July 12, 2009

TomTom GO 740 LIVE Full Review

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The TomTom GO 740 LIVE marks the first entry to the US market of a connected service by TomTom, one of the top names in personal navigation devices, making a strong step into the next generation of devices with its access to better traffic alerts, Google Search, gas prices and more. At the base, the TomTom 740 is a fully functional navigation unit offering a top of the line approach to TomTom's version of features, **lane assist, Bluetooth handsfree capability, Help Me!, MapShare, and IQ Routes - a way of learning about travel times based on other people's read world experience.

With a strong base, the TomTom GO 740 LIVE adds on a nice set of features allowing the connected device to help make your commute easier, a search for a destination more straightforward and and overall more informed traveler when you decide to use the connected features as part of your planning process. The ability doesn't come free through, as the connected plan essentially has you paying about $10 per month for the connected services. Don't want to pay the fees? The GO 740 LIVE becomes a regular old GPS, that still allows you to navigate to an on-board set of POI's, with a strong feature set and solid navigation. If you are not in the market for the LIVE connected capabilities, look elsewhere, as there are cheaper ways even within the TomTom line to get a full complement of features without paying for the LIVE capabilities that TomTom includes. As I came into the testing of the TomTom GO 740 LIVE for this review, key in my mind were the question son how well do the connected features work, how are they integrated into the regular GPS navigation capabilities and the bottom line or is it all worth the extra $10 a month for the subscription.

Design

The TomTom GO 740 LIVE follows the design cues of it's TomTom lineage, with a nice improvement on the mount and a fair amount of newness under the hood for the operating system. The EasyPort functionality is here, in a much improved way; the mounting can really be handled with one hand, and offers a confident grip on the windshield. The base is a meaty feeling rubberized dial that is easy to grip, push up to the windshield and twist to adhere; the first non-cam lever mount that is easy to use one-handed that allows for a confident grip. It's a simple, often overlooked feature that can really make a big difference in the quality of the overall experience.   Clearly TomTom did their research, and the result is that they designed a winner mount.

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TomTom GO 740 LIVE Mount - Big Beefy Rubberized Gripped Dial

The EasyPort mount receives the power cable, supports the GO 740 Live with a larger than average cradle/saddle that the 740 LIVE partially sits on, powering the unit while in the cradle. The raised shiny button on the front of the mount offers an easy release for the GPS. These days I recommend taking the entire unit off the windshield to protect against theft. Nothing says "My GPS is under the seat or in the glove compartment - break in a steal it," like an empty GPS cradle sitting on the windshield in the parking lot or garage at the airport or mall. The quick EasyPort mount makes removing and protecting the GPS easy and straightforward.

The Go 740 LIVE itself has simple clean lines with the 4.3-inch screen framed by a thin silver border. the rear firing speaker is plenty loud, overcoming any road noise I could gin up. The only button is the power switch on the upper right corner, ample in size and offering good feedback when it is depressed enough to turn the unit on. The bottom of the unit has the data/power input along with a micro-SD card slot for map expansion. To the right of the screen, there is the microphone to "better hear you with" when using the using the Bluetooth handsfree capability. There is also a light sensor below the mic which auto-dims the unit keeping it a good brightness (there are also internal settings for overall brightness control).

Navigation with the TomTom GO 740 LIVE

Basic navigation is easy by tapping the "Navigate To" button on the main menu, you are able to navigate Home, to a list of favorite locations, an address, a recent destination, a Point of Interest, a Point on the Map, LAT/LON, and the position of your last stop. The Google button is also prominently displayed here which makes the most sense for searching. The POI menu is fairly full featured with the ability to get at POI's near you, in a city, along a route, at a destination, or simply search for one. So while the POI menu has a vast database of POI's, the Google button did come in handy a few times when I could not find a business around me - "Men's Warehouse" for instance was tough to find, but Google was able to grab a location for me and I was able to easily navigate to it. The connectivity was not lightning fast on the search results, but adequate to kick off a search and keep driving, getting results while I sat at the next red light.

