TomTom Go 550 Live
A move in the right direction
Review With turn-by-turn navigation rapidly becoming the favoured give-away on smartphones, it's reasonable to ask what the future holds for the dedicated in-car satnav makers. Arguably, there will always be a market for cheap entry level satnav units, because not everyone has a smartphone. At the top end of the market, larger screens and advanced navigation options for the high mileage motorist should also help keep sales going in the right direction.
The road ahead? TomTom's Go 550 Live
TomTom's new Go x50 Live satnav series has the latter user in mind. The cheapest model of this range is the 550 which does not have much to distinguish it from the 540 it replaces. The design is solid, smooth and rounded as we have come to expect from TomTom and the 4.3in screen is bright, colourful and highly reactive to the touch.
The screen cradle stays the same, which is a good thing as the current TomTom mount is just about the best there is. The basic feature set is similar to the 540 too, and provides everything you would expect from a top flight satnav including voice control, text-to-speech and lane guidance graphics.
However, the first change you will notice is the slightly warmed over GUI. It's more pleasing to the eye, with all the on-screen boxes having rounded corners and clearer separation lines, while screen transitions are now animated. Round the back the new, larger speaker makes guidance instructions louder and clearer and improves the call experience when hooked up to your mobile up using Bluetooth.
The most important new feature of the x50 series is the Live Snapshot tab that appears when the unit has calculated your route. Hit the tab and you can see at a glance if there are any current traffic problems on your route, where any speed cameras lurk and the location of the cheapest fuel along your planned journey – useful things to know before you hit the highway.
Many features remain unchanged, although the graphics have been improved
Another new feature is the ability to register the location of unrecorded speed camera locations by a tap on the main screen. Once registered, the data is checked by Road Angel which supplies camera information to TomTom and then added to the database, so your unit's list of government ATMs should always be up to date.
Also new is the Eco Routes option. This plots a route that will use the least fuel and, frankly, is a bit of a gimmick. The suggested routes are often the same as the fastest. So, if you want to save fuel, just don't drive like a speed-freak hooligan.
The Live data moves to and from the 550 using GPRS - and that ain't free. Costing £8 a month, this gives you access to Google Local Search – which is not to be sneezed at – along with a weather forecast app and QuickGPSfix, which uses cellular location to speed up the GPS plot. In the spirit of try-before-you-buy TomTom give you the first month's Live subscription free.
The basic navigation system remains unchanged from the x40 series, which means it's wholly reliable and that the Big Idea is still TomTom's HD Traffic. This gathers real time data from anything up to 16.7 million anonymous mobile phones moving along the UK's roads at any given time. Combined with TomTom's IQ Routes, which looks at historical congestion data for any given road at any given time, the system delivers probably the best picture possible of the state of current traffic movement and the best way to navigate through it.
Main navigation view
The 550's qualities shone through during a particularly horrendous late afternoon journey from west Manchester to Bolton Royal Infirmary, then on to Liverpool Airport and back home via stops in Runcorn and Wilmslow. Not a trip you'd want to make on a weekday afternoon. The Go 550 spotted and re-routed us around major traffic problems on the M62, M6 and A34 as well as finding some impressively cheap petrol - 89p a litre - just outside Knutsford.
At all times the directions were clear and obvious and the planned routes took us from door to door with complete accuracy. The only criticisms we can make are inability of the computer generated voice to pronounce the word 'Lancashire' - it kept coming out as 'Lanc'shire' - and TomTom's insistence on three digit and higher road numbers being read out as hundreds and thousands rather than as a series of numbers. Strewth, it's annoying.
Standalone satnav success
All this functionality comes at a price. The top of the range 950 will set you back £300, complete with maps of the Europe, the US and Canada. You can save £50 by going for the 750, which only has maps of Europe. You'll save another £20 with the UK-only 550.
The 950 also comes with something called Enhanced Positioning Technology, which helps the system keep a lock on its location in built-up areas and tunnels. Still, our 550 had no problems keeping a GPS lock even when surrounded by high-rise buildings and, generally speaking, it's quite hard to get lost in a tunnel.
Devices like the TomTom Go 550 Live give the lie to suggestions that stand-alone satnavs will vanish in the face of free smartphone navigation apps even when they have features like Street View. With its useful, if not game-changing, new functions the 550 is arguably one of the best satnavs you can buy and can be thoroughly recommended. ®
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