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REVIEW: TomTom Maps-on-Line
Posted by Arne Hess - on Sunday, 14.07.02 - 14:54:00 CET under 08 - Reviews - Viewed 11969x
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For some weeks now, TomTom Maps-on-Line is available. TomTom Maps-on-Line is a wireless mapping and routing application, using location based server technology through GPS. Once the client software is installed on the Pocket PC, TomTom Maps-on-Line gives access to detailed street-level maps through any connectivity. So the idea behind Maps-on-Line is that only a client software - the mapping software - is installed on the Pocket PC while all maps, point of interests and routing information are stored on the TomTom server. This information can be accessed through any kind of connectivity, doesn't matter if ActiveSync or modem and for sure wireless through GSM or better GPRS.
Together with a connected GPS receiver, you have everything on your Pocket PC and server to get maps, routing information, POIs and your current position.

On my last business trip I took the opportunity to give it a deeper test and compared it with my Audi onboard navigation. So I've connected my Compaq iPAQ H3875 with my Haicom GPS receiver. In my pocket, my Ericsson T68. The iPAQ was located - as always - on my cup holder in my Audi.

Preparing the Route
Before TomTom Maps-on-Line works, you have to connect it with the Internet. As I've mentioned before, this can be done through any connection, from an Internet connected PC via ActiveSync to a modem or for sure wireless through GSM/GPRS. As my trip was spontaneous, I wasn't able to plan the route before on my PC so I did it right now in my car - wireless. After connecting the TomTom server, you can enter the departure and destination.
Here you have to select the country first and must enter the city, after connecting the TomTom server, the client software provides you all available streets in the selected city. When you are done with the departure, you have to do the same with the destination and your information will be transferred to the server and from here you get the calculated route back. Something pretty fancy is that you can select the kind of routing between "Walking" and "Driving". This is interesting if you plan to navigate within cities or even on hiking tours. Unfortunately TomTom-on-Line doesn't let you selecting routes between different countries, so you are not able to find a route between Munich and Paris as it crosses the French/German border.

Alternative you can also search for a location and let the client software display it on the Pocket PC. If it is the right one, you can select this point as departure or destination point.
What I really miss - what my onboard navigation system offers - is to take the departure point with a connected GPS unit automatically. Normally, the TomTom client software should knows - with a connected GPS receiver - where I'm but this feature isn't included right now - so I have to enter it manually. I hope here will TomTom add this feature as this is interesting if you use it in the "Walk" mode. Who knows where he is if he is visiting a foreign city. Also I found some weaknesses in the translations. First I didn't found my street in Munich as the district is translated wrong (which makes me wonder as it is right in TomTom CityMaps).

After transferring the route from the TomTom server to the Pocket PC, you have everything you need to start your trip.

One word about the downloaded maps. You can let Maps-on-Line download the current and required map only, which is useful if you plan your route wireless or you can download all required maps for the trip at once which is useful if you plan your route with a fixed-line Internet connection. In that case, TomTom delivers all required maps and this maps are stored on the Pocket PC for later use.

TomTom covers at least whole Western Europe expect Norway and Finland, Ireland and Luxembourg and Andorra. So this is one of the best coverage's I ever saw in a single navigation solution!

Navigating with TomTom Maps-on-Line
Once you have defined the route you can start your tip. For sure the best is if you have also a GPS receiver connected to your Pocket PC. TomTom Maps-on-Line works hardware independent which means you can use most Pocket PC GPS receivers. I've tested it with the Haicom CF receiver as well as with the Pharos GPS receiver for iPAQ.

Above you see the different zoom levels of your route as well as your current location, indicated with the arrow which also indicates your driving direction.

Beside the Map view, you can also switch to an Instructions view.

Maps-on-Line doesn't provides any re-routing which means if you left the suggested way, you have to drive by yourself or try to catch the route again (on the screenshot above you can see, that I'm driving parallel to the suggested route). Also voice output isn't included, which makes it sometimes a little bit hard to navigate. However, in any case you can switch to the GPS information to get the information about the current position and speed.
Also if you drive out of the current map, Maps-on-Line doesn't load the next view automatically but you have to do this manually. If you have a to detailed zoom level, you have to reload pretty often the map. That's annoying.

How expensive is the wireless access

For a trip of something around 100 kilometers and a driving time of approximately 1 hour I spent around € 1,00. For that money, I've requested the whole route and switched between the different zoom levels and maps around 25 times, so it's not such expensive as I've expected before.

However, it seems like TomTom Maps-on-Line doesn't cache any amount of previous downloaded maps. This means, that every time you zoom back to the previous view, the card is downloaded again, which increase the GPRS usage in a non necessary way.

Final Conclusion

TomTom Maps-on-Line is a kind of software I was waiting for pretty long time. It combines the advantage of running application on Pocket PCs with the advantage of GPRS and the always on Internet connection. In combination with GPS it's what I was really dreaming for, for a long time. That's great.
However, Maps-on-Line has some weaknesses which makes me wonder. First it has some problems with translation. At first I didn't found my district as it was translated completely wrong and also I didn't found some streets as they was misspelled. However, this streets are spelled correct on TomTom City Maps. Beside this the most annoying missing features are that Maps-on-Line didn't take your current position as starting point which would makes sense and it doesn't provides you the next map automatically, if you drive out of the current map. Also I don't understand why it is not possible to plan a route from one country to another. Specially in Europe this would makes sense and would be a big advantage against car navigation systems, where you have to change the CD ROM in luggage trunk if you cross the border.
For a more optimized online usage I would prefer to see a map caching, that you don't have to download a map - wireless - again, if you switch between different zoom levels. This would reduce the GPRS costs enormously and would make it even more useful!

All together, I think TomTom is on the right direction with this service - however, as every new kind of service, there is some space for improvements. But it's a great for everybody who needs location information on the fly and even for navigation it works accurate enough!

Sidenote: TomTom Maps-on-Line is now also available for the Nokia Communicator.

Cheers ~ Arne

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