TomTom XL 340 Review

by Brad Pretzer

I have lived in the Boston metropolitan area for over 10 years and have acquired a minimal ability to reliably transport myself to and from only my most often visited destinations. I can get from my apartment to my favorite pub and the grocery store; however, add in a third stop and my navigational ability disintegrates. To lessen the stress of navigating Boston via directions printed from Google Maps or, less safe, Google Maps on my BlackBerry®, I decided it was time to modernize my 2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI and add a GPS. After consulting with friends and reading reviews on Amazon I decided on the TomTom XL 340TM 4.3-Inch Portable GPS Navigator (Lifetime Traffic & Maps Edition). I hate when update services run out; consequently, I opted for the lifetime traffic and maps edition. This should ensure as long as I own this GPS I will have current maps. I am not yet convinced the traffic information is either highly accurate or useful. Do I need an electronic box on my dashboard telling me I am stuck on Interstate 93 southbound when I spy a sea of cars with illuminated brake lights in front of me?

TomTom XL 340 Startup & Update

Just as advertised, when the unit arrived I turned it on and it knew exactly where I was. I set my home location and was excited to use my new TomTom GPS. However, I figured I'd be best off if I updated the maps first. This instigated a nightmarish saga with my TomTom GPS and customer service. It did give me the chance to learn a lot more about the device and how it works.

I installed the TomTom Home software on my laptop computer, created a MyTomTom account, then connected the TomTom GPS unit via the supplied USB cable. A new version of the US, Canada, and Mexico maps was found and downloaded. I was excited to have the latest version of the maps. The map data file takes up nearly the entire 1GB installed and unexpandable memory on the device. The transfer to the TomTom XL 340 takes nearly 2 hours! TomTom is using the nearly prehistoric USB 1.1 which was created in 1998! [source] I went out to have beer with friends while the TomTom GPS was connected to my computer getting its update. Fortunately, I knew the way to my favorite pub or I would have gone thirsty that evening.

When I returned home I disconnected my GPS and turned it on receiving a message that no maps were installed! I was horrified. I calmly sat down and with the TomTom Home software and initiated another update. That was, indeed, another 2 hours. The second install of the update left me with the message "Maps not compatible with this device". Now I was getting mad.

Day two found me on the phone with TomTom customer support explaining my problem. The representative directed me through manual removal of all map data from both my computer and TomTom GPS. After the cleanup I had to re-download the map database again and, yet again, wait another 2 hours for it to transfer to the unit. After this I was left with the same "Maps not compatible with this device" message.

Another call to TomTom with another representative had me perform similar steps and yet another download and re-install. Indeed, it was another 2 hours to transfer the file to the device. For some reason, still unknown to me, it worked this time and when I unplugged my TomTom GPS from my computer it worked as advertised. I have not had a problem with updates since.

I have a suspicion how this whole problem began. When I left my laptop computer transferring the file to the TomTom GPS unit the computer was plugged into AC power. However, the power options on my Gateway NV59 laptop were set to put the computer to sleep after 1 hour of inactivity. I think the computer went into sleep mode during the update, essentially disconnecting the TomTom GPS from the computer. Disconnecting the GPS unit during an update is explicitly forbidden. I think the update was interrupted leaving my TomTom GPS unit with an incomplete data file, causing the aforementioned difficulties.

4.3-Inch Touchscreen

I find 4.3-inches of diagonal space more than adequate to clearly read information from the unit when it is mounted on my windshield with the included suction cup mount. I like the 4.3-inch model over the larger 5-inch model because it is easier to toss in the glove box or take on a trip to use in a rental car. Save your money and go with this smaller screen.

The brightness of the screen on my TomTom during the daytime is the first of my two complaints with the XL 340 (the second is the lack of a quick mute feature). The screen is not bright enough on a sunny day. Even on overcast days or during twilight the screen always seems dull. In contrast, it is clear and bright at night. I find the default nighttime color and display difficult to see and have changed the setting to maintain daytime colors regardless of time.

When entering data via the TomTom XL 340's 4.3-inch touchscreen it feels as though there is a protective cover over the screen which was not properly adhered. There seems to be a thin boundary layer between the portion the user touches and the actual screen. Perhaps this was designed to give some tactile feedback to the user when entering information; however, I find it annoying and cheap-feeling.

