To paraphrase Bob Dylan, how many roads must a man walk down before he will stop and ask for directions? The answer, of course, is plenty since there are few greater affronts to man’s sense of himself than the suggestion that he doesn’t know where he’s going. That could explain the brisk trade of in-car navigation systems like the TomTom ONE.
Better still, it works very quickly out of the box so there’s no need to ask anyone about that either. There are few things more intimidating to the less technologically minded than to open a product’s packaging and be confronted with a doorstop of a manual that they’re expected to swallow if they want to know how to work what they’ve just bought. So the TomTom ONE scores early points by keeping its instructions mercifully short.
Essentially, the kit comprises a compact colour touchscreen display that can be fixed to your windscreen by a sucker and rotated so it can be easily seen while driving without distracting from the road. The device’s battery can be charged from any car cigarette lighter.
On first use, the TomTom ONE has to be outdoors to locate the car’s current position and this it does with little fuss. The makers say this can take five minutes but in my experience it was quicker. Then I was off — literally.
Once the device locates your current position, the screen shows the driving view in full colour, giving the car’s position on the map. Before setting off, simply type in your destination and away you go. The mapping system works in a drill-down way so that you start out by typing the county or postcode on the touch screen, then the street and so on. The more you type, the more accurate an address it will give.
A very handy feature is the ability to plot a course in advance. By tapping on the ‘details’ button on the screen you’re given series of options that include browsing a map of the planned journey or even showing a demo of the route that will familiarise the driver with the way to go. Obviously, this is all best done before you set off. I don’t know whether the Irish law banning mobiles extends to navigation devices but even from a physical point of view it’s a stretch to reach the screen with one hand while steering with the other. It’s best avoided, really.
When you’re out and about it’s almost like playing a computer game except that the street names have a very familiar ring to them. The car is shown as an arrow making steady progress along the street. At the bottom of the display you can see the distance in miles from starting point to destination as well as the estimated time of arrival (insert your own joke about Dublin traffic here).
To avoid people looking too closely at the map rather than the road, the TomTom also ‘speaks’ where necessary, with a preprogrammed voice telling you when to turn at an upcoming junction or roundabout — the first alert when you are 300 yards away and then another when you approach the turning point. Unlike Irish road signs, this feature gives you a chance to go in the right direction before you actually make a turn instead of after.
The voice will also tell you if you happen to take a wrong turn but where there’s more than one valid way to arrive at a destination the system automatically adapts and suggests an alternative route based on your new direction.
This is a really good product. My only complaints — and they would be very few — are that the directions are all given in miles and yards by default, even though we’re now supposed to be standardised on metric measurements. Also, the screen could be a tad larger, as it’s just 8.7cm diagonally. The zoom feature on the map compensates pretty well for this, however.
Additional services such as traffic and weather reports are available on the ONE device; these require a mobile phone with Bluetooth and a wireless data connection, which we didn’t test for this review.
This unit has suggested retail price of €399.99 and is available through most electronics retailers nationwide — PC World, Currys, Dixons, D.I.D Electrical, Peats and Harvey Norman, as well as Halfords, Argos and selected Tesco stores.
With a name like TomTom, the product might sound like part of a drum kit but it definitely won’t have you beating it in frustration. It could a very suitable Christmas present for anyone you know who will never — on pain of torture — stop and ask someone how to get somewhere.
Value for Money: ***
By Gordon Smith