Update On TomTom GO 2535M Live 5” Widescreen GPS

On August 19th I posted about my experience with a TomTom GO 2535 Live 5” Widescreen GPS. After failure of a second unit, an update is in order.

To briefly recap, I had purchased it at a Best Buy store in Lincoln, Nebraska. After a little more than a week, the unit spontaneously rebooted and was then stuck in a rebooting loop. Nothing I could do would cause the unit to return to normal operation. I ended up exchanging it for an identical unit at a Best Buy store in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania.

I figured the problem was resolved. Unfortunately, the after I’d had the second unit for just under two weeks, it did the same thing as the first unit – it spontaneously rebooted and then was caught in the same rebooting loop. Since the unit only has a power button and no other controls, it is impossible to do anything to reset it. The GPS must be booted in order for a computer to recognize its USB presence, but the GPS reboots before it’s possible to do any manipulation to it with the TomTom computer software.

I ended up returning it to yet another Best Buy store for a full refund.

Therefore, the TomTom GO 2535M Live 5” Widescreen GPS is a fail. That’s unfortunate, because there is a lot to like about this GPS. However, with two units in a row suffering the same operating system failure going into a non-escapable rebooting loop, I cannot recommend it or any other TomTom product.

TomTom GO 2535M Live 5” Widescreen GPS

I recently ended up purchasing a TomTom GO 2535M Live portable 5” widescreen GPS unit at a Best Buy store. With tax, the total price ended up being just under $300 dollars.

For the past 6 years or so, I’ve had a Garmin C550 with a 3.5” touch screen that is hard drive based. Since I drive a truck over-the-road, the Garmin has been running almost 24/7 for those six years, taking very high amounts of what can often be severe jolts and vibration along with occasional extreme heat and cold. I’ve paid to update the maps in the C550 about three times, but I’m reluctant to pay to update the maps again since I really don’t know how much useful life the hardware, particularly the unit’s hard drive, has left in it. For the time being, the aging Garmin is still working so I’m using it side-by-side with the new TomTom unit.

In my experience the perfect GPS unit has yet to be sold. Each brand has it’s strength and weaknesses. I’m including in this software-based solutions such as Google Navigation, Telenav, etc. that frequently comes bundled with Android or other smartphones. Maps used in GPS devices have improved dramatically, but they are accurate only about 90% of the time, and this includes Google itself. As a truck driver I’m looking for new addresses on average about two to three times a day, sometimes more and sometimes less. About 10% of the time I run into errors, sometimes with the potential to cause catastrophe – think narrow streets, weight-restricted bridges, etc.

Right after I bought the TomTom I had to go to a cold storage in Chicago, Illinois that the TomTom could not find, but the Garmin could. It turns out the street had been given two names with dual street signs, one below the other. The TomTom could find what was probably the original numbered street name, but not the other, which was a woman’s name the city was obviously trying to honor. At that point I was unhappy with the TomTom’s performance, but decided to continue to give it a longer chance before rushing into a knee-jerk judgment of the device or its software. The TomTom redeemed itself later that day by warning me around a 15-mile-long traffic backup in northern Indiana on I-65 which ended up saving me hours of sitting waiting for a major accident to be cleared and the road opened back up.

The TomTom is different than the Garmin. TomTom has a different way of doing things. The GO 2535M Live is a fairly sophisticated device. It even has a full-time GSM data connection to the TomTom server with the ability to do real-time Google searches, either locally or in other locations, get live traffic and weather updates, and do real-time rerouting to avoid traffic problems. Though the unit has free lifetime map updates from TomTom and a year’s worth of live “HD” traffic and weather updates, the live “HD” traffic and weather update service is just under $60 per year. Once you create an account at TomTom.Com you can sign in to your account with the unit itself. Incidentally, I’m willing to pay $60 dollars per year for accurate, up-to-the-minute traffic and weather information. That type of information can end up saving a lot of time and trouble as long as it’s presented as soon as it becomes available. The unit can even accurately display areas of traffic backups and slowdowns.

