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" didn't take the user back to the main map screen, rather it brings up a 2D map specific 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.
At the bottom of the home screen is a smaller bar with five icons. The first two icons are for toggling sound and day/night mode. A center icon for help brings up a "Where am I?" screen with the unit's current location and options to call or drive to the nearest repair service, hospital, police station, and the like. The icon labeled Options calls up the TomTom's various settings and options and there are a ton of them. Users are able to tweak on a very granular level everything from the routing preferences to how often and for what options the software prompts the user to the layout and information displayed on the map screen status bar. Back on the menu screen, a final icon labeled Done exits the menu and returns to the live map. Some of these icons, such as Help and Done, seem oddly named and others, such as Sound and Day/Night unceremoniously dump the user back onto the map screen with the new setting when touched, rather than simply toggling on and off. Even with those nitpicks, this new menu structure is a huge improvement over TomTom's older system, which spread basic options out over multiple screens. With the new software, the options that users access most often are immediately available and intelligently organized.
Stepping outside, we gave the XL time to gain a satellite lock before testing. From our offices in downtown San Francisco, the TomTom took 2 minutes to figure its position. Your mileage may vary depending on how clear your skies are. Subsequent locks were nearly instantaneous, thanks to the receiver's location memory function.
We started our testing with a series of bench runs of route calculation speed. Routing a 12-mile trip that involved mostly highway driving took about 5 seconds. Routing the same trip on surface roads only took 2 seconds longer. Next, we checked a much longer route with multiple stops that used a mix of surface and highway travel; that took about 15 seconds. For kicks, we tested a route from New York to San Francisco; routing here took the better part of two minutes, but--to be fair--such a route covered far more ground than anyone could drive in one day.
Putting our favorite test routes to the test on the road, we found that for most trips the TomTom chose logical routes that were easy to follow or unnecessarily long. On previously tested TomTom units, we noticed that over time the nature of routine routes could vary, due to the iQ Routes system's time-based traffic predictions influence over the path chose. We expect that will also be the case with this generation of XL, more so on units that feature the FM traffic service.
With the trip under way, we were pleased to see (and in some cases hear) the smaller features that we like to see on our GPS devices, including text-to-speech and graphic lane guidance. Users are also able to plan trips with multiple destinations and, with the newest software update, easily jump between fastest and shortest route planning modes.
The 350 series of TomTom XL GPS navigators improves the menu and interface issues we had with the 340 series, while leaving the bits that we liked intact. We like that the main menu is more intelligently organized, making it easier to get started choosing a destination in just a few taps. However, there is still room for improvement, mainly with the oddly labeled and oddly behaving icons of the main menu's bottom bar. Still this is a case of the pros outweighing the cons, making this TomTom series the easiest to use yet.
Our experiences with the road performance of the XL 350 series matches that of the previous generation, which was quite good already.