Cool Yule Rating: 5 stars
Price: $399.95 (Amazon.com)
Description: From a very easy installation, to its built-in intelligence, the Tom Tom GO 730 delivers a navigation system that is far more than a multimedia presentation of how to get from point A to point B.
The system lets you set up the device either on the device itself (which features a 4.3-inch color screen that was clearly visible, even in daylight), or via a GUI on your PC. In my case, a glitch in the GUI forced me to set up the system through the device, but this was a painless process.
After I installed the 4-pound unit on my windshield via the suction-cup mount, I tended to forget to use it, especially when traveling to places I already knew how to get there. Only after I had started did I remember to use the device. Fortunately, the TomTom 730 lets you speak the destination, so it can help out lost drivers who don't want to stop and type in their destination address. I didn't have a Bluetooth phone, but if I did I could have contributed to its IQ Routes feature, which lets customers upload data about the roads they travel, such as the speed cars actually travel vs. the posted speed limit. This helps the device to better predict travel times and choose the fastest routes. The device also allows hands-free use of a Bluetooth phone (another wireless feature is that it can broadcast its audio to the car stereo rather than using the lower-quality speakers in the appliance.
In driving to work, I asked TomTom to lay in a course and it plotted what I knew to be a fast route, but not the shortest route. So I rejected that, and asked it to plot a second route, also not the shortest. I set off, driving the shortest route anyway, and at nearly every turn the device tried to steer me away from the path I was taking. Some of the alternatives I knew to be so far out of the way that they would definitely be farther and take longer than the one I knew to be shortest. I became convinced the TomTom was specifically trying to keep me off that route, and indeed it was. As I approached a construction site that has been active for months, an icon of a figure with its arms up wearing a police hat popped up in the road -- the construction site. This particular site causes delays that are so minor that I don't mind waiting thorough them. Other drivers using IQ Routes have apparently told the TomTom database about the roadwork, and the machine seemed bent on sparing me the backup and delay. That's a great feature when traveling places where you're not familiar with the local road projects.
TomTom also guides drivers through complex intersections where there are multiple, dedicated turning lanes -- left-turn only, straight only, right-turn only. At one particular intersection where through traffic has to crowd to the left lane -- not the lane you'd guess if you had never been there before -- the instructions were dead on.
While I didn't need it, the device has programmed in the locations of gas stations, again handy in unfamiliar places. A friend who owns a TomTom says his wife programmed in the locations of all the area Dunkin Donuts shops.
One tip: don't leave the Tom Tom in the car overnight when it's cold out. The battery runs down and has a hard time charging up from the cigarette lighter. Bring it inside and plug it in to the USB port on your computer.