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VINE VOICEon July 21, 2010
Product Packaging: Standard Packaging|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The GPS market has come a long way in the past few years. A decade ago, there were very few after-market GPS units, they were mostly expensive, and they were also mostly mediocre. The best units cost more than a thousand, and while they'd get you from here to there, didn't feature a lot of bells and whistles. Factory installed GPS units--then limited mostly to high end cars--generally cost $2-3k.

A growing number of portable GPS units have come to market in the past 5 or so years. Over time, the hardware has improved, the software has (for the best ones) gotten pretty good, and prices have (especially in the past year or so) dropped tremendously. (That last point--the tremendous drop in price--has forced many manufacturers out of the market. At this point, it is mostly dominated by names like TomTom, Magellan, and Garmin). There is also now competition from high end smart phones, most of which have a GPS unit built in.

(Amazingly--or perhaps not--the cost of factory installed car GPS systems has stubbornly remained around $2,000!)

While there has been substantial brand attrition in the GPS market, there is no shortage of choices. That's because each manufacturer now offers an almost ridiculous number of models, many of which are only modestly different.

GPS units can basically be differentiated as follows

1) Screen size (usually 3-5" diagonally)
2) Ability to acquire a GPS signal
3) The GUI (graphical user interface) presented to the user
4) Quality of the maps (how often updated, what geographical regions they cover)
5) Does the unit incorporate traffic data?
6) Quality of routing (how good are the driving instructions generated)
7) Does the unit offer text to speech? (Does it tell you the names of streets, or just say "next left"?)
8) Does the unit offer voice recognition
9) Does the unit incorporate blue tooth to communicate with your phone and/or FM transmission to play over your car radio?
10) Does the unit have expandable memory; play mp3s; etc?
11) How good is the included mounting hardware?

Let's take these features one at a time for this particular GPS, the TomTom XXL540TM

1) The screen size of this unit is 5". This is at the high end of current offerings by the major GPS manufacturers. This doesn't really buy you any additional "real estate", i.e. the resolution isn't higher than the small GPS units. It's just a little bigger. That IS useful, to be honest, and is also helpful as it makes it easier to maneuver the touchscreen menus.

2) This unit, like all the current TomTom line, does a great job of acquiring a GPS signal. It can take far less than a minute with clear lines of sight, and my unit was even able to pull up 5 satellites inside my home with the blinds drawn. I also have GPS units from Sony and Garmin, as well as a built in unit in my car. The TomTom is better than the Sony at getting a signal, as good as the Garmin, and slower than the built in in my car (not a fair comparison, since the built in gets a much larger antenna).

3) This TomTom has a very good GUI. The touch screen is reasonably responsive and most everything appears where one would, intuitively, expect it to be. My biggest complaint is that there are a LOT of options and option screens you can drill through--way too many to deal with while driving. The upside, is there is a "simple menus" options that will present only the most significant option screens. It should be noted that some of the recent TomTom models (e.g. the 550) have eliminated a lot of the options/option screens, leaving ONLY the "simple" menus. That is a big negative, since some of these deep menus are quite useful. Bottom line: Good GUI and stick to a model like this that at least gives you the option of the deep menus.

4) The map data is good, and this particular GPS comes with lifetime map updates. TomTom also has a "map share" facility, which allows users to upload/download map changes. That means if a bunch of users discovery that a street is closed, they can note this information on their GPS and that info will get transmitted back to TomTom, who then shares it with everyone else. In this way, maps get corrected very quickly. This unit includes maps for both North America (US/Mexico/Canada) and much of Europe. The inclusion of European maps will be considered a major bonus for some, and irrelevant for those who don't plan to take this outside this continent.

5) This unit includes lifetime traffic data. The value of this data will depend on where you live. Major cities have great coverage. Smaller cities frequently get poorer coverage. The traffic data is also sometimes incorrect. But on the whole, the traffic data is good, and reasonably reliable (where you can get it). It is transmitted over the FM frequency, and an antenna is built into the auto power adapter cord that comes with this unit. The REAL value of the traffic data is that the unit incorporates the data when calculating routing information. I was skeptical at first, but have been VERY surprised at how well the unit picks the "right" route (not just the route that is shortest in land miles, or shortest based on posted speed limits). This is an A++ feature.

6) The quality of the routing with this unit is OUTSTANDING. Everything else aside, this is, in my opinion, where this unit really shines. They use what they call "IQ Technology" for routing. This is just putting a brand name on the following process: Incorporating frequently updated information on the real speed of various roads (and current traffic information) when generating routing information. It works beautifully. I tried several routes I frequently drive, where the real-world best route would NEVER be predicted on the basis of land miles or on the basis of posted road speeds. No other GPS I have used has ever predicted the real-world best routes--that includes a last generation Magellan unit, a last generation Sony unit (updated with their most recent firmware), and the unit installed in my car (also updated). In one case, the TomTom came up with a very good route, but not quite the best one. I went to the menus and indicated I wanted to avoid a certain road. The TomTom recalculated and subsequently came up with the correct (and not obvious) route. On the basis of their routing, I am a TomTom believer.

It's worth adding that this unit also includes "lane guidance", which is extra information about what lane in a multi-lane road/highway you should be in to prepare for your next road change. This feature is included in the higher end units in pretty much all the manufacturer's lines, and as with the others, it works very well here. I find this to be a very useful feature and would gladly pay to move up in a product line to get it.

7) This TomTom unit features text to speech. I find this a good feature, though obviously you can glance at the LCD screen to get the same info on a unit that does feature this feature. The TomTom is very good at pronouncing names that you might expect would present a problem (e.g. names derived from Spanish, or those derived from the names of Native American Indian tribes).

