If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Thursday, 3 November 2011

TomTom Rant

If there was a World award for Companies-with-a-great-product-who-nevertheless-treat-their-customers-like-dirt, then TomTom would win it. Little-red-hands-on-a-bongo-drum down.

A few clarifying things first. I have owned a TomTom since 2005, and I have also owned two Garmins. I like the TomTom product. It is easy to use, the graphics and software are good and, with the usual caveat about applying common sense to everything a machine tells you, very accurate and reliable at routefinding. Many people say the Garmin range are technically better, but my Garmin (bought to tide me over while my original TomTom was in for repair, see below) had me doing a U-turn while on a dual carriageway in Oxford, and it was only because it was early on a Sunday morning that I wasn't squashed by a juggernaut as I nervously extracted myself. The software on the Garmin is less intuitive, too.

My first TomTom GO was one of the old square-screen ones with a deep back like an old television. I think the storage was a mini-hard drive, and I believe that this was the problem, although TomTom never admitted it. The hard drive just wasn't robust enough for the environment of the car. Interestingly, TomTom made sure that their next model was solid-state. The unit kept locking up, and either failing to shut down at all, or going into a loop on startup, where it cycled endlessly through the splash screen and the rest, without ever getting to navigation mode. I first noticed it when it 'forgot' my destination half-way through a journey and had to be reprogrammed by the side of the road. After a while, it started looping and freezing, and eventually I contacted TomTom tech support through their website. Most of the time you are dealing with a machine here, where you are presented with a list of responses, none of which say "the fucking thing doesn't work and I want it mended". Three times I negotiated my way through this, and three times it was sent away (to a location in Fife IIRC) for 'repair'. Each time, they simply reflashed the chip and returned the unit, which lasted another month or two before collapsing.

And, of course, each time they did this I lost all my 'favourites'. This is one of the great things abouyt satnav units. You can save any location on the surface of the planet as a 'favourite', and the unit will faithfully guide you back to it from anywhere. So all my regular destinations (family addresses, bike shops in distant cities, certain remote petrol stations, and so on) were set into the machine. And each time the unit was re-flashed, it went back to factory settings and I lost the lot. (Before anyone says I should have saved a backup, by the time the unit locked up, connecting to the PC was an impossibility.) I put up with this when it happened, mainly because I could re-enter most of the places I wished to from my (paper) address book.

In 2006, we went for a holiday in Italy, to the area of Tuscany just South of Florence. We had a fantastic time, and found a lot of superb places that we might wish to return to one day - spectacular views, nice little trattorias, nooks and crannies off the beaten track - which were all entered faithfully as 'favourites' in the TomTom. And then, half-way home through France, the unit packed up for good. I went through the usual website routine, and got them to take it back for 'repair' once more, this time with the plea that they save the favourites as I was unable to back the unit up to do so myself. Of course, it came back squeaky-clean and I had lost the lot. At no point in the process was I able to speak or even write to a human being.

I went utterly ballistic, but of course there is no option for that on the customer service web script. So I found the name and address of the MD in the Netherlands and wrote him a long letter. I didn't hold back; he had a three-page, blow-by-blow, dates and locations, case reference numbers, the lot. I didn't expect a reply, and this was when I bought the Garmin, as I had made the decision to bin the TomTom. A couple of weeks later, I received a gracious and very apologetic reply from someone high up in TomTom BV, with the offer of a brand-new, top-of-the-range unit free of charge. This was the GO720, which I received in 2007 - solid state electronics and a wide screen. He also admitted that they had had 'issues' with the service centre in Fife, and that they were no longer using it. Little comfort for me, but interesting.

This new unit has been superb and totally fault-free for five years. It has rattled around in the car's glovebox for all that time, it has been glued to the Honda and taken to Denmark, has been dropped and abused, and it has never failed me. But after five years, the maps were totally out of date. Bristol, especially, might as well have been another planet as far as the unit was concerned, and nearly every journey had me apparently travelling through green fields whenever there was a new road. So I decided to splash out and update the maps. It was £60 for the update and another three updates over a year, which I didn't think was too bad.

Big mistake.