TomTom Voice Commands

The TomTom XL 340 has a pleasant spoken voice with many options you can select. You can choose female or male voices with a myriad of accents. I think these are standard options on all GPS units sold today. The voice is quick and natural. There are times when I want the GPS only for the last portion of a trip. Frequently I know how to get nearly all the way to a destination and need guidance only for the last few miles. In these cases I prefer to set up the GPS while in my driveway so I don't have to input an address while driving, then listen to the TomTom only when needed. I can't find a way to easily mute the voice directions however. If you tap in the bottom left corner you can select a volume with an on-screen slider; however, I wish there was a one-button mute function allowing me to enjoy the radio for most of a trip and easily activate TomTom GPS voice commands when nearing my destination. Furthermore, by tapping the bottom left of the screen, it repeats the current voice command, then, after a pause, displays the volume slider. If you don't get your finger exactly on the slider butter or get it there quick enough, the slider disappears.

Micro USB Connector

The TomTom XL 340 ships with two cables. One has a micro-USB connector on one end and a 12-volt car plug on the other. The other cord has a micro-USB connection on one end and a regular USB plug for your computer on the other. With either cord I can never seem to get the orientation of the micro-USB connector right and it is very difficult to plug into the TomTom unit. I am fearful that after numerous failed attempts something on the GPS unit will get bent and I will never again be able to plug in either the USB cord for updates via my computer or, more importantly, the car power cord.

TomTom XL 340 vs iPhone, BlackBerry®, etc.

There are two huge features distinguishing a dedicated GPS unit such as a TomTom or Garmin from a multi-function device such as a smartphone. First, the screen on the TomTom is much larger and, though it can be slightly challenging to read in bright sunlight, its size and graphics set it significantly ahead of smartphones. Second, dedicated GPS navigation units store all the map information on the device. In contrast, smartphones must have a cellular signal, or, in some cases a WiFi signal in addition to a GPS signal to retrieve the map graphic. This makes TomTom units massively faster at drawing the screen and calculating routes than a smartphone. Attempting to navigate with a smartphone without a co-pilot passenger is dangerous and often impossible. While TomTom could take some pointers on improving the usability of the software it is better than any smartphone because it is dedicated to this purpose.

Selecting An Address in Another State

I live in Boston and often travel to Manchester, New Hampshire, about 55 miles away, to see friends. When I am entering an address into the TomTom while sitting in my driveway in Boston it first asks for the city name. I begin typing Manchester; however, it can't find any cities with that name. You first have to select a drop-down from a small box to change the state to New Hampshire. I figured since I was only 55 miles away, the TomTom would guess that I wanted Manchester in New Hampshire. Seemingly it assumes I want to travel only in Massachusetts forcing me to perform a few more steps to select a state. When I type Manchester why don't all the cities with that name show up in a list ordered by distance from present location allowing me to choose?

In another instance I was in Florida and attempting to navigate from the Miami International Airport to Lake Worth, Florida. I thought the city was spelled as one word, Lakeworth, so that is how I entered it into the TomTom XL 340. No city was listed and I was sure that I wanted to go to Lakeworth. I tried entering the city name a few more times. Finally, I selected a drop-down arrow after entering Lakeworth and found Lake Worth. The correct spelling of the city is Lake Worth, with two words. The TomTom didn't suggest this spelling when I entered it as one word. I am still surprised it couldn't figure out my simple mistake.

TomTom XL 340 GPS Summary

The TomTom XL 340 GPS has never failed me in navigating to a point. It acquires the satellites rapidly and is quick to re-plan a route should I miss a turn or "know better" and start off on my own path. The screen is too dim during the day and feels cheap. Nearly every time I use my TomTom XL340 I am looking for a way to quickly mute the voice commands. Initially, the map update was a nightmare; however, I think that problem has been resolved and I like knowing that I have the most current versions of the maps. The TomTom is vastly superior to my BlackBerry®. The functionality of the unit is great; however, the software designers could take some pointers from Apple's iPhone or iPod. Initially, I thought the 1GB of fixed internal flash memory would be insufficient; however I have not had any complaints from my TomTom while storing favorites or user-created way-points.

Aside from Garmin there are no competitors to Tomtom and while I have not owned a Garmin GPS; I have used them plenty. I don't think the Garmin is any more user-friendly than the TomTom. Consequently, I cannot recommend anything better than the TomTom even with its faults.