8) This unit does NOT include voice recognition. Although I would consider good quality voice recognition to be a MAJOR advantage, my experience is that the voice recognition on most portable GPS units is poor/worthless. Some of the high end Garmin units feature reasonable voice recognition, but they are expensive and the feature is still, to some extent, a work in progress.

9) This unit does not offer blue tooth connectivity to your cell phone, nor FM transmission through your radio system. To be honest, while these features sound good on paper, the ONLY blue tooth systems I have used that have ever been worth consideration are those factory installed into a car (at a cost of...$2000, or so...) When blue tooth is available on these portable units, it's mostly bad, and frequently horrible. So the lack of blue tooth on this GPS is no loss.

10) This unit does not have an external memory slot, and the memory cannot be expanded. Full loaded with both North American and European maps, this device uses about 3.7Gb of the 4Gb that are built in. But you can easily remove the maps for either North America or Europe in standard use, if you need more space in the future. The lack of external memory means you also won't be using this unit for playing music or videos or whatever. Again, this is no loss in my opinion. Few people use these features even when they are included.

11) The included mounting hardware is, sorry to say, very poor. The design--where the mounting bracket folds to nearly flush with the unit when not in use--is quite cute. Unfortunately, A) the suction device doesn't work very well and loses suction fairly quickly, even when applied to a good, clear, level surface. (When that happens, your GPS comes crashing to the floor!); B) the quick release bracket that allows the GPS to be removed from the mounting bracket is poor, and if you try to adjust the direction of the GPS, it comes off too easily; and C) even if A & B were not true, the included bracket allows only a very limited amount of motion--not enough to really adjust the GPS to the angle and direction you'd want (and certainly not enough to be usable with the increasingly popular "beanbag" dash mounts...) I would STRONGLY recommend that you buy a high quality after-market mount system made for this device, specifically this one: ARKON TTEP115 TomTom EasyPort Windshield / Dash Mount. At the time of writing this review, it's about thirteen dollars from Amazon, and worth every penny. It works great with this GPS and fixes all the problems that the built in mounting system presents. The only downside is that it can't fold away flush with your GPS when done!

On the whole, this is a very very good GPS unit. Outside of voice recognition, it offers pretty much all the desirable navigation features of the current generation GPS units, and it performs quite well. The "IQ Navigation" feature, which calculates routes based on real-world speeds of roads, works incredibly well in my tests and differentiates this unit from the competition from other brands. The included mounting system is the only Achilles heel, but this can be solved by an inexpensive after-market mount, as noted above.

It's worth adding a final note about this particular TomTom model. TomTom has a large number of current models. By and large, they are very similar in terms of the hardware related to the GPS features that positively differentiate the GPS reviewed here. (E.g. good at pulling in satellite signals, excellent "IQ Navigation", good maps, etc.) The different models vary primarily on the basis of screen size, whether they include lifetime updates of map data, whether they include traffic data, and whether they include such inessential features as blue tooth and mp3 play. I found the IQ Navigation feature, which incorporates the traffic data, to be so good that I would strongly recommend one of the models that includes traffic data, at least for those who live in/near the urban regions that get good traffic data service. Some of the recent units (e.g. 550) used a "simplified" interface, which I would avoid. This is, by and large, the "simplified menu" option that this unit offers, but without the ability to move to a more elaborate menu system when desired.

Beyond these two recommendations, you should probably choose the unit that is consistent with your budget, knowing they will all function as a GPS about equally well.

And plan on buying the after-market mount!
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Product Packaging: Standard Packaging|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I am a long time user of Garmin GPs systems. I had a Street Pilot C330 for several years and also have a nuvi 765T, so I will draw some comparisons between the TomTom and the Garmin below.

What's in the box?
* TomTom XXL 540TM portable GPS
* Windshield suction mount
* Adhesive mount disk
* Car power Adapter
* USB connector
* Instruction guide

Setup of this device is pretty simple. The instruction guide walks you through connecting it to a PC, downloading updates, etc.

On a high level, the TomTom gets me where I want to go and both visual and audio instructions were clear and timely. One note: when you near your destination, the TomTom tells you that you arrived and the display shows if the destination is on the left or right, but the voice does not tell you which side of the street it is on. This is not a huge deal, but its something I became used to with Garmin, which tells you "arriving at destination on left" and so on.

Two places where Garmin beats out the TomTom: Garmin seems to always give you fair warning of approaching turns, etc. The TomTom seems to occasionally offer the info a little late, like as you pass the turn. I noticed this issue during side by side testing. It doesn't happen real often with the TomTom, but it does happen. Also, if you miss a turn or intentionally alter your route, the Garmin is very quick to recalculate. The comparable 'replanning' feature on the TomTom sometimes takes a while, which means you drive around or sit there, waiting for recalculated instructions.

The "lane guidance" system, which points out which lane you should be in on multi-lane highways, works very well, It can automatically switch the display to a "blacktop" view, showing the lanes, dividing islands, and highway signs so that the display looks similar to what you are seeing on the road. If you have an older GPS, the lane guidance features alone should be enough reason to upgrade. My Garmin 765 has this same feature and it is similar on both products.

The TomTom controls are simple and intuitive. The TomTom does not seem to provide as much Points Of Interest information as I have become accustomed to with Garmin. The Garmin tell you the POI's address, city, etc. of each point (store, etc.) rather than just the distance and direction provided by the TomTom. Signal strength seems about the same on my TomTom 540TM and the Garmin 765.

