Hardware: the basics
Don't go looking for a carry case or a power adaptor, the TomTom Via LIVE 120 only comes with a simple USB cable (ending in a micro-USB slot) for synchronising data with your computer and a cigarette-lighter charger. The documentation only consists of a simple getting started leaflet, but everything else is explained clearly enough on the device itself.
The small suction cap mount is fitted to the back of the GPS, which is very handy as it means you can take the whole thing with you when you get out of the car. Leaving a big, bulky support attached to your windscreen is just too much temptation for thieves.
You can choose to use the support either on the windscreen or on the dashboard with the help of a special mount. When you do that, the GPS is actually upside-down, but a sensor automatically detects the fact you've flipped it over and automatically rotates the display.
The speaker is hidden behind the stand and produces a clear, audible sound. The volume is increased automatically as you pick up speed so that you can still hear the instructions above the noise of the engine.
The matte screen measures 4.3'' and is easy to use, even in bright sunlight. The choice of a resolution of 480 x 272 pixels is reasonable for a display of this size.
Design and build: feels classier than it is
Although it's billed as a mid-range offering, the TomTom Via LIVE 120 is not without appeal. The screen is inset in a layer of glossy black plastic trim, surrounded by bronze-coloured matte plastic. The rest of the device is matte black, which feels nice to the touch and is easy to clean. We still prefer the finish on the Via 110, whose black brushed aluminium and chrome trim are much classier. But there's nothing wrong with the finish here at all, and without a single screw in sight, TomTom has clearly done some work.
The sat nav starts up in under ten seconds and doesn't take long to get a fix on the satellites. Overall, it's responsive enough, and moving from one menu to the next is smooth. The menus themselves are as well-designed as ever: the icons are easily identifiable, and there's a new, simpler interface shared by the whole range.
On the other hand, we would have preferred a slightly speedier predictive text input for addresses. And although it usually works well—most of the time you don't need to give it the whole address—it doesn't have a system which greys out unavailable letters as you type when they can no longer form part of the address.
With points of interest (POI), we're glad to see that TomTom now allows users to add their own (see inset). The LIVE services mean you can use Google to search for local addresses. All that's missing is a Yellow Pages for individuals.
A new arrival on the TomTom Via range is voice recognition. It works reasonably well, as long as you pronounce things perfectly. When we tested it, we usually had to try more than once, especially with place names. Simple voice commands are very handy for accessing features quickly, and all you need to do to get started is press the voice recognition button on the left of the left of the display. Garmin's version of this system is even easier, as you can set your own custom phrase to active voice commands.
The TomTom Via 120 doesn't have an am ambient light sensor, but the brightness of the display is adjusted according to the time of day.
Route guidance: online services are useful—but don't cover everything
Borrowing heavily from the last generation of top-of-the-range sat navs, the Via LIVE 120 has detailed information about lane changes, displaying the actual road signs to look out for and Text-to-Speech to read aloud the names of the roads you should take.
All TomTom sat navs get IQ Routes technology, which suggests routes based on the actual travel times recorded by other users. It generally means you avoid routes that involve too many bends and dangerous curves or roads that are often too busy. A similar function, Ecoroutes, factors in the best savings you can make on fuel.
The Map Share feature allows other TomTom users to share updates and tips, and you can of course report your own changes if you come across a new roundabout or a road that isn't shown on the map.
The biggest changes on the Via range, though, are on the inside. The Via 120 relies on the same 500 MHz processor as the TomTom GO LIVE 1000, the manufacturer's most advanced device. The upshot is that routes are planned and redesigned incredibly quickly, and much faster than on any other sat nav in this price range.
The voice instructions that result are clear and pleasant to listen to, and there's no chance you'll get it wrong, because each instruction is repeated several times. Some people criticise TomTom's sat navs for being too talkative, but we would rather know exactly where we're supposed to be going!
Let's finish by looking at the extra features offered by the LIVE platform, and in particular, HD Traffic. We explained how it works in detail in our review of the TomTom Go 740 LIVE, but it basically consists of adjusting route planning in real time based on actual traffic conditions. It suggests diversions around traffic jams and is very handy. Anybody who drives a lot—especially in big cities-really shouldn't go without.
Extra Features: Speed Cameras and Bluetooth
As well as offering the usual helpful information like the nearest hospital or police station, the TomTom Via LIVE 120 relies on its LIVE connection to display the weather conditions at your destination.
Mobile speed cameras listed in the Coyote database are also shown, but it's a shame that there's no indication of how many vehicles nearby are using the same system, which can usually give you an idea of how accurate it is.
You can also use Bluetooth for handsfree, which means you can make and receive calls using your mobile via the sat nav. It's handy and works well, even if the audio quality isn't great.
- LIVE services like traffic updates and speed cameras are great for road warriors
- Generally responsive
- Interface is simple and fun to use
- Nice finish quality
- Small and with a built-in stand
- My TomTom still has a few restrictions
- Voice recognition could be better
- No support for multi-stage itineraries
The TomTom Via LIVE 120 is fast, feature-packed and fun to use. With the LIVE services on board, it has everything you'd expect from a top-of-the-range sat nav, apart from the price tag. It's a great choice for drivers who need reliable information about conditions on the roads, with LIVE services bringing that information right up to date.