It’s hard to get away from the TomTom Go. It’s by far the most popular satnav device in the UK and is in hi-tech shouting distance of Apple’s ubiquitous iPod. Everyone seems to have one. But therein lies the rub.
For part of the reason TomTom posted an 83 per cent drop in profits this week is that most people who want a satnav probably have gone and bought one, and around half of them have plumped for a TomTom Go.
All TomTom can do now is defend itself against a growing number of rivals by dropping prices (it looks pretty secure on that score) and then keep adding features to persuade people who own older satnav devices to upgrade to the new one - features like music and photo playback that nearly every PND maker seems to have, but can’t adequately explain why.
Of the new ‘must-haves’ in the TomTom Go 920 T, MapShare sounds more interesting that most. It enables you to log any road layout of other changes on your device and then share them with other drivers via the TomTom Home 2.0 software you install your a PC or Mac.
Of course MapShare enables you to download changes logged by other drivers too, helping you ensure your maps are up-to-date while you wait for a major update from TomTom’s map supplier TeleAtlas.
The other ‘big’ new features are more of a mixed bag. Like the TomTo Go 720 T, the 920 T also includes voice recognition software that enables you to bark commands at your TomTom, rather than enter them by hand.
It would be great if it worked as well as advertised but, like every other voice recognition system ever invented, the reality is it's a lot less certain to recognise your well-rounded vowels, forcing you to eventually abandon the idea. Like the 720 T, the 920 T also includes text-to-speech so you can hear text messages sent to your mobile phone, without having to pull over and read them.
Luckily TomTom’s strengths continue to shine through - it's beautifully made with a large wide, touchscreen display and a body that’s finished in rubberised plastic. Navigating (ahem) your way around the interface is generally a breeze - something’s that always marked TomTom's Go series out when compared to its rivals. All you have to do to set off on your way is hit the Navigate To soft-button, pick your Home address, recent destination, postcode or a point of interest and you’re off.
On the road, the TomTom Go 920 T gives beautifully clear instructions (bestowed on your ears by the silky-voiced default Kate) with a real-time map showing where you’re at, how fast you're travelling, and how far you need to go.
The display proved just about bright enough for us to make out the maps in the spring sun (with the brightest setting turned to the max), although we hope next-gen TomTom’s will include LED backlighting to make the experience an even better one in future. Maps for the whole of Europe, the USA, Canada and many other countries are included for the price.
Points of Interest?
Delve into the TomTom Go 920 T’s menus and things can get a lot more involved than that, of course. You can set your own itineraries, plot alternative routes - handy if the one you originally picked is closed or blocked by traffic - and find your way to designated Points of Interest (POI).
Now we have to say that POIs have never been TomTom’s strong suit. It’s far too reliant on fast food chains when it comes to finding restaurants in your vicinity for example, and isn’t great at finding tourist destinations. For instance a search for zoos in the Bristol area says the nearest one is 22.5 miles away when a) there’s one in the city centre suburb of Clifton, and b) there's another just a couple of miles away from that. Searching for the POI by name reveals that our non-existent city centre zoo has a car park.
Going someway to make amends is a new Help Me! function in the TomTom which automatically directs you to your nearest police station, fire station, doctors, hospital, etc - handy in the event of an emergency. You can also use the TomTom Home software to download POIs submitted by other drivers. Want to take your date out for dinner in Derby? Someone will probably have recommended a place you can go see. It would be nice if this functionality was included by default however.
The cost of ownership
The other downer, of course, is that forking out over £290 for a TomTom Go 920 T isn’t the last time you’ll be called on to fetch your wallet from your pocket for the device. You’ll also have to take out annual subscriptions for speed camera updates, traffic, weather... the list goes on. TomTom isn't alone in this, of course - rivals like Garmin also charge for extra services and updated maps too.
We’re also less than enamoured by another Apple-esque trait - making you pay for accessories that used to be included by default in the box. You’d expect that for £350 the 920 T would also come with some kind of case to protect your investment when it’s away from the car. Not so. You do get a USB docking station, for synchronising with your PC however - something older models never had.
Another thing we’d definitely change is the TomTom Go 920 T’s windscreen mount. Users on the web complain that the mount often falls off - something we experienced at least three times during our test. Thankfully the 920 T escaped unscathed - but it didn't do much for our concentration.
One solution is to clean the inside of your windscreen thoroughly every time you attach the mount, but that’s not very practical; we prefer the mounts TomTom used to ship for devices, like the TomTom Go 700. These were more substantial affairs that locked solidly onto the screen - although even these were prone to leaving the plastic sucker on your car window when trying to prise it off at the end of your journey.
So should you buy the TomTom Go 920 T? Well that depends on a) how often you plan to drive to California, and b) whether you’ve lost, broken or got bored of your existing satnav already. For most of us the answer is likely to be a) never and b) no. For the rest, the TomTom Go 920 T builds incrementally on what has gone before - and that is a good thing if getting from A to B is your top priority - all of TomTom’s Go products deliver very good results.
We feel that features like MapShare and text-to-speech are genuine must-haves, and fill neat gaps in the TomTom’s largely flawless delivery.
If the company can solve the other minor issues we’ve raised here, then its next-gen products (available this summer) could prove unassailable. From what we’ve seen from the 920 T, TomTom is very nearly there.