The maps on the TomTom seem current/accurate. The big difference compared to the Garmin is that TomTom includes FREE map updates four times annually for the useable life of the device. Some critics have observed that only TomTom knows what they consider "usable life." However, I can tell you that Garmin makes you buy most map updates, "usable life" or not. It seems silly to pay $70 for a one time map update on a $200 GPS. To buy the same 4 updates per year that TomTom offers for free costs $119.99 at Garmin.

At 5" diagonally, the TomTom has a larger display than the Garmin. While certainly very portable, the TomTom does not have much "pocketability", outside of maybe a large pocket in cargo shorts, etc. I prefer the TomTom's larger screen, and at 4.3" the Garmin won't fit in many pockets either. Most of the GPS products in this size class will fit in a small carrying case, pocketbook, under your car seat, or in your glovebox.

Sound quality: Hearing directions is key when diving with a GPS. The TomTom pronounces words clearly enough to be understood, yet I would say pronunciation is slightly better on my Garmin. However, and it's a big however, the TomTom has far better volume. With the Garmin 765, if you are on battery power, the maximum volume is fairly low, especially when there is conversation in the car, radio, or road noises. The Garmin volume becomes decent only when you plug in the power adaptor. The TomTom's volume is fine, regardless of the power source. Speaking of power, the battery life on the TomTom is not great, two hours if you are lucky.

Traffic updates on the TomTom come via RDS updates, so you have to connect the device to an FM radio system to receive the RDS data. This means unless you plug in the car power adaptor, the GPS will not get the signal through your car radio, and you won't get the traffic updates. This is true of the Garmin 765 I own as well.

TomTom also includes their IQ Routes feature, which makes use of historical traffic volume based on the time of day of your trip. Route selections are made with this data factored in, which is a pretty nice feature.

When it comes to mounting the device on the windshield itself, the suction feature on the TomTom is better than the Garmin. The TomTom has a knob integrated with the suction cup so you apply the mount and turn the knob to create a firm adhesion to the windshield. With the Garmin you just push the suction cup on in a standard manner. The Garmin is a little more prone to fall off than the TomTom.

The TomTom uses a very small stand, which is very portable, and much less bulky than on the Garmin products. It does tend to limit you to mounting on the windshield, unless you prefer to use the mounting disk, which to me is a general no-no, putting an adhesive disk on your auto interior. That is a personal choice though, and obviously many people will be fine using the disk. The larger stand on a Garmin allows you to place the device in a cup holder or other front console/dash compartment. Personally, I find the bean bag type accessories an excellent alternative. I would recommend one from Garmin or TomTom, depending of course on which product you own.

I found the mount itself on the TomTom to be annoying, coming off more than half the time when I adjust it or remove the device from the windshield. The mount reattaches easily to the back of the GPS though.

When it comes to overall features, the Garmin is more loaded at a price of $20-$40 more - Bluetooth/phone compatibility, redirection of audio through car radio, MP3 capability playable through your car audio system, and photo features. The TomTom sticks more to GPS mainstream, lacking most of these features.

If you want celebrity voices on your GPS, TomTom provides the ability to download these. The Garmin does not. Keep in mind celebrity voices will NOT read you street names, just general instructions.

All in all, I really like the TomTom and in general, would choose this item again, although I can't say it is better than the Garmin. Garmin's map pricing policy makes me lean toward the tomTom, but the few buggy items on the TomTom (occasional late instruction, long time to recalculate) make it a toss up.
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on July 29, 2010
I received my TomTom XXL 540TM World Edition and immediately went to update the maps. I will be traveling to Lithuania Poland and Hungary. I noticed that only maps of the USA, Canada and Mexico were updated.
I phoned customer service to ask about the Europe map updates and was told that first I must update USA maps then I will be given options to update Europe. After completion no options for Europe map updates were available.
I called back and was told that only USA maps get updated and that I must buy the Europe map updates. I thought that this was impossible and called back to get the same answer.
With that I looked at the information on the Amazon site which clearly states "Free Lifetime Traffic and Map Updates for the US, Canada, Mexico & Europe."
I looked on the box and it says exactly the same thing.
I called back and I was told that I should refer to their web site and Europe maps are not included. I explained that it states that lifetime updates are included right on the box and I was told that I am mistaken. I then spoke to a supervisor who explained that there was a miscommunication and that everyone thought that I was trying to update after one year and Europe maps are only updated for a 1 year period (again TomTom states free updates for life).
All lies by TomTom - they do not want to update to the latest Europe maps. I did get my upgrade and I found out that it was handled as a courtesy.
This is not a courtesy - the box and all of the TomTom documentation for the XXL 540TM World Edition states "Free Lifetime Traffic and Map Updates for the US, Canada, Mexico & Europe."
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on August 31, 2010
***Please read this review as a journal I kept while using the device. It is written in reversed chronological order, with most recent updates coming first. The review comprises now the original review I wrote after 1 week of use and updates after 1 month, 3 months, 7 months and 11 months of use. The updated areas will be marked accordingly. The total star rating has been reduced from 5 to 4 at 3 months, from 4 stars to 1 after 7 months, and it went back up to 3 stars after 11 months***


The 11 month review:
For some reason the issues reported at the 7 month review seem to be gone now. Be it either the software updates or the deletion of the contents of a specific directory (per instructions from TomTom tech support), but I am much happier with it now. Had it not been for those issues that I had before I would probably rate it at 4 stars or so, deducting 1 star for the slowness of the unit under some circumstances and for the hardware that doesn't seem to be quite up to the task (slow and not enough memory in short).
The routing continues to impress us, even though it is not always perfect. Sometimes the traffic conditions change quickly and the unit might not know where the jams are exactly, but for the routing and traffic avoidance in New York City and around the city I highly recommend this navigation device. It impressed some of our friends who were following us once on the way back to NYC, so that they went and bought one for themselves right after. It was at the end of the Easter weekend, and for some reason many highways entering NYC from the West were jammed. We went on local roads, and we would see the traffic jams all around us while passing across highways on bridges. Finally we got onto George Washington Bridge by the very last ramp before the bridge, avoiding significant traffic this way.
Bottom line: it seems that I am meant to have a love and hate relationship with the TomTom devices. This one performs differently than my previous TomTom, as it has more features and it's much more useful, especially in New York, but it also had more reasons to be hated when compared to my previous TomTom, more specifically what seem to be bugs and errors in this one. Do I recommend it? I guess I do now, but with the long disclaimer below.


