Prices continue to tumble even as more features are added to many GPS navigation devices, and it's not difficult to find a full-featured GPS unit with a 4.3-inch screen for under $150. Yet for many consumers, especially the first-time navigation device buyer, the huge feature set found in even modestly priced devices can be a bit intimidating.
With the introduction of the appropriately named Ease, TomTom is betting that what some consumers really want is a truly simple-to-use navigation device. With a list price of $110 (street prices may be significantly lower), the Ease is $40 less than its more fully-featured One 140S sibling. But I suspect that some consumers would be more than willing to give up some features in exchange for a simpler navigation experience.
The Ease looks very similar to the TomTom One 130 and One 140 products. Like those devices, the Ease features a standard 3.5-inch (diagonal), 320-by-240-pixel display. The Ease also sports a new version of TomTom's built-in mounting bracket, the EasyPort. On the One products, the mounting bracket ring is removable—it just snaps off. On the Ease, the EasyPort is also removable, but the new design ensures that it won't snap off as you're mounting the device to your windshield.
TomTom's new, simpler menu system on the Ease is a significant departure from what you'll find on virtually all other TomTom devices. A tap on the map screen brings up the main menu with two large icons: Plan Route and Browse Map. This is quite similar to the two-icon menu (Where To and View Map) used on virtually all of Garmin's Nuvi products for years. Browse Map, however, takes you to a map view that you can drag and zoom, not the normal driving-mode map. I do like that the main menu has a row of single-touch icons across the bottom of the screen. These icons let you mute or unmute the speaker, switch between day/night modes, and open a help menu with "Where am I" information and quick access to emergency services. The options icon takes you to the relatively few user-configurable settings. The "Done" icon returns you to the normal map mode. Without a route planned, the driving mode shows your current speed. A pair of icons lets you easily toggle between 2D and 3D views. Zoom in/out icons let you change the zoom level.
While it's true that the Ease contains a subset of the features found on the One 140S, it's also a different, simpler navigation experience. However, the underlying technology is the same as that found in virtually all other TomTom products. All of the routes generated by the Ease are based on TomTom's IQRoute technology, which calculates the best route based on historical traffic data. Unlike other TomTom products, the Ease doesn't provide options for the shortest, fastest, bicycle, or pedestrian routes. Similarly, on the Ease, you can't choose "avoidances" such as U-turns or unpaved roads. But TomTom does include text-to-speech (TTS), so the Ease can announce street names. TTS is often omitted from entry-level devices. Both the Ease and the One 140S have TTS, and support English, French, and Spanish as spoken languages--indeed, a total of 26 languages. Additional languages not installed can be downloaded through the TomTom Home application.
So what major features do you give up? The Ease includes maps for only the 50 U.S. states plus Puerto Rico. Interestingly, a version of the Ease that includes Canadian maps is currently available for $10 less ($100) than the U.S.-only version. The One 140S includes maps for Mexico and Canada. Additionally, the points-of-interest database on the Ease is somewhat smaller, but still adequate, than what you find on more-expensive TomTom products. After route calculation, the Ease provides you with a map overview of your route. Other TomTom products provide you with additional information such as a list view of turns, the ability to browse each turn, and a demo mode. Of all the features dropped from the Ease to make it simpler, I wish that TomTom had not removed the turns-list view.
As with other TomTom devices, to create a route you can enter an address; select "go home"; or choose a favorite, a recent destination, a point of interest, or a point on the map. I calculated a number of routes on both the Ease and the One 140S. Not surprisingly, since both were using IQRoutes, the routes generated were identical. The volume, automatically linked to the vehicle speed, was more than adequate in our driving tests. Voice prompts with street names were given at the same interval as on the One 140.
Macworld's buying advice
For those looking for a simple navigation experience, the TomTom Ease has the right blend of simplicty, features, and price.
- Sensible routes from TomTom's IQRoutes
- Simplified user interface
- 3.5-inch screen feels small