TomTom Navigator 2

  • Editors' rating
    7.9 Very good

Pros

  • Turns a Pocket PC handheld into a well-featured in-car navigation system at a fraction of the cost of dedicated systems
  • significant improvements in usability and functionality put it ahead of the competition.

Cons

  • Makes heavy demands on processor power
  • can be painfully slow in address verification and route calculation
  • UI can be quirky and takes time to learn to use efficiently.

Palmtop Software has released version 2 of TomTom Navigator, which we reviewed at the back end of last year. Several new features bring significant usability improvements, both when planning a route and when navigating under its guidance. Its new map base now includes Wales in its UK coverage and provides help with London’s congestion charge planning. TomTom Navigator 2 is now a much better product than its predecessor, although it still makes heavy demands on your Pocket PC when creating and calculating routes.

TomTom 2 truly transforms your Pocket PC into an in-car navigation system that talks you clearly and precisely through to your destination. The spoken directions -- such as ‘Cross the roundabout, 2nd exit’ or ‘After 200 yards, turn left’ -- complements the smoothly updating map display on your Pocket PC’s screen. As you move, this map scrolls to keep your location at its centre and displays other information such as your speed, the distance to the next change of course, your compass heading, the names of locations you pass through and the time since start and time to destination. With TomTom 2 on-board, as long as you have satellite reception, you are never lost and it will invariably get you to your destination.

TomTom 2 is supplied with a strong cradle that attaches firmly to the car windscreen to hold your Pocket PC in a convenient viewing position while driving. Its satellite receiver connects to the Pocket PC via a cable harness that also supplies power from a 12-volt lighter socket. Because of differences in connection sockets between Pocket PC brands, this cable is not included and must be bought separately from the supplier. The advantage of having the satellite receiver tethered rather than being incorporated in a slip-on 'jacket' is that it can be tucked up close to the windscreen to get the best satellite reception. The disadvantage is that, because of its reliance upon the car's power supply, it can’t be taken 'walkabout'. When disconnected from the satellite receiver, TomTom 2 lets you enter the address of your location to display a map of the area, which can then be zoomed and panned to see street names and their locations in the immediate neighbourhood. When disconnected, you can also enter start and end points for a walk, let TomTom 2 calculate a route, and then manually step through it to get directions.

TomTom 2's most noticeable new feature is the innovative 3D map presentation style. This gives a perspective view of the route immediately ahead of your car. This display makes turns and routes through roundabouts stand out more clearly, and although it takes a little while to get used to, it soon becomes the preferred way of viewing a route.

To put TomTom 2 to work, you just enter your destination point; if you have satellite reception, the route is then automatically calculated, and you are talked through it. Like its predecessor, TomTom 2’s route planning and recalculation can take a long time -- so much so that it can occasionally appear to lock up the Pocket PC when planning long journeys. The program’s poor calculation performance is also noticable when entering town names to specify start or destination points. Again, it can take a long time for TomTom 2 to find a match from its database and prompt you with streets it knows about, so you can home in on the relevant location.

If you deviate from TomTom 2's planned route, it will try to get you back on its course. One of its strategies is to suggest -- very politely -- that you ‘Turn around when possible’. Another is to tell you to take a succession of turns that turn you through 180 degrees to get you back on the 'right' road. When it realises that you are serious about doing your own thing, TomTom 2 recalculates its route to incorporate your current location and direction of travel. The time it takes to do this depends upon the length and complexity of your journey: in towns, it’s usually very quick to accommodate your route change; on long cross-country journeys it can take some time.

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TomTom 2's new ability to work with house numbers to give true door-to-door route planning is a welcome enhancement. Its new map database also holds postcodes, but doesn’t let you search on these. They are, however, useful in verifying that TomTom 2 has identified the correct address from the details you input. The procedure for inputting addresses has also been enhanced. Now, instead of selecting the town or city and street name from drop-down lists, you spell them out using a soft keyboard on the Pocket PC’s display.

Also welcome In TomTom 2 is a n alternative way of entering addresses through integration with your Pocket Outlook Contacts database. You start by selecting one of your contacts; then, when you 'tap and hold' on the contact, the pop up menu offers to display a TomTom map. When the map appears, you can opt to save the location as the start or destination point for your journey. In practice, TomTom 2 can be a bit 'iffy' about the Outlook addresses structures it can parse, and you may find that you have to edit some addresses to get TomTom 2 to accept them. But this is a one-off task that that’s well worth the effort to avoid entering addresses manually.

TomTom 2's main user menu -- called the Navigator menu -- now gives access to new interactive features that can be selected by tapping with a finger while on the move. A tap on the Alternative Route selector tells TomTom 2 to calculate a different route to your destination, while a tap on the Original button restores the original route. Usefully, the Alternative Route display also lists roads on your route that you can select to avoid, while an Avoid Roadblock button will calculate alternative routes to get you around an obstruction ahead.

Visitors to central London will appreciate TomTom 2's attempt to help with congestion charge planning. If you select a destination that lies within the congestion charge boundary, TomTom 2 tells you that a congestion charge is payable. Unfortunately, when you are driving in central London, you are not told when you are approaching the congestion charge boundary.

TomTom 2's map base has been changed. It now uses an UK map produced by Tele Atlas Europe, which covers the entire UK in a single 95MB file or in 16, 32 or 64MB sections. The best way to use TomTom 2 is to have the entire map on a single CompactFlash card, as this avoids the inevitable card swap when you make long journeys or when your route takes you across the boundaries of the UK segment maps. The last updates to the TomTom 2 map base were made in January 2003. To check out TomTom 2's capabilities, we prepared and drove several dozen routes: starting in London, these ranged through coastal Essex, Milton Keynes all the way to Cumbria. We covered over 1,500 miles with no problems: no wrong turns or instructions to go the wrong way up one-way streets -- a much better record than its predecessor.

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