The 7 month review in short:
I am downgrading the rating to the lowest possible because of the marked unreliability of the device. While it looks good on paper, and while also when it works it is a very good to excellent device, it is also utterly unreliable which makes it almost useless if not dangerous. What happens is that there are times when it will not acquire satellites at all. I have had this issue so often and it is so bothersome that I would like to return the unit now if I could. For instance yesterday night (Saturday night) I updated the device, searched for the restaurant we wanted to go to, sat the unit on stand-by and went to the car to drive off. The unit acquired the satellites in the house, when I was entering the restaurant address, but not in the car, not even after 10 minutes of driving (I left as I knew part of the way). After much frustration I resetted the device to the factory settings (losing all the favorites and the history of destinations) and then it acquired the satellites but not the traffic. Both issues happened on numerous occasions, and the customer support suggestion was that I factory reset the device. The latest software update just a few weeks ago didn't fix these issues.
An other issue is the re-routing based on traffic. On a trip from Queens to Brooklyn at the rush hour, it re-routed me through 2 toll (expensive) tunnels and through Manhattan, without asking for my acknowledgment. When I realized what it had done it was too late. Usually one can get directly from Queens to Brooklyn, either by BQE or by Jackie Robinson Parkway and then local roads, both ways do not include any toll roads. I reported the issue to customer support by email and they said they can not do anything and that I should call their number.
These issue seal it for me, this will most likely be the last TomTom I buy. Unfortunately I also tried now some of the latest garmins, and I think their routing is worse than tomtom's. They might not have the issues tomtom has though, as maybe they are more reliable.


+++The 3 month update in short: while I am impressed by the effectiveness of the routing in and around NYC, including at times when there are traffic jams on some of the main highways, there are some things annoying me more about the unit. Specifically there is far too often a lag in acquiring the traffic information when I connect the unit in the car. Sometimes the lag is 5-10 min, some other times didn't work at all during a specific trip. This is not a permanent issue though, but happened several times already. Also very often there is a long (maybe minutes) lag on acquiring the location on the first start. Sometimes the unit automatically reboots until it acquires the satellites properly. I am keeping the 4 star rating though thanks to the stellar IQ routes and even thanks to the traffic based routing. I drove many times now with it taking routes that didn't make sense at first (sometimes on service roads, some other times longer routes than the usual fastest I knew), only to notice around me some of the traffic jams that I avoided and only to arrive at the destination realizing that I didn't get stuck at all in traffic. While avoiding traffic jams happened on many occasions, there were instances when I did get stuck. So it doesn't work 100% of the time, it also depends on the time of the day and the road you drive, but it happened so often that I feel this unit is worth its money+++


The original review follows:

This is the 3rd tomtom that I use, the first was tomtom software loaded on a Palm Pilot, very ancient and crude navigation solution, then I had a tomtom ONE 3rd edition, a basic GPS solution that served me well for roughly 4 years or so, and now I bought this (a "basic advanced" navigation unit I may say).
I only tried Garmin briefly on loan from friends, and they were models from a few years back: I generally liked my old tomtom better than those. It also means that I will not be able to compare this against the new garmins.
However, as a purchase decision I can make a comparison between the 2 brands. As I wanted a new GPS with better routing and with traffic (I moved recently to NYC), I thought to buy a Garmin this time, as they seem to sell so well in the US and I have had rather a love and hate relationship with my tomtom ONE 3rd edition. I eyed Garmin nüvi 265W/265WT 4.3-Inch Widescreen Bluetooth Portable GPS Navigator with Traffic as it had lifetime traffic and it seems to be a very decent unit at a relatively low price. I changed my mind because this particular tomtom offers free lifetime traffic (with no advertisements, unlike the Garmin) and free map updates, it has the IQ routes, and some reviewers have noted that the IQ routes and the traffic based rerouting of tomtom are outstanding. In order to get similar features for the Garmin I would have had to pay $80 more for the "free" map updates, and the traffic would have come with advertisements anyway. Plus, for only roughly $10 more than a comparable tomtom, I got the world traveler edition, so basically Mexico and Europe maps as a bonus.
I should note that I considered also Tomtom for the iPhone, but it would not make such a lot of sense economically, as the maps plus the car kit come very close to the price of this unit (or even more if you need the Mexico and Europe maps as well). And even with the multitasking of the iPhone, I still prefer having a separate device for the same money. The separate device can go on loan much more easily than my iPhone for instance.

***About the "free lifetime map updates".
I don't want to get too much into the small print details, but first of all it says on the box that "the feature is not available in Europe". This should be noted by Amazon clearly in the description in my opinion, and tomtom should not make it such a small print as they do it on the box. "The most useful critical review" on Amazon does not seem to account for this, so I suppose they did not see it and thus they are a bit misleading.

