Won’t get lost again …

… I hope! Finally decided to dump some $$$ into a navigation unit; after lots of online reading I chose the TomTom Go – it seems quite popular and has no more downsides than most of the other GPS units … I also quickly discovered that it can be customized (slightly!):

So far I have only been testing it on my route to & from work – but even here there are minor errors: at one junction the TomTom thinks that route 22 continues into route 133, while the reality is a STOP sign and right turn. Nearby, to make up for it, TomTom thinks I have to turn left to stay on route 133, but of course I just keep going.
With only the GPS to track position, there is also one place where TomTom always thinks I take a side road instead of staying on the main road – but it catches up with me again after a few seconds.

My main puzzlement so far has been the time it takes to find GPS satellites after it has been turned off for a few hours. I thought it would be almost instant once it “knows where it is” yet it repeatedly takes a few minutes! The GPS status display might give me a clue, except I don’t understand it – I can understand the blue bars indicate received signals (presumably their height indicates signal strength and the little numbers tell me the satellite number – and signal strength again?); but what do the grey bars mean? Expected signal strength? Signal but no data? When TomTom claims no satellites, it still shows grey bars …


Anyway, here is an example of TomTom doing what it is supposed to do – routing me from my house to MINI of Peabody (which of course is another route I know quite well!), and an example route instruction – the turn onto route 128 at “my local roundabout”:


TomTom comes with a number of navigation voices – I am enjoying the instruction of GB Jane at the moment 🙂

20 thoughts on “Won’t get lost again …

  1. I have the factory Nav in my ’05 MCS. In general it is pretty spot on. However it does get it wrong sometimes. Not just issues of someplace no longer being there, it simply gets it wrong, from time to time, about one way streets, etc. For some reason, when I’m downtown (Chicago Loop) the system has a really hard time keeping up and figuring out where I really am. At various times I do hear the DVD searching and from time to time it takes more than 2 seconds to “boot”.

    I have heard good things about the TomTom as well. I think it boils down to no technology being 100% perfect 100% of the time in addition to getting access to the satellite’s is no easy task.

    If your sense of direction is anything like mine (or lack there of), then even if it isn’t perfect, it is still better than trusting your brain. I will never, ever get a car without some form of Nav again. Never ever. However, I get lost in my garage. :o)

  2. There’s a lot I could write here…but I’ll keep it short.

    TomTom often wants me to go down one ways or make left turns where they aren’t allowed. The best is if you go to their US office in Concord…it wants you to make a left turn from Rt. 2 which is not only illegal, but quite impossible.

    It’s slow to find satellites, I hate that soooo much…and I think the cold weather doesn’t help. This may not be the case for you, since everything in the Go is included in the unit. The fact that my receiver is always in the car, and gets cold…certainly doesn’t help when I hop in the car and want to get going. I find myself starting the car and plugging in the iPaq so it can get a head start on finding the satellites.

    Overall though, it’s a great tool. When I went to the Ed dinner, Rt. 2 went down to one lane so I got off the highway. I originally did it as a “roadblock” but then decided I’d just let it calculate an alternate route. I ended up taking some great roads, right by Mt. Monadnock, and even hit some of the MAMA roads!

    Just like anything, you can’t rely on it 100%.

  3. Wow I’m impressed! I was going to buy one for my wife but after I saw the price I decided to pound sand instead.

    I like the pic thingy.

  4. Ian, the grey bars mean that there is signal, but it is not locked on. A lock is needed for the GPS software to use its data. I have been using a pocket PC for GPS purpose for the past few years. The differences in using a Pocket PC is that you get your choice of software and also your choice of receivers when a new one become available. It is great. I no longer need to use the web for directions anymore.

  5. Congrats Ian, I didn’t know you in the market for one, but the GO is repeatedly my recommendation. TomTom’s software and usability has been a step above the others. I would have the GO myself if only it were available when I put my pocketpc/tomtom system together.

    It is well documented that it may take several minutes for it to lock on to at least the 3 satellites needed to triangulate your position. Mine almost never takes that long (but I do suspect my receiver is powered even when my pocketpc is off and therefore locked on well before I turned on the pocketpc). I’m sure in your GPS status view the grey bars are sats not locked onto yet.

