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TomTom Navigator 5 review: TomTom Navigator 5

TomTom continues its tradition of quality GPS devices with its TomTom Navigator 5. Excellent maps and strong performance make this Bluetooth GPS receiver for PDAs one of the best we've seen to date. See if it's right for you.

Rick Broida Senior Editor
Rick Broida is the author of numerous books and thousands of reviews, features and blog posts. He writes CNET's popular Cheapskate blog and co-hosts Protocol 1: A Travelers Podcast (about the TV show Travelers). He lives in Michigan, where he previously owned two escape rooms (chronicled in the ebook "I Was a Middle-Aged Zombie").
Rick Broida
4 min read
TomTom Navigator 5
The TomTom Navigator 5 adds one more weapon to your PDA's arsenal of features: GPS navigation. Though certainly not the first kit of its kind--add-on GPS receivers have long been available from vendors such as ALK Technologies and Pharos--Navigator 5 definitely represents the best of the breed. It's easy to use, packed with advanced features, and visually unsurpassed, especially if your PDA has a VGA screen. However, it's also on the pricey side ($299.95 for the Bluetooth version and $199.95 for the wired attachment), and it works with very few smart phones--a disappointment, given its advanced wireless capabilities.

For our tests, we used the Bluetooth version with a Dell Axim X50v. TomTom also offers a wired-GPS option that's compatible with a couple dozen Pocket PC models, mostly from Dell and HP. The Bluetooth version works with Pocket PCs and a handful of Palm OS devices, including the Palm Tungsten T5 and the Palm Treo 650. Inexplicably, it doesn't work with the megapopular Samsung SCH-i730; the only compatible Windows Mobile smart phones (for U.S. users, anyway) are the HP iPaq h6340 and the T-Mobile MDA. For a complete list of compatible devices, check TomTom's Web site.


TomTom Navigator 5

The Good

Gorgeous maps, especially on high-res PDAs; free TomTom Plus service fetches traffic and map updates; many on-device tips and tutorials; plans routes for walkers and cyclists.

The Bad

Limited smart-phone compatibility; some Bluetooth-related wrinkles; no AC adapter for charging GPS receiver; TomTom Plus requires smart phone; manual covers software only.

The Bottom Line

With great mapping features and advanced services, TomTom's latest navigation kit for PDAs and smart phones approaches GPS greatness.

About the size of a granola bar, the rubberized, nonslip Navigator 5 GPS receiver is powered by an included cigarette-lighter adapter, which also charges its battery. Alas, TomTom doesn't supply an AC adapter for pretrip charging--a potential problem if you need your cigarette lighter to power your PDA. Fortunately, the battery lasts for a healthy 5 hours of continuous use, which is impressive, considering the receiver's diminutive size.

After you install the Navigator software on your handheld, a TomTom logo appears on the Today screen, thereby enabling convenient one-tap access to the program. Next, you select the maps you want to install, either by state or by region. The latter option speeds and simplifies the selection process but results in large map files that take a long time to copy to your memory card. For example, the Midwest region requires about 155MB of storage space, and in our tests, it took more than an hour to transfer to our PDA's SD card. The process goes much more quickly if you use a card reader instead of your Pocket PC.

We had some initial problems getting our Dell Axim X50v to recognize the TomTom Navigator, but we attribute them to Windows Mobile's awkward Bluetooth pairing process and the total lack of instruction in TomTom's HTML-based manual; it covers Navigator operation in nicely illustrated detail but offers zero information on the GPS itself. What's more, whenever we turned off the Axim X50v and turned it back on, it was unable to reestablish a connection with the GPS until we exited and restarted Navigator.

However, once we'd successfully paired our PDA and GPS devices, we had smooth sailing. The receiver quickly locked on to the required satellites and kept up strong reception throughout. The Navigator interface relies on large, easy-to-read icons, though you often have to flip between several screens to find what you're looking for, especially when you venture into program settings. Navigation occurs on either 2D or 3D maps, both of which deliver some of the sharpest detail and smoothest scrolling we've ever seen on a GPS. The Axim's VGA screen gets much of the credit; most navigation systems operate at a much lower resolution.

Like any good GPS, Navigator can route you to an address, a point of interest from--according to TomTom--a database of millions, a zip code, a recent destination, or any designated Favorite. You can chart a route home with just two taps of the stylus and receive alerts (using any number of sound effects, including a bugle and a cow) when in close proximity to a selected POI.

We have two small complaints. First, you can't reprogram any of your Pocket PC's buttons to access commonly used features, which is surprising given the level of control you have over just about everything else (Navigator offers six screens of preferences). Second, you have to switch to Browse mode--a process that requires three screen taps--in order to view the details for any road, Favorite, POI, or other map element or just to scroll around the map.

If you're lucky enough to own a compatible smart phone, you can use TomTom's cool Plus service. With it, you can download real-time traffic and weather information, updated maps and POIs, and even new voices, including a humorous New York cabbie. TomTom Plus is free until the end of December 2005, but the company hasn't decided what pricing structure it will implement after that. Even without TomTom Plus, Navigator 5 ranks among the top PDA-based GPS systems available today. It combines beautiful-looking maps with easy operation and a wealth of desirable features.