Once I connected the GPS unit to the computer (using the HOME software), I have been offered a bunch of updates, including 2 giant updates: one for USA, Canada and Mexico maps, and one for the Europe maps. I think this went through the "Latest map guarantee" and not through the "lifetime map updates". As the name might suggest, "latest map guarantee" only guarantees that you get the latest map ONCE, when you buy the GPS unit (or within 30 days after buying it to be more precise).

Now back to the European maps: although I see those as a perk for the small price paid extra for this unit, and I might be OK not to get "free lifetime map updates" for Europe, this latest map update that I have been offered DOES NOT FIT into the GPS unit memory along with the North American maps. They say that the new maps are much more detailed than the old ones (supposedly I good thing), thus much larger files. So tomtom offered an option during the update to load only a region of Europe onto the unit (they divided Europe into 4 regions I believe). They say you can switch back to an other region anytime, or, I suppose, if you delete the North American map (you can do this temporarily, as they get automatically saved to your computer, and you can back up the whole unit as well), you could load the whole European map, but only that. If you synchronize the GPS unit with a laptop that you carry you would be fine, as you could switch back and forth between the maps as you please. It is not a very elegant solution though, and I would much prefer having more room to store all of the maps, even if that room would meant an SD card that I insert into the unit.

***About the IQ routes.
So far it seems to work in NYC. For instance I was going from Queens, NY to Lake Ariel, PA, and my old tomtom would route me through Triboro Bridge, I-87, George Washington Bridge (crossing Bronx basically). The same route would be chosen by Google maps, both on the computer and on the iPhone, although Google knew that the route meant 1 hour in delays. Granted I took this route once, and we did have about 1 hour delay (3 hours 30, instead of 2 hours 30 or less). Next time we just watched the traffic on Google maps, and we ignored the directions given by them and by my old tomtom. Guess what: leaving at the same time on a Saturday as the previous time, we got there with basically no delays at all: 2 hours 36. Now here is the good part: at the same time of the day tomtom would route me exactly on this fastest route that we found by studying the Google maps with traffic. This means I can probably trust my new tomtom to do all the math and save me precious time with both the route planning and while traveling. 1 hour on such a short trip is a lot in my opinion.
Also something to note is that the arrival estimates are accurate to just a few minutes.

***About the traffic.
I used the unit only a few times so far, and none of it at the rush hour. So all the alerts I have gotten yet were like "there is a 1 minute traffic delay ahead, you are still on the fastest route".
The traffic data seems to be supplied by the "Total Traffic Network", as they have a logo on the units' box. I googled them and they have a website where you can check the local traffic coverage for different cities (please google them yourself, as Amazon would not allow web links within reviews). In NYC they seem to cover the highways (all the important ones from what I could gather), but no local/city roads. This is OK I guess, because I hope the IQ routes would know which local routes are generally faster. If there is a temporary closure, accident etc on one of this "non-highway" roads, you might have to reroute manually. I used to do this on my older tomtom: hit the map portion of the screen, then in the menu pick "Find Alternative" and then "Avoid Roadblock". If there is a medium/long term street closure you should get that through the Map Share update program.

***UPDATE about the navigation, including IQ routes and traffic feature after 3 month of use***
The IQ routes are by far the most useful of the special features. As noted above, they will very likely save you time under most driving conditions in a big city like New York, and they are generally smarter than other units and even the sense of orientation of the most seasoned local drivers for instance. As an example, we went by several cars from the same place in Queens to the same place in Pennsylvania, and some people arrived as much as 1 hr and half later because of bad GPS directions. This was supposed to be a 2hr 8 min trip without any traffic delays.

The traffic feature however is less than perfect in my opinion. Driving back to NYC from PA-NJ area, I would be alerted almost every 5 minute that the traffic delay on my route is... 28 min for instance, and asked whether I would like to take a faster alternative (16 min faster for instance). I would choose yes, and after an other 5 min I would be asked a similar question and so on. Finally I went through Holland Tunnel into NYC, and although Tomtom estimated 2 min traffic delay there, they turned out to be 40 minutes. I was even thinking whether I wouldn't be better off simply having the IQ routes and no traffic updates. In all fairness the unit seemed to know more or less where the traffic delays are (those areas are marked on the navigation map by slow moving arrows colored yellow or red).
An other issue with the traffic feature might be when there is severe weather, like heavy snow for instance. The unit will try to route you out of the highway where it knows that the traffic is moving very slowly, but it might you on local roads without knowing that those might be even worse than the highway.
Many other times though the traffic feature works wonderful. You could take slightly longer ways but you will be moving and not get stuck. I have been positively impressed by its effectiveness more than once.

$$$ A tip about avoiding red light and or speeding tickets issued with the help of fixed cameras: when you connect the device to your computer, do yourself a favor and add the free red light and speeding camera feature (you can find it under the "Add traffic, voices, safety cameras etc" option). They are administered by Tomtom, they include free updates, and you will be warned both by a chime and a visual indicator that you are approaching such area.

The navigation experience overall is far from perfect, unfortunately. First of all there are map errors that either made me take unnecessary turns or asked me to do unsafe or illegal turns. For instance it asked me to make a right turn from the central lane off of Queens Blvd, which is forbidden. Then I needed to get to the nearest pharmacy in some small town in Pennsylvania (sick passenger), and the routing has been particularly bad because it would ask me to go around when on several occasions I could have done a simple left turn. Also I could not find the first pharmacy, as I went in a loop and tried to find a street twice with no success. However, even after these mishaps and even after taking long breaks for the sick passenger, we still got earlier to our destinations than most of the people we were meeting with (see above).
Other bothersome navigation details: for instance being asked (nagged) to keep left on major highways when that would be the course of the highway anyway: on the right there would be just a clear cut exit. To make things worse, when for instance I-280 divided in two somewhere near Newark, NJ, I haven't been told to keep right and by keeping left I ended up exiting the highway. When this happened it took way too long for the unit to recalculate the route, which brings me to an other complaint: slow route recalculation in some instances (in this case 30 miles to go, crossing NYC, which I noticed that usually slows down the calculations). I had to drive based on my gut feeling for 2 minutes or so, and being in an unfamiliar and rundown looking area I didn't feel particularly comfortable.

