Road test: TomTom Via 135 voice controlled sat-nav

By Geoff Bowen,

After years of being told what to do by our sat-navs, it’s time to talk back. The new TomTom Via 135 comes with ‘Speak & Go’ functionality. This enables you to control the device with your voice and also the ability for hands-free calling via a Bluetooth connected phone. The Speak & Go system is capable of recognising over 1,000 commands and their synonyms, which means (in theory) that you can give it commands and addresses without having to talk like a robot.

We took the Via 135, which has a 5″ screen compared to the otherwise identical 4.3″ Via 130, out for some road tests. Sat on the driveway, with the radio off and the windows closed, we were immediately impressed by the device’s ability to correctly establish our sometimes garbled addresses. If the Via isn’t sure of an address, it gives you a list of close matches and you simply say the number (1, 2, 3 etc.) corresponding to the right one.

Once you’ve confirmed the correct address, the Via then reverts back to the tried and tested TomTom functionality – i.e. beautifully designed maps and well timed instructions. These new Via devices also come with free access to daily map changes from the TomTom community, which includes information on road changes, road closures and temporary speed limits.

Our main gripe at this stage is that you can’t leave the route overview screen and start the turn by turn navigation without pressing the ‘Done’ button – surely this should also be voice controlled. Likewise, if you change your mind, then you also have to physically press the “change route” button rather than simply say it out loud.

Having started towards our test address, we then decided to make a diversion. To re-enable voice control you have to press the relatively small microphone button on the screen. This then presented another problem: the sat-nav continues to give turn by turn instructions at the same time you’re attempting to say a new address. This caused confusion for both the driver and for the timing of the Via’s voice prompts.

For the next test, we tried saying a postcode. It’s at this point we discovered, frustratingly, that Speak & Go doesn’t support postcodes. In response, TomTom have told us they are aware of this [lack of postcode recognition] and are looking to add it to the functionality in due course.

The Via performed well at understanding addresses read out by our passenger which we felt was a useful capability. It also handled, i.e. ignored, a small amount of background noise. The same can’t be said when we opened the windows. Even at a relatively low speed, 20-30mph, it appeared that the wind noise was enough to prevent the Via from hearing our instructions. We encountered this problem regardless of whether the device was mounted to the left or right of the steering wheel.

With the smartphone becoming ever more central in our lives and with a slew of good sat-nav apps (including TomTom’s highly rated one), we can understand the need to try and come up with something ‘new’ to entice people back towards standalone devices. However, with a lack of postcode support, non-complete voice control (it doesn’t allow for ‘change route’ or ‘done’) and patchy voice recognition when outside noise is introduced, we’re not sure the Via 135 (RRP £149) is going to be the device that will reverse this trend.

For further info on the TomTom Via 130/135 head to www.tomtom.com