Hands-on / roadtest with the TomTom GO 720

Joshua Topolsky
J. Topolsky|09.03.07

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Hands-on / roadtest with the TomTom GO 720

Before we tell you about the TomTom GO 720, let us impart one piece of advice which we're pretty sure most GPS enthusiasts know already: if you're going through the Lincoln Tunnel into Midtown Manhattan late at night with your GPS fired up and ready for action, make sure you know by heart what to do when you come out the other side -- because GPS simply ain't happening in New York City. That said, TomTom's slickly designed and elegantly executed 720 is a seriously welcome addition to our navigational world, and frankly, we'll be sad to see the little guy go.

Now, truth be told, this particular set of Engadeteers didn't possess an encyclopedic knowledge of GPS units when we loaded up the car and plotted a course to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (for wedding planning, amongst other things) -- but to the 720's credit, that didn't stop us from getting a lot of use out of the do-it-all navigator.

The first thing that strikes you about the 720 is its spartan design. There's really nothing going on here except a nice, big 4.3-inch screen, a small silver strip for the microphone, a power button, plus the speaker and a slot on the back for mounting. The casing has a nice rubberized feel, and all of the jacks are conveniently located along the bottom. You're not going to be holding this in your hand that much, but it's definitely comfortable when you do.

Getting around the GUI was pretty much a snap, and it took only a few minutes to power on, get a signal, and plot our first course. Navigating through the menus with a finger is totally comfortable, as all of the icons are large enough even for someone with the bear-like mitts of your narrator. The touchscreen sensitivity is spot on as well -- we never missed a press, and there was no calibration necessary. The menu system is decent, though we kind of wish they'd placed some of the oft-needed preferences -- such as brightness and volume -- on the first list of options, thus making it less of a chore to alter important settings. And while we said we liked the lack of buttons, a hardware volume slider or wheel would have gone a long way.

The display is crisp and bright, and there are a slew of settings for switching between night- and day-time displays, though it's easiest just to set it to auto switch. The 3D overview is simple, and pretty much what you've come to expect from TomTom. The redraw is nice and quick, while the on screen text does a great job of keeping track of things like POIs, street names, trip time and speed without cluttering things up. The unit had US and Canadian maps installed, though you can add new maps via the SD card slot. The on-board SiRFStar III chip kept everything positioned properly, but that's pretty much what we've come to expect from what has effectively turned into the industry standard. The course directions were clear and easy to understand, but it would have been nice to be able to "pause" the trip when we stopped to eat or sightsee.

One feature that TomTom is really stoked on is its new "MapShare" function, which allows you to add or change errors in maps depending on construction or rerouting, etc. (some have described it as "Wikipedia for GPS"). We didn't really get much of a chance to use the feature, because we found it more entertaining to watch our car icon go floating off into space when we hit roadwork which diverted traffic. Otherwise, the provided maps are quite impressive. Even when we took the car off to some serious backwoods, the 720 kept chugging along, finding some impressively obscure trails for us to motor across.

The Bluetooth integration is solid on the device, though getting it to connect to AT&T for traffic info was a bit troublesome, and it only seemed to want to download some -- but not all -- of our contact list. Regardless, the sound quality on calls was more than adequate, and the setup only took a few minutes.

The 720, like most modern GPS units, rocks a handful of media options, including an audio player and picture viewer (though to our disappointment, no video player), and can be tethered to an iPod (using a proprietary cable, which will cost you). The media player was standard fare; nothing too flashy, but it certainly got the job done. We're not sure how much use you're going to get out of a photo viewer (particularly while driving) but we suppose it doesn't hurt to have it.

TomTom has been blazing an increasingly popular path (no pun intended) in the GPS world for some time now, and it's easy to see why. The GO 720 is a smartly designed, simple to understand, and feature-rich navigation tool which could appeal as easily to gadget-mavens as much as it would to families needing some guidance for roadtrips. At the $499 price point, it should be able to garner both those crowds.
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