***About the hardware.
This is so much improved over my ONE. The unit rather looks like a flat screen TV now, with a huge display and a very slim profile. My wife even teased me as to why I bought this TV set for.
The screen is relatively smudge proof, reasonably responsive to touch (I had to use the word "reasonably" as this is no iPhone in terms of user experience, but decent enough otherwise). I like that they worked on small details like making some sort of funnel in the plastic case that makes inserting the cable easier. On other units it's very hard to insert the cable blindly.

I would have liked very much an SD card slot, as I could have loaded all the maps onto the unit (see also the map comments). More memory would also be nice, and maybe it should be even a requisite for tomtom to offer, as the "standard" maps don't fit anymore. I would have liked a volume rocker button, but I can live without it. The only time when I really wish it had one is when I am playing with the unit inside and it starts "screaming". But it's easy enough to adjust, just press on the area of the screen where the directions are indicated with arrows.
Also I think it would need a faster computing processor, maybe more RAM too, for faster map rendering and other operations. It makes a decent device with the current hardware, but there is room for improvement.
***UPDATE about the hardware after 1 month***
The need for better computing power (better processor, maybe more RAM) is more important than I originally anticipated. The relatively slow rerouting under some circumstances makes for a suboptimal navigation solution when that happens. It will eventually catch up, but might be bothersome in a big city.

***About the software.
I kind of always liked tomtom for the great amount of information presented to me, while not cluttering the screen. I appreciate how they use the status bar real estate, and I like to see among other things the distance to destination, estimated time to destination, estimated arrival time, and my speed VS the speed limit. It takes a bit of time to be able to safely read all that information, and you have to figure which one is which, but once you do, it's both safe and useful to have it. Then I like the customization options (like voices, map color schemes, adding POIs, even the car symbol..) At first I know I found the menu not to be very simple, as some options where hidden behind other menu options, but once you learn them you should like them. Plus, you can't have too many options unless some of them are hidden behind others. Otherwise you would have a very long list to scroll through. If you used a tomtom before it should all feel extremely familiar.

The mapping software works I think as an instant drawing software that uses the raw mapping data from a database. You can notice this when you browse the map, as the map is loaded layer by layer. While this can provide I guess the maximum amount of map information with the minimum amount of memory space, it also provides for a rather frustrating user experience, as the maps load rather slowly. The maps are also slow to load when you pan out or zoom in or out. This is annoying, and maybe a fix would be faster hardware. An other would be different algorithms. I do care more about the navigation experience than about map browsing though, so I would not give tomtom a hard time about this.
This type of algorithm must be at fault also when the 3D map shows the curves of the road as made of several straight lines, instead of being seamlessly curved. This latter drawback I don't mind at all, but it has been noted by some reviewers that the tomtom maps look "old fashioned", because the curves are not round as on the Garmin. This is true, but it's such a minor issue and with no functional impact that I think complaining about it is rather snobbery.

***About the "text to speech" (computer voices).
Important to note: there are ONLY 2 COMPUTER VOICES IN ENGLISH. They are decent, but not a lot of variety there. There is one more computer voice in French (Canadian), and I am afraid that's it for computer voices. The non-computer voices are plenty, including celebrity voices, and you can even record your own voice. These (other) voices however will not read street names and signs.
I used both of the English computer voices: Susan, American English, and a bit Simon, British English. For the US at least I like Susan better, just because it pronounces the street names more accurately. Simon pronounced Kissena Boulevard for instance in a way that I would barely know it's that one. Susan did not have an issue with it. However Susan pronounced "Whitestone Bridge" in a manner that sounded a lot like "Whitestone Branch". Because of some abbreviations in the map database, the computer would pronounce those names funny. For instance "Midtown Tun" instead of "Midtown Tunnel", just because in the database it is written that way.
Overall I think the text to speech works very nice, and there is plenty of information provided. Also, it does not seem to lag at all, and the instructions are provided in a timely manner.

***Mounting solution
Having had poor experiences with my old tomtom ONE standard mount, and having used happily an ARKON goose-neck mount and a dash bean bag (Bracketron UFM-100-BX Nav-Mat GPS Friction Dash Pad), I did not even think to use the stock mounting solution of this unit either. This stock mount is probably better than the old one of my tomtom ONE, but even so, it seemed to me like a small and worthy investment to get a strong, new ARKON mount: ARKON TTEP115 TomTom EasyPort Windshield / Dash Mount. As added benefits are the convenience of not smudging the windshield, nor tipping the thieves that easily that a GPS unit might be in the car: I take the device with me anyway, but they can break your window just to search for it. With this new mount and my old bean bag I achieved again a very good mounting solution. My only (little) complaint is that the unit tilts sideways too easily and it would not always stay perfectly horizontal for that reason.
As an alternative I think you could buy the TomTom GPS Dashboard Mount for TomTom GPS Navigators, and even use it with the stock mount. I do not recommend this combination however, based on the reviews I have read, as it does not seem to be a stable mount. This tomtom bean bag might work well with the ARKON mount referenced above, but ARKON mount should be compatible with any bean bag type of accessory, including the Bracketron brand referenced above. The standard mount is NOT compatible with the Bracketron bean bag.