After I’d had the unit for about a week and a half, it was sitting on my dash and suddenly started going into a rebooting loop. Regardless of what I did, the unit would just keep rebooting. After a quick call to TomTom’s support number (I got right through to a live support person), they advised me to return the unit to Best Buy for an exchange since I was well within the 30-day exchange window. I’m pretty sure it must have been some sort of software/operating system error, since a few minutes before I had entered a new favorite location.

The replacement unit is working great. The TomTom rep gave me a reference number to call back with when I had the replacement unit so they could make the necessary changes to associate it with my existing account in their system, which I did.

There are much more expensive GPS units on the market (sold at truck stops) aimed specifically at truck drivers which look enticing, some of them priced up to 200% more than the units sold at a place like Best Buy or other big-box retailer. I talked to a driver that bought one of these very expensive trucker-specific GPS units. He said it was nice, but he didn’t feel the extra trucker-specific features were worth the substantially higher price he had to pay for the specialized unit.

It turns out feature I like the most so far is the ability to do Google searches in order to input destinations rather than go through the standard process. Other features I like are that that unit has enough room on its bright, high-resolution 5” widescreen to display my current speed, the current time with the time zone automatically updated, and speed limits with audible alerts if I’m going over the speed limit. It also has a lane assist feature which primarily warns if an upcoming exit is on the left or the right. Another useful, though not always consistent feature is that it can be set to announce upcoming points of interest such as rest areas and truck stops, along with virtually any other type of other business one can think of, including user-defined points of interest.

I am enjoying the TomTom GO 2535M Live. It’s not yet perfect, but with continued updates from the folks at TomTom I’m certain it can continue to improve.

MarineTraffic.com – Live Ships Map

MarineTraffic.com is a live map showing the location of shipping of 299 GT (gross tonnage) or over. Sounds boring but in fact it’s a totally awesome mashup of data. You can zoom into your local coast and see what’s pottering about or you can follow a ship in the news and see what’s happening to it.

Here’s what’s going on in the English Channel:

Here are the ships waiting to go through the Panama Canal.

You can also follow ships that are in the news. Here’s the MSC Opera which lost power in the Baltic and the tug Svitzer Trym in attendance. If you click on a ship you can get further details, including the speed and pictures of the vessel.

Finally, here’s one of the UK’s latest warships undergoing trials. HMS Dragon is a Type 45 destroyer.

There are additional clients for iPhone and Android users. And if you want to get notifications of what your favourite boats are doing, you can sign up for alerts and notifications.

Great resource if you want to see what’s going on, especially if you have a sea view and you want to know what’s floating past.

Ford with Microsoft SYNC System in Ford Taurus SHO

This last week has been a pretty good one for me, for I got to review more than just a computer, printer or network. I got to review a car. Well, mostly the computer in the car, but still a very tricked out Ford Taurus SHO. A $37,000 vehicle with the Microsoft SYNC system inside.

Ford delivered the Taurus last week to my home. Blue-Grey in color, it didn’t look like the Taurus of years past. I used to drive one for work from time-to-time. That is when the car pool had one available.

However, this one was fully loaded. It had everything from the aluminum wheels to the SHO branded floor mats. It really made me feel like I was on top of my game when driving it. Not that I don’t like the current car I have – But when the time comes, I wouldn’t mind swapping for that one. As long as I can put a full drum set into it.

So let’s take a look at the car, the geeky stuff and other items inside:

The Car:

Ford Taurus SHO

Ford Taurus SHO

We’ll start out with the car itself. This is the 2010 Ford Taurus SHO with 3.5 Liter EcoBoost V6 engine. EcoBoost Technology combines turbocharging and direct injection. It basically works like a V8, but with fewer emissions. The 365 horsepower engine can get 17 city/25 highway using All-Wheel Drive (AWD).

