TomTom is attempting to lower the learning curve for the entry-level GPS buyer with its new Ease line of GPS navigation devices. The Ease, which slots into TomTom's lineup just below the TomTom One, is remarkably similar to the TomTom Start, which debuted in European markets last year, and may well be the same device but with North American maps.
At first glance, the Ease appears remarkably similar to the TomTom One 140 S, which we've previously reviewed. They're both smallish GPS devices with 3.5-inch QVGA color touch screens and TomTom's EasyPort mount. However, look a bit deeper, and there are plenty of differences to be found between the two TomTom models.
The Ease's power button has been moved to the back of the device, rather than staying in its usual position along the top edge. Along the bottom edge of the unit is a rather deeply recessed Mini-USB port for charging and syncing the device. Because the Ease does not feature an SD or microSD card slot, all map updates must be synced through this USB connection.
Where the One's EasyPort mount clips onto a rotating swivel on the unit's back, the Ease's EasyPort mount is integrated into its housing. The advantage of this configuration is that the Ease's profile is notably thinner than the One's, with its suction cup attached. We were unable to figure a way to dashboard mount the device until we realized that the whole EasyPort assembly must be removed, rotated, and replaced in order be able to angle the suction cup for connection to the included adhesive dashboard mount.
The Ease is available in three housing colors: black, white, and red. Ours was a black unit, but TomTom will be making replacement shells in a variety of colors for users who'd like a bit more flair. Changing the shell is a rather simple process. First, the EasyPort mount is removed from the back of the unit and then the shell is simply pushed off of the device and replaced. Beneath the shell, we were surprised to find a removable lithium ion battery. We also found the device's small half-inch speaker and a pinhole reset button.
However, the biggest change to the TomTom Ease happens beneath the surface. The Ease's home menu has been dramatically simplified, versus the standard TomTom interface on the One. Previous TomTom devices dump the user onto a home screen with six or more options. The Ease, on the other hand, features a home screen with two main options: Plan route and Browse map. The home screen also features a row of five smaller options for sound, day/night mode, help, options, and done.
Starting with the main options, clicking Plan route takes the user to a submenu of destination options. Users can navigate to a preset home address, favorite destinations, a specific address, recent destinations, or searchable points of interest. The Browse map option takes users to an overhead map view for selecting a point on the map as a destination. POI icons can be overlaid on this map for easy location of, for example, the nearest restaurants or gas stations.
On the main screen's submenu, the Sound icon only serves to mute or unmute the Ease's audio; volume control is located in a completely different menu. The day/night button manually switches between the Ease's color schemes. The Help button brings up the "Where am I?" menu that displays your current location and nearest cross streets, as well as quick links for phone numbers and driving directions to the nearest emergency services. Clicking options brings up device options and, subsequently, advanced options; the Done button returns to the live navigation map.
The live navigation map doesn't differ much in aesthetic from other TomTom devices. In the upper corners are buttons for zooming in and out of the map. Along the bottom edge are information fields for speed, direction, destination information, etc. Clicking anywhere in the map area returns the user to the home menu.
Even though the Ease is TomTom's entry-level navigation device, it still benefits from some pretty advanced features. Starting with the text-to-speech engine, the Ease will read street names aloud when giving turn-by-turn directions.
The Ease also features TomTom's IQ Route's technology, which uses historical anonymous speed data to create time-sensitive routes, and TomTom's Map Share free user-generated map corrections network. TomTom's Home software is where the updates for these services are downloaded/uploaded; it also manages points of interest, custom routes, and map updates.
The Ease performed rather well during our testing, tracking our location on single-lane mountain roads and with heavy tree coverage. When we tested the Ease in the urban canyons of San Francisco, the tiny little GPS device held fast to our location, even in known GPS trouble spots. Although the device wasn't able to perform miracles and keep a GPS signal through the longest of San Francisco's tunnels, it was intelligent enough to know that we were going underground and estimated our position using the known speed limit. Emerging from the other end, satellite lock was immediately reacquired with nary a "lost reception" warning.
Notably, the TomTom Ease actually lived up to its estimated 3-hour rechargeable battery life and completed most of our testing process on battery power alone. Though we're sure that most navigators will use their Ease while plugged into the included 12-volt charger, being able to leave the cables behind for short to moderately long trips greatly enhances the Ease's portability.
At an MSRP of $119, the TomTom Ease is a steal. We've often criticized TomTom for its complex and confusing interface, so the Ease's simpler--dare we say, more Garmin-like--menu structure is a huge step in the right direction.
We like that the Ease packs features such as text-to-speech and TomTom's advanced routing technologies into a package that is both smaller and simpler than the TomTom One 140 S. The Ease is also less expensive than its $139 stable mate, but that lower price comes at the expense of advanced lane guidance, maps of Canada and Mexico, and presumably a few thousand points of interest preloaded in the database.