TomTom 740 LIVE
The TomTom 740 Live has hit the streets, addressing many issues we’ve had with previous TomTom devices. The location of the power cable, the “inactive” mount, and lack of full voice control were all previous limitations that have been dealt with. Biggest perhaps is that you are no longer forced to choose between two evils to get traffic information… the ugly and annoying traffic cable or the compatible with little Bluetooth connection. Now connectivity is built right into the GO 740 Live. So how does it all stack up when put together? Over the past couple of weeks I’ve logged about one thousand miles with the new GO, deliberately drove myself into the worst traffic in the country, and sought out the best deals on fuel to put it to the test.
Out of the box, the 740 gets a slightly redesigned shape over previous designs, sporting a few more rounded edges. While many of the “connectors” are still on the bottom, the new “dock” style active mount removes the bulk from the bottom and makes it easier to get low positioning on the dash.
The mount is sturdier, and the suction cup has a deeper “hockey puck” that makes the EasyPort mount easier to turn and snap into place. While turning the dial, there is a more defined “notch” to let you know you’ve properly secured the mount. The power cable plugs into the mount making what we call an “active mount”. These designs are favored by people who don’t mind the risks leaving the mount and power cord in the car, while taking the GPS in and out of the car. With one press of a button the 740 pops off the mount, and it snaps back in easily meaning you don’t need to mess with power cords as it stays connected to the mount. I tested the mount both directly on the windshield and also with a friction mount (aka bean bag mount) and both options worked well.
The speaker is still located on the back of the device, and the sound quality seems clearer at loud volumes over previous models. The voice prompts are plenty frequent and timely, but sometimes they get “chopped off” a little bit if the GPS has too many things to say in too short of a time. As with any GPS utilizing Text-to-Speech some of the pronunciations and abbreviations are strange, but you generally get the gist. My favorite was how it referred to “I-93″ as I was driving towards Boston. A traffic alert called it “eye minus ninety-three” which was just awkward to hear and a reminder of how far this type of technology still has to go.
New Software Features
Some of the previous GO models featured voice recognition for address input, but the TomTom 740 Live takes it a step further and offers voice recognition for most of the commonly used menu items. I counted 131 voice commands it would accept, though many are just small variations of each other. The Garmin voice recognition system still beats the TomTom due to the remote “listen” switch you can mount on your steering wheel. The TomTom felt antiquated without it even though you can tap a “quick menu” preference on the map display to activate listening. The accuracy of understanding what I wanted worked about 90% of the time– similar to other competitive models with the feature. But it is fun to just occasionally talk back to the GPS and say things like “what is the weather” or “read aloud traffic information“.
IQ Routes, Active Lane Guidance, Speed Limit Data
A few other navigation goodies are included on the TomTom 740 that we have previously discussed, so we won’t go into too much detail here. First is IQ Routes which almost kills the need for a traffic receiver. Now the data takes into consideration not only the day of week, but now the time of day with the precision of fifteen minute increments. IQ Routes is an amazing feature that I’m a huge believer in. That feature alone makes it worth considering a TomTom model for any GPS purchase. Second is Active Lane Guidance and Static Intersection Images… aka “Reality View”. The data is now available for many more intersections than it was in the past– but still not as many places as their competitors. While I didn’t have to struggle to find an intersection where the feature was available, it just doesn’t seem to be available in as many places as Garmin and Navigon devices with similar features.
The same thing can be said for speed limit data. Using competitive devices from Garmin, speed limit data is shown for nearly every interstate as well as state highways. Many times speed limit data was shown for local roads as well. However the TomTom maps lag behind on speed limit data. Most all interstates are covered and many state roads, but the data is absent for some state roads and almost all local roads.
The user interface has been updated with a more modern look, and a few new preferences appear over older models. You can now set default preferences for avoiding things like HOV lanes and unpaved roads. I have a house on a dirt road and it was always annoying that it would ask “do you want to avoid unpaved roads?” with every route I created to or from home. No longer with the GO 740, that annoyance is gone.
