The war of smartphones and tablets used to be about a battle of hardware specs and while it still is today to some degree, manufacturers are realizing that the software and features is just as important as the hardware. With the specs of GPS devices maturing, GPS manufacturers are realizing the importance of software as well. The TomTom GO 50S and the rest of the new GO devices launched in 2013 show TomTom’s dramatic shift towards a whole new look and feel. GPS devices are already simple enough to use but making them even better can further convince people that depend on their smartphones for navigational purposes to understand how dedicated GPS devices can be so advantageous. Even a budget device like the GO 50S have a couple of tricks that you won’t find in your smartphone and the new user interface is better than ever before.
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The TomTom GO 50S may be an entry-level product but it can easily be distinguished from TomTom’s older entry-level products from the VIA and START series. The curvier style adds a nice modern touch that should make the GO 50S a worthy upgrade from any older device even if it comes from another brand. The rest of the specs are pretty typical for this price category – a 5-inch screen with a 480 x 272 pixel resolution and a resistive screen. Getting a GPS device with a capacitive display is a huge improvement when it comes to touch responsiveness and you get to use multi-touch gestures but you have to spend about $80 more for the TomTom GO 500.
New GPS devices have a history of making minor improvements to the interface here and there. But for the TomTom GO 50S and its siblings, it is a radical departure and a good step in the right direction as it manages to look more elegant while being more practical to use too. Presenting a menu on the home screen is a common practice that GPS devices do nowadays but the GO 50S throws that concept out the window and takes the user directly to the map screen when the device is turned on. The menu is always accessible from the bottom left and it has been simplified too with fewer icons laid out on a single row. It is easier to look for a particular POI thanks to the refined Quick Search interface and you can access the My Places section from the same home menu to review any places you previously bookmarked.
There is still a 3D mode that can be used after a route has already been planned although the graphics is a bit different. What matters most though is that the highlighted route is a lot more noticeable. There is a hint of color on the buildings but they still look nicely rendered especially if you encounter some of the more known landmarks. To better appreciate the graphics, going for a 6-inch model like the 60S is more recommended because of its higher screen resolution. To add to the minimalistic approach to the interface, TomTom also went conservative with the data shown on the 3D view. The top and bottom of the screen is hardly used as it only shows the data of the next turn and the speed information. The rest of the data can be found on a new side bar which TomTom refers to as the Route Bar. It is narrow, transparent and pretty informative showing things like the time and even a small graphical representation of the traffic.
The navigational features of the TomTom GO 50S can be best described as a TomTom START device with a couple of decent extras. Spec and capability-wise, the GO 50S is equivalent to the TomTom GO 50 sold in Europe with the only difference being the “S” variant has US, Canada and Mexico maps preinstalled. Although there is no longer a suffix indicator, these maps can be updated 4 times a year for the life of the device. Lifetime traffic updates is included with this GPS device too although it has a new name and different functionality approach. It is now called TomTom Traffic and it can only obtain the real-time traffic data if you wirelessly connect the GPS device to your iOS or Android smartphone first. This means that you could be charged depending on your plan and roaming status but at least you can enjoy this service any time you wish unlike the US version of the GO 50 which only has a 3-month trial.
You can also try a new service for 3 months called TomTom Safety Cameras. This is an alert service that relies on TomTom’s location database of speed cameras to notify you to slow down when necessary. It is also community driven so other TomTom users can report locations of new speed cameras that might not be present in TomTom’s database. The rest of the features present in the TomTom GO 50S like Advanced Lane Guidance are more typical for a GPS device but it is also these little things that make entry-level GPS models more capable than an average smartphone.
The GO 50S is generally priced at $169 making it around the same price as existing entry-level GPS devices that don’t have lifetime traffic features. Just remember that the TomTom GO 50S is no longer a GPS that will replace your smartphone. Instead, it intends to be the best friend of your smartphone in the car because your smartphone will be sending the real-time traffic data while the GO 50S does what it does best – provide an intuitive GPS interface with a superior navigational experience.