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Tom Tom, please DON’T make me turn around

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Garmin may be the only known name in town for satellite navigation in cars, but it faces serious competition. ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK takes TomTom’s GO 510 for a ride, and keeps getting caught up in an old song.

Yes, even if you don’t first charge it ‚ as you need to do if you won’t be using it in a vehicle. In a car, plug it into the lighter socket, and it’s ready to roll. Maps are usually pre-loaded for the region where you buy it, in which case you can begin using it from the moment you switch it on and it picks up the satellite signals of the Global Positioning System (see the Wikipedia entry at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_Positioning_System for more information on GPS). Usually, it will pick up several signals, unless you’re still parked in a garage. Pull out of the garage, switch on the device, wait for the satellite signals to locate your position, and then follow the on-screen directions. Score 1 out of 1.

You probably have to consult the Installation poster, which is a bit like reading a short comic book that underestimates your intelligence. You may even have to glance at the first few pages of the Quick Start Guide if you’re new to navigation systems. But you sure don’t have to read the manual, until you get to the point where you want to silence the Voice (more about that later). Score 2 out of 2.

It got me where I wanted to go on four out of my first five tests. The one miss was a result of a duplication of street names in the same area. Against bureaucratic stupidity, of which road naming is a prime example, technology will always come second. However, this device is not supposed to merely get you there. It also claims the best routes, fast route calculations and recalculations when you take a wrong turn or choose your own direction, and acts as a Bluetooth hands-free kit, if your phone has Bluetooth. Depending where you live and what add-on software you install, you can also access a database of ‚safety camera locations‚ ‚ a euphemism for speed cameras. Fortunately for our law-abiding principles, a South African database had not yet been installed when we tested it. In the future, the advertising promises, the GO 150 will also be able to access traffic, weather and safety information ‚ when it is supplied in the appropriate format by authorities. So how does it live up to the first batch of these promises? The journey time and distance calculations are great for those who are either sticklers for punctuality or always late, which pretty much covers all of us. If you just don’t want to know, don’t look ‚ it’s always there. And getting you there? If you prefer to stick to major routes, then it does the job perfectly. It will take you there and back in the quickest time possible on established routes. However, if you know a shortcut or two, the TomTom may have issues with you. In most cases, it will quickly recalculate the route, and build your choice into the new routing. However, it has a problem with certain back routes, and will keep trying to take you the long way round to get you back onto the route it had chosen for you. The default Voice, apparently an Englishwoman who takes no nonsense, becomes decidedly testy (granted, that may be your imagination) when you decide to ignore its instructions. But when it says ‚Turn around as soon as it is safe‚ , or ‚Turn around at the next intersection‚ , and keeps repeating similar instructions, even when you know you are on the correct route, the temptation to rip out the wiring becomes strong. When it keeps instructing you to ‚Take the next left turn‚ when you know that’s going to get you into serious traffic trouble, the temptation to defenestrate (look it up) the device becomes overwhelming. The lesson you quickly learns is that, if you don’t know your way, the GO 150 will drive you there: but that, if you do know your way, the GO 150 will drive you crazy. Oh, and it does work as a Bluetooth hands-free kit, but it is hardly the most streamlined alternative on the market, and it is not equally friendly to all Bluetooth phones. Score: 2¬Ω out of 3.

An automatic light-sensor adjusts the screen to allow you to continue viewing comfortably as light conditions change. While it ain’t no iPod, it does allow you to transfer content from your PC to the device. Score: 3 out of 4

Sorry to have to bring up the G word again, but Garmin is the benchmark here. The models don’t compare directly, feature for feature, so it would not be fair to compare specific models for price. For example, the wide LCD screen makes it seem like a competitor to the Garmin Nvui 610, but the multimedia features of the Nuvi 610 position it against the GO 910. Look for the features you want, and you will tend to find generally similar TomToms substantially cheaper, but the prices are beginning to converge so fast, that it will soon become an aesthetic choice rather than a brand or technology issue. In the meantime, if finding your way in hostile territory (i.e. anywhere you would rather not stop for directions) is a significant issue, then this is good value for money. If you’re looking for a toy and can spend this kind of money on toys, then rather go for the GO 910, which packs bragging power with which most of the alternatives simply cannot compete. Final score: 3¬Ω out of 5

For more information, visit http://www.tomtom.co.za or telephone 0860 227753.

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