Best budget GPS: TomTom GO 720

I was researching and following the topic of buying a GPS over several years. Prohibitive prices drove me away from the purchase for months and months. However the need to get GPS was growing as the pain of avoiding blocked highways in GTA was growing quarterly, always to the worst. But it seemed there was never a good time to get a device: either a new one was expected soon or maps were crappy for GTA or devices were costing an arm and a leg.

But the perfect moment has arrived. TomTom one of the leaders of GPS technology, also the company that bid to buy the second biggest map provider Tele Atlas, has decided to give a one hundred dollar ($100 USD/CDN) USA/Canada rebate for their GPS devices. I’ve got myself TomTom GO 720 from a local BestBuy store for $399, only to discover that its daughter company Futureshop is selling it for $349 until January 3, 2008. Life is Good and a short trip to BestBuy warranted me a price for $345 after price matching with Futureshop. Other devices are also on great sale and prices start at barely $137 for a entry level model. But why did I spend so much on GO 720?

TomTom GO 720

I’m using TomTom GO 720 for over two weeks now daily to route me everywhere, even to the local grocery shop. TomTom gives you so much more for the money that you feel the price is a steal. So where do I start?

  1. TomTom devices come with 30 day latest map guarantee. This means if you connect your GPS to the PC/Mac within the first 30 days after you have switched it on for the first time (it knows when you switched it on since GPS signal has time data), you will get latest map update for your region. In my case I’ve got latest Tele Atlas maps v7.10 (i.e. October 2007). The maps are as current as the maps that Google Maps use, you can compare Tele Atlas vs Navteq maps on this useful site. However, keep in mind that a lot of devices with Navteq maps have maps that are sometimes 5+ years old. With TomTom you get latest.
  2. 4.3 inch extra sensitive touchscreen, compare that to Garmin where you have to squeeze the screen to make it react
  3. Bluetooth 2.0, so my Sony Erricson K790i is permanently paired and I can use my GPS as a good quality hands free device. I can also pair Bluetooth headphones to listen to the embedded MP3 player. 720Go can download your full address book from the phone so you can make calls right from the device (you can enter it numerically at any time, in case you don’t want sync your address book)
  4. Possibility to buy external traffic antenna, so you get free RDS traffic data. Works well, according to the user reports, starting beginning of November 2007
  5. Best in class text to speech engine to clearly pronounce street names in addition to just “Turn left in 200 meters”. You can download additional computer voices via TomTom Home software
  6. In order to keep your devices more or less up to date with Points of Interest (POI) database and small map corrections, TomTom created a cool “technology” called Map Share. Idea is that once on the road you can mark via a single click locations which you believe are erroneous, like say a road is missing or a road block was introduced. When you get home you sync your changes with the changes of others (you choose what and how to sync). I’ve used this feature to add a few POIs myself and I’m getting updates daily. Feels good…
  7. GPS Quick Fix, in order to lock on a GPS signal FAST, TomTom updates your GPS with certain information about visible satelites in your region. By the time my GPS boots after power-off (10-20 seconds) it always has GPS lock.
  8. TomTom hope software is available for Windows and Mac
  9. Go 720 includes FM transmitter, which lets you use your car stereo instead of built-in speaker. The internal speaker is very loud and clear, so this feature might only be useful if you want to listen to MP3 music on your GPS.
  10. Go 720 supports SDHC cards, so you can put your favorite MP3s or load additional maps. Currently 8Gb SDHC class 4 card costs around 60 dollars
  11. You can customize your device the way you want: custom picture of a car, custom colors for day/night maps, “simple” menus while driving, customizable Quick Menu,
  12. Many other nice things you will find while using the device, like a pleasant surprise that TomTom Home 2.1 software is based on the Mozilla engine and UI is a XUL
  13. And a key “hidden” feature which makes your TomTom Go 720 device as good as much more expensive Go 920: Voice recognition for entering city and street names as well as house numbers.

How to enable Speech Recognition
TomTom GO 720 for North America does not come with speech recognition enabled by default, instead you have to get a much more expensive TomTom GO 920/T model. However, the same TomTom GO 720 for Australia, UK, Germany is voice recognition enabled. It didn’t take long for people to find out how to enable this feature on North American version.

  1. Update your TomTom GPS software to version 7.221 via TomTom Home v2.1 and you should have latest maps version 7.10
  2. Create a text file named support_asr.dat in Notepad (if you use Windows and know no better) or in Vim and put a single number character inside: 1 (No spaces, line or carriage returns)
  3. Save file to ASR folder on your Mass Storage Device mounted GPS unit
  4. Reboot the device, and go to “Navigate To” > “Address” > ” Spoken Word (Dialogue)”.
  5. The rest you will figure out. :)

So what are the Cons of TomTom GO 720? Well, only a couple. Firstly, map updates should be cheaper then current 39 pounds per update, I would have preferred some some sort of a subscription for all updates during say 3 years for a price of $150 or less. You can get Nokia n810 with Wayfinder three-year map updates subscription for only $130 (may are by Navteq, which is part of Nokia). Secondly, you can report traffic cameras and radars, and they will be synced with the TomTom server, but you will not get any updates from others. Currently it is a yearly subscription. This is a rip-off. If you submit a traffic camera or police radar location, you should be eligible to get updates from others as well. Other small features are also paid, like weather updates, etc. At least the first year should be included for free.

I hope you didn’t think that I was convincing you to get a TomTom GPS, I was just describing my own eXPerience :P Life Is Good with Good Gadgets.

P.S. Even Cheaper way to get TomTom GO 720

If you believe in rebates there is a cheaper way to get GO 720. You can get the device for 399 from a small Chinese computer store – Infonec. This makes you eligible for the $100 rebate (not valid in big box stores). This can save you about $40, but you will have to pray that our snail mail will not loose your rebate form and TomTom will be kind enough to grant it.

6 thoughts on “Best budget GPS: TomTom GO 720”

  1. I couldn’t understand some parts of this article , but I guess I just need to check some more resources regarding this, because it sounds interesting.

  2. Hi Serguei,

    Looks like a very handy unit to have…. do you know how well it works in the wilderness? What is the graphics like? Consider the following senario, I am hiking or on Lake Ontario and the Fog rolled in… Would I be able to navigate using this GO 720.

    I am considering purchasing one.

    KJ

  3. Thanks for the review and the tip on enabling voice recognition. I am enjoying my GO 720 and the voice recog. works. Cheers, Peter, Kingston Ontario

  4. Hi,

    I am not sure what you mean in step 3 “Save file to ASR folder on your Mass Storage Device mounted GPS unit”.

    What is an ASR folder? and

    What is Mass Storage Device mounted GPS unit?

  5. Mass Storage Device is a device that can be shown as drive letter in Windows when connected via USB cable. Say, on Windows once you connect a GPS, TomTom will be mounted as some drive letter, for example “X:”.

    There (on drive X:) you have to create folder called “ASR”, I don’t remember if it exists by default. And save file inside this ASR folder!

    I hope this helps…

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