based on a time you set when you set up the route. There are a couple of new navigation options: You can now directly navigate to a contact from the “Navigate To” menu. You can navigate to specific latitude and longitude coordinates). There’s even the option to navigate to one of your “buddies” (more about the buddy feature in a bit).
There are also a couple of new safety-related features: First, there’s an indication if you are traveling significantly over the posted speed limit. They also added a “safety lock” feature that limits you to a few important buttons (Navigate to, Alternative route, day/night mode, Exit, Sound on/off, 3D mode on/off).
The menus and screens offer a little more color depth than before resulting in an improved appearance overall. Here’s a look the options and preferences menus:
The new buddies feature is interesting. Using this feature you can use Instant Messages to chat with your buddies and see their location via GPS and even navigate to their location. Of course, the assumption is that you have full-time Internet access (most likely via your phone’s data connection). In my day-to-day use, this feature, while interesting, doesn’t have a lot of usefulness, but as more people have cell phones with GPS capabilities running Tom Tom, I can see how this may become more and more useful.
Tom Tom Buddies is part of the Tom Tom Plus Services. You need to sign into their service to use the Buddies feature. It acts as you IM server as well. If you don’t have a reliable Internet connection, you may find this feature a little more difficult to use.
Tom Tom has also improved the POI features of Navigator. There are now more custom POI categories and you can search for a POI across categories – no more needing to know how it might be categorized first.
For those of us in the U.S. and Canada, the best improvement of all, in my opinion, is the ability to map a route, coast-to-coast, without having to build smaller routes across regional maps, or use the “highways only” map (meaning you couldn’t do door-to-door). It’s nice to finally have full detail, coast-to-coast map data. I wish I had this when I made my migration a few months ago from Detroit, Michigan to Mobile, Alabama. I should point out, that I tried producing a number of long routes in the planning mode and they took a little longer than expected to calculate (maybe 45-50 seconds for Mobile to Los Angeles, just over a 2000 mile route), but probably still reasonable for a route that long for most applications As a note, a 1000 mile route took about 30 seconds to calculate.
Here’s an example of a 1000 mile route. This was impossible to do in Tom Tom 5 except on the extremely limited highways map.
Tom Tom now displays exit signs as they appear on the highway as well as the directions for your next maneuver. In my usage so far, I’ve found that their sign reference is correct about 80% of the time and it usually cuts off signs that are too long which can lead to an ambiguous reference in some cases. It’s a neat feature that other applications have implemented before, but it still needs a little more tweaking, in my opinion, to be completely useful.
One more interesting feature is that Tom Tom has a pre-installed speed cam database. Being in the U.S. I have no opportunity to test this feature; it’s available only in Europe.
Tom Tom Home
One of the new features, mentioned on this site, is the additional availability of Tom Tom Home. This is basically a desktop application that helps you manage your Tom Tom Services and devices. It also connects you to the Tom Tom Shop so you can purchase voices or maps or the traffic service or anything else related to Tom Tom that you might need. Tom Tom works with your PDA (Palm or Pocket PC/Windows Mobile) or many of Tom Tom’s devices. Tom Tom Home is to your Tom Tom device (or PDA) very much as iTunes is to your iPod. It’s very nice, and it’s available for both Macintosh and Windows, although the Macintosh version did not work correctly with my Pocket PC.
A Few Concerns: Mechanical Issues
I found that Tom Tom 6 had a difficult time seeing the map on my SD card. No other program (including the older Tom Tom 5) had this difficulty. I could view files using the File Explorer and launch things off the card, but Tom Tom repeatedly told me “no maps found”. The work-around turned out to be popping out the card, soft resetting the device, and popping the card back in AFTER the reset was complete. This glitch seems to happen once every few times I try to launch Tom Tom. It may be hardware related, but since other apps can see/run/use the card I suspect it’s a Tom Tom glitch. I went as far as to uninstall the program and reinstall it. Other than discovering that the uninstaller does NOT perform a complete uninstall, there was no improvement of the situation. NOTE: I've discovered the source of the "Map Not Found" error to be, in fact, a related to my device (an HP hx4705) having 2 card slots. WHen both cards are present, TT6 sometimes has a problem detecting the map. When the 2nd card is removed, the problem goes away. Others have reported similar sensitivity with other application, but the OS is not affected. I do not know exactly why TT6 is sensitive to this condition (which is likely something like a low voltage condition when both cards are inserted and drawing power), but it is. Once the maps are found, the second card can be reinserted without additional difficulties.
Another mechanical glitch I ran into relates to the handling of a Bluetooth receiver. If I had to turn off the PDA and turn it back on, Tom Tom 6 had difficulty about half the time reattaching to the BT receiver. TT5 (5.21) didn’t have this difficulty (but the original TT 5.0 did have a similar problem).
The overall resilience of TomTom 5 is one of the things I liked best about it. It enabled me to overlook some of the minor map and routing errors it had, so seeing that TT6 seems to have introduced a couple of new instabilities is somewhat disappointing, but I suspect they will be improved in a patch release. Tom Tom was pretty good about releasing patches to fix the most annoying problems in version 5, so I suspect they will do the same for this version as well.
