Saturday, December 29, 2007

John Cleese on my TomTom ...

Ok, so I'm not much of a blogger. I tried to get enthused about sharing my thoughts throughout the Christmas season, but mostly just felt exhausted ...

The weather turned from constant storming to warm and wet, melting perhaps half the snow we had on the ground. That still leaves a lot of snow, but the worst is that we just got hit by several inches of very heavy, sticky snow. I don't look forward to dealing with it ...

Meanwhile, to the real subject of this blog entry. Future Shop and Best Buy have superb prices on TomTom's excellent TomTom One 3rd Edition, a portable GPS with an array of standard features. These don't have the latest capabilities like Blue Tooth (presumably for phone calls in car), music storage and playback, and text to speech so you can hear street names.

I don't see much point in many of those features, but that's how it goes in any industry. Once all the critical features have been built they start adding in extras that might be useful to much smaller groups. Then they play check box tag with each other. The phone industry passed that point a long time ago. [The computer industry is also there, but they actually concentrate on constantly improving performance and providing more integration for less money. That, I like. A lot.]

The TomTom One 3rd Edition is a terrific little unit for a tiny sum. I got a couple of them for $149 each before Christmas (at Future Shop) and Best Buy has them right now for $139. That's so cheap, it's silly.

Installation and setup is a breeze. After creating an account on the TomTom web site, you download and install TomTom Home, which then attaches the device to your account and lets you manage it easily. You can download and install extra voices, and you can keep your map up to date. They seem to have a guaranteed latest map feature, which presumably means you never have to pay for map updates. We'll see ...

A few other nice features, as shown in the image above, include optional traffic reports for those of you who slog through a nasty commute every day, and map share so you can benefit from others' map updates. This is quite configurable, allowing you to use updates that have been approved by TomTom, or updates that have simply been submitted by lots of people or even a few. You choose your level of trust. Nice feature I think.

One thing to note is that you can only associate one TomTom with your account, and you can only change it once every 6 months. So, for a second TomTom, you need to create a second account. First thing I learned. Second thing is that they have different accounts in different regions, but all regions know about all your accounts, so you cannot reuse your favourite email address anywhere else. How annoying.

Why would you want a second account in a different region? Because their web site developers completely bungled their account and commerce management. TomTom Home happily shows me the superb voices available from the UK site, which include the brilliant John Cleese of Monty Python and A Fish Called Wanda fame. But try to buy from my Canada site, and it says that it cannot find my account details. TomTom Home says to update my account and make sure I include a valid VAT number (which is not actually necessary, but I only found that out when I eventually got there.)

What the heck? It took me a lot of poking around to realize that the UK site could see my North American account (which they call my NL account) ... but that they could not simply fish out my credit care details to let me download John Cleese's voice. After poking around for a while, I was able to get TomTom Home to download a couple of free voices directly into my device, and I even found out that, once you have downloaded any voice onto your computer, TomTom Home knows it is there and can push it to your device.

Note that TomTom says that these voices are encrypted to my device code. Not so ... I downloaded the Ken voice (Australian accent) and an English girl's voice to my computer, but never installed them from there. When I later connected the other TomTom One under a different account, TomTom Home happily used those same voices (which it had tagged as local instead of online or device) on the second unit and it works perfectly fine. Maybe it re-encrypts them for the second device code, or maybe it's just smoke and mirrors, but this is a very nice feature. Still ... it is possible that it would only work on identical devices. Be warned.

Meanwhile, the problem of how to get John Cleese still stood irritatingly in my way. I finally decided to take a shot at creating a fake address and downloading the voice from the UK site. Turns out it worked fine. I created yet another email account (since I have my own domain, this is pretty easy.) Then I created a new account on the UK site with a fake address (I used my city, province and country in the city field and I mangled the postal code to fit) and gave it my real phone number and credit care details. Even though the address was mangled, it still verified my MasterCard which was news to me. I thought there was better online protection than that ...

Anyway, the transaction went through, I downloaded the voice from the UK site by going to my voices, and then connected the TomTom again. It saw the new voice and happily uploaded it to the device. All done.

It also asked to upload the latest satellite positions, which apparently is why these devices find the satellites so quickly. I find the unit sees them immediately, even from 6 feet inside my living room. TomTom recommend that you update the device as frequently as possible, but at least once a week. They forecast satellite positions in your area one week ahead. Impressive ...

Note that the John Cleese voice listed in my voices is followed by (MTR) while the one shown above in TomTom Home (not yet purchased) is followed by (YRD) ... the Americans reading this would probably want the one expressed in yards (Mr. Scott might say how quaint to that) but Canadians and Europeans will want the one expressed in meters.

I even got an email from them the next day, showing me where to get the download. But as mentioned, it was available to me only minutes after I bought it on TomTom Plus, so I already had it in the device.

In summary ... their web site kind of sucks. It is a little convoluted and has silly regional restrictions. You cannot get John Cleese from the North American site, even though he shows up, even in TomTom Home.

But with a little perseverance, you can have John Cleese talking to you all day as you drive :-)

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