Road test: TomTom Via 135 voice controlled sat-nav

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

Garmin Street Pilot

For old-school Sat Nav companies, the motto is: if you can’t beat smartphones, join’em. That’s why Garmin have released a new Street Pilot App for the iPhone, bring with it UK and Ireland maps, free real-time speed camera alerts, traffic avoidance options and loads more premium sat nav features.

Garmin-Street-Pilot

Where the app excels is in its use of preloaded maps, to allow for easy navigation without tapping into your data plan. It’s a feature sorely missing from other sat nav offerings – or from regular mapping services like Google Maps.

Alongside the maps, Points of Interest can also be stored on the phone, meaning no data charges whatsoever – perfect if you’re navigating the wilds of the UK with no signal.

The company states that “millions” of inbuilt POIs are included, accessible from the search bar or via the in-category quick search option. For more details, the app hooks up to Google Local Search so you can get the most up-to-date information in the area and route you directly to it.

Other Garmin-exclusive features have also made the jump to the iPhone, including the PhotoReal junction view for easier navigation of complicated roundabouts, lane guidance, 3D buildings and the “Where am I?” safety feature.

Aside from functionality, the user interface also has a degree of customisation that would be nice to see on other apps. Drivers can choose what information they want on the map screen, switching between arrival time, time or distance to destination, direction of travel or even elevation.

The app costs £44.99 from the App Store, and those of you who use your iPhone for in-car audio need not worry: it’ll still play music while running Garmin UK & Ireland – and it’ll drop the volume for voice commands, too.

Mio get Spiritual with a new range of Spirit Sat Navs

It seems the SatNav market is hotting up once again as other manufacturers strive to combat TomTom’s dominant market position. It’s a highly lucrative market now with the emphasis clearly on traffic avoidance and ease of use and with increasing investment providing better technology the race is definitely on.

Mio

Korean Taiwanese manufacturer Mio who in 2007  swallowed up Navman, one of the early contenders to Tom Tom’s crown, has just released  a number of additional units to its Spirit range of SatNavs that offer many high level functions at an entry level price.

Whilst the 480 series and upwards offers some new functions such as Parking Assistance which automatically shows a list of close by parking spaces and an excellent Pedestrian mode for when you’re out of the car, helping you explore new places on foot, it’s the 680 series in particular which stands out.

This has a large 5” colour screen over 30% bigger than traditional 4.3” screens and accepts voice commands so now you can simply tell it where you want to go. Having voice recognition also allows it to handle Bluetooth enabled mobile calls giving you hands free capability for your phone too. The 680 also offers you a choice of four different routes in your screen: fastest, shortest, easiest and most economical so you can choose the route that best suits your needs.

There’s premium traffic information available subscription free and also a handy AV In port to connect a rear view camera (sold separately) to help reversing into tight positions.

Mio also provide cheap virtual ‘rental maps’ to download for those situations when you only need a map for a limited period. An excellent idea.

The Mio Spirit series is available from £79.99 up to £149.99 giving you a lot of functionality for a highly affordable price.

For more information head here

The TomTom PRO 7100 – Specializing sat navs in the run up to Christmas

Since sat navs first hit the high streets at the turn of the new millennium they have evolved at perhaps a slightly less rapid pace than other technologies in recent years and seem to have remained relatively generic rather than specific. Recognizing a niche in the sat nav market for more specialist GPS devices, TomTom has launched the PRO 7100, a sat nav designed specifically with truck and lorry drivers in mind.

If you’ve ever been a trucker – or been married to one- you’ll know of the frustration when you arrive at a road only to be informed of access restrictions for larger vehicles. One of the greatest features of the TomTom PRO 7100 is that not only does it inform drivers of such access restrictions throughout Europe, but its enhanced guidance system favours major roads over minors, endeavours to reduce sharp bends – another bane of trucker’s lives – and locates roads that allow lower speeds for heavier vehicles.

TomTom-7100

Although improved route guidance is far from being the only great feature of this technologically intelligent GPS device. The PRO 7100’s large 4.3 inch touchscreen makes operating the device more manageable than typically smaller sat navs and is an appropriate size for larger vehicles’ dashboards. Hands free calling is an essentiality for all long-distance drivers, and naturally is incorporated in the PRO 7100, likewise a pre-installed 8GB SD memory card.

The Sat Nav’s built-in IQ routes include 45 European maps, live chat support, map share and text to voice abilities. For £349 the TomTom PRO 7100 is quite a bargain if you consider how dramatically a trucker’s tedious tours of European roads can be improved.

