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Review of Tomtom GO 500 GPS Unit

I’ve had a Garmin eTrex for a while now, which I use when both walking and driving. While it is more than adequate for walking, it lacks the underlying road map when driving, so I decided to invest in a Tomtom unit.

I’ve written this review because while looking to buy one of these units, I could not find a review on the net.

Tomtom offer three units for the car: GO 300, 500 and 700.

Since I have a Sony Ericsson T630 phone, the handsfree feature on the 500 and 700 appealed, thus ruling out the 300. At the time of writing, the cost of the 500 is UKP470 compared to UKP550 for the 700. Basically for 80 quid more you get street level mapping of continental Europe (as opposed to main road only on the 500) and a remote control. Since the remote control is available as an optional extra for the 500 at only UKP 25, and I don?t intend driving across Europe any time in the near future, I opted for the 500 model.

I would normally get something like this at amazon.co.uk or expansys.com, but since the price was the same everywhere I checked, I purchased the unit from PCWorld (no P&P charges or waiting for delivery and a store to take it back to if there were any problems)

Tomtom claim you can use the unit straight out of the box, with no need for a PC and there is a lot to back this up. Surprisingly, the battery was fully charged out of the box, so no waiting around to charge it. After inserting the SD card (on which the map data is stored) and switching on for the first time, the unit asks a few questions, including “do you want to operate the unit left or right handed”?, with no explanation as to what the difference is. It turns out the difference is the location of the scroll bars.

The included manual looks impressive at first, but as with so many manuals these days, only the first few
pages are relevant, unless you want to brush up on your language skills by reading all the other translations. The full manual is on the included CD and on Tomtom’s website, so to get the most out the unit, you do need a computer.


The unit comes with a suction screen mount, which is far too big. I would prefer to have the unit tucked away on the right hand side, rather than on the left hand side in the middle of the windscreen, but the suction cup cannot handle the slight curvature of the glass at the edge of windscreen. It is surprising to see the pictures on the Tomtom website showing the unit mounted smack in the middle of the windscreen under the rear view mirror.

GO 500 on Windscreen

I don’t know about the Netherlands (where Tomtom are based), but such a large obstruction to the driver’s view is illegal in the UK. I managed to install the bracket as low as possible, so the unit is actually sat on the dash above the central console, but I’ll be looking at alternatives in the future.

GO 500 on Dash

In Use
The screen is very clear even in bright daylight. The night colours and brightness also work well.

Various options are available for route planning. The simplest is to “Navigate to…” any destination. You can also set up “vias” or more detailed itineries. Directions are spoken in advance of junctions e.g. “in 200 yards turn right” and again at the junction e.g. “turn right”. The 3D view is very clear, but you can select 2D if preferable.

When first trying the unit, it led me down a dead end. The road in question used to be a through road, but the council had blocked it half way along because it used to be a rat-run. Obviously the map data did not include this information. Once I turned around, I was impressed to see the GO500 had recalculated another route. This feature is extremely useful as you can use this to force the route planning ‘on the fly’.

Another route tried to send me down a non-existent road. I was not surprised to see this, as multimap also think this road exists, although streetmap does not. Both these instances illustrate the point that any navigation, whether paper map or GPS unit, is only as good as the map data used. Tomtom have a facility on their website to report map errors, which they say they will pass on to their map data supplier Tele-atlas, although there is no guarantee the error will be fixed in future maps, nor is there any feedback about the error.

There is a motion sensor in the unit, which is used when the GPS signal is temporarily lost (in a tunnel or under a bridge). This system, called A.S.N., works well. It also appears to be the reason the map and directions don’t flip when you reverse the vehicle.

Battery life is a claimed 5 hours, although I have yet to verify this in practice. The GPS receiver also appears to be very sensitive compared to my Garmin eTrex.

Use with the phone

Pairing with the phone worked as expected, but when trying to set up the GPRS connection, the GO500 claimed it could not complete this, even though GPRS worked perfectly on the phone. Tomtom’s (very slow) support website had no information, but a phone call to Vodafone resulted in them resending GPRS settings to the phone and the Tomtom completed the GPRS setup.

Tomtom have extra services called “Tomtom plus” including traffic info, weather and “safety” camera site locations, which are accessed through the phone’s GPRS connection. Access is via subscription (currently EUR59.95 for traffic, EUR69.95 for Camera locations, weather is free), but Tomtom offer 1 month’s free trial access by entering your email address and the password ‘plus’. Unfortunately I could not get this working at first. The GO500 repeatedly said that it could not connect to the server. Tomtom’s support site was again of no use whatsoever. A Google search revealed some forum discussions and these suggested entering the address ‘tst.tt1.nl’ directly into the phone. This displayed the Tomtom logo, showing there was nothing wrong with the connection to Tomtom’s servers. At this point I gave up for the day, but when I tried initiating the 1 month plus trial again the next day, it worked fine. I can only guess that there was a problem with Tomtom’s servers.

Handsfree speech operation works well. It is possible to grab your phonebook from the phone into the GO500. When a call comes in, the GO500 displays the number (or name if in the phonebook) with accept/reject buttons. Call volume is adequate, but does not appear to be adjustable separately to the spoken directions volume. Outgoing calls are just as easy – tap the screen, tap ‘mobile phone’. You then have the choice of calling the number defined as ‘home, redial, list of recent callers or accessing the phonebook.

One failing is that the microphone is not part of the GO500 main unit, it is part of the windscreen mount, so if you want to take the unit temporarily in someone else’s car, the handsfree will not work.

Text message handling is not as good. According to Tomtom’s website, the T630 does not support sending text messages from the GO500. Strange then that the T630 works fine with my Palm Tungsten T. Reading messages is a bit ropey. If I have say 5 messages in my phone inbox, the GO500 cannot see them. If a text message comes in while the GO500 and T630 are connected, it appears OK. If I have two unread messages on my phone and I connect to the GO500, it only reports the first one. Finally, and the most disappointing, if the text message is longer than the GO500’s display, there is no facility to read the rest of the message. This is a major omission that needs to be addressed in future software updates.


You can change all sorts of settings, including metric/imperial measurement; colours used on the screen; information displayed on the screen (distance/time to destination, direction, e.t.a etc.) and even the voice used (including downloads from Tomtom’s website).

Computer Interface

The unit comes with a USB lead. The software on the CD is PC only, but a Mac OS X version is available for download from the website. There is no excuse for this being missing from the CD. Software is not actually required for connection to a PC/Mac, the unit appears as a card reader, so the data on the SD card is immediately accessible.


The Tomtom unit is a very impressive piece of kit, but there is room for improvement. Hopefully some of these can be addressed in future software updates.

Overall 4/5

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