I spent one week with the TomTom ONE (New or 2nd Edition) in Florida where my family and I visited Universal Studios, Seaworld and Clearwater Beach.
To set the stage for this review, we’re from Toronto, Canada, I absolutely hate driving in an unfamiliar area, and I have little to no sense of direction (I’m always relying on my family to tell me whether to turn right or left when exiting the mall).
I justified the expense in the eyes of my skeptical wife that the TomTom ONE was an “essential navigation equipment.”
I spent a couple of days familiarizing myself with the TomTom ONE’s user interface and tried the Advanced Planning function.
This feature paid off right away because it allowed me to simulate the drive from Clearwater (our last itinerary stop) back to Orlando Airport (because we took a charter plane, we had to take the plane from Orlando Airport instead of the Tampa Airport closer to Clearwater).
I found out that it would take me about 2 hours of driving in the wee dark hours of the morning so as to be able to make it on time at the Orlando Airport for the early morning flight.
Not wanting to risk any unforeseen hold up (road closure, storm, wrong turn, or simply waking up too late), this knowledge allowed me to decide to leisurely drive back the afternoon before the flight was due (and while it was still light) and check into a hotel close to the Orlando Airport.
So I made some last minute hotel arrangements and booked the Best Western close to the Orlando Airport. (Never mind that I could have found the same info from Yahoo! maps and shhh… not a word to the wife.)
The Advanced Planning function (is not available on the Garmin GPS devices unless you graphically input the starting location on the map, which is not practical if you are unfamiliar with the area and even if you are familiar, and) proved to be one of the main selling point of the TomTom GPS devices and helped me to familiarize myself with the roads even before I stepped onto the plane.
I also browsed the Internet for all the Points of Interest (POIs) that my wife wanted us to visit (her idea of a vacation; my idea is to swim in the sea and snooze on the beach for 7 straight days) and entered their addresses into the TomTom ONE as Favorites.
First Test Passed Successfully
Once we landed at the Orlando Airport, a shuttle wisked us to the Hertz car rental location outside the terminal.
Car in hand, I set up the TomTom ONE and did an Advanced Planning from Hertz to the Holiday Inn (both already entered as Favorites) and selected Fastest route.
The TomTom ONE calculated the route in less than 5 seconds and informed me there was a toll road. Since I did not have any US coins yet, I decided to avoid the toll roads and took the “scenic route.” I clicked “Done” and the TomTom ONE started giving instructions to the Holiday Inn.
I took a wrong turn once but the unit confidently redirected me back on track. Twenty minutes later, we saw the Holiday Inn sign and had uneventfully reached our destination.
The TomTom ONE had passed the first test successfully! I was glad because if I had to rely on a map, I would have panicked once I made the wrong turn and went off course. As it is, no panic and it felt good.
Second Test Reveals Weaknesses
Once settled into our rooms and refreshed, we set out to visit Universal City Walk Hollywood to get a bite.
The TomTom ONE POI finds it (though the font is so big that you can really be sure it is the right place only when you select it and it redisplays in smaller fonts).
As soon as we leave the hotel and draws near Universal Studios, I know there is a problem.
The GPS unit wants me to go straight ahead but the signs on the road clearly states to turn left to go to Universal City Walk Hollywood.
Deciding to follow the road signs, I turn left and enter the Universal Studios main entrance and parking area. From there, we walked to our destination.
It is obvious why the TomTom ONE selected a different route: it was trying to route us to the “postal address” of Universal City Walk Hollywood instead of guiding us to the main driving entrance.
And herein lies one of the greatest weaknesses of the GPS devices: the addresses used in the POI databases are the postal addresses instead of the main entrance and parking addresses.
We found this to be the case for nearly all the POIs. For example, driving back to our hotel, the GPS unit wanted us to take a long circuitous road back when the direct route was just ahead.
It wanted to take us to the front of the hotel using the postal address (unfortunately there is no place for a car to stop there) instead of the driving entrance which was on a side road.
Once I figured this out and entered the side road driving entrance as the new Holiday Inn address, the TomTom ONE chose the direct route.
So, now I know that I need to call my destinations to find out their exact main driving entrance addresses (which they should consider listing on their web sites and the POI databases should be using) and enter these as my favorites to obtain correct routing.
This is usually not much of a problem if the side road main driving entrance is ahead of the postal address and you just need to go a bit further and turn right, but if you passed it and need to turn back or if the road is a one way, it gets a bit messy. This complication is not necessary if the correct main driving entrance address is used.
Exit 71 or 72?
We decided to spend a day at SeaWorld and the TomTom ONE calculated the route from the Holiday Inn to SeaWorld as taking I4 West and then taking exit 72, then a few smaller streets.
Just to be sure (the postal address issue being fresh on my mind), I decided to ask the kind lady at the Guest Services desk for directions. She said to take I4 West and then take exit 71.
I reasoned that since the lady at the desk probably gave this same direction 100 times a day, I should follow her advice.
