TomTom GO 920T
As of this writing, the TomTom GO 920T is the top of the line GPS system from TomTom. No holding back, no features left out for other higher end models. And for North American users the 920T and 920 is currently the only model to offer voice prompted address entry. This model also comes with a remote control, an RDS-TMC traffic receiver, and European map coverage in addition to the North American maps. So how well does it all work?
The TomTom 920T builds on what the 720 offers. There are many new features added to the 920, so we are only going to focus on the attributes that differentiate it from the 720. We’ll have plenty to cover.
North America & Europe Mapping
The 920T adds mapping of both North America and Europe in the internal memory. If those maps are not enough– say you are going to Australia– then you can load maps onto an SD card and put the card into the empty SD card slot. There is only about 170 MB of free space left on the internal 4GB drive. Of course there is a pond in between North America and Europe, so to access the European maps, go to [Menu -> Change Preferences -> Manage Maps -> Switch Maps] sometime as you cross the Atlantic.
Voice Assisted Address Entry
I think what most people will be interested in hearing about is voice prompted address entry, with the question “does it work?”. In a word, yes. But there are some things you should know. There are two methods you can use to enter an address using voice prompts, the way that works and the way that doesn’t.
Spoken Address is the way that doesn’t work. Well, that might be too harsh. When you select Spoken Address the 920 will ask you for a city, you speak the name of a city. The 920 listens for your requested city and responds with a list of cities that sound like what you said. Then you tap (yes, with your finger) on the city you are looking for. Next you speak the name of the street, wait for the suggestions, and tap on your street. This method is a hybrid between spoken commands and a purely touch screen input method. While it does avoid having to use a keyboard to spell things out, it still requires frequent taps on the screen to enter an address. If you’re going to go for it, you might as well jump in with two feet, so I didn’t like this method that much.
Spoken Address (Dialog)
This method is what most people will think of for voice prompted address entry. After entering this command, it asks you to say a city. After listening for your city, it presents you with a numbered list of cities that sound like what you said. You can then speak the number that represents the city you were looking for. If the correct match is at the top of the list, you simply say “one”.
The same goes for entering a street. You say the name of the street and the TomTom 920T responds with a list of streets that sound like they could be good matches, and you speak the number next to the name of the correct street. Once you have the city/street, you speak the digits for the street number. So you would say “one nine zero zero” for 1900. Assuming the 920 hears you right, you then can say “done” to calculate a route to that location.
So how well does it work?
I got in the car, started it up, and safely parked on the side of a highway where I would have some good background noise of cars speeding by. I also opened the windows a bit to let in more sound to better simulate the noise environment while driving. Then, I had a list of 100 addresses printed out and went through each one to see how often the TomTom 920 would hear me right.
The results? 92% pass rate. So there were four times that for whatever reason I couldn’t complete the address through voice prompts alone and needed to resort to the keyboard. That doesn’t tell the complete story though, there were a couple of times when it didn’t hear me properly on the first try and I needed to go back (something you can still do with voice control) and say something over again. That happened 28% of the time. So overall, 72% of the time it heard the city, street, and street number without me needing to repeat myself, and 92% of the time I was able to enter the address entirely with voice prompts, without touching the touchscreen.
72% might sound low, but even with those cases I didn’t need to use the touchscreen– I just had to repeat myself. And also there seems to be a bug whereby occasionally it doesn’t listen the first time you enter a street number. For example after selecting the street, the device asks you to enter the street number, the “waiting lips” appear in the top right indicating it is waiting for you to speak, but it doesn’t hear you the first time. The “green light” does go on… but nothing happens. Then if you speak the street number again it will recognize it just fine.
Had it not been for that glitch, which I presume can be fixed with an application update, the overall success rate on the first try would have likely been about 90%. Overall, i was happy with the results, but not ecstatic. It takes me a longer amount of time on average to enter an address by voice than it does by touchscreen. The difference is that you can keep both hands on the wheel. However I suspect most people are happy to enter their destination before they leave. And you do still need to occasionally glance over at the display to see when it is listening and to pick items from the list.
I see some room for a few other improvements as well. Sometimes after speaking the name of a city or street there was only one match for me to pick from. If there is only one likely match, why not automatically select it? Also when you enter a street number that is out of range using the touch screen method, a hint will appear showing you the valid address range for that street. The same thing doesn’t happen when using voice prompting, it simply won’t accept the number leaving you to wonder why. Even if you do recognize it might be because your number is out of range you are left guessing what a number in the range might be.
