Web access is popping up in everything. If you make a product and don’t offer access to the intertubes, you might as well toss it in a black hole and let it get crushed into a state of infinite mass and density. GPS makers have bought into this mindset and now haphazardly toss web browsers into their products, whether they need them or not.
TomTom’s Go Live 740 is a new breed of web-ready GPS in which web access seems like a well-integrated enhancement, not a useless afterthought.
With this unit, TomTom has shed its older dependency on clunky cellphone/data-plan connectivity in favor of a built-in cellular modem. Although the unit’s Go Live service doesn’t deliver a full internet experience, it does sport nifty features like Google-powered local search, live traffic data, weather updates, local fuel prices and even an IM client.
Oh, and it does that whole satellite navigation thingy too.
Fortunately, even without all the razzle dazzle, the 740 is still a (mostly) solid GPS unit. At almost half a pound it sits comfortably in hand, and its colorful 4.3-inch 320 × 240 touch screen is both bright and responsive to repeated pokes. And, with 2 GB of memory, microSD port and integrated Bluetooth, we could smoothly navigate between a number of tasks, such as listening to music and using the integrated speaker for hands-free calls while paired with a cellphone.
In addition to these features, TomTom attempted to up the ante by adding voice recognition to the 740. We’ll put it this way: Not only did the 740 constantly misunderstand us, using the feature also requires a crash course in TomTom’s 130 supported terms. We know it’s a stretch for now, but someday we’d like a device that understands the natural cadence of speech … or even understands prompts like, “Chewie, get us out of here!”
Of course, half the fun of using the 740 is tinkering with its web-enabled services. Using the search feature to locate businesses is idiot-simple and surprisingly fast. And even some of the filler features likes checking the weather and searching for cheap fuel proved accurate and occasionally useful. Unfortunately, the 740’s traffic-alert feature is a little more hit and miss. Granted, in hellish metropolitan gridlock it’s fairly accurate, but when we stumbled upon heavy traffic on a rural road we were a little startled, because the 740 indicated our journey through that stretch of asphalt would be clear.
From what we could tell, part of the problem was the fact that 740 crowd sources its traffic data from other TomTom devices. The device is already tracking your location and speed, so it definitely has the means to predict highway congestion — but in areas where TomTom users are scarce it’s more likely to be blindsided by bumper-to-bumper traffic that its network knows nothing about.
Even a foible like occasionally sketchy traffic reporting isn’t enough to spoil the 740, though. Between its solid construction and presentation (and the bevy of goodies it comes with), it’s a great choice for those who like their wanderlust to be web-enabled.