Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, February 27, 2007
TomTom Go 710 review

I'm traveling again, and suffering from a flaky internet connection. But at least on this voyage I know exactly where I am, because I just bought a portable GPS car navigator, a TomTom Go 710. And I really, really like this gadget, it does more than I would have expected it to do.

Last time I used a car GPS was 6 years ago, in the US, when I rented a car with a Hertz Neverlost system. I still remember it, because I found the name so fitting. You are really never lost when you have a GPS, at the very least you know where you are. But at the time these systems were rather expensive, costing thousands of dollars, and worked with data on a CD with a drive in the trunk.

Fast forward to 2007 and GPS navigators have become tiny and portable. The TomTom Go 710 is 11.2 cm in its widest dimension, and weighs only 300 grams. Instead of a drive it has a 1 GB memory card, which holds the complete map of Western Europe, with 99% street coverage of most countries. If you want to go somewhere else, you either need to buy another memory card, or backup your Europe map on a PC, buy another map online, download and install it. But I wasn't really planning on taking it outside of Europe.

The TomTom Go 710 has a 4" touch screen, with a really intuitive user interface. You can set one address as your "home address", but you can also save many other addresses as favorites. You can even save complete voyages with several waypoints. Besides an address you can also select a "point of interest" as your target, for example an airport, hotel, or hospital. The map contains lots of information besides just roads. To my surprise, if you select to show your speed while driving, the GPS even knows what speed limit there is on the road you are on, and the speed display blinks in red if you are past the legal limit. That is probably why the speed display isn't on by default, some people might get annoyed. :) In the area I'm in I found the map information to be accurate and up to date, but of course that might change over the years, and I might have to buy a newer map online.

There are a ton of accessories in the box: the windscreen dock, a car charger that goes to your car's cigarette lighter, a home dock, a home charger that connects to the home dock, a microphone (I won't need it, but its for hands free talking with a bluetooth compatible cell phone), a GPS antenna (don't need that one either, it just improves the signal if your car windshield is too well isolated), a trafic information receiver antenna, and a carry case. The trafic information reception you can activate and get one free test month, but then you'll need to pay $50 a year for the service if you want to keep it. I haven't tested that yet, but I plan to try out the free month before deciding whether I need that.

The most important accessories are the two docks, car and home. At first I had problems getting the Tomtom Go 710 undocked, until I found that there is a button above the screen to do so. That wasn't mentioned in the manual, but shown as a pictogram in the "installation poster", where I didn't see it because there were too many pictures on it. Easy undocking is important, because the TomTom is so easily portable that it might be portable by the wrong persons, that is thieves. It is a lot more valuable and easier to steal than lets say a car radio, and easy to see from the outside, so undocking it and taking it with you, or at least locking it into the gloves compartment is recommended.

The home dock is very useful to connect the GPS navigator to your computer, and thus to the internet. You can get updates (some free, some for money) of data, new color schemes (for free), and even a wide range of new voices, in many different languages. I absolutely had to pay $10 to get John Cleese's voice on my GPS :), but most other voice files only cost half that. I also used the home dock to make a backup of my data, you never know. Not that the system is very talkative, it only speaks to you if you have to take a turn or something. If you come to a crossroads and the GPS remains silent, it means you need to drive straight. Probably better that way. The machine warns you a couple of hundred meters before a turn, and then again when you reach the point where you have to turn. If you miss a turn or go off the prescribed road, it quickly recalculates a new route, without complaining, so temporarily closed off roads aren't a problem. You could probably arrive at your destination just by listening to the voice, but of course there is also a very clear, zoomable map on the 4" screen, showing you exactly where you are, which way to go, and the roads and selected points of interest in the vicinity. You also get displayed how far it is to the next turn, to your destination, and how much time the machine estimates you will need there. Just don't rely on the estimate, because it bases its calculation on you driving without slowing down for a trafic jam, or stopping for a break.

Right now I'm very happy with the TomTom Go 710. It does what I want it to do, and more than that. It is small enough that I can take it with me if I'm traveling by plane and rental car in Europe, or even the US if I wanted to buy the map for that. With a 4 hour battery life I can even use it when not connected to a docking station and charger. I just need a clear view of the sky to get a signal from the GPS satellites. Lots of fun, and useful. Recommended.
The wife wants to get a TomTom but she cannot read a Map while driving, and if she had something giving her directions she'd try to argue with it. It's bad enough when I navigate for her but a machine telling her where to go? Wow!

For now she just calls me when she needs directions, which is a frustrating process because she has no sense of direction.

"I'm on Main St. Do I turn left or right on Grand?"

"Are you heading north or south?"

"I don't know."

"Are you heading towards the hills, or away from them?"

"I don't know!"

"Is the sun on your left or your right?"


I'm contemplating getting her a compass for the dash so she can at least tell me what direction she's heading.
John Cleese should be the default voice and he should have a witty banter option for those long car rides when the same 15 radio classic rock songs are just going make your head explode.
I've got a TomTom too. I love it. I picked it up at the mailroom, attached it to the windshield, plugged it into the cig lighter, and entered my address (here in Heidelberg) and it took me home.

The best value is the "Navigate Home" ability. A couple taps on the screen and Susan, our TomTom persona, will get us home. I care less about getting places as I do about getting home again. It does that well with maps, visual, and audio guidance. (Susan's pronunciation of German place names sucks saurkrauts though.)
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