TomTom Via LIVE 120 £179.99
2nd Mar 2011 | 09:42
TomTom's impressive LIVE Services get squeezed into a less impressive form factor
TomTom Via LIVE 120: Overview
The TomTom Via LIVE 120 slots into the TomTom sat nav range below the top-end Go LIVE 1000 devices and consequently it doesn't have as many fancy features. The screen isn't as roomy; there's no pinch-to-zoom and it lacks the neat magnetic window bracket.
But it doesn't really matter. All we ask of our sat-nav systems are two things. First, that they guide us quickly and efficiently to places we've never been before. Second, that they help us to avoid traffic congestion, speed cameras and random road incidents that will slow us down. Get these right and we're happy as Larry. Anything else is a bonus.
So the Via LIVE 120 includes TomTom's celebrated HD Traffic technology, eco routing, speed camera alerts, Google Local Search and hands-free calling over Bluetooth. The specification puts it on a par with the Garmin Nüvi 2350LT, which features a 4.3-inch LCD, plus Euro navigation, an ecoRoute function and access to a feed of Trafficmaster road data.
Priced at just under £200 (but available for much less if you shop around), the TomTom Via LIVE 120 crams all this cleverness and pan-European mapping into 4GB of internal storage. You can get a regional version of the 120 for £20 less or stump up an extra £30 for the Via LIVE 125 edition. This includes Euro maps and a five-inch touchscreen display.
In contrast, the Via LIVE 120 comes with a decent 4.3-inch screen – the same size as an HTC Desire HD. Of course, the 480 x 272 pixel resolution is nowhere near as good, but you don't need a high-res screen to display what is essentially a triangle at the centre of a scrolling 3D map. A sat-nav is a tool, not a video game.
The unit itself is compact and neatly designed, if a little heavy. An integrated bracket balloons the weight to 183g. Around the back, there's a single on/off button and an internal accelerometer will flip the screen so you can mount it on your windscreen or dashboard. The supplied USB cable plugs straight into an adaptor for in-car charging. Simple.
TomTom Via LIVE 120: Features
Much has been said about the basic nature of the TomTom interface. But it's usable enough. The main screen is split into six main options, including 'Navigate to…' and LIVE Services. The former is the bread-and-butter sat-nav option, enabling you to enter your destination as a city or postcode and narrow it down to a specific address.
Usefully, you can also find an address by simply Googling it. A Google Local Search option is part of TomTom's excellent LIVE Services package. Considering that the built-in database of POIs (Places of Interest) rarely has what you're looking for, being able to Google a restaurant or business via GPRS is often more accurate, and can save you a lot of time.
Google Local Search is part of a net-connected suite of services that also includes weather updates (take 'em or leave 'em) and speed camera locations (vital). The LIVE Services also feature the ability to correct your maps and share any amends with other TomTom users. Similarly, you can install updates from the wider Map Share community by hooking the Via LIVE 120 up to a computer.
As handy as these frills are, the HD Traffic option remains the primary reason for buying a TomTom over a rival sat-nav. Garmin models, for example, get their traffic information via RDS TMC, a method which encodes data inside commercial FM radio signals. It's a solid system – tried and tested – but traffic updates can be slow to filter through.
The HD Traffic system is more high-tech. Like a mobile phone, the Via LIVE 120 has a built-in SIM card so its location can be tracked.
In fact, the HD Traffic system brings together data from up to "80 million anonymous mobile phone users on the road", as well as over one million connected TomTom devices. The result is an unparalleled model of UK and European traffic flow, capable of showing where problems are occurring and updating TomTom users every two minutes.
The advantage of HD Traffic is that the TomTom Via LIVE 120 can dynamically guide you around problems on your journey. Traffic alerts or delays are shown in a vertical bar on the right-hand side of the display and you can set the device to automatically re-calculate and re-route your journey if a faster route becomes available.
The disadvantage? While the first year of TomTom's LIVE Services are free when you buy the Via LIVE 120, an ongoing yearly subscription will cost you £47.50. But it's arguably worth it. Especially if you do more than family weekenders and the school run.
Used in conjunction with TomTom's IQ Routes system, the Via LIVE 120 gives you an almost God-like view of road conditions. This clever routing algorithm uses the real measured speed of cars on sections of road to plan the quickest route, based on the time of day you're travelling. So not only will the TomTom Via LIVE 120 warn you of accidents and congestion, it will also be aware of rush-hour traffic and will try to avoid roads that get regularly jammed in the post-work dash for home.
TomTom Via LIVE 120: Verdict
Yes, the TomTom Via LIVE 120 doesn't represent the pinnacle of sat-nav design. But it does provide a great set of features at an affordable price, although the sting of a yearly subscription might make you think twice if you aren't a regular commuter.
HD traffic quickly proves itself to be invaluable when the TomTom Via LIVE 120 suggests a new route to avoid an accident on the M4 before you've even got into the motorway. Ditto the speed camera warnings, Google Local Search and the handy lane guidance feature, which shows a virtual representation of the junction ahead so you don't miss your turning.
While we experimented with the voice command function, we never really needed it. The Bluetooth integration for hands-free calling was far more useful, especially the option to auto-answer calls after a few seconds. Gives you time to mute the stereo…
Thank God for Google Local Search, because the POI database here remains poor. We also had some trouble with the 'fastest route' option, which was obsessed with directing us down single-track lanes. Switching to eco-routes seemed to solve the problem, however.
Map accuracy was also hit-and-miss. True, it was mostly hit, but we blindly drove down a small road in Bath, only for it to turn into a bridle path rather than the main road we were expecting. TomTom does allow you one free map download within 90 days of purchasing your sat-nav and the Map Share community acts as a Mapopedia, updating roundabouts and speed camera locations.
It's easy to be impressed by the TomTom Via LIVE 120 and you can buy it for less than its £200 RRP. Apart from a few nav-niggles, the LIVE Services are a serious advantage for regular drivers. However, it's worth keeping in mind that you'll be paying extra for the privilege. Without HD Traffic, Google Local Search and mobile speed camera locations, this device becomes much more ordinary.