TomTom GO 740 LIVE impressions

Way back at CES, TomTom proudly announced that its GO 740 LIVE personal navigation device would be its very first "connected GPS" to hit the United States of America. Just last month, the company announced that said unit was finally shipping to anxious consumers. Hardware wise, there's nothing here outside of the ordinary, but it's the little extras that make all the difference in the world here -- or, at least that's what TomTom wants you to think. Is this $400 navigator worth the up front costs, let alone the monthly fee to keep it connected? Head on past the break for our take.

As we alluded to, the GO 740 LIVE is pretty much a standard fare 4.3-inch PND in terms of design. It's slim enough, fairly sexy and possesses a single hard button: the one that turns it on and off. If you've used a TomTom unit within the past year, you'll be immediately familiar with the user interface and maps. At first glance, nothing here is noteworthy or different -- just the same TomTom look and feel we've grown to love and hate (mostly hate).

Obviously, the biggest differentiator here is the connected nature. Unlike every other TomTom navigation unit in America, this one packs a built-in SIM card and the ability to suck down live (or almost live) information to make your drive easier and your travel decisions ones that are more informed. Sounds good, right? In theory, sure. In practice, we can't say we were wowed by the limited array of connected options, and we weren't super stoked by the accuracy, either.

Before we get into all of that, we will say that even though the resistive touchscreen still has too much "give" (it's mushy, what can we say?), it's leaps and bounds better than TomTom screens of yesteryear. That said, the screen is still too washed out and lacks enough brightness to be used enjoyably in broad daylight (compared to similarly priced alternatives). We know, that comes across as harsh, but in the world of $100 PNDs, one expects the $400 flagship to pack some serious heat in order to justify the gap.

Functionally, the GPS is perfectly average. It accepts your inputs, it creates a route and it gets you there. Reliably and deliberately, but with a map screen that's just downright ugly. But honestly, you could read pretty much any review for any other 4.3-inch TomTom and figure out whether TomTom's offerings are right for you; it's the connected features that you're here to read about, so that's what we'll key in on.

We aren't ones for beating around the proverbial bush, so we'll just come right out and say it: there's no way we'd shell out four Benjamins for a PND, only to start ponying up $9.95 per month to keep it connected once the three months of included service expired. We tend to spend a good bit of time on the highways, but considering that we own a pretty capable smartphone with a data plan, there's practically no value proposition to speak of. And before you start barking at us, let us point out that the public at large seems to feel the same way about pay-per-month connected GPS systems.

In fact, Navigon (among others) decided to start making traffic updates free for life before it pulled out of the North American navigation market altogether, and we'll give the connected GPS market another 12 months or so before all of these fancy extras are also provided gratis. Why? They just aren't worth ten bones a month. For starters, any decent smartphone with a data plan can largely do everything this connected GPS can do, and more. Looking for the cheapest gas nearby? There's an app for that. Need to know what eateries are nearby? Oh, there's an app for that. Need to Google something? There's definitely an app for that. And we're not just talking about the iPhone -- WinMo, S60 and BlackBerry devices have no issue finding this stuff either.

The only truly worthwhile connected extra is the so-called "live traffic update." The problem, however, is that these updates are often not live enough. During a weekend jaunt, we were rolling eastbound on a major freeway for 30 or so miles at the posted speed limit, and our GO 740 LIVE was all systems go. Suddenly, we came around a bend and quickly slowed to a halt; a minor traffic accident had about half a mile of vehicles backed up, and considering that our TomTom let us whiz by an exit 0.2 miles back, we were forced to just wait things out and squeeze by on the lone open lane. Understand our frustration?

To be fair, it's not necessarily TomTom's fault that traffic updates often aren't nearly as real-time as they need to be. For years now, we've found that pretty much every connected navigation tool we've used -- from standalone GPS devices to smartphone-based routing applications -- shows noticeable lag when it comes to alerting you to upcoming traffic issues. So yeah, we'd be willing to deal with hit-or-miss traffic updates for the grand total of $0.00 per month, but we're definitely not shelling out $9.95 / month just to hope and pray that alerts hit our navigator before we're three inches away from four hundred immobile motorcars.

Furthermore, connected applications took far, far too long to load during testing. Trying to check the local weather forecast? Expect to wait a minute or two for the GO 740 LIVE to queue up the data; meanwhile, you can get the information you're after and reply to a few emails on your handset. For those with no smartphone and no data plan, the connected features are certainly more appealing, but we still argue they aren't worth $120 per year. Spotty traffic alerts, slow-to-load weather forecasts and marginally stale fuel price updates just aren't worth paying extra for, especially after you just laid down so much money for the device itself. None of this information is absolutely vital to you getting from Point A to Point B, and even the tyro driver knows ahead of time which roadways are susceptible to traffic jams (I-95 into Washington, DC at 5:00PM ET, anyone?).

We'd like to make clear that we're really not setting our expectations too high. In fact, we'd happily deal with the erratic / slow updates if the services were included gratis, but in today's market place, anything forced upon a consumer on a monthly basis should be strikingly good. As much as we'd love to love the GO 740 LIVE, we just can't recommend it so long as TomTom keeps charging you for the privilege of ownership. And -- just in case the industry is watching -- that goes for anyone out there trying to generate recurring revenue from lackluster PND extras.