***UPDATE after 1 month about technical support***
Recent experience shows decent technical support. I requested support because I updated the map once again and now the mapshare seemed not to work anymore. I requested support by email, and I got an automatic reply right away advising me that due to large volume of requests there might be a delay in getting my reply. 2 days later I got a "human reply", quite detailed, explaining basically that the map is too new and there are no mapshare updates, but the HOME software incorrectly reports and error in downloading the updates. I would rate this experience as positive, as they have been professional and replied within reasonable time. My previous experiences with technical support over the phone have been generally positive as well, but they happened a number of years ago now.

My opinion might still evolve, but I had to lower my initial enthusiasm a little after 1 month of use. I estimate that this unit would be better than most navigation solutions on the market in large part thanks to the IQ routes. The big screen and the Europe maps are a welcome bonus. However, the relatively slow computing speeds, limited memory space, and then the lack of lifetime updates for Europe make this unit less desirable. I am still happy with the purchase, even though it does not fully meet my expectations. Traffic might not be very useful either, but I feel I have to test this feature more before I give a verdict. I am thinking that a 540M for instance might be a better deal, because you would only pay for the valuable features, but as far as I know it comes with even less memory (2GB), so I would still buy this one (it has 4GB).

It misses some bells ans whistles I do not care about, like displaying photos, playing songs and videos, Bluetooth connectivity etc. It would be a much better unit (almost perfect) if it would have a faster processor, more memory and/or a memory card slot. Note however that you can buy this version and use it as US version with plenty of memory (4GB vs the 2GB offered for the N American version).

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on August 22, 2010
TomTom XXL 540TM 5-Inch Widescreen Portable GPS Navigator

TomTom XXL 540TM is great in size as a product as it cover less physical space and handy to carry. However, if you are frequent traveler to US and Europe. The storage limitation is 4 Gig capacity and you can't add any storage space. So, you have to decide which portion of the maps you want to download. In Europe region--you can't download the complete maps of Europe--you have to select 2 gig map only for Europe. Also if you subscribe Safety Camera subscription for Europe -- US TomTom will not support. US TomTom tech will tell you that you need to go to UK site and download from there. You have to create another account with TomTom UK site. Map updates applies to US maps only and not Europe maps.
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on August 20, 2010
Used it initially on a trip to northern Italy. Pronunciation in Italian is terrible, and it really takes two people to guide with it...the driver listens and the other person interprets, particularly with the numerous rotaries. However, it is very accurate 90% of the time. Problems include being told to go down the wrong way on a one way street and not redirecting easily. Has many features but not always easy or logical to access.
Once you figure it out and get your two person team working, it was very helpful. Could not have travelled to many small towns without it. Even had traffic information and suggested alternate routes during traffic jam on the autostada. Lifetime US map updates for free is a real plus.
GPS is an amazing technology, but not perfect. The Tomtom performed admirably.
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on August 10, 2010
The marketing information clearly implies that if you buy the "TM WTE" edition, you get lifteime updates for the maps included in the product, i.e., North America _and_ Europe. However, buried in the TomTom support files you'll find this hedge:

"Lifetime Map Updates cover the countries of the United States, Canada and Mexico. Updates are limited to the regions that are pre-installed on the device.

If your navigation device has maps of other countries, for example, Western Europe, these will not be updated through Lifetime Map Updates."

Really pretty cheesy, and makes me hesitate to buy what otherwise looks like a good-value product.
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Product Packaging: Standard Packaging|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Technology seems to be changing all the time as does the infrastructure in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. Oftentimes roads are added, altered, and routes change and you'll want to know these changes without having to invest in a new GPS receiver. The TomTom XXL 540TM includes Lifetime Traffic & Map updates, eliminating the need to continually update your GPS. This feature makes this unit well worth the money you'll spend on it.

You will find an amazing array of preloaded points of interest . . . seven million to be exact. You will be able to find gas stations, ATMs, hotels, motels, restaurants, and much more. Your TomTom XXL 540TM will get you where you where you want to go in the quickest, easiest manner possible. Entry level GPS users will love the wide screen and easy-to-use manner in which this unit is presented. No more trying to peck away at a smaller GPS keyboard only to find you're consistently hitting the letter beside the one you want to type in. No more posting notes on your rearview mirror or pulling off to the side to check out your Mapquest directions.

You cannot totally depend on this or any unit to provide total up to date information, but the TomTom is as good as it gets. For example, a nearby restaurant recently closed. It shows up on the unit, but small issues like these will be resolved in time. Essentially, there is little to say along the negative line for something that you're going to love as soon as you take it out of the box. Just take a close look at the video and you'll see what I mean!
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VINE VOICEon August 16, 2010
Product Packaging: Standard Packaging|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The TomTom 540TM World Traveler is one of the nicer GPS units you'll see, due to the world maps, traffic & map updates, and 5" screen. I've been using this unit for about a month now and have been very happy with it. I've used it in city environments (Atlanta and New York), as well as rural areas (parts of Georgia and Tennessee), and it's delivered consistently good performance.

One of the best features about it is the 5" screen. As long as you can afford it, the 5" screen is a no-brainer pick over the 4.3" screen that is popular in the GPS world. I drive a compact sedan and never felt that the 5" screen was taking up too much space on my windshield. The screen provides plenty of real estate for all the data you need. You are able to customize what data appears on your screen. I set my standard screen to show this info:

- The map (obviously)
- Name of current road you are on
- Name of road you are going to turn on to
- Distance until next turn
- Direction arrow of next turn
- Hours/minutes until arrival at destination
- Current time
- Estimated arrival time (I liked seeing if I was making time or losing time as I drove)
- Your current speed (others in the car can see how fast you're going- this could be a good or bad thing!)
- Speed limit where you are driving (very useful- however this feature is not available on a lot of city roads)
- Signal strength (never saw it go below full bar strength)

Obviously, that is a lot of information. But with the 5" screen, it never feels cramped nor crowded. And you can always disable some of these if you feel there is too much data on the screen.

