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For the Navigationally Challenged

As we prepared to move to our new home in Charlottesville, portable GPS was really a time-saving technology.  Our experience began back in January when we made our first visit to Cville with GPS in hand while driving or walking.  We both love maps but on short trips to new areas with lots of things to see, reading a map can really slow you down.  A GPS can reduce planning to a few seconds and eliminate the need for a computer with WiFi and printer.

Steve’s parents purchased a competitor’s GPS to avoid arguments over what route to take.  We borrowed it for our first two Cville trips…it didn’t work!  That is, the “avoid arguments” feature must have been disabled or broken.  Aside from that, it was great.  Shortly before the big move, I contacted TomTom to conduct a thorough trial of the TomTom Go920 GPS Vehicle Navigator.


  • 4.3 inch touchscreen
  • Handsfree car kit
  • Built-in FM transmitter
  • Bluetooth remote control
  • Traffic update information/options
  • Voice address input
  • Enhanced positioning technology
  • Map Share technology of all 7 continents


From a practical point of view, the Go920 GPS did exactly what we needed it to do.  We needed directions, not the kind you get on a computer for planned trips, but the kind you need when you get a call on your cell phone for a last minute meeting or interview while you are driving on the highway.  We found ourselves in this situation quite frequently.  We were looking for work, looking for commercial property to lease, and just plain looking (for everything).  The TomTom Go920 GPS was a lifesaver in these circumstances.  You can pick up the classifieds, hop in your vehicle, and dash off to six different places in a moment ‘s notice with zero planning or printing!  It’s a travelphile’s best friend, AND it’s green.

The Go920 is well endowed with desirable features: Bluetooth phone sync, an FM transmitter to play MP3s and spoken directions through your stereo, a QWERTY keyboard, and auto-complete suggestions for cities and streets.  All of these features worked great.  This was our first experience talking on our cell phones between 2 vehicles with external automobile speakers – fantastic!  The MP3 player was also handy since both of our vehicles have “old school” stereos with no more than a standard CD player.

Keyboard layout may not seem like a big deal but try to find the right keys when they’re in alphabetical order (borderline infuriating!) versus a keypad that’s organized like your computer keyboard (Duh!  Why aren’t all GPS units like that?).  TomTom scores BIG brownie points on the keypad layout.

The window mount is also small enough that it won’t obstruct your driving view when the GPS is not in use.  Safe driving features earns a huge thumbs up from this parenting duo.  Just for amusement’s sake, we adored the option to listen to directions spoken in various accents. Our fave, the Australian guy.  However, if directions aren’t in English, the directions won’t tell you “Turn left at Smith Street,” instead they’ll say “Turn left in 200 feet”.  If you don’t mind calculating distance for all your turns, then no big deal, but I found it more of a chore than a benefit.

Areas Needing Improvement

Unfortunately, the Go920 fell short of our expectations in several areas. First, the nit-picky items: start-up is a bit slow, satellite acquisition was sometimes slow (usually when weather was bad but occasionally even when it was fine), and we would have like a longer battery  life (especially since we tested it with Bluetooth and FM transmitter OFF). Our biggest complaints are three: screen, menus, and points-of-interest (POIs).  The screen was hard to see in bright light conditions and unusable in direct sunlight.  So forget those walking tours on sunny days.  We had little trouble while inside a vehicle but occasionally sunlight would interfere.

Also, TomTom’s Go920 menu construction was often confounding.  A few options had 8-9 pages to look through.  Granted, most of these were features you would set-up at home but a few options, like setting up an itinerary, were too complex/confusing to tinker with while traveling (I’m still not sure if we ever figured out the multi-destination itinerary function).

Finally, POIs which may stand for POIntless rather than points of interest.  Unless you are looking for a major landmark, airport or chain-restaurant, you probably won’t find this feature helpful.  A competitor’s GPS unit can look up “specialty clock shops” in a modestly populated area and retrieve 20 options, while the Go920 couldn’t even give us one large-chain grocery store option in Cville (FAIL!).

If you’re looking strictly for utility, a cellphone with GPS-like features may be sufficient.  As cellphones become more complex they may test the metal of dedicated GPS units like the TomTom. Nevertheless, there is something to be said for satellite guidance vs. the limited coverage of most cell phones.  For example, our cellular phones currently operate “out of network” in Cville, hence, we have no advanced features like GPS, not to mention those areas which totally lack coverage.  For the cost of a Bluetooth hands-free device for you car, you might as well spring a few extra bucks and get a GPS that also plays MP3s (something you’ll need next year when your car radio doesn’t work anymore because it’s not HD-compatible).

The Go920 automatically cuts out the music when you have an incoming call – so you won’t have to adjust the volume while you’re driving, talking, drinking your coffee, and trying not to speed (too fast).

Overall, we had mixed considerations of the TomTom Go920 which retails for $349.99.

GLAD: As a GPS, it gits-er-done and gets you there.  Awesome keypad QWERTY layout and the option of listening to a sexy Aussie dude’s voice providing directions.

SAD: Terrible screen contrast in bright, sunlight conditions, and POIntless ability to locate relevent points of interest.

Read more about the TomTom Go920 directly from the manufacturer.  Purchase a TomTom Go920.


2 Responses

  1. Don’t forget the none packaging in the package! It could’ve gotten totally broken when it was shipped. Bad idea not to use quality packaging materials when shipping expensive electronic equipment!

  2. Having a GPS while living in Europe is a necessity, especially w/the serious lack of road road signs. I can highly recommend the Garmin Nuvi 360T. After doing some research on the Consumer Reports website we decided to go with this option. Over the past 1.5 years it has served us well, it has a great database that includes gas stations, tons of historical locations, shopping etc. Aside from trying to take us down the occasional bike path in the Netherlands its been great taking us where we want to go all over Europe. The 360T is the mid-range of the Garmin GPS’s, screen quality is great, nice touch screen, built in antenna, blue-tooth enabled, and has a traffic receiver to warn us when we’re about to get stuck in those infamous autobahn traffic jams. The best thing is that when you miss your turn which is inevitable in Europe with all these curvy roads the GPS calmly replies “recalculating,” and you know you’re only a roundabout away from the right direction.

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