The TomTom XL satellite navigation device may have an oversized 4.3in touchscreen, but the overall design is anything but extra large.

The XL is the first of a new breed of TomTom devices that sports a slimmed down cradle unit. For drivers fed up with the chunky cradles and curved armatures that usually accompany satnav units, the TomTom XL's new EasyPort mount design will be great news.

The TomTom XL twists in and out of the circular retaining bracket and can be angled forward as far as you need so the screen is clearly visible to the driver.

The whole setup of the TomTom XL feels secure and more robust - we managed to snap the top off the brittle stalk on a TomTom device we tested a year or so ago. The new design was therefore a reassuring development.

The satnav unit itself has also been transformed from the squat, boxy design for which TomTom originally became known. The TomTom XL has undergone a change of shape similar to and almost as dramatic as the change from a bulky CRT TV screen to a dainty flatpanel. Again, losing the bloat makes the unit seem far more attractive.

One of the most important innovations in the TomTom annals was 2007's introduction of a feature known as MapShare. This allows TomTom owners to note and mark alterations to the mapped route - ongoing roadworks, a new road or a thoroughfare that has now been pedestrianised or access blocked off at one end. These can then be shared via TomTom's web portal, TomTom Home. TomTom verifies the accuracy of these user-submitted edits before making them publicly available.

By regularly logging on to the TomTom web portal and installing the latest map updates, users can be sure they've always got the most up to date and accurate maps. It does TomTom no harm in a marketing sense either, since the company can then claim that products such as the TomTom XL have maps that are more up to date than any other satnav company's.

Now map data provider TeleAtlas has formally become a subsidiary company of TomTom, we imagine TomTom will always have the freshest maps ahead of other vendors.

A addition to this year's satnav models is the IQ Routes feature. This collates actual traffic data from TomTom users and other regular road users and uses it to work out exactly how fast traffic is able to travel along a given road at a particular time of the day.

When we first tried out this concept in the back roads of rural Kent, we were less than convinced. Six months later, however, and with the addition of thousands, if not millions, of road hours to the TomTom data banks, this feature works very effectively indeed.

Intelligent laning information verbally delivers instructions about which part of the road you should be on when you approach a junction and this is reinforced by the path you need to steer being clearly marked in a darker blue on the TomTom's maps.

We tested the TomTom XL up and down the country and on various routes through and around the capital, and found it uncannily accurate.

TomTom has just announced that it is extending this time-based routing feature on yet another new range of satnav devices, so you should be given the most appropriate advice about the route to take depending on the five-minute slot before you depart. Let's hope it takes into account the extra 20 minutes required to repack the boot and to dash upstairs for that vital item you've left on the bed.

If you're plotting a journey coming from the west of London and need to end up somewhere in the suburbs to the east or south-east, knowing whether it's faster to use the London Orbital road, the south circular or head straight through the centre, such time-based advice is incredibly helpful. Even in the depths of rush hour, going straight seemed to work best and having a dependable satnav such as the TomTom XL to help us negotiate unfamiliar back streets and shortcuts helped keep the stress to a minimum.

NEXT PAGE: limitations, early warning system and averting danger

The TomTom XL satellite navigation device may have an oversized 4.3in touchscreen, but the overall design is anything but extra large.

There are, of course, limitations to this: if you're weaving your way through narrow streets thronged with high-rise buildings, the satellites used to locate and guide you can't always find you. Even so, we found the TomTom XL got us where we needed to be at the time it told us we would arrive and on the odd occasion it lost us momentarily, was able to find us again a second or so later.

In fact, the one point at which we did appear to be lost from the TomTom XL's radar was in an isolated rural spot where it showed us bowling along the edge of a field rather than on the road we were merrily traversing. This, however, proved a temporary GPS positioning glitch. TomTom got TeleAtlas to check on this for us and verify that it was an anomaly that didn't crop up when they went to check the same location - perhaps some dense cloud cover was at fault.

We also liked the way the TomTom XL warned us of possible dangers ahead. The locations of fixed safety cameras are preloaded on to the device's memory and a gentle beep nudged us when we were coming in to the range of one. Since we were simultaneously testing a RoadAngel device (which has the sole purpose of alerting you to fixed and mobile speed traps, as well as telling you you're approaching a school and need to slow down to avoid children running in to the road), we quickly got to appreciate the discretion of this beep. The RoadAngel was anything but quiet.

TomTom has, however, borrowed a trick from Navman and added the ability to direct you to the nearest petrol station, mechanic or police station, should the need arise. Telephone numbers for these services are also included under the Help Me menu and, while it's to be hoped you won't need to call out the emergency services, it's reassuring to know that the Locate Me button can also be used to enable others to find you based on intersections and grid references.

TomTom XL: Specs

  • High quality 4.3in colour TFT LCD anti-glare touch screen, widescreen 16:9 format, WQVGA, 480 x 272 pixels, 64k colours
  • 118x83x25mm
  • 186g
  • high sensitivity GPS chipset
  • pre-installed maps on internal memory
  • connectivity: mini-USB, RDS-TMC (via mini-USB)
  • internal Lithium-ion battery (up to 3 hours operation)
  • compatibility: Windows and Mac OS X 10.3 and above
  • car speed linked volume
  • enhanced TomTom speaker system
  • EasyPort mount
  • QuickGPSfix
  • automatic day/night mode
  • password protection
  • compatibility with TomTom HOME
  • High quality 4.3in colour TFT LCD anti-glare touch screen, widescreen 16:9 format, WQVGA, 480 x 272 pixels, 64k colours
  • 118x83x25mm
  • 186g
  • high sensitivity GPS chipset
  • pre-installed maps on internal memory
  • connectivity: mini-USB, RDS-TMC (via mini-USB)
  • internal Lithium-ion battery (up to 3 hours operation)
  • compatibility: Windows and Mac OS X 10.3 and above
  • car speed linked volume
  • enhanced TomTom speaker system
  • EasyPort mount
  • QuickGPSfix
  • automatic day/night mode
  • password protection
  • compatibility with TomTom HOME

OUR VERDICT

The TomTom XL is an excellent satnav unit that fixes easily and securely to a windscreen and folds away into itself so it can be stashed in a glove compartment or in a handbag. The mapping is as accurate as any satnav unit we've tried and the intelligent laning and ability to reroute you depending on the time of day you're travelling makes getting to your destination as efficient as it can be. A great buy for the frequent traveller who needs to get where they're going without having to worry about having chosen the wrong route or the wrong lane.

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