But it seems that this time, the TomTom ONE was right. I found exit 72 (which I ignored), then exit 68. No exit 71 going west on I4.
Truth be told, I could have missed it (you Floridians can tell me if I am wrong here) since there was an accident on the road that may have distracted my attention for a second.
Thankfully, it is times like this that you feel lucky to have the TomTom ONE attached to your windshield. I took exit 68 and the TomTom ONE quietly asked me to do a U-Turn, take the exit back onto I4 East and then take exit 71 going east on I4. With just a few minutes lost, we were finally at SeaWorld and a day of fun!
Wish List: Car Locator function
As happens usually when you spend a whole day at an amusement park, I couldn’t remember where I parked the car at the end of the day!
I wished the TomTom ONE had a Car Locator function. Here’s how I envision it might work:
When you step out of the car, you’d take the GPS unit with you. Select Remember Car Location to save the exact GPS location saved into your unit. At the end of the day when you’re looking for your car, simply press the Car Locator button to let the GPS unit lead you to it!
Never roam a parking lot looking for your car like a tweeb again! I believe many people would purchase a GPS device just for this function! I hope the GPS manufacturers are listening.
I did not realize how many toll roads were in Florida. The highways seem to be in good shape so I guess this is one way to pay for their maintenance and upkeep. However, the I4 is not a Toll road (or is not anymore) but the TomTom ONE seems to think it is and kept asking me if I wanted to avoid it.
The TomTom ONE does not have text-to-speech, i.e. it would tell me to turn right but not at which street.
Of course, there is an advantage to knowing exactly which street to turn onto. But surprisingly, I did not find this to be a real problem on this trip and was even glad it did not for the simple reason that I would have been tempted to try to read the street signs to confirm I was turning at the right street — and they’re mostly impossible to read! With eyes trying to decipher street signs instead of solidly on the road, I believe it could increase the chance of an accident.
What I did wish was to be able to tell on which road I was currently driving on. I believe the new TomTom GO 720 has this new feature.
Somewhat confusing was the instruction to “Keep left and bear right” and such similar instructions. On a multi-lane highway, what exactly does “Keep left” mean? Say, the highway has 4 lanes, which lane should I be on: the leftmost (and risk being constantly tailgated by faster cars), the second from the left? And how does “Bear right” follow from the “Keep left” instruction? Does “Bear right” mean the same thing as “Turn right”?
Of course, I eventually figured out there was a fork in the highway ahead with two lanes going each fork. But I was still unsure whether I should be on lane 2 or 3 and take the left or right fork.
Eventually, I just used my common sense and stayed on I4 East (since I was driving back from Clearwater to Orlando). I am not sure if “text-to-speech” would have made those instructions any clearer (I would appreciate if someone could comment on this).
One thing that I did whenever I arrived at a hotel for an extended stay was to make it my “HOME” location.
Then, whenever we drove to a restaurant or other point of interest, all I needed to do was to “Navigate to…” Home to get back to the hotel.
In summary, I’m really glad I had the TomTom ONE with me for this oh, not too complicated, trip. I’m sure that, with the vociferous help of my wife and son, I could have found my way to all the POIs we intended to visit, but the TomTom ONE sure saved some aggravation. It provided a sense of security that I would be able to find my way even if I took a wrong turn.
On the negative side, I found that I relied on my GPS unit more than I would if I did not have it. I mean, the way to Universal Studios from the Holiday Inn and back is straightforward and easily memorized, but I found myself still relying on the GPS unit to lead me.
I also found that I had to pay special attention when approaching an intersection. The GPS unit is insisting that I turn left but the traffic light is turning red. If I blindly followed its directive, I could end up in an accident. As the driver, I realized I still needed to be in total control of my vehicle and where I wanted to go; the GPS unit is there simply to advise and help, not dictate.
I appreciated the POI database but wished it had further sub-categories. For example, in looking for a restaurant nearby, it would have been better if I could choose an Indian, Chinese, Italian, Fast Food, etc. restaurant and get a list with maybe a short description and even star rating.
The mount was extremely easy to use. Because it was so stiff (at first I thought this would be a negative), I could just pull the whole mount with the unit attached and shove everything as is out of sight into the car’s middle compartment. When I took it all out the next time, the unit had not moved from the angle I initially positioned it for my preferred angle of view. The mount also adhered solidly and came out very easily with a pull from the tab. It gets an A+ from me.
To recap, here are the main take-aways from this real world test on roads I was not familiar with:
1- Enter all your intended destinations as favorites, but be sure to find and enter the main driving entrance addresses.
2- Use the Advanced Planning function to familiarize yourself with the roads, twists and turns, exits and major intersections so you can retain control instead of following the directions blindly.
3- Give preference to the road signs because the maps and POI databases may not be up-to-date or complete.
4- If you make a wrong turn or take the wrong highway exit, do not panic. This is where the GPS unit really shines and makes the expense all worth it: it will quickly recalculate your new route and guide you back on track.
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