TomTom's entry-level Via line is looking a lot like last year's top of the line. The Via 1535 TM that arrived for testing featured a large screen, Bluetooth, and voice command to go with its lifetime of map and traffic updates.
The Via 1535 TM is built around a 5-inch color touch screen. The unit's thin-profile chassis has a metallic bezel with a brushed aluminum finish. The only physical control on the entire unit is a power button located on the back of the unit. The back of the Via is also where you'll find the unit's speaker, the Micro-USB port for charging and syncing, and a microSD card slot for expanding the unit's internal memory to accommodate more map data.
TomTom's EasyPort mount has been redesigned and now attaches to the unit with a ball joint. This new connection is more solid and less prone to wearing out or popping off than the old rotating ring mount. Because the EasyPort mount no longer swivels around a central point for dashboard and windshield mounts, TomTom has added an internal accelerometer that detects the unit's orientation and rotates the onscreen interface 180 degrees to accommodate.
Speaking of the interface, the new Via series features the updated WebKit-based OS that debuted last year with the upper-tier TomTom units. The Home screen features two large icons dominating the top two-thirds of the screen for "Navigate to..." and "View map." Of TomTom's two destination selection methods, the former is menu- and search-based, while the latter is visual and map-based. The lower third is home to a collection of smaller icons for Plan route, Services, Settings, Help, and Done. Plan route is where you can save future and complex multistop trip information. Services is where information about the traffic, safety camera, and map correction services can be found. Settings is home to the settings. The Help icon leads to options for navigating to emergency services, relaying your current position, and an electronic product manual. Finally, Done returns you to the live map.
Speaking of map screens, the TomTom Via has two of them. The live map is the main screen used during navigation that updates in real time with the position of the vehicle and displays turn-by-turn directions. Touching anywhere on the live map takes you to the main menu, so it's not very interactive. The second map is the browsing map, accessed from the main menu's "View map" icon. The browsing map is used for searching for destinations and points of interest and can be used to initialize a new trip or modify the current trip. This map can also be scrolled and zoomed by swiping and pinching, and features user-selectable POI icons.
At first we found the dual map setup a bit confusing. TomTom tells us that the live map is a low-distraction interface for use while the vehicle is in motion, whereas the browsing map is a more flexible, interactive screen that comes into play when the vehicle is stopped and drivers can devote their full attention to the unit. It makes some amount of sense and, after spending time with the unit on the road, we've gotten the hang of the maps and their respective functions and limitations. However, we couldn't help but think that other manufacturers somehow manage this juggling act with only one unified map screen.
Once upon a time, so-called advanced features like Bluetooth connectivity and voice command were the domain of top-of-the-line portable navigation devices. So it's interesting to see these features begin to trickle down to the entry-level Via series.
An internal microphone can be spotted by examining the Via 1535's metallic bezel for the pinhole opening. You can take control of the device with the touch of a button and a few spoken words. Tapping the voice control button, located on the left edge of the navigating map interface, brings up the voice command prompt, which displays a selection of available spoken commands and verbally asks the user to speak a command.
Available voice commands include muting the volume, navigating to an address or point of interest (POI), routing a detour, reporting map inaccuracies, and initiating phone calls. The system is programmed with enough alternate commands that it can understand that "Drive to an address" and "Navigate to an address" mean the same thing, taking away the pressure of memorizing a list of commands.
TomTom has also removed nearly all of the prompts for city, street, and number when entering an address. Instead you can just blurt out an address in its entirety--for example, "123 Main Street, Anytown, CA"--and let the system parse it itself. If the system doesn't understand exactly what you're saying, it may prompt you to choose from a list of close matches, but we never ran into a situation during testing where we had to repeat ourselves more than once. Of course, accuracy of voice recognition depends on the amount of background noise, so don't expect it to work perfectly if you like to ride around with your windows down. A minor annoyance is that the system requires you to speak the city and state every time. We'd like to see some sort of location awareness in a system that is built around navigation.