Thursday, December 6, 2007

TomTom -- Tool or Toy?

I grew up in AZ, and aside from stints in CA, TX, and Ecuador, I lived there my whole life. I've been all over the state, and could probably find my way home from just about anywhere without a map (and with enough gas =).

But a week ago we arrived in Huntsville, Alabama, and now all that navigational comfort has gone out the window. I've scoured the maps, but since we're driving all over househunting, I often get turned around (but never "lost" =). Yesterday I drove halfway to Decatur because I didn't realize there wasn't an exit for County Line Rd.*

So 3 days ago I saw that the TomTom One, 3rd edition was on sale for $149 ($100 off!). Amazon reviews were good, so I picked one up, hoping to not be too disappointed going with the bottom-of-the-line unit. At first I thought it'd just be Kyla's Christmas present, but I didn't even get out the door at CompUSA before I realized that wouldn't work -- remember the bowling ball with Homer's name on it?

Anyway, as soon as I turned it on I knew I was going to like it.

I guess first I'll give the rocket scientist's primer on navigation. Navigation probably conjures up images of old maps and compasses and sextants, or maybe Netscape and Lincoln Navigators. But for ships and planes and missiles and cars, navigation seeks to answer the question: "Where am I?" This goes hand in hand with guidance, which goes after the questions: "Where do I want to go?" and "How do I get there?" And the autopilot makes sure you don't kill yourself on the way.

So the TomTom handles the navigation, and the last part of the guidance, "How do I get there?" And it seems to do a terrific job. Turn it on, and it tells you exactly where you are, with a nice perspective line drawing of the roads around you, their names, and other miscellaneous stuff.

Tell it where you want to go, via a stored "Favorite" place, an existing Point of Interest (POI), e.g. shopping, hospitals, gas stations, etc., a street address, a crossroads, a latitude/longitude point, or a spot you pick out on the map. Instantly it figures out the best route (minimizing travel time), and shows you which direction you need to go with a big green arrow on the display.

Items of note:
  • TomTom tells you when to turn in a spoken voice so you don't have to watch it: "Turn right". It's a pleasant voice, too, not a backseat driver voice (though you could probably add one if you think you need that).
  • It does *not* tell you when the light is red, or when someone is stopped in front of you and you need to stop -- obviously. Still, I'm not used to a device telling me where to go, and my brain had to draw a new line where the device's job stops and my brain has to pick up...
  • It appears to be about 98.5% accurate; it thought we needed to turn right into Wal-Mart when it was really a left, and one street it had the totally wrong name for. All the rest of the time, though, it's been dead on, usually picking out the right house on the street.
  • If you make a wrong turn, TomTom doesn't choke -- it just recalculates a new "best" route. It also doesn't criticize you for lapses in attention. =)
I love the feeling that we could just go driving -- randomly turning whichever direction looks best, even in a different city, or even state. At any point, we click "Navigate to", then "Home", and it puts us on the right road back to our life. And unlike cellphones, since it's getting its info from satellites, you have coverage everywhere in the world! (except maybe caves)

I'm thrilled. Tool or toy? Both!

* Note, I didn't have the unit with me when I did this...


Ashley Harris said...

Very cool! I am sure that will inspire your brother to find one soon. Yippee. Have a good one!!

Allie said...

Hey cousin! TomTom--tool, toy and a marriage MUST have item. Seriously!

Although, I'd prefer that Mike listen to his 'navigator' in something other than the sultry female voice. I'm thinking about loading Mr. T's voice..."Turn left, turn left foo!"

I have so enjoyed reading your blog. I didn't realize your family relocated. I've heard wonderful things about Alabama. Maybe some day we can squeeze in a visit? Good luck in your new home!

bharris said...

Hi, Allie, good to hear from you... Yep, we're moving in today and tomorrow, and we'd love to have you guys out. Summer 3-day space camp is only $400, and is for 9-11 year olds, and it's only 10 minutes from our house. Your boys would be welcome to stay with us if you're interested in it. =)

Does anyone read this thing?

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