You might have noticed that nowhere did I mention state names. Changing states does require use of the touch screen. It will assume you want to search in your current state or the last state you searched in, otherwise you need to tap the state you want on the touch screen.
Two other minor issues are that it occasionally cuts itself of when speaking back to you. When it tries to say “Please state street” sometimes only “Please st” comes out. Finally, when speaking street numbers if you happen to say something that gets recognized as “cross street” I found it impossible to tell it “back” like I could when other mistakes were made.
While it may sound like there are a number of issues, let’s not forget that I did achieve a 92% success rate without touching the screen, and that is an A- in most schools. Also it isn’t uncommon to make typos while typing out addresses on the touch screen so I wouldn’t compare 92% against 100% as I’m not 100% accurate with my fingers on the touchcreen.
Voice Prompt Tips
Voice entry does take a little bit of practice. After the first few minutes I wanted to throw the thing out the window. A short time later I was getting better results, but didn’t think I’d use it since I’m faster on the touch screen. After spending a little time practicing I could see myself switching and using it.
I wanted to see how much of the voice prompting I could do without touching the screen, and here are a few tips to help setup your 920T to use voice prompting with as few touch inputs as possible.
- Setup Spoken Address (dialog) as a Quick menu item. This puts a small icon on the main navigation screen that allows you to start a voice address entry with one click rather than the four it would take you otherwise. Go to Menu -> Change Preferences -> Quick Menu Preferences -> and check the box ‘Navigate to Spoken address (dialog)’. Now when you want to enter an address by voice, just tap the new icon on the main navigation screen.
- Set the Route Summary screen to automatically disable. When activated, the Route Summary screen displayed after a route is created will automatically disappear after 10 seconds. You won’t have to click ‘Done’ after entering the destination. To change this setting to go Menu -> Change Preferences -> Planning Preferences -> Done -> and then select ‘Yes’ to the question about closing the route summary screen automatically after 10 seconds.
- Wait for the lips before you speak. The 910T will ask for you to speak something like “please state city” and then a set of lips will appear in the top right of the display. The 920 isn’t listening until you see the lips, and sometimes I was a little fast (or just impatient).
- Mute your stereo. This probably goes without saying, but the 920 might have some difficulty if it needs to figure out exactly what noise to listen to. I was able to enter addresses with the radio on at a reasonable level, but the accuracy rate did go down. Mute or pause the music and your results will certainly improve. If Tommy Tutone is playing you might wind up at street number 8675309 instead of where you were trying to go.
I’ve never used remote controls much with GPS devices– I typically mount them within arms reach so I never saw the need. And when talking with other owners who purchased devices with remote controls, many of them said they didn’t use them much either. But I was pleasantly surprised that they were fairly useful. I’m probably not going to run out and buy a remote for each of my devices, but it did grow on me.
The remote is very iPod like– not too many buttons, the top looks like a click-wheel, and nothing is labeled. Despite having ten unlabeled buttons, everything was quite intuitive. I never needed to pull out the manual to figure out what each button was for. In fact, the thing I had the most trouble with was just getting the (included) batteries installed. I had the right idea, but boy is that thing tight. The remote also comes with a little holder with an adhesive backing for mounting somewhere in your car.
The buttons are pretty smart and change their function based on the current screen. While navigating the up and down buttons zoom the map in and out. The left and right buttons change to the previous or next track. The center button sends you to the menu, and the volume up and down buttons change the volume of the voice prompts.
I couldn’t find many tasks that couldn’t be accomplished using the remote control. You can even go so far as to enter addresses with the remote, sliding across the on-screen keyboard with the arrow buttons on the remote. Address entry is not very fast at all when using the remote, but if your GPS is mounted too far away to reach, it will get the job done.
Enhanced Positioning Technology (EPT)
This feature allows the GPS to use its own “gut feel” to determine your location if the GPS signal goes away. Let’s say you are following a route and the road takes you underground through a tunnel… no GPS reception down there! So the device senses accelerations and decelerations to determine your movement and keep your position updated. Once you get a signal back the GPS location will take over and resume normal operations.
In the video link above you will see where we drive underneath a highway overpass and the GPS signal drops slightly, and you can see the EPT icon near the bottom right of the TomTom screen. Then after we come out the other side the GPS signal resumes.