There is a lot to like about this unit other than the screen:

Suction cup: the detachable suction unit folds into the back of the unit, which is convenient for transporting. Best of all, I thought it was easy to apply to my windshield. And very importantly, it never fell off while driving. I bought a Magellan Roadmate GPS in 2004 that always fell off, which was highly annoying.

Lifetime Map Updates: TomTom will publish map updates for the life of the unit (which is up to their discretion of course). I assumed the updates would be yearly, but I was pleasantly surprised to see the updates are released every 3 months. The updates are easy to install as well via a USB cable and a computer. However, keep in mind Europe is not included in the lifetime updates.

Traffic Updates: This only works via the traffic receiver that is built into the power cord. So you will need to plug in the cord when you want traffic. The Traffic Updates drive the IQ Routes feature, which is very cool. This will route your directions based on the day and the time of day in order to avoid traffic. The great thing about this feature is that it's constantly on. For example, I was driving into NYC and in the middle of my drive, a message popped up saying something to the extent of "By taking an alternate route that will add 1.7 miles to your drive, you can save 6 minutes. Would you like to make this change?". Then you have a "Yes" or "No" option. This is a fantastic feature in areas where there are multiple roads to get around.

Advanced Lane Guidance: On highways where there are splits or exits, a screen will pop up with huge arrows indicating what lane to stay in. This is especially useful on crowded highways so you can avoid having to make last second lane changes.

Customization: You can pretty much change anything on this device. You can select map colors. You can go with a 2D or 3D screen. You can pick one of the pre-set voices, or buy celebrity voices through the TomTom website. For about $15 per voice, can you get directions from Homer Simpson, Darth Vader, or Knight Rider's KITT (there are dozens of different voice options). You can even change the icon of the car that is driving. You can upload your own picture or select one of the hundreds that have been uploaded by other users. It is pretty cool to see my actual car on the map screen!

Carpool/HOV option: If your drive involves carpool/HOV lanes, the unit will ask you at the start of your trip if you want to take or avoid carpool lanes when available.

Directions: Of course, the primary purpose of a GPS is to take you to the destination as efficiently as possible. Granted, this quality will vary from user to user depending on where you live. And I wasn't able to test how well the unit would work in Europe, Canada, or Mexico. But in my experience, I never had any problems with the unit giving me bad or inefficient directions.

Though it's a great unit, there are some problems I ran into:

Touchscreen: The unit does not provide instant feedback. So basically you have to touch the screen, then wait a second or so before the unit responds. I found this to be fairly annoying when having to enter in long city names or street addresses. In this age of touchscreen cell phones that respond instantly, I'm not sure why some GPS units cannot do the same thing.

Mute: I couldn't find a way to mute the device without going into the menu options. There is a volume slider you can access by touching the main screen, but moving the slider all the way to the left still left 10% volume. All the way to the left should mean Mute.

Airport Codes: I found it didn't handle airport codes well. When you use an online service like Google Maps, you can just type in a 3 digit airport code as your destination and not have to worry about an actual address. With this unit, you cannot do this. My work-around was going into Points of Interest and selecting Airports.

Points of Interest: It did not provide great detail for POI's. And for some reason, I found it difficult to click on the icon to bring up data. I understand the POI feature works much better on Garmin units.

However, even with these minor annoyances, I consider this unit to be a great GPS option.
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on September 13, 2010
This is a review of the newest TomTom XXL540TM World Traveler Edition versus the Garmin Nuvi 1370T.

I recently spent a week in Naples Italy fighting my way around one of Europe's dirtiest cities...on streets that are often disorganized and worse.

I had the the TOMTOM XXL540, my wingman had a new Garmin 1370T. The TomTom in my Fiat...the Garmin in his Alfa Romeo. We switched GPS devices daily. Who are we? I am an engineer. My wingman is a jet pilot. We are both Gadget guys.

The TOMTOM was the hands down winner. I need go no further. If you haven't bought either, but need a GPS with both North America and Europe capability...ONLY consider the TOMTOM. Why? Here are the reasons: Larger and clearer screen, more detailed roads on the maps. Fewer errors in navigating. However, the most important feature is the Green flashing arrows that make it clear when you need to turn from a main road to an exit ramp...and which lane you need to be in. Or when coming onto a main road. THis didn't occur always, but usually when on the Autostrada. Garmin didnt have this...and that was the decisive blow. IF you weren't listening, you could easily miss the turn. I also enjoyed the TomTom's subtle but suggestive voice...."bear left", "bear right", "exit now".

The Garmin has a better mount, and bluetooth. However, we never used bluetooth. The main reason to have the GPS is to get where you're going...and the TOMTOM couldn't be beat. We drove Naples, Amalfi, Rome, and small towns around Naples. With the TomTom, we would put in the town, and select restaurants, and a list would quickly come up...thus leaving the Rick Steves guide on the floor. The TomTom mount isn't necessarily bad, it mounts to the glass nicely, however, getting the unit to click into the mount is a bit tricky...that's not the case with the mounts securely. However, the mounts for both units worked well and were not a problem. The TOMTOM is a larger unit in size...though it is fairly thin.

I don't write reviews...but this was an easy one. If you bought the Garmin...try to return it. If you bought the TomTom...congratulations.

"You have the controls".
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