Navigating with the TomTom is very good and very easy; I have long trusted their navigation routing, and noticed that with this iteration they offered some slightly better routing around my town and region where I regularly test the navigation capabilities of GPS units that I evaluate. More intuitive routing, and closer to what I might recommend as a local; not perfect, but good.

Traffic Updates - TomTom GO 740 LIVE

Navigation with the TomTom GO 740 LIVE is really all about the traffic capabilities, isn't it? The TomTom GO 740 LIVE is one of the next generation GPS units that offers connectivity in order to provide the best granularity of traffic congestion so that you can make a better decision. I typically travel up and down the Southeast Expressway heading north up into Boston, which is one of the tougher roads for traffic congestion in the area; pales in comparison to others across the country, but it gives me a good chance to test out the accuracy, the helpfulness and the overall usefulness of the LIVE services.


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TomTom 740 GO LIVE - Traffic Delays show on the right side of the screen

The Basics

When you turn on the GO 740 LIVE, you capture traffic information in about the first 2 minutes, offering you insight into the traffic situation. a quick shortcut feature in the TomTom is to program in Work and Home locations then use their "Work-Home" routing features which include fast access to the route along with its traffic situation. You can do this regardless of where you are right now - kind of a modified A--> B routing capability. By tapping the right side of the screen where the traffic indicator is, you come up to a menu of traffic options including picking the Work-Home routes, as well as macro functions like "Minimize Delays" and "Show Traffic on Route". Here there is a setting that will allow you to choose how you want the TomTom to react in the case of a traffic issue: Always Switch to the faster route, Ask you, or Never switch - I like the second one, where you get the option to choose your own destiny. The TomTom is smart enough not to ask you every 2 minutes if you want to choose a different route when it checks for traffic news, nor does it alert you every time there is a traffic incident half a state away, like I have seen in some other less professionally developed traffic solutions.

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Dealing with Traffic

The TomTom was trustworthy when dealing with the Southeast Expressway's traffic, and offered accurate times for travel up to Boston. The delay time is shown up in the right corner of the map, with major incidents shown in a slider bar that let's you understand roughly where they are along your route. for a while I let the TomTom automatically change routes for me when it found a better route, but that was a bit unnerving for me not realizing that I was supposed to be heading in a different direction that I expected, and not expecting a change in the route. Thus, as mentioned above, I set the unit to ask before it changed the route. While using the TomTom GO 740 LIVE I was on the TrafficCast dataset, and found the resolution and overall accuracy on the highways good. The recent move to include Inrix data apparently will improve the overall quality of the data as a whole. Like when I first used the Dash Express, I found that the data was very close to reality when traffic was in a highly dynamic state in predicting the start of the back-up. You know these, when you go from 60 MPH to about 10MPH on the highway in about a quarter of a mile? Yes, the TomTom was off by about a tenth to a quarter of a mile on reporting the start of the back-up, which is pretty good considering the task at hand. These situations change in less than 10 minute's time, and I think they had a pretty good handle on the traffic issues.

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Traffic Menu - The Blue Dot signifies up to date traffic

The criticism that I have is that when you want to "Show the Traffic on the Route" you run into a situation where you are looking at a map that is cluttered and not easy to always see the relative shades of traffic severity; the difference between pulsing Orange and pulsing Red when it's sunny out and you are traveling 65 MPH down the highway is really tough to discern. Yes, the arrows to the right allow you to scroll through the tough spots, but I found that I wanted to see at a glance where the big issues were. Some of the detail screens feel too zoomed in to really get an idea where the issue is.

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Traffic Status Map - Easier to see here, harder at 65MPH in the sun while driving in traffic

Dash Express vs. TomTom

I didn't explicitly test the Dash versus the TomTom GO 740 LIVE, but there are some choices made by both that make the overall experience different. Being the pioneer with some amazing step-changes, Dash got some things really good and some things not so good. One aspect that inspired confidence in them understanding the traffic issues at hand was the fact that they left road traces where they had data, giving you a green, yellow or red trace on a road when the traffic was thought to be a certain traffic severity. Surface roads showed traces where other Dash users had been and left tracks. This functionality is commonly referred to as being a GPS Probe; investigating traffic and reporting it back to the central traffic servers (all done behind the scenes of course). On the Dash, while highways offered historical data on top of the probe data to give you a picture of what was in front of you.

