Finally, a travel company that doesn’t tell you to get lost

A travel company that doesn’t tell you to get lost when you’ve got a problem? When they offered to send me a review unit of the new TomTom GO 740 Live promising me just that, I had just one question — where do I sign up?

But it’s true: This navigation system not only helps you find your way when all others — even my trusty iPhone 3G — are “off the grid” but it makes sure you don’t get lost in the first place.

Gotta love it.

tomtomWell, almost all of it. I tested this high-end Internet-connected direction-finder, which costs a hefty $399 (it includes three months of Internet services) and found it about as easy to use as any other nav system I’ve ever evaluated. The similarities end there, though. The GO 740 Live has a host of features under the hood that set it apart, including cool new routing technology that helps you chart the most efficient way based on traffic patterns and other real-time traffic information, a fuel-price locator, and an easy way to find restaurants when you’re on the road. It even tells you when you’ll arrive at your destination.

What hasn’t changed is the primary way of interacting with the device. The user interface has supposedly been redesigned, but in many ways it handles just like the first-generation nav systems I looked at years ago. For those of us who are used to the tried-and-true, that should come as a relief. All others can try the voice-activated instructions. I haven’t been able to figure those out yet, probably because with three young children in the back seat, there’s never a shortage of ambient noise.

If you take frequent road trips alone, you’ll want to use the GO 740 Live instead of a handheld GPS system, which, if operated at 70 miles an hour is just an accident waiting to happen. If you have company, a GPS-enabled cell phone — or an old-fashioned paper map — might be good enough for your summer road trip.

What I liked about it: This gadget locked in on the GPS signal and didn’t let go, which is something I’ve never seen a nav system do. I expect it to lose the satellite just when I need directions the most. I also liked the “enhanced” advanced lane guidance feature that tells me precisely which lane I need to be in so that I can make the correct turn. The only way this could improve is if the government launched better satellites. Another nice feature: When you make a wrong turn, it won’t scream at you. It calmly recalculates the route, assuming you meant to take that unexpected turn. (Yeah, of course I did.)

What I didn’t like: Did I mention the price? At around $400, you need to take regular road trips to or be a frequent business traveler in order to make this a worthwhile purchase. No point in firing up the GO 740 Live on the way to the grocery store or when you’re taking the kids to school. Navigating to a new address or finding something involves countless clicks. If you’re used to the iPhone interface, you’ll lose patience with this nav system quickly.

What others are saying about it: Gizmodo says the GO 740 seems like a decent device. Now there’s a ringing endorsement. Engadget panned the system because of its cellurlar plan, saying that “we’d love to love the GO 740 LIVE, [but] we just can’t recommend it so long as TomTom keeps charging you for the privilege of ownership.” GPS magazine gave it a lukewarm write-up, noting that it’s “essentially identical to previous TomTom GPS units.”

Bottom line: So what if the techno-elites don’t like it? If you need it, and if you can afford it, this GPS system is a worthy addition to your car, truck or van.