The car Bibles product reviews: TomTom Go 510 GPS Navigator.
TomTom Go 510 GPS Navigator
Tested August 2006
By 2006, GPS navigation devices had come a long way since their earliest incarnation, and I decided to research the available models. I settled on a TomTom Go 510 device, despite some of the published problems people had been having with it. More on those later though.
The TTG510 is the lower-spec version of the TTG910. In Europe, the model is known as the TTG710 simply because it comes with a different map set. Whereas the TTG910 has an 20Gb internal hard drive and can display pictures, play MP3s and speak the actual road names, the TTG510 is a base model without the frills that stores its maps on SD cards. The operation of the 510, 710 and 910 versions is identical in their user interface. In America, the TTG510 is supplied with a 1Gb SD card with all of America, Canada, and oddly, Guam on it. My test was during a business trip to Nebraska which was a good test for two reasons. Firstly, I'd never been to Nebraska before so had no idea of any locations. Secondly, in the summer, when I went, the temperature was a hot 35°C outside but more importantly, the humidity was at about 85%. Going between this environment and air-conditioned cars and buildings was a great test of the durability of the TTG unit and it didn't once suffer from humidity or condensation-related problems.
So what about the unit itself? Well it's a nifty little widescreen device with a touch-screen interface. It comes well-packed with a charger/docking station for your computer, a 12v adapter and suction cup mount for the car and a little carrying pouch. The pouch is nicely designed because it has a stiffened side where the screen goes to further protect the screen from sharp objects poking through the pouch itself. One design flaw of the TTG becomes apparent as soon as you use the pouch though - the position and design of the power switch is exactly where you'd hold the device to put it in and out of the pouch. Three times I've accidentally turned it on as I've put it away only to find it warm and with dead batteries next time I've come to use it. D'oh! For a $599 GPS navigator, you'd think they'd have done a better job!
The computer charger/docking station works just fine and if you buy one of these, I recommend using the included backup software. TomTom do not provide source maps for the TTG510 on a CD or DVD - the only place they exist is on the SD card. Because TomTom maps need to be activated on the device they're being used on, if you end up with a corrupted card or worse, you won't have any way to re-install the maps or activate them at the TomTom website. You've been warned.
In-use, the device is simplicity itself. It has a SiRFStar III GPS receiver in it which locks on quickly once it's done it once. For example once it's located you, if you turn the unit off and then turn it on again the next day near the same place, it locks on within about 20 seconds. If you fly somewhere else and then turn it on, it's last "known" set of satellite locations is wrong so it takes longer to relocate itself. The GPS receiver is pretty good and worked remarkably well indoors - previously a no-no for GPS receivers. Entering a destination is a breeze, either by giving it a street address, a point of interest (POI) or a street intersection. It calculates the route very quickly and you're ready to go. (You have the choice when planning the route of fastest, shortest distance, avoid motorways etc - plenty of options.) You can navigate through a traditional 2D map, but the 3D display is by far and away the best way to do it.
It gives a display which is far more intuitive to read because it resembles the road layout you can see through your windscreen. The LCD screen on the TTG510 is brighter than that of the older models and is covered with a glare-resistant coating which makes it totally useable in bright sunlight - something of a novelty for an LCD device. One point to note : the TomTom screen is also readable through polarised glasses - something I've had problems with on the Garmin units before.
As you drive, a user-selectable voice (in plenty of different languages and variations) tells you where to go. Some of the nomenclature takes a little while to get used to, for example "Ahead, turn left" doesn't mean "take the next left", but rather "be prepared to turn left somewhere up ahead". When you get to the actual turn, the instruction is simply "In 100 metres, turn left" followed by "Turn left". (It's worth noting that the TTG910 - the high-end version - has text-to-speech ability built-in so it will attempt to pronounce the name of the road too. For example "Turn left into Acacia Avenue".). Whilst en-route, the TTG will recalculate almost instantly if you take a wrong turn or miss a turn, and you also have the ability to tell it to avoid certain parts of the route entirely, for example if a road is undergoing construction.
The menu system of the TTG is really easy to use and has a nice up-to-date feel to it. There are two modes - basic and extremely verbose. In basic mode, a lot of the less well-used options are simply hidden away from you but when you activate the "show all options" option, you end up with screen after screen after screen of things to twiddle, tweak, poke and tune. Some seem a bit odd when you first look at them, but after using the device for a while, you'll begin to understand why there are so many options. One of the best ones is the ability to change the mapping colours. If you don't like the ones shipped as default, there is a choice of five or six alternatives, plus three or four alternative "night mode" mapping colours. The night mode is a neat feature in itself - the TTG510 has a light sensor on it and when it gets dark, the maps all switch to low-intensity, low-contrast maps so as not to blind you when driving at night. A neat touch.
The Point Of Interest (POI) capability is neat - basically shops, restaurants, cash machines etc all reside in the POI database. This is where the TTG loses a little of its shine because being a European company (Dutch, actually), the POI database for America is a little out-of-date. The major items are all there, but for example, the hotel we were driving to from the airport had its old name in the TTG POI database. You can download POIs from the internet from all manner of things from fishing spots and speed camera locations up to user-created databases of all the locations of a particular hotel chain. You can also input your own POI using the TTG510 either from where you are right now, or by browsing the map in 'offline' mode.
Something else which has been moaned about on various internet forums is the mapping database for America. A lot of people have complained that it's massively out of date. For new developments and roads, it might be. TomTom use the TeleAtlas database which is better at European mapping but in my tests I was using long-established routes and roads and it didn't miss a beat. (Garmin use the Navteq maps which are great in America but suffer the same mapping complaints in Europe as TeleAtlas do in America)
And so to the suction cup mount. Well what can I say that hasn't been said a thousand times on a thousand forums all over the internet. Actually, for the most part, I've not had a problem with it. My stock factory item holds my TTG510 well enough and has yet to fall off the windscreen or suffer the droop problem so many people have complained about. So from my experience, it's not so bad, but that's just me. To be safe, I've taken TomTom up on their current offer of free replacement mounts for those with the older mount in the box. The new one has a better ball-and-socket joint to attempt to counter the droop problem, and a little nubbin on the back to help prevent the rocking / power disconnection problem some people have reported. I'll not go into it in depth here, just simply give you a Google link to check out. Google search for 'TomTom 910 windshield mount'
So why did I give this little unit only 4 out of 5 stars. Well I took off 1 star for a combination of the following - the reported mount problems, the dated POI database, and the power button location and design. Apart from that, I love the thing. It got us everywhere we needed to be, on time and without getting lost, in a city I've never driven in before.