The TomTom service uses external report feeds that utilize various methods to get a picture of traffic right now (their own GPS probes, road sensors, mobile phone speed reporting, etc). TomTom then layers on top of that GPS Probe data from other GO 740 LIVE users to get a more accurate assessment of traffic right now. This layering of information is important, and can build overall accuracy. I would argue that when TomTom folds in Inrix data (which was used for Dash), and the TomTom 740 LIVE probe data, it will be as accurate as the Dash data. My point here is that it may not FEEL as accurate without the visual representations of road tracings left all over the place by other users. It is not obvious that TomTom has any traffic data on secondary roads which limits the impression that it is all-knowing. TomTom's IQ traffic is yet another layer of historical TomTom data that it pulls in from users to help it assemble its own historical assessment of traffic patterns and trip durations, especially helpful where there is not as much probe or road sensor information like secondary roads. I can't say that I was in love with the Dash interface, but in hindsight, this road tracing, while still a little bit of an annoyance, offered a confidence that isn't always there with the TomTom GO 740 LIVE unless you just put your faith in the unit and drive. After driving for several weeks with the unit, I can say that I saw smart re-routes onto secondary roads that did offer a better travel time, and I grew to trust the routing and re-routing around traffic.

Aside: If you think about the coming launch of the TomTom product for the iPhone, and the sales potential of the software into the tens of millions of iPhones out there, one could imagine the significant increase in TomTom based GPS Probes, driving the accuracy and coverage significantly higher.

Other Features

TomTom has folded in Weather forecasts under the "TomTom Services" button (three menu screens later), that let you access a weather forecast at locations much like you pick a destination to navigate to: "Home", at an Address, at a recent destination, etc. Once it retrieves the weather forecast, the report for today is read to you while showing the weather for the next several days.

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Weather - Today's weather is read aloud by the TomTom voice

TomTom's Fuel prices capability is fed by OPIS and offered up in a flexible way; Cheapest on Route, nearby and in the area. the latter searching in about a 20 - 30 mile radius for cheap gas. I like the fact that TomTom allows you to change the fuel type quickly and easily: Regular, Mid-Grade, Premium, diesel and E-85 Ethanol. Once you find the gas, tap on the name to see a map, get a phone number, and then navigate to the station. I also like the fact that the icons on the menu display the price of the cheapest gas

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Bluetooth Handsfree is included on this TomTom, and performs well. It can be unnerving when you make a call, have the volume turned down on the TomTom, and don't really expect the person to be talking to you out of the GPS. Set-up was a breeze to my iPhone and allowed me to dial anyone in my phonebook on the phone. depending on road noise, I decided to use the wired earbud on occasion.

QuickMenu is a way to put a quick little swish semi-transparent icon on the screen where you can access a few of the important functions of the device; I added Work-Home traffic and the Gas Prices button. Very nice touch; easy and unobtrusive.

Review Summary

The TomTom GO 740 LIVE offers a very compelling package of features in a high end device, that is now selling for a price that a year or so ago represented the middle of the line. The overall device is a solid TomTom, with a slightly updated interface that is a bit confusing to the user who may be used to the older TomTom interfaces, as there are more subtle icon differences that slowed me down a bit. The functionality of the Google Search was solid, and offered the ability to search for "Chinese Food" instead of POI's that have "Chinese" in the name. The GO 740 LIVE offers Bluetooth Handsfree, Gas prices, phone listings in the POI listings, sophisticated routing options, pre-trip route planning, and others, but let's face it the reason to get an internet connected GPS is the traffic capability. TomTom's traffic quality is very good, and they clearly have the infrastructure and partnerships to continue to develop a better service. Your choice is to decide if the service is worth enough to fork over about $10 a month for the subscription.

At Amazon The TomTom GO 740 LIVE connected GPS

Read More in: GPS Reviews | TomTom GPS News | TomTom GPS Reviews

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Posted by Scott Martin at July 12, 2009 9:57 PM

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