The wheel stock was 19″ premium painted luster nickel-aluminum. The SHO uses the intelligent Access technology with Push-Button Start. All you need is the FAB close by and you will not only be able to get in your car, but also start it without taking anything out of your pocket.

The Geeky Stuff:

Inside the car was where I was focused on. It contained the Microsoft SYNC system – A navigation software package, personal media player and full Satellite / AM /FM radio. The voice recognition was from Nuance – makers of the Dragon Naturally Speaking software. Connection was through audio jack, USB or Blutooth.

Microsoft SYNC

Microsoft SYNC

Navigation:

The voice navigation system was fairly straightforward to understand. If you have used a Tom-Tom or Garmin system, then the SYNC navigation will be second-hand. I entered in a couple destinations and the voice guided me to where I needed to go. There were a couple times it was unsure, so it said “Incomplete data, proceed with caution”. That way, I didn’t trust the system to the point where I would drive it off a cliff.

The voice navigation was also very competent on what it was saying. “Turn left onto Ambercrombe – Turn right onto McKenna..” and so forth. I think there was only one time I noticed the voice sound digital in my travels.

You can put in new destinations, or pre-program common ones. Just in case you forget where the store is, or if this is a company car – you can pre-program the destinations so new drivers can find the route without asking for directions.

The Climate Control:

What can I say about this? April is a Hot – then Cold kinda month. One minute you have all the windows rolled down, then the next the heat is blasted at 90 degrees. To be able to have all that at your fingertips is pretty important. I do have to say, though – The actual button configuration toward the bottom was more confusing than on the SYNC system. Especially when I wanted to turn the blower up and down.

The Sound System:

Microsoft SYNC with Sony Speakers

Microsoft SYNC with Sony Speakers

This is by far the best sound experience I have had in a car. The 12 speakers by Sony pushing out 390 Watts brought clarity to anything I played. Podcasts and music was both enjoyable to listen to, and easy. With the Bluetooth built in, I didn’t need to connect my iPhone to a cable – although I had an option through the USB port. The 10 GB of Hard Drive storage could allow me to put my CD’s into memory.

I was a little flustered that it wouldn’t let me upload MP3 CD’s into the car. I could play the MP3 CD through the system, though. Once I had the jukebox running, I could go through the songs as easily as if they were on my computer.

Since the system has Hands-Free options, I was able to answer phone calls with my cell in the pocket. It stored all my contact info so I could just push the button and go. The Stereo would duck under the phone voice, the backup sensors or the Navigation voice if needed. It made for a comforting experience where I didn’t have to juggle for phones or cables.

The Bling:

I was playing with the interior lighting all week. There were 2 buttons on the dash – One that dimmed a series of LED lights inside the car (by the door handles, in the compartments) and another that changed the color of the LED lights. I could choose the light based on my mood, but I mostly stuck with my favorite color: Green.

What is missing?

When we talked with Ford at CES, I thought there was going to be a special uplink option for music and podcasts. I was expecting to let the car talk with a wireless system to download media. That wasn’t the case. Sure, I could have used a Bluetooth connection from the house, but it would have been nice to be able to connect to the media server and get the music and podcasts that way. This was the only thing I wished it would have.

The car specs said I had a Rear View Camera. Either I missed it or this model didn’t have one. If it did, then I am surprised it wasn’t an intuitive system.

The Verdict:

I enjoyed the ride for the week. I got to take a couple longer trips and felt comfortable the whole time. I had a few friends ride along and they really enjoyed the handling. The only thing they mentioned on the car was the design of the dashboard felt a little enclosing. It was an akward looking dashboard, but there was one big Sony speaker in the middle.

I was really happy to drive this car around for the week. I would like to thank Ford for their generosity in letting me review the system. The SYNC system is absolutely a fabulous idea and with some extras can be a very useful and very fun addition to your drive.