The reason why GPS navigators still exist despite the huge smartphone boom is a bit like the reason why point-and-shoot cameras still manage to exist. The top flagship smartphones are equipped with great cameras and working GPS functionality combined with polished software. On top of that, smartphones are capable of doing so much more because of all the different apps you can install. But dedicated GPS devices have superior hardware in the navigational front and come with unique features to make the whole navigation experience more convenient and pleasant. In short, GPS navigators are more reliable and easier to use. However, the hardware specs and user interfaces of these devices often pale in comparison with the latest smartphones. TomTom intends to push the category forward with their new GO series by boasting a fresh new UI. The TomTom GO 500 is one of the more affordable devices to possess these improvements.
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A new user interface might not be enough to convince people back into the dedicated GPS category so TomTom decided to add a little bit of visual flair to the design of the GO 500. The 5-inch screen is pretty standard nowadays and the bezel is unsurprisingly thick but the overall device is curvier and looks more modern. Plastic is still the main material but what matters most is that it looks nice and you won’t be holding the GPS device anyway. That is what the window mount is for and it is quite compact and easy to attach to the TomTom GO 500.
The display is somewhat less impressive than the 6-inch TomTom GO 600 because the GO 500 sticks to the very common 480 x 272 resolution. But at least the screen’s viewing angles are good and the screen itself is capacitive. You just have to deal with the fact that it is glossy so viewing under direct sunlight can prove to be difficult at times.
The real star of the TomTom GO 500 has to be the user interface because it is vastly different from one used by the older GO models. Just about every GPS device begins at the main menu screen but TomTom’s “map-centric” approach puts the 2D map view front and center when the device is first turned on. This bold move surprisingly makes the GO 500 a far more sensible device for new and experienced people to use. Unlike smartphones, you no longer have to launch a map application just to see where you are or get the latest traffic information. As for the menu, it is there when you need it as it is just a tap away. The icon can be found on the bottom left while a simple 2D to 3D button is available on the top left.
The menu is also easier to navigate as it is now a row of scrollable icons. Users of previous TomTom devices may have to adjust but there isn’t much that much to explore since the functions are more organized into fewer sections. The new “Search” icon takes you to a screen where you can easily search for a point of interest and plan a route. You no longer have to go through some kind of multi-step wizard to find something. All it takes is a simple search and that’s it. Unfortunately, some features were dropped in the process such as the ability to search a specific GPS coordinate.
TomTom carried its minimalistic approach to the 3D map view too. The status bar no longer exists as all you will find is the speed limit and current speed on the bottom and turn information on the top. A vertical bar takes its place and it shows the time and other important route information in a rather clean arrangement. The zoom controls and menu button remain on the left side to make it easy to bring up the main menu whenever needed.
The overall usability of the TomTom GO 500 is very good thanks to the minimal user interface and capacitive touchscreen. Touches are very responsive and multi-touch support is thrown in.
TomTom focused less on the navigation capabilities but the improvements are still worth mentioning anyway. Selecting a GO device is a lot simpler now as all models support lifetime maps and can use the TomTom Traffic service although there some caveats depending on the model you pick. The GO 500 comes with lifetime TomTom Traffic but only through your smartphone as the GPS device relies on your mobile device’s Internet connection to keep the traffic data updated via Bluetooth. This might sound like a cruel move that would instantly make the TomTom GO 5000 the better deal since it provides lifetime traffic without the smartphone requirement but it is still so much better than not having lifetime traffic support at all. The lifetime maps covers all of the US, Canada and Mexico.
You also get a 3-month trial of TomTom Speed Cameras which is basically a service that will alarm you when there is an upcoming speed camera. You can then respond by slowing down and avoid those pesky speeding fines. Since there is the possibility for new speed cameras to emerge, TomTom also added the ability to share the locations of these cameras so all TomTom users can work together in improving this service.
Like most other upper-midrange GPS navigators on the market, you get to enjoy features like Advanced Lane Guidance so you won’t miss an important turn on the highway as well as a “Speak and Go” feature which enables the GPS navigator to recognize more than a thousand voice commands. There is even a new My Places section which makes favorite locations easier to locate and manage.
The TomTom GO 500 costs $249 which is a bit steep for a 5-inch GPS navigator. But until TomTom brings that hot new interface to the VIA and START series, the GO 500 is easily worth the extra premium especially if you are tired of the bland user experience that most GPS devices possess.