It may look like the same old TomTom XL from last year, but with a new version of TomTom's software and new models that offer lifetime traffic, lifetime map updates, or both, the TomTom XL 350 and XXL 550 series of navigators merit a second look.
The XL series' design hasn't changed at all since we reviewed the XL 340 S last year. Users interact with the unit via a 4.3-inch WQVGA wide-format touch screen (5 inches for the XXL models) or the power button on the top edge, the XL's only physical control. The bottom edge is home to a recessed Mini-USB port that serves as the connection for the included 12-volt car charger and connects to a computer for data updating maps and software. The XL chassis does not have an SD or microSD card slot, so users must make do with the device's 2GB of onboard storage (which is more than enough space for the XL's preloaded maps and regional upgrades).
The back panel is where the 2-inch loudspeaker is located. Audio quality is good, even at the loudest volume settings. The speaker doubles as the connection point for the TomTom EasyPort mount, a clever, low-profile suction cup for mounting the XL on a vehicle's windshield. The EasyPort mount is quite easy to place and remove from the windshield and offers a bit more flexibility of mounting angles than the Garmin. Simply flip out the suction cup, place the device on the windshield, and twist the locking ring a quarter-turn. When the XL isn't in use, the EasyPort mount folds flat to the unit's body, so it's always with the unit, unlike the separate cradles of Garmin and Magellan. This makes the TomTom XL ideal for users who often move their GPS device from vehicle to vehicle.
XL series units that feature traffic service, such as our tested 350 TM, ship with a power cable with an integrated FM traffic antenna and receiver, so you'll need to plug in if you'd like to steer clear of jams. Units that don't feature traffic service ship with a standard 12-volt car charger. Also in the box, users will find a USB connection cable and an adhesive disk for attaching the XL to a vehicle's dashboard if windshield mounting is not permissible.
While the exterior may not have changed much in this revision, the software is notably different after receiving a software update in September 2010.
The map screen is the main interface for the XL and features bright, easily readable roads and labels. Users are given the option of overlaying POI icons with color logos for larger chains. Below the map is the default location for the TomTom's status bar where users can display a wide array of information about the current location, the progress of the current trip, and estimated times and distances to the chosen destination. On models that feature traffic, flow data is represented by color-coded overlays on major highways and, with routing under way, as an estimated delay time in a route progress bar along the right edge of the screen.
The lower status bar is divided into three sections, and tapping the left, center, or right section brings up volume controls, changes the map display mode (2D or 3D), or accesses the trip overview screen, respectively. Tapping anywhere in the main map area takes the user to the main menu.
Like the map screen, the main menu is split into two areas. The larger main area is home to the XL's two main functions: planning a route and browsing the map. These options should be fairly self-explanatory--tapping "Plan route" takes the user to a screen where an address, POI, or other destination can be chosen, but we found it odd that tapping "Browse map" doesn't take the user back to the main map screen, but rather it brings up a 2D map specifically for graphically choosing destinations. Some users may find this useful, but we found it off-putting whenever we were genuinely trying to get back to the live navigation map.