Yesterday I got a TomTom GO 700 portable GPS system. A friend of mine showed me an older version in action a while ago, and I was impressed by how user-friendly the device was. It's small and easy to carry around, has a touch screen to enter all the data, uses an internal 2.5Gb hard disk to store the map information, and the routing information is easy to read and understand. The device can connect to your cell phone via Bluetooth to download weather and traffic information (not for US though). It also has a built-in microphone and speaker so that calls received on your cell phone can be accepted by simply touching a button on the screen. You can also make phone calls through it, but it's a bit more complicated to scroll through the address book; a voice activated method would be much better.
The biggest surprise was when I connected TomTom to my MacOS X laptop through the provided USB cable. The device showed up as a hard-disk, and I could see a bunch of shell scripts very similar to those in Linux. Sure enough, there is a licenses directory containing the GPL and a bunch of other free software licenses. A readme file points to http://www.tomtom.com/page.php?Page=gpl describing all the pieces of free software they're running.
So Linux can be made very user friendly too, very cool!
Update (October 19, 2005): After using the device for a while, there are few usability issues that drive me nuts:
- You cannot lookup a point of interest by name. You first need to identify its category, only then look it up by name. Trying to find Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco is not easy: it's neither a Cultural Center, nor a Museum, Tourist Attraction, etc. I contacted customer service about this, and the answer they gave was so-so: [looking up a POI by name] would slow down the unit. BUT, a lot of customers have requested this feature so our engineers and Product Management are working on this so it will be available in future application updates..
- I cannot get live traffic information in the San Francisco Bay Area because the device cannot connect to the Internet using my T-Mobile GPRS service. I have a Motorola V330 GSM phone but apparently this phone is not supported by TomTom. I tried with no luck changing the ppp connect script on the device, it simply doesn't work. If anyone knows how to make this work, I would appreciate knowing it.
- Getting on the right entrance on a highway can sometimes be challenging. The only indication you get is to take the exit that comes up in a specified number of feets/meters, but it doesn't tell you the direction on the highway (north, south etc.). It can be very confusing, and several times now I took the wrong entrance. You can avoid this by looking on the provided map, but that's really inconvenient, especially at highway speeds.
- There are cases when two highways merge, and to continue on the one you already are you need to take an exit. An example is driving south on I280. At the merge with hwy 1, I280 continues if you take the first exit on the right. The continuation of what I280 becomes hwy 1 really. The device doesn't tell you this, and so you can easily miss the exit. This seems to be a maps data problem, rather than the device, but nevertheless is frustrating.
Update (December 9, 2005): I found what the problem was. When asked what phone you have, I chose Motorola V557. For the Internet provide I chose T-Mobile (III), but I think any of the T-Mobile options would work. The crucial setting seems to be whether to allow incoming phone calls while accessing the internet. Choosing the default option (Cannot be accepted while accessing the internet) seems to make things work. If I allow incoming calls, TomTom can no longer connect to the phone. Presumably the connect script is different, making the phone's modem not recognize the options.
More updates: I played some more with the options. Instead of choosing the v557 as described above, I chose v635, and then chose the option to allow incoming phone calls to be made. The internet is active and I can still receive and make phone calls! I'll give this feature a try and post updates on how this works.
I forgot to mention, but all these happened after I upgraded to the latest 5.42 version of their software.