Perhaps one of the more subtle changes is the addition of a menu system that changes to night view along with the map view. Previously TomTom’s “night mode” was only for the map… enter into the menu and you were blinded by the bright white screen. Thankfully, that omission is a thing of the past as the night view now extends through the rest of the menu system and won’t blind you if you need to change a setting at night.
Something I was hoping to see added is a quick way to get back to the home screen while deep into the menu system. Tapping on ‘back’ several times in a row can be a pain, especially when the location of the back button can differ from screen to screen. Garmin has a non-obvious but handy way to do this– tap and hold on the back button takes you back to the main menu. TomTom should build something similar.
Another small annoying quirk is that POIs with long names don’t all fit in the search results list. This is particularly problematic if the POI name all starts with the same group of words. Check out the image to the right showing POI listings for Boston’s Logan Airport. Each of the different POIs is a different terminal, but you can’t see which is which from the list.
Routing speed was noticeably slower than other TomTom devices, perhaps attributed to the additional traffic data to fetch and process. However if you leave a few seconds earlier that shouldn’t be an issue. But the rerouting speed was also slower than other TomTom devices. So if you miss a turn the 740 will take noticeably longer to recalculate a route. This can be frustrating and stressful if you are in an area densely packed with streets or with high congestion.
TomTom LIVE Services
Evaluating traffic systems are never easy. Unless you are sitting on the side of the road with a radar gun, then two cars to leave at the same time driving the most plausible routes– it is difficult to know what is really going on. Just browsing around the traffic map doesn’t work as you need to confirm the traffic reported really exists, and exists with the conditions represented.
But the TomTom 740 has forced me to think about traffic in a whole new way. During the first couple days of testing we were about to declare that the switch from INRIX to TrafficCast was a huge mistake. It took several days of research, confirmations with people in multiple cities, and myself taking the 740 through traffic from Boston to Los Angeles before I really understood what was happening. To understand traffic on the GO 740 LIVE, you need to see traffic through a different set of eyes than you might have in the past… IQ Routes eyes.
The New Definition of Traffic
GPS devices are getting smarter every day, and with every new development we look back and think about how dumb our devices were in the past. So let’s talk traffic.
With reference to GPS, I used to think of “traffic” as anything that would make you arrive later than when you would have if there was no other cars on the road while driving a reasonable speed. Online mapping services like Google Maps show friendly green lines on roads where there is traffic coverage, but currently the flow is good. This is the old way of thinking about traffic.
But along came IQ Routes. Without getting too in-depth about IQ Routes, here is a short primer. Basically TomTom collects data anonymously from GPS devices about how long it actually takes a vehicle to cover each road segment they drive. They note the day of week and the time of day down to a fifteen minute block. Now collect that data from millions of GPS users. Once you’ve built up a massive database, you can then ask it how long it takes the average car to drive a specific road segment, each day of the week, for each fifteen minute time block. That is pretty amazing.
So the GPS knows that getting into the city during rush hour will take much longer than it will on Sunday at noon. That is expected. There are now multiple benchmarks for just how long your drive time will be. If the GPS expects due to data from IQ Routes that your drive will take one hour, and there are no unusual impedances along the route, then the delay should be reported as zero. The ETA will still be correct because it was expecting slow traffic. But it isn’t any slower than predicted for that time of day and that day of week.
In Los Angeles, I asked a number of hard-core commuters questions about their drive into work. They tend to think of traffic that way too. If they were crawling along a freeway at 20 mph bumper to bumper and you ask them “how was the traffic today?” their response will probably be “not bad!”. Their expectation was a certain time, it took them the same amount of time, so the traffic was not bad compared to normal.
So what does this mean for the new way to look at traffic? If traffic predictably moves at a snail’s pace on your morning commute, don’t show the road with a red line indicating heavy traffic. We know there will be heavy traffic and the ETA will reflect that.
