Portable navigation systems are a dime a dozen these days. A lot of the models offer many of the same functions, such as text- and voice-guided turn-by-turn directions and millions of points of interest, and they're all beginning to look alike with competitive pricing. So there's a real need for innovation to, not only capture the attention (and money) of the customer, but to keep advancing GPS technology. Well, TomTom is willing to answer the call, and its TomTom GO 720 is a good start. It brings a new Map Share community tool that gives you access to constant map updates for more accurate information, and a new safety option called Help Me aids you in case of an emergency. Plus, we applaud TomTom for making these enhancements to the core purpose of a GPS device--navigation--and not adding some superfluous feature like multimedia. On top of all that, the GO 720 is a sleek-looking and well-performing in-car GPS, so if you're looking for a middle-of-the-road system, this is a good option. The TomTom GO 720 is available now for $499.95.
The TomTom GO 720 is a beautifully designed portable navigation system. Though more full-featured than the TomTom One, the GO 720 keeps a similar slim profile as the One and loses the extra bulk of older models, such as the TomTom GO 910. It's compact at 4.6 inches wide by 3.2 inches tall by 0.9 inch deep and 7.7 ounces, so you certainly won't have any problems transporting this unit between cars. You can even throw it into a bag to take along on trips and use with rental cars. As a bonus, it'll look good inside your car as well with its sleek black, silver, and charcoal gray color scheme.
The entire front side of the GO 720 is dominated by the 4.3-inch, antiglare touch screen. With a WQVGA resolution (480x272 pixels), the display shows off bright and sharp-looking color maps. For the most part, we had no problems reading the screen, but the map colors tend to wash out a bit in bright sunlight. That said, we had a better experience after adjusting the screen brightness under the Preferences menu, where you can also change map colors and turn on night mode. The virtual keyboard is spacious enough that most people won't have problems entering addresses. It would be nice, however, if the keyboard was in QWERTY format instead of alphabetical order for easier text input.
On the bottom of the unit, you'll find a 3.5mm headphone jack, a TomTom connector port, a reset hole, a mini USB/power connector, and a SD/MMC expansion slot, while there is a lone power button on top. There is a jack to connect an external antenna on the back as well as the speaker. We missed having external volume controls. As is, you have to go through several menu levels to do so, which doesn't make it easy or safe to adjust the audio on the fly.
The TomTom GO 720 comes packaged with a vehicle mount (windshield and dash), a car charger, a desktop cradle, a CD-ROM with TomTom Home software, and reference material. The car mount is as simple as you can get. There's only one piece, and it easily slips into a slot on the back of the GO 720. It securely held the unit in place, but we do wish there was an extra locking mechanism for the suction cup like some of the other systems we've seen, just to have that extra reinforcement and peace of mind.
The TomTom GO 720 comes equipped with a 20-channel SiRFStarIII GPS receiver and maps of the United States and Canada and points of interest are preloaded on the device's 2GB internal hard drive. Now, there's always a lot of concern over the freshness of these maps, especially as new developments constantly crop up, businesses open and close, and there's constant road construction. While the GPS manufacturers often release map updates, the frequency can vary, so to make sure that you have the most up-to-date information at all times, TomTom has introduced a new feature called Map Share. It allows you to make adjustments to your maps (such as noting blocked roads, updating POI, adding new streets, and so on) and then share the information with other drivers. You can make the changes right on your GO 720, save them, and then upload and share them with other users via the TomTom Home desktop companion. You can also download changes made by other TomTom users, and if you're worried about the legitimacy of user updates, you can opt to only download data verified by TomTom experts.
To plan a trip, you can enter your destination by address, city center, postcode, or intersection, and you can instruct the device to calculate directions based on a number of criteria, including quickest or shortest route, avoid toll roads, and required arrival time. If at any time you want to avoid a part of your route, you can tap the Find Alternative icon, and the GO 720 will plot a new course. You can view maps in 2D or 3D mode. A status bar at the bottom of the screen displays useful information, such as the next instruction, remaining distance, and estimated time of arrival. There are also two icons in the upper-right and upper-left corner that let you zoom in and out of maps.
You can continue to get standard text- and voice-guide turn-by-turn directions, including text-to-speech functionality. The GO 720 supports 36 different languages for generic spoken directions and 8 for text-to-speech directions, which is more than most. Alternatively, you can download celebrity voices, such as Dennis Hopper or Curt Schilling, from the TomTom PLUS service or you can even record instructions in your own voice if you happen to love hearing yourself talk.
Another new tool on the TomTom GO 720 is the "Help Me" function. With a simple tap on the lifesaver icon, it will tell you where you can find the nearest police station, hospital, or car service center, based on your current location. In addition, there's a "Where am I?" option that gives you the name of the street you are on and the nearest intersections, so you can give this information to the tow truck service, family member, and so forth. It's a really nice safety feature that can come in quite handy in case of an emergency.
The GO 720 has integrated Bluetooth, so if you have a compatible Bluetooth cell phone, you can pair it with the GO to make hands-free calls. For incoming calls, you can either use the touch screen to accept or reject calls or turn on Auto-Answer in the Phone preferences menu to have the device automatically pick up after a certain time. Also, if a number is listed with a POI or emergency service from the Help Me menu, there's an option to dial out directly from the GO 720.
In addition to making calls, you can use the Bluetooth connection to access TomTom's Plus services, which include real-time traffic information, weather reports, and the location of safety cameras. There's also a cool feature called Buddies, which lets you see the location of any friends or family members who also have a TomTom unit. Just be aware that accessing these services means you're using the minutes from your cell phone's service plan, so use them accordingly. Also, it seems that Verizon Wireless and Sprint cell phones are not supported by the GO 720 at this time, while AT&T and T-Mobile customers should check for phone compatibility on TomTom's Web site. Unfortunately, the limited number of compatible handsets also means that the traffic services will only be available to a small number of users. That said, the good news is that TomTom has just released a traffic kit for $129.95 and $24.95 for yearly traffic service subscription.
Finally, the TomTom GO 720 has multimedia capabilities, including a music player, iPod compatibility, an image viewer, and a document reader. The system supports MP3s, Audible audiobooks, JPEG, and BMP file formats. And while the document viewer might seem like a strange addition, it can come in handy if you use it to download information about your destination and other POI along your route.
We tested the TomTom GO 720 in various parts of California, starting from San Francisco all the way down to San Diego. From a cold start, it took the unit about two minutes to get a GPS fix and subsequent starts took about that long or less. Once locked onto our position, the GO 720 accurately tracked us as we drove about town, although like most GPS units, it did lose its satellite fix when we drove through a tunnel and underground parking garage.
We also entered specific information for a trip from San Francisco to San Diego, as well as our standard test from the Marina district of the city to CNET's downtown headquarters. Route calculations were quick and accurate based on the list of text-based instructions. On the road, the voice directions were loud and clear, and the text-to-speech pronunciation of street names wasn't too shabby. We also missed several turns to test the route-recalculation rate, and the GO 720 did a good job of getting us back on track in a timely manner.
We experienced some difficulties installing the TomTom Home software on our PC, so we are working with TomTom to resolve this issue. Unfortunately, this means we weren't able to test the Map Share feature, but we will update this section soon. Music playback through the unit's speakers was impressive. We could have used a little more bass, but songs still sounded rich with plenty of volume. The TomTom GO 720's battery is rated for up to 5 hours of use.