    A major use of the navigation (especially in 3D mode) that goes overlooked is NOT for route finding, but just to watch where you are going. I almost always turn mine on when I am on a road I have never driven before, and especially at night. You’ll instantly knows what lies around the next bend, and when intersections are coming up.

    Keep in mind, especially in crazy new england where roads are anything but simply laid out, that no navigation can be 100% accurate. Always use common sense and do not take every instruction literally. (remember my trip to polly’s pancake parlor? where I drove in a 1-hr circle?)

    But it has impressed me several times. A road near here, where you want to go left and is a two-way road, yet has a no left turn sign. Tomtom is smart enough to route me right then around a roundabout at the next block to go back.

  6. I have always maintained that the three keys to a good unit are: (1) accuracy of the maps, (2) speed of the unit, and (3) convenience of the device.

    I looked at the offerings from TomTom, Garmin and others but I still felt I could do better. The all-in-one GO, the (Garmin) iQue, and the new Garmin all-in-one units seem to be the ultimate in convenience. The iQue seemed faster to “boot” than the other two.

    Accuracy is a function of the map base and how the unit’s software processes the positional information. The speed is a function of the GPSr technology, the microprocessor, and the mavigation software. Garmin have always been great in handling these components. They use NavTeq maps and provide excellent configuration options. TomTom does not use NavTeq maps.

    I wound up deciding that I wanted to spend less than $500, have the ability to change-out the GPSr as the technology improves, rely on NavTeq maps, AND have the convenience of my Outlook contact list being availale for choosing destinaltion/routing in the Navigation software.

    Josh turned me on to the Pocket PC platform for the processing (Dell Axim 634 mhz with Bluetooth). Wirelessly connected to it a GlobalSat BT-338 SirF III GPSr. The Navigation software is OnCourse Navigator 5 from Navigon, a German company. The performance is outstanding, the unit boots quickly, has a multitude of customizeable setting (including an “on foot” mode that is not restricted by one way streets, etc.). Plus, fir less than $500, I also can use it as a PDA.

  7. Ian, if it’s not too late, I’d recommend you take a look at the Garmin c3x0 series. I bought the Garmin 2610 for myself a couple of months ago (love it) and my dad a c320 for his birthday a few weeks ago, and he’s also quite pleased with it. I took my 2610 with me to DC a couple of weeks ago, plopped it on the dash of my rental Mustang and, even though it had last been turned on a week ago 700 miles away, it locked on before I could pull out of my parking spot.

    The maps on the 2610 are more “advanced” than the c320 (more detail in them, supposedly, but I’m not sure of the differences), but mine does a great job with one-way streets. Route recalculation is darn near instantaneous when straying off-route.

    This got long; I’ll do a write-up on my own blog. If you’ve got reservations about the TTG, I’d recommend you “borrow” a c330 from Best Buy for a day or two and see if it works better for you.

  8. Re: GPS Status Screen

    The “skyview” graphic you see in the upper right can also be useful. The center of the concentric rings (elevation) is directly overhead while the outer edge of the ring represents the horizon.

    Normally, you should be able to lock on satellites near the center. But, if you have a lock on satellites *only* toward the center, your HDOP (horizontal dilution of precision) will be higher (bad). Ideally, a lock on satellites in a configuration that show a more dispersed pattern (some satellites near the outer edges and some near the center) will give a lower HDOP and better precision.

    A lock on three satellites is usually the minimum for (non-differential GPS) navigation. However, you will encounter much higher HDOPs with only three satellites clustered together than you would with three satellites that are more widely dispersed. So the skyview graphic can give you a good general idea of the accuracy of signals from any given number of satellites.

    This is why the ability of the GPSr processor to find and lock onto “fringe” (at lower elevations) satellites is of utmost importance. You want to lock on to as many satellites as you can in order to maximize the signals from a wide array of different azimuths and elevations, thus lowering your HDOP.

    This is the main reason I wanted my GPSr to be separate from my processor. As the GPSr technology gets more sophisticated and, thus, more accurate, I only have to repace/upgrade the GPSr unit instead of the software and processor.

    IMHO, the elevation reported by most consumer GPS units is usually quite inaccurate, even using WAAS technology. This is because it is not easy for most GPSrs to lock onto enough satellites dispersed in their position of elevation. Again, a better GPSr may provide lower VDOPS (Vertical …). The only GSP I own that consistetly reports accurate elevation is my Garmin eTrex Vista…but then it uses barometric pressure for elevation and not GPS!