But…, if a car flips over on the road and things get worse than what would ordinarily be predicted– now we have traffic to report. In other words, normal every-day traffic jams are built into the device, and the new way of thinking about GPS is to only report what wasn’t predicted. Now we show the yellow, orange, or red lines indicating traffic is different than what we would expect.
This new way to think about traffic can be a bit unnerving at times. You look at the traffic map on the 740 and see few pieces of flow data represented on the screen. It appears that there is just less data being reported or that the system isn’t as good as other traffic maps you have seen. But once you think of traffic in this new way, everything starts to make sense and my confidence in the traffic system has been restored.
So to recap… you will only see traffic data when the amount of traffic wasn’t already predicted by the smartly named IQ Routes feature. The following video shows how TomTom’s HD traffic system works in Europe. While the system here isn’t exactly the same, it is similar enough to be relevant. Where they talk about probes from Vodafone, the USA version is based on fleet vehicles in the TrafficCast network as well as 740 devices.
If you want to dig even deeper into TomTom LIVE traffic, check out the TomTom “LIVE” Traffic Demystified thread in our forums.
So let’s be clear about something… you cannot evaluate a traffic system, especially this one, by the number of incidents reported or the amount of roads with colored flow data. The only data you will see on the Traffic map on the 740 LIVE is that which wasn’t already predicted by the device.
The only thing I miss about this new way to look at traffic is that I’m not exactly the most comfortable person driving in heavy traffic. Therefore if the route picked is the fastest, but involves heavy (predicted) traffic, you don’t really get a warning. The route picked is still the fastest, but sometimes I’d prefer to take a slower route that avoids heavy congestion. If there is an unexpected delay on the route, then you can “avoid traffic” and get a slower route as the screenshot to the right shows.
Okay, okay… I get it. Is it any good?
Yes– the traffic data provided by TrafficCast is good. At this point you won’t get me to say that the TrafficCast data is by itself better than the INRIX data used on other devices, including other TomTom devices.
I spent a few days in Boston traffic as well as a week in Los Angeles traffic. One of our forum moderators has also spent a couple of weeks in traffic around the Tampa/Orlando areas. With an update time every couple of minutes, the LIVE traffic system helped me avoid a few jams, as illustrated by this menu shown to the right.
Across dozens of suicide drives directly into dreaded Los Angeles traffic, the ETAs predicted by the combination of IQ Routes and the TomTom LIVE traffic were spot on getting me to my destination within a minute of the original ETA most of the time.
It did appear as though TrafficCast could use a few more fleet/probe vehicles to make the system even better. There was one time I was stuck on I-93 approaching Boston where there was construction creating a bottle-neck. The 740 would report a delay for a few minutes, then report no delay, then report a delay again. It kept going back and forth leading me to believe there were just not enough probe vehicles to keep knowledge of the delay through the system. I observed something similar in Los Angeles as well.
Another example where data from other traffic systems appears a little bit better is when viewing the “details” of an incident. Other systems often provide a little more color about what the incident is such as “broken down vehicle” or “right lane closed”. When viewing this same field on the 740 LIVE you typically just see the name of the road displayed again. The details are arguably not all that important– just the amount of delay is. But I did notice that the data isn’t quite as specific as that coming from other providers.
Weather reports are also one of the new LIVE services. This also works in conjunction with the voice recognition system so you can say things like “What is the weather?”. The GPS will ask to clarify if you mean for your current location or the destination you have set into the GPS. Once answered, the GPS will read aloud today’s weather and display on-screen a weather forecast for the next few days.
I did see a bug a couple of times that has come up with the previous weather available by Bluetooth connection on older models. Sometimes it would say the day of week incorrectly, as if there is perhaps a time-zone bug.
You do need to dismiss the weather screen with a tap– I wish I could have spoken “Okay” or “done” to return to the map view. While moderately useful, I’m not sure this is really a killer feature.
Gas Station Fuel Prices
Quite a bit more useful than weather reports, the LIVE servers can also fetch fuel prices. You can seek the cheapest fuel in the immediate vicinity, cheapest in the general area, cheapest along the route, or just sort by distance/price.