Sat navs make great Christmas presents and John Lewis expect a 300% increase in GPS devices in the run up to Christmas. At £109.95, the TomTom Start GPS Navigation System, with intelligent route planning and compact design, is great value and one that John Lewis predicts will be one of their top-sellers this Christmas.

The TomTom GO 1000 LIVE GPS Navigation System costs £249.95 and is compatible with TomTom’s LIVE service, enabling drivers to be connected to the most up-to-date real time route information. This highly featured sat nav can inform users of weather forecasts, alternative routes, safety alerts and even fuel prices.

The Garmin nuvi 1490TV GPS Navigation System is much more than a mere sat nav. Users can benefit from an in-built digital tuner, enabling access to Freeview digital TV and radio stations from across Europe. With this amount of entertainment available, the Garmin nuvi 1490TV GPS Navigation System is a great long distance companion and could be the perfect Christmas gift for a trucker.

TomTom’s satnav “Traffic Manifesto”

TomTom has announced a philanthropic “Traffic Manifesto”, which explains Europe’s problem with congestion (we may have noticed that on our own) and gives some viable – and some free – solutions.

The core philosophy behind the manifesto is that if drivers are better informed about congestion issues, they’ll be better able to avoid it. And the best way to do that? Subscribe to TomTom’s Traffic HD 4.0 service.

TomTom-traffic-HD

The new 4.0 version of the pay-per-month service has some particularly impressive stats behind it, too. It’s more accurate than the last edition, reduces the average journey time by 15% and reports 200% more rush-hour traffic jams than ever before. This means it’ll take just two minutes for any traffic accumulation to be reported to near-by drivers.

Aside from just wanting to sell more of their product, TomTom CEO Harold Goddijn was keen to express how the company wished to “to do our bit for society, and our customers. We’re embarking on this mission because we love driving and hate traffic.” An understandable claim, given that the morning rush our now “lasts two and a half to three hours” on major roads.

According to his research, if just 10% of TomTom’s 45 million users subscribed to the service, journey times in traffic would be down 5% for every road user – not just TomTom owners.

While impressive, these gains are still a long way away – currently only one million people (around 2%) of TomTom users are subscripted to Traffic HD.

To speed the process, and the rest of us, along, the manifesto outlines plans to give free traffic data to radio stations and TV channels, as well as to work with local road planning authorities to create traffic-free roads. They’re also updating current Traffic HD users to the latest version free-of-charge.

It seems that, unable to compete financially with free satellite navigation software from Google and Nokia, TomTom is repositioning itself as a premium information service. Will it work? I hope so – I want 5% of my journey-time back, please.

Arrive in style: Garmin’s sleek Nüvi 3700

With so many Satellite Navigation systems on the market it is difficult to know which one to go for. They generally share the same functionality, so choosing your next sat nav can be a difficult decision. And Garmin thinks that the look of the sat nav can be a deciding factor.

Garmin have decided to design something that looks stunning; it’s the best sat nav in terms of its look that we have ever seen. Their latest incarnation the Nüvi 3700 series is touted as the thinnest on the market and when we first laid eyes on it we actually thought it was a new iPhone and not a Sat Nav.

Garmin-Nuvi-3700

The responsive, crystal clear LCD display is thinner than CD case at just 8.7mm and shares the pinch gesturing from the iPhone, which allows you to zoom and navigate with ease.

Garmin have spent a lot time making personalising your new sat nav an enjoyable experience. You can give it its own voice by using Garmin’s Voice Studio, so you can make your sat nav come alive with any voice you know and love. The top of the range models comes with a truly hands-free experience via Bluetooth.

The Garmin Nüvi 3700 series comes with the usual plethora of different features including; subscription-free premium pan-European lifetime traffic alerts – something TomTom charge for. Cyclops speed cameras alerts – that will always be alerted about incoming Gatso locations and Park position recall – so you never loose you car when you have parked up.

A new function in this year’s model is the rather clever lane assist and PhotoReal Junction View; which helps you navigate difficult junctions by representing exactly what’s in front of you. This is combined with an unprecedented level of detail showing 3D terrain, buildings and landmarks, which mean the road ahead has never looked so realistic.

We think that this Nüvi 3700 series sat nav is a very impressive piece of kit; sure it’s not a game changer. But the look of the system is sure to win over many people when they first set eyes on it. And with so many of major functions you won’t be compromising on functionality, which Garmin must be applauded for.