- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Is it too much to want everything to work as imagined, if not as designed, in a new $400 GPS unit? I’m not sure it is, especially when it comes to TomTom’s new GO Live 740, a unit that I like a lot, but want to like even more.

Let’s start, shall we, with the very good stuff: The 4.3-inch display screen is not only bright and easy to read, it’s substantially larger than the 3.5-inch screen in the TomTom ONE 125 that I bought last year. Before dismissing that with a “duh,” consider that the difference is quite impressive in operation. I don’t know, frankly, how large a GPS display should get for automotive use - do you really want a 7-inch or larger screen to contemplate while driving? - but after almost a month of use, I’m coming to the opinion that 4.3 inches is a very nice size. It’ll be difficult going back to anything smaller.

It’s not just a question of luxury. Driving during the day and at night, I found the larger screen easier to read and directions easier to follow. What might be difficult to fully grasp on the smaller screen was far clearer on the large one.

While this truly may be a case of size as something that matters, there’s another angle to this. A quick check of Amazon.com showed me a dozen GPS units with a display of the same size, most of which were priced at half that of the new TomTom unit - including a refurbished older-model TomTom for well under half the new product’s cost. So, it seems relatively easy to get a GPS with this size display.

What would make the GO Live 740 worth the 100 percent premium? Let’s see, shall we?

Part of it should be the “live” part, consisting of real-time traffic reports and other wireless-based navigation features. Here, I’d score it about 5 out of 10 points. Driving from Silver Spring to Falls Church during rush hour one Thursday, I programmed the address into the unit and settled in for some “quality time” on the Capital Beltway.

The GO Live 740 had other ideas, however, specifically to shave about four minutes off my travel time. Jump out near Kensington, drop through Chevy Chase, end up on the Clara Barton Parkway and - presto! - you’ve avoided some of the heaviest traffic. It worked, and it was oddly reassuring to have the unit tell me, “You’re still on the fastest route.”

So far, I’ve had the greatest success in programming addresses using the touch-sensitive screen by first entering the zip code for a given destination and then locating the street and entering an address number. It takes a few moments of planning before pulling out of the driveway, but it makes life easier.

The TomTom unit is not only programmed with maps for the U.S. and Canada, but it also draws on its wireless connection to get traffic data and thus reroute when needed. No system is perfect but overall, the TomTom fared far better than XM Satellite Radio’s navigation service, which I tested about a year ago, and for much less than the price of the Cadillac CTS used in the testing!

That said, there are some disappointments. My greatest hassle was with the built-in voice commands: With few exceptions, they are not of assistance.

The idea is that one should be able to speak to the unit’s built-in microphone and get directions, find gas or a nearby Taco Bell, and handle other commands. It’s a good thought: fiddling around with a touchscreen while tooling down Interstate 95 isn’t a good idea.

Problem is, apart from the volume commands of “raise” and “lower,” there was little in the way of responsiveness. “Mute” didn’t get me far in quelling the GO Live 740’s speaker. It would be nice if one could do that with a voice command, especially when a mobile call comes in.

The words “cancel route” didn’t work, nor did other seemingly logical phrases. TomTom claims “over 130 voice commands” for this thing, but I couldn’t find them and, believe me, I tried. No manual came with my unit, and, surprisingly, a search of the company’s Web site turned up neither a manual nor a command list.

It’s a puzzlement, one which I suspect will be rectified by a phone call from the firm about three minutes after they read these words. However, most consumers won’t have TomTom following them, and if I had actually spent $400 for this thing, I would be a little steamed if it were less than perfect.

I hope this failing is an early-in-the-life cycle thing that can be fixed. I’d like to recommend this product, especially since it seems to offer a lot, including a Bluetooth system for your cell phone (if you don’t have one in your car already). But until the voice commands are, well, commandable, I’d wait. I’d wait with hope, perhaps, but I’d wait nonetheless.

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