As with most of the fuel price services I’ve tried, they are correct about the price most, but not all of the time. Fuel prices can change at stations fast… sometimes a few times per day so that is to be expected. But this is a handy feature that might save you a few pennies.
I also noticed at least one time where the “club” price was shown making the report a little inaccurate. But overall this was a handy feature to have– especially since you didn’t have to connect your GPS to the computer to download new price data.
The Google Local feature basically gives your GPS access to an unlimited amount of POIs, rather than being bound by the POIs directly installed on the device which can sometimes be minimal. You can search near your current location, in a city, near your destination, or near another location. Search results display the name of the location as well as a user rating.
In addition to having access to a larger POI database, the Google Local search function also allows for more “fuzzy” searches. So you can search for “sushi” and see a list of results which have that word in their description rather than just the restaurant title.
After finding a location, you can view details such as payment types accepted, user ratings, the phone number, and hours of operation. This feature is very handy, but I really wish it was better integrated into the regular POI search. If I use the regular POI search and the result is “NO POI Found” the GPS should then say “search for this with Google Local?” so the user doesn’t have to tap back, back, back, back, TomTom services, Local search, search near you, and then type in the search again. (see screenshot, below, right)
There was one case where the Local Search produced some unexpected results. The “pin” placement of the location I was going to was technically correct on the Google map. However it was located a little ways away from the nearest road. And the nearest road to the pin placement was a closed road. The TomTom correctly identified the nearest road as closed, however due to that fact it refused to generate a route to the location saying “no route found”. When I manually typed in the address that Google Local displayed, the device happily created a route on the non-closed road. This only happened once and it appears to be a rare fluke.
If you have multiple friends or family members with TomTom devices that are connected, you can sign them up for TomTom Buddies and see where they all are on the map. While I’ve got hundreds of friends on facebook and hundreds of followers on twitter– I don’t have that many friends with connected TomTom devices. I think this feature will be useful to a small amount of people. But it is fun to send messages back and forth and see where your friends are.
Missing Live Services
While the existing live services are interesting and nice to have, there are a few smaller items I can’t help but wonder why were not turned into live services. Perhaps TomTom’s agreement with Jasper Wireless for connectivity has bandwidth restrictions, but otherwise I can’t imagine why these items were not turned into LIVE services.
QuickFix, the system to download predictive (ephemeris) data for satellite locations to speed up acquisition times. These files are small, yet from what I can tell they still still need to be downloaded from within HOME.
MapShare, while these updates can be a bit larger, a daily incremental map update would go a long way towards getting more up-to-date maps in GPS devices faster– which is always a good thing.
Send 2 GPS – Most other connected devices on the market have a way to send waypoints (favorites) from a website directly down to the GPS. This would be a logical step from within HOME or from routes.tomtom.com, yet it isn’t there. Likewise the ability to create a route on routes.tomtom.com and send it to the device seems like a logical step, but feels missing from the current software.
We also saw a few connectivity issues, and this was confirmed by other 740 owners as well. Hopefully these will be few and far between and just some hiccups with the initial roll-out. The services do rely on a GPRS cellular network for their connections, so you can generally predict how much coverage you will have in your area based on coverage for AT&T or T-Mobile phone subscribers in your area. One user has reported more significant issues, but it appears likely to be a defective device as his report doesn’t reflect the majority of other users I’ve talked to.
Promo video by TomTom:
The Final Fix
The TomTom 740 LIVE isn’t a cheap GPS, and the connected services make it even more expensive. If you don’t think you need the connected services, the TomTom XL 340s is likely a much better fit. Even though it doesn’t come with a traffic receiver, it is compatible with the traffic cable should you later change your mind. The 340s also comes with the latest version of IQ Routes which is nearly a traffic system in its own.
If you must have the best traffic system available– even though it isn’t perfect, then the TomTom 740 LIVE could quickly become your favorite travel companion.