The TomTom XL 340 S builds on TomTom's successful XL series of wide-screen portable navigation devices. The XL 340 S' features, such as advanced lane guidance, daily fuel prices, IQ Routes, and TomTom Map Share, work together to constantly update its map data and route-mapping algorithm. Therefore, in theory, the device should get better with time.
Also, as an "S" designated model, the 340 S features text-to-speech that reads aloud street and point-of-interest names for quicker recognition.
A 4.3-inch WQVGA wide-format touch screen occupies the front of the XL 340 S, while a large, loud 2-inch speaker dominates its back. The only physical control to be found is the power button on the unit's top edge. The Mini-USB port on its bottom edge serves as the connection for the included 12-volt car charger for data connections.
Unlike its primary competitor, the Garmin Nuvi, the XL 340 S does not have an SD or microSD card slot, so you're stuck with the device's 2GB of onboard storage (most of which is occupied by map and voice data).
TomTom's clever EasyPort mount integrates the XL's cradle into the back of the unit. To attach the unit to your windshield, simply flip out the suction cup, place the device on the windshield, and twist the locking ring a quarter-turn. The twist-lock suction cup doesn't feel as secure as the Garmin's lever-actuated suction cup, and the XL's increased size made us feel even more nervous about the mounting than the TomTom One did. With a bit of practice, the TomTom's EasyPort mount becomes quite easy to place and remove from the windshield and offers a bit more flexibility of mounting angles than the Garmin.
The integrated cradle adds considerable bulk to the XL's already large size, more than doubling its thickness. People who want to pocket their GPS when they leave the car will be turned off by the additional mass, but those who carry a bag or purse probably won't notice. An additional bonus to the EasyPort mount is that there is no cradle left behind for would-be thieves to mistake for something of value, thus increasing vehicle security.
Also included with the XL 340 S are a 12-volt car charger, a USB connection cable, and an adhesive disk for attaching the XL to your vehicle's dashboard if windshield mounting is not permissible.
The TomTom XL 340 features Advanced Lane Guidance, a new feature to the XL line that shows detailed illustrations of complex freeway interchanges, complete with lane information. Arrows overlaid on the illustration notify drivers of what lanes will keep them on the chosen route.
Text-to-speech functionality lets the XL 340 S announce street and point-of-interest names aloud. Users who don't need spoken names can step down to the XL 340 (sans "S") and save a few bucks. The unit comes bundled with 14 English, French, and Spanish voices. More voices can be downloaded from the Web, including celebrity voices. (Our personal favorites are Mr. T and John Cleese!)
Using the free TomTom Map Share service lets users make corrections to street names, directions, road speeds, POIs, and so on and upload those changes to be approved and shared with other TomTom Map Share users. If you don't trust the hive mind, you can choose to opt out of this service or only receive official TomTom updates.
IQ Routes is a feature that uses anonymous historical speed and time data gleaned from actual driving and other TomTom Map Share/IQ Routes users to calculate the fastest route from point A to B. So for example, if the unit discerns that a certain road is typically congested, it will attempt to avoid it while routing. If it learns that another road is typically congested on weeknights between 5 and 7 p.m., it will attempt to avoid that road on weeknights, but not on weekends. If it can't find a faster way, the device can at least give an accurate time to destination based on real data.
Gaining access to map updates and other downloadable content is accomplished through the TomTom Home software that is embedded in the XL's onboard memory. Simply connect the XL to your computer via USB and the software prompts you for a quick installation, no CDs required. Once installed, the TomTom Home software lets users download updates, back up data, plan routes, and even play with a virtual representation of their XL 340 S.
IQ Routes is not the same as real-time traffic data, as it only calculates using historical data, so if there is a unique incident, the XL won't be privy to that information. To add that functionality, an RDS-TMS receiver can be purchased. Additionally, downloadable fuel prices and traffic camera information can be had via subscription.
We found that the TomTom XL 340 S was quick to boot and satellite acquisition was quick, averaging just less than a minute for cold starts with a clear sky.
The onscreen keypad can be configured in A-Z, QWERTY, or AZERTY layouts. That last one is new to us. Key size is generous, making it easy to quickly input characters. Destination entry is superspeedy thanks to the XL 340 S' intuitive autocomplete feature.
Points of interest can be searched by name or browsed by broad category (restaurant, gas station, lodging), but cannot be grouped by subcategory (for example, Mexican or Japanese restaurants). While destinations chosen from a stationary vehicle were routed in a matter of seconds, we found that (as in the One 140 S) routing from a moving vehicle takes considerably more time, especially if you aren't already heading in the right direction. So, do the safe thing and come to a stop before punching in that address.
The TomTom XL 340 S sits at the top of the XL line and just below the premium GO line of TomTom portable navigation devices. The XL 340 S pulls down some of the most useful features of the GO lineup, such as Advanced Lane Guidance, text-to-speech functionality, and daily updates of local fuel prices--while staying well below the $300 price point. People looking for more advanced features (hands-free calling, traffic data, voice command, and so on) should look further up the TomTom totem pole.
Those who aren't fans of TomTom's interface should look to the Garmin Nuvi 1350, which has a similar set of features for about the same price, or the Sony NV-U84, which adds more multimedia features and a slightly larger screen.
Wednesday, January 28, 2009di 4:40 PM