Review: TomTom XXL 550-TM

Well-designed GPS device is a great deal with lifetime live traffic and map updates.

While a 4.3-inch screen has become the standard size for personal navigation devices, the upgrade to a 5.0-inch screen can make a significant difference. TomTom has two series of XXL products with 5.0-inch screens, the XXL 540-TM and the XXL 550-TM reviewed here ($230, price as of 1/5/2011). At one time, such an upgrade carried a huge premium, but no more: Now the premium can be as little as $40.

For those of you without the secret decoder ring, the "T" models include lifetime live traffic updates; the "M" models include lifetime map updates; and the "TM" models include both lifetime map updates and live traffic. The basic feature set of the XXL 550 series of products matches the features discussed in the previously reviewed XXL 540-S. All models include TomTom's IQRoutes technology, 7 million Points of Interest database, Text to Speech, and maps for the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. So what's the difference with the XXL 550-TM?

First, you find a somewhat revamped and simplified user interface. The Options menu, previously called Preferences, now consists of only three screens of options. The 540 series had six screens of preferences if you selected the advanced viewing option. Individual option choices group similar configurable options together. For example, the driving view preferences on the 550 products let you set status bar information and POI visibility. On the 540 products, those were separate preference settings.

The main menu on the 550 series has also been completely revamped. A tap of the map view still opens up the main menu, but on the 550 products, you now have two large icons: "Plan Route" and "Browse Map." Plan route gives you the additional option of specifying your departure point in addition to using the default, "current location." Your Navigate-to options include Home, Favorite, Address, Recent Destination, POI, or Point on map. Individual icons for City Center, Zip Code, and Intersection have been eliminated on the 550s, but the functionality is still built in. Just type in the zip code instead of the city name, and it will find the city for you. This essentially saves you a screen tap or two. One icon missing on the 550 that I liked on the 540 is the one that lets you navigate directly to a latitude/longitude.

Other changes to the user interface also make some functions more easily accessible. From the main menu, there's an icon to switch to night colors, to mute the sound, and to access a more usable Help feature. A single tap of the Help icon shows your location on a map along with your latitude and longitude. The same information is available on the 540 products, but it takes an extra tap to get the information.

The map view has also been changed somewhat. Without an active route, two centered icons on the bottom of the screen let you easily switch between 2D and 3D views. With an active route, the status bar that occupies the lower portion of the screen has been reorganized. The lower-left portion of the screen shows the current time, speed, and direction. The center of status bar shows distance to your next turn. The bottom right portion of the screen shows user-configurable trip information.

A couple of features found on the 540 products have been dropped on the 550 products. Gone is the Quick Menu that lets you access up to five frequently used functions with a single tap. Also missing is ability to easily add your current location as a favorite. Safety features are enabled by default, but you can't configure them on the XL 550-TM, as you can on the XL 540. Though I realize that tweaking the user interface involves compromises--especially when you're trying to simplify it--I hope that TomTom adds these features back in a future release.

Of course, the really big deal on the XXL 550-TM is the included lifetime traffic and lifetime map updates. At only $50 more than the base model that lacks live traffic and map updates, buying the XXL 550-TM is a no-brainer. Those looking to save a quite a bit of money might consider the XXL 540-S--it currently looks to have a great price.

This story, "Review: TomTom XXL 550-TM" was originally published by PCWorld.

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