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If this review looks alarming like the one we recently posted for the TomTom XL (2nd generation), you'll have to forgive us. You see, the new generation One and XL are identical in all but two respects: price and screen size.
Ask any HR manager, or Lothario, and they'll tell you that first impressions count. On that count the TomTom's new One gets through to the second round or second base, depending on which analogy you're following, purely on the basis of its delightful minimalist packaging. CDs and dead-tree manuals are done away with as the manual, in PDF format, and the Home software — more of which later — are stored in the One's flash memory.
Although we've used the words "slimmer" and "sexier" to describe the new One and its widescreen relation, the XL, way too often, we still can't think of a more apt way of describing them. At just 92mm wide, 78mm tall and 25mm deep, the fourth-gen One is quite a bit narrower and a bit shorter than the XL. That's because the One has a 3.5-inch touchscreen, whereas the otherwise identically specced XL has a 4.3-inch screen. The graphics and interface have escaped from TomTom's jazzing up team and have been left alone. That's no bad thing mind you because TomTom's interface is wondrously simple to use.
Clicking on the map brings up the main menu screen, from where you set a destination or change your settings. Clicking the box on the left, which contains the next turn instructions, allows you to hear a repeat of the previous verbal instruction or change the XL's volume. While pushing the info box on the right will call up a route summary.
Previous TomTom units would detach themselves, with a crash, a bang and a wallop, at the merest thought of a pothole or speed hump — both of which outnumber people in the great state of New South Wales. The new compact, detachable windshield mount features a suction cup with a nifty and effective ring-type locking device; our car's dashboard breathed a deep sigh of relief.
Adorning the derrière of the redesigned One is a large silvery speaker grille, underneath which is a larger, louder speaker underneath. The speaker bevel also doubles as a ring around which the aforementioned windshield mount rotates. Detach the TomTom from your windscreen and the whole package folds up into a very compact package, allowing for easy stowage in even the tiniest car's glovebox. Our one criticism of the new design is the recessed mini-USB socket which, even at our most lucid and coordinated, stifled many of our attempts to connect the in-car charger.
TomTom fanciers now longer have to stretch to the buggy and expensive Go 720 for text-to-speech, as it is standard on the One, as well as the larger-screen XL. Text-to-speech allows the device to read out street names as part of its verbal instructions, transforming "turn right in 500 metres" into "turn right in 500 metres onto Pitt Street". It stumbles only occasionally on Australian-centric names and pronunciation. And thankfully the TomTom successfully avoids the old "reading the road number instead of the road name" trap, where say, "54" is substituted for Enmore Road and "X4" for Parramatta Road. Given that it reduces our inclination to glance at the screen while driving, it is surprising that Samantha, the only included voice capable of text-to-speech, isn't selected by default.
Map Share is the other stand-out feature on the XL's spec sheet — and one that's yet to be copied by its competitors. This allows users to make map corrections on their device, such as blocking or unblocking streets, renaming roads, changing turn restrictions and traffic flow, amongst others. These corrections can then also be shared with other TomTom users via the TomTom Home software package, which works on either PC or Mac.
Corrections will only be shared after being passed by TomTom's crack team of verifiers. Turn around time is claimed to be one or two weeks, although the corrections we had posted via our XL review unit were, at the time of writing, still unverified. Unfortunately neither the GPS nor the Home software allows you to keep track of how your shared changes are progressing through TomTom's verification process. The Home software is, like One itself, simple to use, and allows you to download additional content — some free, some not — like overseas maps and celebrity voices, if that's your type of thing. Content comes from either TomTom, third parties or the user community. Being the entry-level widescreen model, the One misses out on features like Bluetooth hands-free, MP3 playback and FM transmission.
Just like the device's interface, the One's routing algorithms seem to have escaped tweaking from the programming team. So TomTom's addiction to main roads seems as prevalent as ever; venture onto a side street and the One will make quite a few attempts to guide you back onto a main street before taking the hint that you want to take a back road.
While inefficient during peak hour and on choked inner city roads, some may prefer this solution because if you're going to a new part of town it's easier on the ol' grey matter to stay on main roads which are better signposted. As ever, performance is variable when surrounded by tall buildings in the CBD, as satellite signals are obscured or bounced off buildings.
Fixed red-light and speed camera locations come preloaded on the XL, however, a few of them are misplaced on freeway slip roads or tunnel entrances — at least in New South Wales. Also standard is the 2008 version of Telstra's Whereis maps. A word of warning: TomTom's "latest map guarantee" is only valid for 30 days after the purchase of your One — something to keep in mind if you're thinking of purchasing a One towards the middle of 2009.
When we reviewed the XL recently it received an 8.7 rating. We, however, stopped short of giving it an Editors' Choice award because we didn't believe that its wider screen justified the AU$100 price hike over the One. At their respective list prices, we'd choose the One every time; find a deal that narrows the difference to AU$50 and we'd be happy to switch our vote around.