The TomTom One is the portable GPS unit that a lot of people (myself included) have been waiting for. What makes it superior? Start with first-rate maps and crystal-clear driving instructions (in your choice of voices and languages). Then have the device work right out of the box and be as easy to use as tapping a finger. Now throw in a large, bright display, and fit everything in a case that's not much larger than a tin of mints. Finally, slap on a $499 price tag and get it on store shelves in time for the holiday buying season.
The new device improves on the company's popular Go 300 entry-level GPS in nearly every way (TomTom will continue to sell the more expensive Go 510 and 910 models, as well). First and foremost is the smaller size: The One isn't much taller or wider than its 3.5-inch touch display, and because it's only about three-quarters of an inch deep, it fits unobtrusively in your pants pocket. Making the device easier to tote also means people are less likely to leave it in their car, where it is a target for thieves and susceptible to heat and cold.
On the Road in Minutes
The TomTom One goes right from the box to your dash: Attach the small-but-sturdy windshield mount, slide the device into place, plug it into your car's 12-volt terminal (aka its cigarette lighter port), and press the power button. It then prompts you to insert the 1GB SD memory card that stores the company's map databases. The data takes about 5 seconds to load; afterward the device guides you through initial setup, requesting your preferences in a few areas, such as left- or right-handed, and use of miles or kilometers. You can opt to hear driving directions in any of 22 languages and several male and female voices, including choices with U.S. or UK accents (once you've registered, you can download more voices from the TomTom site).
After you enter your home address at the prompt, the TomTom One offers a tour of its features. Usually such canned descriptions are a waste of time, but this product is so packed with customization and other options that I found the demo to be can't-miss viewing. For example, the 'Find Alternate' feature lets you see your route options with a single click. You can also set your route manually or designate areas you want to avoid on your routes. The latter feature allowed me to instruct the device to calculate its routes around a major highway construction site near my home. Route preferences include fastest, shortest distance, walking, bicycling, and 'muted' speed, which I assume avoids highways.
Setup took me just 20 minutes from powering on to seeing my location plotted on the map. Impressively, the device latched onto enough GPS satellite signals to show my position while my car was still parked in the garage; most of the GPS units I've tested require a clear line of sight to the sky before they're able to map your location.
To start navigating, you just tap the screen with your finger to open the options screen. You can enter an address with the on-screen keyboard (arranged A to Z rather than in QWERTY layout), choose an entry from the device's points-of-interest database, or select from a list of recently entered locations. Alternatively, you can simply tap a spot on the map and then the Cursor button to be directed there. You reposition the map by "dragging" it with your fingertip, and you zoom in and out via a slider control.
The TomTom One took just a few seconds to calculate my test routes, the longest of which was 60 miles. After you click the Done button to accept the route the device has selected (which it previews on a zoomable map), the screen shows your route in red, with your next driving instruction overlaid in green. You're also shown a five-bar GPS receiver indicator, the distance to your next turn or stop, the distance remaining to your destination, and your estimated time of arrival. I usually pay no attention to such travel-time estimates, and I scoffed when the TomTom One indicated that I would arrive much earlier than I would've guessed--but I was pleasantly surprised to see that the GPS nailed my arrival time from a good 35 miles out.
For multistop trips you can add waypoints to a destination, but I found it just as easy to enter each stop manually and then choose the next leg from the list of recent locations. The routes that the One presented were spot-on, with one big exception: For some reason the device wanted me to travel from Sonoma County to San Francisco via two bridges rather than over only one. Perhaps it wanted to save me $1 on tolls, but the added travel time makes that no bargain. Otherwise the routes the device calculated were the ones I would've taken. It even knew when to avoid major arteries in the city, choosing faster alternatives on surface streets by default.
If you've been postponing a GPS purchase until the devices became portable enough, accurate enough, easy enough, customizable enough, and--most important--cheap enough, the arrival of the TomTom One may be the end of your wait.
This GPS unit is easy to carry, set up, and use, and it's not so hard on the pocketbook, either.
Price when reviewed: $499