A Few Snags: The Map
Tom Tom 6 comes with updated Tele Atlas maps (2006.1), but I still found a lot of glitches in the map information. For example - here in the Mobile, AL area, I-65 runs North-South through the city. A few years back they changed the structure of the ramps to a few of the major roads. Previously, they used to be 4-way cloverleafs and now they are straight ramps that you turn left or right off of. Tom Tom 5 had the old maps and, unfortunately, so does Tom Tom 6. Apparently, Tele Atlas hasn’t updated their maps of this area in the past few years.
Here is the interchange as seen in Tom Tom 6 (Tele Atlas 2006.1 maps). It is actually representative of an older configuration of the interchange. Note that it was a full cloverleaf.
Here is the interchange as seen in iGo 2006 (Tele Atlas 2005.2 maps). It is also representative of an older configuration of the interchange.
This is the same interchange as it actually appears. This image is from Tele Atlas and represents their current maps. As you can see it is no longer a full cloverleaf.
They also seem to have a lot of difficulty with another common road feature here: service roads. Very common here on the Gulf Coast, many major roads in the area use service or access drives to reach businesses. These are smaller roads that run along side the major road. To get to a business on the road, you must first exit onto the service road, then turn into the business. This means you have to anticipate where you need to access the service road. If you wait until you’re up to the business, you won’t be able to get in (in most cases) and you’ll likely have to make a U-Turn and come back at it. Navigation can be tricky, and, unfortunately, Tom Tom’s maps have a lot of mistakes relating to these service roads; especially where the entrances and exits are; often leaving you scratching your head as to what to do. Tele Atlas may produce acceptable maps in Europe, but in the U.S. their mapping has often been brought into question and although I’ve also criticized their primary competition in the past was well, Navteq, I have to say I’d hoped that the Tom Tom 6 maps would be superior to their version 5 counterparts, but I see very little, if any, real improvement in accuracy in this area.
Here’s an image from Tom Tom 6 showing a major road with service drives (and connectors).
A Few Snags: Routing
Another thing I noticed is that Tom Tom 6 sometimes doesn’t choose an optimal route. To be fair, I’ve yet to find any navigation app that always picks the best route, but Tom Tom makes some larger inefficient routes than I expected. For example, I plotted a route from a local retailer to my home. Tom Tom took me a couple of major road to the east further than I needed to go and then brought me back. The route was 9 miles long and was estimated to take 21 minutes.
These’s are 2 screen shots showing a poor route selection that I received. Note the time/distance in the first image.
Here’s the same example using iGo. This is a better route that also uses Tele Atlas Maps, although there’s an unnecessary detour through a neighborhood about 2/3 of the way along the route. Going through the neighborhood is probably shorter, but not faster. Note the time/distance in the second image.
The route wasn’t technically incorrect, and it did get me home, but it went a few miles out of the way. Mapquest (using the “fastest” not the “shortest” settings) calculated the same route and came up with a path only 6.5 miles and 15 minutes.
Here’s the same route in MapQuest received. This route is 6.5 miles and only 15 minutes.
Had the alternate route been composed of minor streets with lower speed limits I could have understood the routing choice, but this was not the case. It was simply poor route selection. More exhaustive search would have probably yielded better results (but delayed the route calculation).
To Answer Your Questions
I saw a couple of questions on this site in reference to the behavior of the program that I’d like to address here. The first question was about whether TT showed over/under passes correctly. The answer, for the most part, is yes. I found that my path appeared above or below crossing roadways if the roadway met as an over/underpass rather than as an intersection as in many applications. Be warned – it isn’t always correct.
The second question I saw was about voice prompts and where or not they read the road signs or names. It does not. It tells you to “turn left” or “stay right”, but it doesn’t speak road names or signpost names. It also doesn’t indicate which side of the road an address or a POI is on, but I haven’t seen any Tele Atlas based apps that do. That information is in Navteq maps, but I don’t believe it’s part of Tele Atlas maps yet.
I like Tom Tom. I like the cleanness of the display and directions. I like that it supports a huge number of languages. I believe that’s one of the reasons they do well in the market for navigation software and stand-alone units. I was disappointed in the problems I’ve had with Tom Tom 6 recognizing maps on my SD card (which Tom Tom 5 had no problem with) and with the lack of Bluetooth stability (also originally a problem with 5 that was fixed by 5.21). I’m also a bit disappointed in the lack of improvements in the maps and was even more concerned by some of the odd routing choices Tom Tom 6 made. There are a lot of improvements in this version, from ease of installation, to the inclusion of door-to-door nation-wide (both U.S. and Canada) routing. When you consider all this, I think you still have to conclude that Tom Tom 6 is a reasonable update to Tom Tom 5. There are enough new features and overall improvements to give the upgrade value and I would expect the minor mechanical glitches I encountered to be improved or corrected soon.
If you have comments or questions, you can use this thread of the "PDA Navigation software" forums.