I’ve gotten the chance to test this feature out in some of Boston’s best tunnels. The verdict? It isn’t as good as having GPS, but if it was why would we need GPS?
At the time I had three GPS devices on my dash. A Garmin Nuvi, a TomTom ONE, and this TomTom 920T. Soon after getting into the tunnel, the Nuvi would pretty much give up. It would say “Lost Satellite reception” and offer no assistance. Worse, the “error message” covered the screen so I couldn’t see what the next instruction was hiding behind the error message. I wouldn’t want to tap “OK” to that error message while in that kind of traffic, so a passenger did it for me.
The TomTom ONE didn’t perform much better, as would be expected. It seemed to try to estimate my position by just assuming I would continue on my route at the same speed. It too obviously lost my position, but tried to make some guesses about where I was.
So how did the 920T perform? Quite well! It continued to track my position quite well. Out of all the trips in and out of tunnels it correctly kept up with my position each time except for once. That time it seemed to think I had surfaced and was on a parallel street not far offset from my current location. So it didn’t work perfectly all of the time, but most of the time it was able to keep up with my position accurately and properly notify me of turns and intersections while underground.
While it didn’t perform perfectly, if I was going to be doing a ton of tunnel driving, I’d want something like the 920T with me.
Since most all of the RDS-TMC traffic receivers on the market today are using the same underlying service (Clear Channel Total Traffic Network) I’m not going to spend too much time talking about the traffic service itself, but rather the design of the receiver and how traffic information is displayed and used on the 920T.
The traffic receiver is basically a long antenna with three suction cup mounts. It is, unfortunately, a rather ugly solution. The Garmin solution of an integrated antenna/power cable is much more elegant. Not many people go far without their power cable and the Garmin solution makes hiding away all GPS components much easier when leaving your car. Unfortunately you can’t use the Garmin receiver with your TomTom.
The TomTom RDS-TMC receiver connects to the bottom of the device, and sticks out a good inch. So if you have your GPS mounted with the suction cup mount to a horizontal surface (such as using the adhesive disc or with a third party friction mount) the screen doesn’t have enough clearance to be mounted 90° vertical. It will need to be at more like 60° which might make it more difficult to see the screen.
I also don’t see many people removing the receiver often when they leave their car. You would need to disconnect the three suction cups to pull everything down and that will just get too annoying. So instead you are left to give thieves a possible signal that there is a nice GPS in your car.
On the plus side though, it does put the antenna in a more optimal position to receive the traffic signal. In my testing it performed slightly better at finding a traffic signal than other antennas on other models connected to the same service on the same frequency. Despite having a better signal than most other receivers, my tests showed that I still didn’t get anywhere close to the range that the Clear Channel Total Traffic Network maps suggested I would get.
Once you are connected up and have a signal, the traffic information is downloaded into your device. On the right side of the screen a “traffic bar” will appear. At the top your signal status is displayed, and this location represents the end of your route. At the bottom, the beginning of your route is represented. If there are incidents along the way, those will be displayed along the traffic bar proportional to how far ahead on the route they are. If there is estimated to be a delay in your arrival time based on that incident, the number of minutes of delay will be shown. Also at the bottom is a number showing the distance ahead on your route where the next incident is.
If you are familiar with the “Browse Map” view on TomTom devices, you can also view traffic information on a screen like that. Road colors change based on the current conditions. We will have another article on the traffic service in the future, but wanted to give you a taste for now.
If you are trying to decide between the 920 and 920T, the only difference is the traffic receiver. Regardless if you purchase the receiver with the 920T, or as an accessory to the 920, it will come with a 12 month trial subscription. However you will pay about $30 more for it as an accessory.
If you are debating about the 720 versus 920 or 920T there are more considerations. Many people will look at the 920/T due to the included European mapping. You will certainly save money by purchasing the maps this way, and will get a host of other features (remote, voice address entry) along with it. The maps of Western Europe are about $170, the remote is about $60 if purchased as an accessory. It is difficult to put a price tag on what voice prompted address entry is worth.
So if you are looking for European maps, certainly go with the 920/920T. If you want the remote or the voice address entry, you will need to decide if it is worth the additional cost. And if you frequently get lost driving underground– then a 920 or 920T is most likely in your future.