Still not convinced smartphones are as good as GPS devices? You're not alone. The VIA 1605TM ($229.95 list) features the largest screen TomTom has ever used for a GPS device: 6 inches?and it's sharp. Magellan has been rocking 7-inch panels on its RV-focused RoadMate series for a while now. But most of those devices are much larger and heavier. Apart from the compelling design, the TomTom VIA 1605TM ?is a solid performer with accurate routing and a newly refined user interface. This, combined with an affordable price, makes it our new Editors' Choice for budget stand-alone GPS devices.
Design, POI Search, and Navigation
The VIA 1605TM measures 4.2 by 6.2 by 1.4 inches (HWD) and weighs 9.5 ounces with the mount attached. It's made entirely of matte black plastic, with a faux brushed aluminum texture on the front bezel. TomTom finally bumped the screen resolution higher, to 800 by 480 pixels. That's plenty for a portable navigation device, since you're not reading ebooks or browsing the Web on it. It's still a plastic resistive screen, though. To go capacitive, with its instantaneous finger response, you'll have to step up to the TomTom GO 2535M LIVE ($249.95, 4 stars), although you'll lose screen resolution and size in the bargain. A plastic resistive screen at this size isn't much of an issue, though, as it's easy to hit the oversized buttons.
TomTom devices aren't known for intuitive POI search. Entering addresses works well enough in practice, and the database is comprehensive. I still think additional subcategories are needed, though. "Shopping," for example, needs to be broken down further. On the plus side, the type-ahead feature works quickly; I didn't find myself waiting for it to catch up to my finger presses.
Thanks to the VIA 1605TM's sharper screen resolution and larger size, this is the first time the information bar has looked clean and uncluttered on a TomTom device. I prefer TomTom's information bar, because it shows current road speed, the speed limit, and plenty of trip data at all times. Garmin and Magellan devices aren't quite as informative when en route.
In a series of test routes, the TomTom 1605TM worked exactly as I expected, including on a trip from New York City to Philadelphia and back again. Tap the speed limit sign?newly oversized and easier to see at a glance?and it will display an overhead map of your route, Google Maps-style, which is useful to have handy. As for map animation, the frame rate speed still lags; the TomTom 1605TM doesn't offer the smooth animation of the Garmin n?vi 3590LMT ($399.99, 4 stars). At this price, it's fine, though. Map graphics themselves are a little bland as well, but the sharper screen resolution certainly helps.
Traffic, Other Features, and Conclusions
There's no HD Traffic support. You still get TomTom's older real-time traffic service, which isn't updated as often, but works about as well as it can. During testing, I found I could rely on it most of the time. I've always preferred TomTom's vertical traffic bar on the right, which shows you where the jams are, and how long they are, along the way to your destination.
The TM in the model name, incidentally, indicates lifetime map and traffic updates, both of which are welcome in an age of smartphone apps that provide the same thing for free. In the case of the 1605TM, you get four free map updates per year. That's fine, considering the maps are stored locally on the device?you sync it with your computer to refresh the maps.
Occasionally, a new Alternative Route dialog pops up at the top of the display, indicating whenever traffic conditions change in such a way that makes a different route faster. Tap the dialog, and it will switch you to the shorter trip. Sometimes the 1605TM alerted me to a new route even when there wasn't an appreciable savings in time. In those cases, it would say the alternative route is "as fast," which isn't as useful, since it never tells you exactly what's different about the other route. But aside from that minor gripe, I appreciated the quick access to avoiding traffic jams.
TomTom rates the battery life at up to two hours of continuous operation. Even though that's a low figure, I doubt this will be a problem for most consumers. The only time battery life comes into play in the car is if you need the power jack to charge a phone, or power, say, a DVD player for a passenger. The 1605TM lacks a hands-free Bluetooth speakerphone mode, which is more troubling, though you can always purchase a separate unit like the SuperTooth Crystal ($69, 3.5 stars) if your car doesn't already have it built-in.
Our Editors' Choice for high-end portable navigation devices remains the Garmin n?vi 3590LMT, thanks to its 3D terrain mapping, ultra-sharp map graphics, and easier POI search. It also features more granular traffic reporting. Our previous Editors' Choice in the budget category, the Garmin n?vi 2350LMT ($229.99, 4 stars), is still easy to use and operates smoothly, although it displays occasional ads, and its 4.3-inch, 480-by-272-pixel display can't touch the VIA 1605TM's. The TomTom GO 2535M LIVE adds HD Traffic support and the aforementioned capacitive touch screen for $20 more, but it's also a step down in screen size compared to the VIA 1605TM.
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