Customer Review

641 of 661 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very solid GPS with all the essential features you'd want except voice recognition, July 21, 2010
This review is from: TomTom XXL 540TM World Traveler 5-Inch Portable GPS Navigator with Lifetime Traffic & Maps and World Maps (Discontinued by Manufacturer) (Electronics)
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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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Comments

Tracked by 3 customers

Sort: Oldest first | Newest first
Showing 1-10 of 25 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Aug 12, 2010 11:14:20 AM PDT
R. Floyd says:
Excellent information. Thanks for taking the time to compile the important facts.

Posted on Aug 30, 2010 7:40:30 AM PDT
Thanks. I needed this information and I have been convinced to go ahead and buy this product.

Posted on Sep 22, 2010 4:15:19 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Sep 22, 2010 4:17:59 PM PDT
T Pim says:
A very comprehensive review but failed to mention that Europe is not part of the advertised lifetime map update that comes with this 'world traveler' unit, which i would think is why most people would buy this particular unit over the standard 540XXL, a major omission. Better to buy the 540XXL without the Europe map which is cheaper, then when you intend to travel to Europe buy the newest European map.
In Europe there is no lifetime map scheme for Tomtom.

Posted on Sep 23, 2010 12:06:19 AM PDT
JSpangler says:
Wow! What a great review--so very helpful--THANKS.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 27, 2010 10:03:52 AM PDT
E. Neal says:
Thanks for the info. Good point because I thought Eurpoe was included on the TomTom xxl540tm

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 27, 2010 2:38:03 PM PDT
T Pim says:
Just to clarify, a Europe map is included on this GPS, but the Europe map is not included in the lifetime map update, only the USA/Canada/Mexico maps are part of the free lifetime map update.

Posted on Oct 10, 2010 4:55:04 PM PDT
P. Gustafson says:
Very comprehensive and well written review. I have already decided to buy a TomTom, but wasn't sure how well the larger screen models would work (I drive an 18-wheeler, so the using the farther-from-the-driver-than-a-car windshield as a mount is a major factor). Your recommendation for the dash mount is a much appreciated addition. Thank you.

Posted on Nov 14, 2010 4:56:02 AM PST
Gunny D says:
Have a crazy question. IF you wanted to use this as a handheld, and I have my reasons, can you? Say for example you wanted to walk in a large city and use it.

Thanks!

Posted on Nov 28, 2010 10:51:31 AM PST
Nitababy says:
Thank you very much. This is exactly the kind of info I was looking for, since there were different
(meaning the letters within a certain series)GPS's in a series. What did the letters mean? You've cleared up a lot. Great review, thanks again. I know I'm receiving this as a birthday gift!

Posted on Dec 1, 2010 7:06:12 PM PST
I am researching this unit for possible purchase. What keeps somebody from buying the standard 540TM version and off loading the resident map in place of a Euro map? Wouldn't it be a more economical way instead of buying the World Traveler version in the first place at current price premiums?

A Sept 23rd 2010 reviewer wrote that it was easy and she had to do this anyway to get the euro maps to fit. So if one has to go through this process anyway why not do it on the non-world traveler version instead?
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