TomTom Go 500 satnav review

22 July 2013

TomTom Go 500 docked

TomTom Go 500 Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Good: Bright swipe-and-pinch touchscreen, simple to operate
Bad: premium price, a little fiddly to update online
Price: 1 pence shy of £200
Prising a new TomTom Go 500 out of a its box, I’m struck by how weighty and solid the unit feels. At 229 grams the plastic casing feels as densely packed with electronics as my Apple iPhone, though at 145mm wide, 90mm tall and 20mm deep it’s a fair bit bigger and not nearly as slender as my smartphone. It is still pocket-sized, though, assuming you have fairly big pockets.

The Go 500 does share something else with my phone – a highly sensitive touchscreen. All of the functions of the device are controlled with prods, swipes and pinch gestures on the screen. While the sensitivity of the touchscreen is welcome, it does make it relatively easy to accidentally select an option that you merely meant to scroll past in a list. But then I’ve suffered that same fault while using just about every other swipable device I’ve tried, so that’s not really a criticism unique to this TomTom.

The screen measures 13cm diagonally, set within a fairly broad bezel, and has a resolution of 480x272 pixels. In use, the graphics appear sharp and smoothly animated, with enough screen brightness to remain visible while driving in bright light, even through sunglasses. The screen is quite glossy, and while reflections weren’t a problem in my car that might not be the case in others.

TomTom Go 500 handset

The interface design is notably simplified and stripped back compared with the prior generation of TomToms – clearly influenced by Apple’s less-is-more philosophy. The various menus in particular are very neatly presented and the number of options has been carefully cut back.

On the move, the bulk of the screen shows the road ahead in a choice of rotating 2D or scrolling 3D map formats, while a panel at the left shows a route summary with distance to go and estimated time of arrival. Street names, speed limits and current speed are overlaid at the bottom of the screen, while upcoming turn information is shown at the top.

TomTom Go 500 navigation

There’s no option to change the display’s colour scheme, though there is a night-time palette, and the defaults are sensible. There is plenty of contrast between the route ahead and other roads.

The unit ships with a reasonable battery charge and boots up from cold in about 20 seconds or so, after a 2-second press-and-hold of the only physical button on the case, at top right. Thereafter, the device will wake or sleep almost instantly with a quick tap. You can also press and hold the button to bring up a menu if you need to fully shut down for a reboot.

TomTom Go 500 screen

Initial setup took about 10 minutes – a few spent paging through the on-screen tutorial, followed by a maps and speed-camera update via my laptop. After connecting the handset via its USB cable, the screen prompts with a URL. Then it’s a case of downloading and installing a MyTomTom helper app. Once in residence, this software took up 9.6MB of memory on my Windows 8 laptop, but helpfully there’s an option among the settings to stop it running by default. It uses your browser to let you find and install updates.

The TomTom Go 500 comes bundled with a lifetime licence for European maps, limited to four updates per year. The maps are updated automatically when you first register your device, though confusingly you may need to refresh the status page in your browser to see that this has actually happened. In general, I found TomTom’s online pages much less well designed and harder to navigate than the device itself.

There’s also a lifetime subscription to traffic data, though this needs to be accessed via your smartphone acting as a mobile hotspot. Pairing via Bluetooth went without a hitch in my test. There’s only a three-month subscription to speed camera data, however, after which you have to pay £20 a year. Helpfully, the part of the screen showing current speed will turn red whenever you’re exceeding the recorded limit, irrespective of speed cameras.

The right-hand side of the screen will also give a colour-coded countdown on the approach to cameras, and will helpfully provide a running calculation while travelling between average-speed cameras, helping you to stay safely inside the limit.

TomTom Go 500 speed camera warning

Setting up a new journey is reasonably intuitive. You can start with the map, swiping and pinching till you’ve homed in on your destination, whereupon you can touch and hold to start the route planning process. Or you can start with a keyword search, which makes sense of what you type in without the need to first state that you want to input a postcode, for example. It will search for both street names and points of interest, presenting them side by side, helping to choose between the nearest Sainsbury’s supermarket and Sainsbury Road SE19, for example.

Starting with the map would have been unthinkable with satnav devices of just a few years ago, but the iPad-like experience of the Go 500 makes it a breeze to zip to the part of the map you need, and zoom in to the place of interest. That’s assuming you know roughly where you’re headed, of course.

TomTom Go 500

By default, the route calculated will be the fastest, though you can also select from a list of routing options including the shortest, most efficient, walking and cycling. The choice can be made after initial route planning, or you can assign your own global default via the device settings.

Settings also provide a selection of voices. The default, Serena, provides a computer-generated female vocal that will provide reasonable approximations of street names. All of the other options are recorded real voices with a smaller repertoire of announcements, including James, an Australian voice that really ought to be called Bruce, given its obtuse, shrimp-on-the-barbie vocabulary. It’s fun for about five minutes.

TomTom Go 500 screen mounting

The handset itself docks in its cradle with a magnetic snap, held quite securely in place but requiring a firm tug to undock. The screen suction mount is a typically high-quality TomTom item, providing an unshakeable attachment that can feel a little stiff when adjusting for angle.

Guidance also seemed top-notch, with clear verbal instructions announced in good time, with sufficient clarity and volume to be heard easily at the default sound settings. Recalculation after wrong turns was impressively quick.

Overall, the TomTom Go 500 proves that there is still a case for a dedicated navigation device in the car. By focusing on one job and doing it well, this particular TomTom beats navigation apps in my phone hands down. It’s also a lot better than the last, overly complicated TomTom I tried a couple of years ago, which seemed to think it could earn a place as an MP3-playing entertainment console.

Less is more, though it’s a shame that can’t be said about the price. At almost £200 this TomTom costs a fair whack, though if you can afford it, the outlay will feel like money well spent.

Thanks to TomTom and retailer Currys for providing a TomTom Go 500 unit for review.

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