TomTom closes gap on Navman with real-time AA Traffic alerts, but …

TomTom's  GO LIVE 1000 and GO LIVE 1050 World, to be released late October, have all the usual mod-cons for high-end sat-nav systems, including spoken street names, and a 3D display that lets you see individual lanes and street signs as you approach a turn-off. The new bit: support for real-time AA Traffic alerts, previously only available with top-of-the-line Navman GPS systems. Pricing has yet to be announced, but TomTom will need to match Navman's cheapest model with AA Traffic, the MY-65T, which sells for around $399.

Navman has lost its feature-lead in sat-nav war.

The latest TomTom -n-Car GPS systems, just announced, add support for GeoSmart’s AA Traffic alerts – for the past year the exclusive preserve of Navman.

Alerts about delays caused by caused by accidents, slips, weather, big events and the like (compiled by AA), will be pushed out to your TomTom via a Vodafone GPRS cellular link. Your sat-nav system can then suggest an alternative route.

Also, the service will be free for the first 12-months of ownership (TomTom has yet to set pricing once that period expired; Navman says the cost of a lifetime AA Traffic license is built into the price of its hardware).

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that you can’t software-upgrade an older TomTom model, or add a receiver dongle, to get the company’s new service, dubbed “LIVE”; you have to buy one of two new top-of-the-line models.

More, trialling Navman’s real-time traffic alerts around Auckland, this time last year, I wasn’t sold on the service.

I did find it useful for avoiding roadworks, most of the time.

But even though you can choose to only receive warnings about the immediate area, I still found it hard to take in a scrolling blizzard of text alerts (this was during rush hour, when traffic is, of course slowing down everywhere in the City of Snails).

My observation was that I would much prefer the GPS unit’s voice synthesizer to deliver the real-time traffic and incident alerts.

But I was told that onscreen text alerts are the way it’s done everywhere. I was too slow to keep track of them as they scrolled, and stabbing the screen is tricky as you're inching along in motorway traffic.

A review unit of a TomTom with real-time traffic is on its way, so I look forward to seeing if its implementation is any smoother.

I know AA's GeoSmart division has put a lot of effort into automating systems to draw traffic info from police, councils, council authorities and the organisation's own drivers, so hopefully there's a better way to deliver it to drivers' sat-nav screens.

If it is, it might be enough to pull me away from TomTom for iPhone, and back into the world of standalone sat-nav systems ….

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