Monday, January 17, 2011

Tech: TomTom XL 330 GPS review

Our family has a mild Luddite streak, so it's not suprising we resisted getting a GPS unit for a long time. From stints with satellite navigation in rental cars, we quickly learned that the GPS sapped much of the fun out of traveling; you blindly follow the unit's directions, instead of matching street names and landmarks to a printed map, or asking the nearest store clerk for directions. Still, there's no denying the convenience a GPS affords in unfamiliar territory, and, when my sister relocated to Atlanta, we decided to bite the bullet and grab the TomTom XL 330.

The XL 330 is a solid, inexpensive GPS system (ours is a refurbished unit bought from CompUSA for about $60). Like all GPS systems sold today, it has a touchscreen, a speaker that periodically barks out directions, and preloaded maps that can be updated via PC connection (a USB cable is helpfully supplied). The XL 330 also comes with a windshield mount (iffy - has a tendency to loosen during a drive), a car charger, and a free map update.

The UI is pretty simple - touch the screen, select how you want to navigate (generally by entering in a known address), and away you go. The unit isn't the newest one on the block, so route recalculation is a little pokey, but it works well enough. I also found the "Point of Interest" feature to be handy - with a touch, you can get directions to the nearest big box store, McDonald's, or public park.

We've tested the XL 330 extensively (trips through central Florida, Georgia, Texas, and California), and it's generally reliable and accurate. The unit has certainly screwed up before (no GPS is perfect), and I found the map updates to be outdated (there's a new road extension right in front of our house that doesn't show up), but the XL 330 rarely leads us too far astray. If you're one of those reluctant late-adopters in the market for a budget GPS, it's well worth a look.


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