It could be argued dedicated sat-navs have had their day. Many of us have factory fitted GPS systems and just about every smartphone on the planet has access to a bevy of free navigation apps that turn your handset into a fast, accurate and feature-rich personal navigation device.
To help reassert its dominance in the world of navigation, TomTom has upgraded its high-end ‘Go’ product line-up with a bevy of new devices, including the Go 400, Go 600 and the TomTom Go 500, reviewed here. All promise an updated user interface, lifetime access to TomTom traffic updates and free map updates for the life of the device. But is the Go 500 worth ditching your smartphone for? We bolted one to our windscreen and got lost to find out.
Look and feel
The TomTom Go 500 is a decent-looking piece of kit. It has a cutesy, curvaceous body with a minimalist exterior design with only three real areas of interest; a five-inch display, a power button mounted at the top right-hand edge and the power connector at the bottom. Its brothers, the Go 400 and Go 600 have 4.3-inch and 6-inch screens, respectively.
The standout design feature by far is the dock, on which the sat-nav sits. It’s unchanged from previous-generation TomTom sat-navs, but that’s no bad thing because it works beautifully. Simply push the translucent rubber part against your windscreen, twist the knoba nd it’ll create its own suction. To remove it, simply twist the knob in the opposite direction – there’s no licking or yanking here.
Once attached, the screen can be angled however you like thanks to a ball mount, and the sat-nav can be removed independently of the dock thanks to a magnetic connector.
The TomTom Go 500 feels great to use and is far quicker to respond to inputs than TomToms of old. It’s not quite as slick as a modern mobile phone, but it’s well-oiled by sat-nav standards, reacting quickly and intuitively to basic inputs such as address entry or pinching and stretching to zoom.
Users can enter destinations in two ways: by scouring the map manually, long-pressing on a location and hitting the subsequent steering wheel icon, or by hitting the main menu button (a ‘…’ icon) at the bottom left of the screen and using the search facility.
Search is a joy to use for the most part. As you start to type in a location, be it a full street address, a post code, or just a keyword, the Go 500 will present you with a list of likely options. Type ‘air’ for example, and it’ll give you all local airports or streets beginning with the word ‘air’. There’s no need to type the full name of the airport (unless it doesn’t have the word ‘air’ in it for some reason).
Lost & found
The Go 500 presents the search results in two columns – the leftmost for addresses and the rightmost for points of interest. Having the information presented in such a way eliminates the need to search for addresses and POIs separately, but this two column approach restricts the device to showing only the first 17 characters of a place name.
Type ‘air’ for example and it’ll give you a list of five possible destinations that start ‘LHR london heath….’ The rest of the text (the crucial part that would tell you about the terminal) is completely absent. Even if you’re more specific and type ‘Heathrow Terminal 5’, the sat-nav will find the correct result, but it’ll also find a set of erroneous results with similar text, and there’s sometimes no way to tell what’s right from wrong.
Luckily it’s possible to switch from this very restricted two-column view to a map view, where you can tap specific icons in order to reveal rich text information describing exactly what each location is.
Routing for you
Once you’re on the move, The Go 500 does an admirable job of pointing you in the right direction. The map is detailed yet not overly cluttered and the interface provides plenty of warning as to when you’ll need to perform your next turn. The sat-nav uses a route bar, a column on the far right side of the screen, to provide information on what’s coming up next.
The route bar shows your location at the bottom, the distance left to travel, any upcoming road works, traffic (and how fast it’s moving) and at the remaining distance and time of arrival to your destination. You also get speed cameras alerts free for three months with the option to buy a year’s subscription for £19.00.
Connecting the dots
The TomTom Go 500’s biggest selling points is the fact it helps you avoid traffic. Unlike the Go Live series, which used built-in mobile phone technology, the new Go range must be connected wirelessly to a compatible smartphone in order to provide this functionality. It makes perfect sense on paper – everyone has a smartphone anyway, so why charge users more for what is essentially a second phone built into their sat-nav?
Pairing the Go 500 to your handset is far from straightforward. You’ll need to activate the personal hotspot feature on your iPhone (or tethering and portable hotspot on Android) then find the appropriate menu on the sat-nav, pair the devices, then enter your TomTom user account details.
Because your phone is now acting as a Wi-Fi hotspot, you’ll need to make sure it’s plugged in or the battery will die in a matter of minutes. The adaptor that comes with the TomTom Go 500 allows only the sat-nav to be connected to your car’s power supply. You’ll need to make sure you have a dedicated USB port for your phone, a spare 12V cigarette lighter or a USB splitter that lets you connect two devices at once.
The irony of having to connect your sat-nav to your smartphone is painfully obvious. Why bother when a smartphone can do it all on its own?
Lost and found
Generally, the TomTom Go 500 performed superbly during our testing. The device will guide you to your destination with scarcely any hiccups. It also does a great job of guiding you around traffic, hunting down the quickest route before you set off and finding alternative routes if the traffic situation changes during the course of your journey. It’s also quick to reroute if you take a wrong turn and the guidance voices are spoken in a loud, clear manner.
But it’s not perfect. There were plenty of instances where it suggested we were driving through heavy traffic (when we weren’t); when it would suggest heavy traffic would suddenly end (and it didn’t); or when it would lose signal completely and leave us to drive around in circles until it found a satellite. As annoying as these things are, it’s important to note they aren’t unique to the Go 500.
The TomTom Go 500 does its job well. It’s well-designed with a responsive touchscreen and an intuitive user interface. It has some of the best, most up to date and most well-presented mapping data we’ve come across and there’s no question it’s right up there with the very best sat-navs.
However, as good as it is, we’re not sure it’s significantly better than the top-ranking sat-nav apps on popular smartphones. Many users, including ourselves, will find Waze for example, is just as accurate, just as adept at avoiding traffic, and has just as many tricks up its proverbial sleeve. That said, if you need a standalone sat-nav and don’t mind forking over £199, they don’t come much better than the TomTom Go 500.
Product: TomTom Go 500
Screen size: 5″