If you’re a truck driver nowadays, you’ll need a HGV-aware sat-nav (GPS unit). There are many stories about truck drivers getting their vehicles stuck down back alleys, teetering on the edges of cliffs or wedged under a bridge with the top of their trailer torn off, because they were following inaccurate advice usually as a result of using a car sat-nav. Truck sat-navs let you enter the weight and height of your vehicle and other details (such as hazardous goods it may be carrying) and offers you a route that avoids low bridges and weight limits. Back in 2013 I bought an earlier TomTom truck sat-nav, the Pro 5150 Truck Live, which I found quite inadequate and sent it back very quickly. Since then I have been using Garmin units, mostly very successfully until, when driving a 44-tonne steel truck to a plant in Enfield a few weeks ago, it tried to get me to drive down a canal tow-path and then somehow get the goods (several tonnes of sheet metal) across the canal to the other side. Luckily, I was able to do a loop round a nearby trading estate and then go and find the correct route. But the forklift driver told me that delivery drivers with Garmin units often have that problem, while TomToms get it right. TomTom have a fairly new 6in unit out, the Go Professional 6250, which was being advertised in the margins of a truck drivers’ forum I belong to, and the user interface has been changed a lot since I last tried one. So, I decided to give it a go.
Sadly, it was as big a disappointment as its predecessor. This has a few new features, chiefly voice activation and the ability to update the maps and software over a private wi-fi network rather than through your computer. The latter is quite useful for people who don’t have a desktop computer — the number of households which only have things like tablets and mobile phones is increasing. However, let’s say the device is new, and you want to keep it connected to a power source (like your computer) while it updates, yet that’s a couple of rooms away from the wi-fi router and the signal’s not that great … the update will take ages. The new look and feel is not bad; it does look a bit more modern than the old one did, although it was quite adequate.
The problem is that the user interface is slow. Press anything on the screen, for example, the menu button on the map screen or any of the icons on the menu screen itself and the device takes about three seconds to do anything. The same happens when you try using the voice control feature; worse, when your phone rings and it’s connected, it takes several seconds (three or four rings) before anything appears on the screen. Typing is fairly quick and the multiple warning screens which were a pain on the old unit have gone, but this is still a horribly unresponsive user interface. I find it odd that TomTom have not addressed this issue in three years; do they even test them out on the road? This is not the result of mere limitations of the technology, as none of the Garmin units I’ve used have been this slow. It’s either inefficient or buggy programming, or the use of a virtual machine (that is, a program that runs on a program, rather than on the computer itself — useful as you can run the virtual machine on another type of machine and the app will run unchanged, but the speed penalty is obvious).
The phone functionality is a great deal more limited than on either my current Garmin (a Dezl 770, released 2015) or my older one (a Dezl 560). The Dezl’s phone functions are organised in a menu: call history (three subcategories: calls made, calls received, calls missed), phone book, finger dialling. You can’t finger dial with the TomTom; all you can do is read out a number, which when I tried it, it misheard and that was when I spoke clearly and there was almost no noise (my Garmin doesn’t do very well on that either). It doesn’t appear possible to access call history with voice control, either. You have to install TomTom’s app on your phone to get it to connect. You can read your text messages on the screen or get it to read them aloud, unlike with my Garmin (although the new 580 model has this feature; presuably the 780, when it comes, will as well), but you can’t delete them.
Of course, the primary function of a satellite navigation unit is to navigate. On this, it also failed miserably. A common error it makes is to wrongly report the road number you are expected to follow when turning off a motorway: for example, when turning off the M4 at junction 4 (the Heathrow spur), it tells you to turn off onto the M4; in fact, the road number on the sign is A408, while the M4 is the road that goes straight on. It made the same mistake on two other occasions on the same journey of about 150 miles (this was a problem with the old unit as well). On another occasion, it told me to turn the wrong way up a dual carriageway and then back down again (when directing me from the A30 to the M3 at junction 3; it wanted me to go north, to the Windsor turning, and back down again, when the road was very busy, as it often is). To avoid a bit of congestion on the M3 between Eastleigh and Winchester, it wanted to direct me via Portsmouth rather than along the old road through Chandler’s Ford, which is still open to trucks. The mapping also doesn’t distinguish between different classes of road, showing them all except the prescribed route in grey. This is a big omission; every paper map has this. AutoRoute, a PC route planning app from the early 90s, had this. Needless to say, my Garmin does too.
A hidden gotcha is the new mount: TomTom have not long introduced a funky new magnetic mount, which does make putting the unit up (once you’ve remembered to attach the suction cup to the windscreen or the adhesive disc provided with the USB plug already plugged in, since you won’t be able to do it once the unit is clipped on) a little bit quicker and easier. But it also means a lot of TomTom’s accessories are incompatible; the vent mount that works with this device costs £35. The ones you’ll find in your local Halford’s won’t work with this.
This unit (and other TomTom truck sat-navs) also have limited truck profile features. Basically you can choose between truck, van, bus or car but you can’t store more than one truck profile; if you have to switch trucks a lot, you will have to enter all the details every time rather than have one for 18-tonners, one for artics and so on. You can do this with both my Garmins. It’s also difficult to switch between units when specifying the height, weight etc.; this is a pain as some trailers, in particular, have heights specified in millimetres and others are in feet and inches (plus, we in the UK have to deal with both metric and imperial measures all the time — petrol stations have canopies specified in metres while bridges are in feet, for example). So, unless you are fortunate enough to always drive the same vehicle, you might like to find a unit which lets you store truck profiles and easily switch between metric and imperial measures. In addition, although it comes with some pre-installed landmarks for truck and bus drivers, they are of limited relevance; they include, for example, DKV fuel stops (but not, for example, KeyFuels which is much more common). I’ve never seen a DKV fuel card in all the time I’ve been driving. It also includes Les Routiers, a French roadside catering firm, which I’ve never seen here in the UK.
I gave this unit one star (you can’t give it no stars) when I reviewed it on Amazon. I’d have given it two (out of five) if it had been half this price; at £389 it’s daylight robbery. I can only assume that anyone buys these because they are used to TomToms from using them in cars, and perhaps they think of TomTom as a synonym for sat-nav and wouldn’t even consider buying anything else. Nobody who had used any electronic device which responds promptly when you touch the screen would think the slowness of the user interface on this device was acceptable. TomTom are clearly trading on their “household name” status, but buyers should not be deceived by this. In the USA, Garmin are the market leaders. I have not tried the other major contenders in truck sat-navs here, such as Snooper and Aguri, but the Garmin Dezl series is definitely vastly superior to this device and the outgoing 7in model is cheaper than this.
PS. Just saw this on a TomTom store website, which appears to be an official sales channel in the UK. The actual screen is 800x480 pixels at 6in, which is a standard definition screen and looks smooth enough from the distance you’ll be looking at it from. The website, however, gives the impression that it has a Retina screen, with fonts as smooth as on any recent Mac or iPad. The ‘screenshots’ have been mocked up, with the same fonts used at print quality. This isn’t my idea of honest marketing.
Image source: H20LPALI TECH.
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