Entry-level GPS are a dime a dozen these days, but the TomTom XL 330S stands out for a couple of reasons. It updates the TomTom One XL with a better speaker and sleeker design, while keeping the things we loved about the One XL, including a spacious 4.3-inch touch screen and accurate directions. It's also incredibly intuitive and we'd even say more user-friendly and attractive than the Garmin Nuvi 200 series. However, we're disappointed that the company took out the integrated Bluetooth, especially considering the $299.99 price tag. For that much, we'd like to see it in there or perhaps the inclusion of free traffic updates, like the Garmin Nuvi 265WT and Navigon 2200T. Fortunately, you can find the TomTom XL 330S for less through online deals, and if it's a basic GPS that you're after, you won't be disappointed by this solid navigator.
The TomTom XL 330S is one of the more attractive GPS we've seen to date. While it's similarly slim (4.7 inches wide by 3.2 inches tall by 0.9 inch thick; 6.6 ounces) to the Garmin Nuvi series, the rounded edges add a nice touch, and its large display and classic silver-and-charcoal gray only add to its beauty.
The XL 330's touch screen measures 4.3 inches diagonally and displays 64,000 colors at a 480x272-pixel resolution. We had no major problems reading the screen, though it can wash out in really bright sunlight. You can, however, adjust the display's brightness as well as choose from different map colors and day/night/auto mode under the Change Preferences menu.
As we've seen on other TomTom devices, the user interface is simple and easy to understand with large icons and clear menu options. The touch screen was responsive, and the onscreen keyboard was nice and roomy, minimizing the errors when entering addresses. In addition, the XL 330S offers predictive text, so as you start entering letters and numbers, the system will automatically surface possible results. We also like that you have a choice between QWERTY, ABCD, and AZERTY formats.
The rest of the GPS is pretty simple. On back, you'll find the speaker and brackets for attaching the vehicle mount. There's a power button on top and a mini-USB port/power connector on the bottom. We have to say that the latter is set fairly deep beneath the surface, so we had some problems plugging in the car charger and USB cable.
The TomTom XL 330S ships with a car charger, a USB cable, an EasyPort car mount (windshield and dash), and reference material. Unlike our experience with the TomTom One 125, the EasyPort mount securely held the XL 330S in place during our road tests. The accessory is easy to install and doesn't involve any loose or extra parts, so that was also nice.
The TomTom XL 330S offers a basic feature set that's very similar to the TomTom One XL, though it adds text-to-speech functionality and an updated speaker system but loses integrated Bluetooth. For more information about the features of the TomTom XL 330S, please read our full review of the TomTom One XL.
We tested the TomTom XL 330S in San Francisco and Los Angeles. From a cold start, it took the GPS about 5 minutes to get a fix on our location under partly cloudy skies, but subsequent starts took about a minute or two--not bad, but we've seen faster start-ups. The unit was fairly accurate when tracking our position as we drove around the city and managed to keep its lock on the satellites in San Francisco's Financial District, which can be problematic due to all the tall buildings.
We plotted our standard test course from the Marina District to CNET's downtown headquarters, and the XL 330S was quick to calculate directions based on the fastest route setting. We missed several turns along the way, and this is the one area where the GPS could use some improvement. Though it always got us back on track, the new instructions often came right at the last second so we wish route recalculation was a tad faster.
The voice-guided directions were loud and clear. There's a feature that will automatically increase the volume when you're traveling at higher speeds and lower it when you slow down, so you don't have to manually change it onscreen. The text-to-speech pronunciations weren't bad. There were a couple of interesting pronunciations for some longer street names like Divisadero Street, but it wasn't so bad that we had no idea what the GPS was trying to say.
CNET's car tech editor Wayne Cunningham also used the TomTom XL 330S for a trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles and was generally pleased with the PND's performance. During his trip, he relied heavily on the trip information--miles left to go, time to destination, and so forth--due to the long stretch on Interstate 5.
In L.A., the lane suggestions proved a very valuable feature, as the XL 330S did a good job of anticipating areas where some lanes get congested, such as when two freeways merge. To quote Wayne, "The lane suggestions feature was often telling me to stay in the left lanes to avoid right lane congestion. Sometimes it was unnecessary, as traffic was light in some areas, but it's still appreciated." Wayne also added that he was happy to find an Original Tommy's chili burger place in Burbank, in the POI database.