  9. Ian – Before purchasing a Garmin 2610 a couple of months back I seriously considered the Tom Tom. The Tom Tom is a very attractive unit and is very popular in Europe, but it didn’t yet (at least in mid-fall) seem quite up to speed in the US.

    There are a good number of reports that the Tom Tom screen is very difficult to see when the sun shines directly on it. It’s also very difficult to see if you wear polarized sunglasses. One last thing is that the maps on the Tom Tom are from a different source than those used by Garmin and are reportedly less accurate (Garmin uses the same source – Navteq – as Google maps). The Navteq maps are not perfect though as an algorithm is used to determine street addresses and our numeric address shows up on both Google and the GPS as being about 300 feet to the West of the actual location. There are other erros as well, but reportedly fewer than those on the TTG.

    While I was initially quite attracted to the TTG, I ultimately decided on the Garmin as it had more positives than the TTG. I’d agree with blalor that if still possible take a look at the Garmin c3x0 series.

  10. GPS is great when you are out for a pleasure drive… especially in areas you are not familiar with. You just turn in the direction that looks more scenic. Then when you want to head back, just tell the GPS to calculate a route home. I found I’m more adventurous with the GPS in the car. My Garmin Street Pilot III does like to route me through trailor parks though. I think it has a sense of humor. But you can’t take it for granted. The GPS software and hardware is fantastic, but not 100% accurate.

  11. From the looks of these comments, everyone has their preference. I have the Garmin iQue 3600, with the car kit. Paid a total of just under $500 about two years ago. The routing is about 97% accurate. I never get lost on road trips. It seems that I only see errors in routing in places that already know. 🙂 I love my iQue. Combine the reliability of NavTeq maps and the size/cost factor of the iQue and there is a real winner here. I would buy it again if I had to make the decision again.

  12. Ian,
    A couple of questions; How did you mount the TomTom? and does the unit have audio out? I have the TomTom on an Ipaq using a CruxII bluetooth receiver and it is great.

  13. Thanks for all the comments – obviously a topic (like the auto transmission) with lots of opinions!
    I looked at a friends Garmin – I did not like the fact that the car was “jiggling around” up and down the road a little, while we were parked.
    I chose the TomTom Go 700 because of the “ASN” feature (which I assume is accelerometers) – I hoped this would be useful in preventing the “jiggling” and also when driving through all the tunnels in Boston.
    So far there is no “jiggling” but I have not yet been into Boston since I bought it.

    I have not yet figured the mounting but I hope to get it wired to the car to be powered and auto-dimming at night – it does have audio out but it is so loud & clear that I don’t see any need to use it.

  14. To confirm Pamlico’s comment about TomTom’s map source, it uses Teleatlas which is better in Europe than the US.

    A very good friend is the VP of Mktg there, I almost went to work there and I recall one of the issues in NA was the update frequency.

  15. I haven’t gotten around to writing a review of my own just yet…

    I’m not sure what this “jiggling” is that you referred to. 🙂 My dad’s c320 looks to be absolutely rock-solid on the windshield of his Explorer. I’ve heard others with very positive comments on the suction cup mount that comes with it.

    Several of the (more expensive) Garmin units have more sophisticated dead-reckoning features that come into play when satellite lock is lost. That would have been really helpful to me in Chicago in August when I found myself on the lower level of Wacker and in the wrong lane… 🙂

  16. “jiggling” referred to the position of the car on the screen – the Garmin seemed to think the car was driving up & down the road and spinning round now and then. Maybe it was just a problem with Beths unit …

  17. I bought the Garmin Nuvi about a week ago… have had no prior experience with any other units. So far I’m very impressed — it’s brain-dead simple to operate, text-to-speech works well, satellite signal acquisition is fast.

    I really like all the categories of stuff you can search for (nearest restaurant, by type / fuel station / lodging / landmarks / hospitals / shopping mall / etc), as well as the ability to search by name (i.e. you can do stuff like ask it for the nearest Home Depot, & most of the time you’ll even get the phone #). Also the trip screen is cool (current speed, avg. speed, # of miles to go, # of miles since you started your trip, etc)

    I do think it’s terribly overpriced, but it definitely does the job.

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