What TomTom don't tell you while you have your credit card out is that, not only are the new maps so huge that you will need to buy extra storage if you want them all on the unit at once (luckily I had a spare 4GB SD card floating round), but by uploading the new maps you will lose all of your favourites. Yes, I had done a backup, and yes, I had the favourites stored in a secure location. But the new maps use a different file format, and the old favourites file won't work.

The new Western Europe map is vast - over 2GB - and took all afternoon and half the evening to download. Then it said I didn't have enough memory, so I used the SD card. Then it said I still didn't have enough memory, but I carried on anyway, and it seemed to be OK with that. Then I found my favourites were gone - I had loads, five years' worth, some irreplaceable - and I spent the evening on the web looking for solutions. Here's the deal as far as I am able to ascertain it:

There is a file in the Western_Europe folder called MapSettings.cfg. This contains all the user-defined information, such as favourites, recent destinations, the 'home' setting and so on. Loading a new map has always meant (for those in the know) saving a copy of this file to the desktop and copying it back to the new map folder afterwards, as the map installation process will delete it from the unit. First question for TomTom: why did I have to do my own research to find this out?

However, with the newer maps, this won't work. The unit doesn't recognise the file; it's apparently in a different format, although the name and extension are the same. There is a well-known workaround, which involves converting your MapSettings.cfg file to an ov2 file using shareware called Poiedit and then loading your favourites as a new category in Points of Interest, but this is fiddly and inconvenient, both to do and in subsequent use. Second question for TomTom: why did I have to do my own research to find this out?

Third question for TomTom: why the fucking fuck didn't you warn me about this before I gave you my sixty quid? If I had known I would lose all my favourite locations I would not have bothered. I would have paid a bit extra and got a new unit. Keeping the favourites was the main reason for upgrading, rather than renewing.

I assume that TomTom are concerned more with getting the mapping right and the software good than with the individual user's personal experiences. This is OK as far as it goes, but when we use technology like a satnav, we personalise it, and that personalisation is an important part of the experience. If there are technical constraints which necessitate changes that impact on users' personalisation (such as the deletion of a 'favourites' file), then at least warn the users first and suggest ways round it. Otherwise you just piss people off. And they have pissed me off, big style.

This poses me a problem. I am going to get a bike-specific satnav at some point when funds allow. Because of my good experiences with the GO720, I had pretty much settled on the TomTom Rider: cheaper than the Garmin Zumo, comes ready with a headset, and I know and like the way it works. Now I am not sure. I'm pretty much at the point of saying that I will never buy a TomTom product ever again, just because they obviously care so little for their customers. Automated tech support and email-only customer service do not make you feel as if you matter.

Now, if you will excuse me, I am going to sit down with a coffee and my address book, and start re-entering all my favourites to the TomTom.

Manually, for fuck's sake. In two-thousand-and-eleven.


  1. A bit like trying to report a fault to Tiscrapi/TalkTalk, or HP computers...

  2. Amazing that such British Gas c 1973 customer service still exists in 2011. I have no experience of the ones you mention, but BT would be similar, I would think. The thing with TomTom is the sheer arrogance of it - thinking that you don't even warn people that they might lose important stuff, because your NEW MAP is so cool they won't notice. I know some will snort when I say this, but my experience of Orange has been 100% good - always a human to talk to, no long waits, and always pleasant in manner and abkle to resolve the issue. To be fair, for all they say about them, Apple have been pretty good when I had problems with the iPhone too. It doesn't take much - just well-trained staff with a good attitude, and enough of them to ensure you can get through. It's not rocket surgery.

  3. Oh, and that workaround with POIs is now official TomTom policy - their FAQ page now gives that as the recommended method. They don't even mention POIedit - according to them, you save your favourites as a POI file and then copy them back, one by sodding one. Jesus.

  4. I bought a Garmin Quest in '05 because a bloke down the pub reckoned they were better than Tom Tom, it is useless and has nearly put me into a brick wall three times in the 3 journeys I have ever used it for, I was told by a Garmin salesperson that the 1st series Quest had insuficient memory but I just found it entirely user un-freindly. Now I print off maps from the internet and use 20 years of HGV intuition to get me where I want to go, I might make mistakes but at least I dont push my blood pressure to dangerous levels.

  5. Tiscali are quite happy to give you advice which would result in the inexperienced user loosing ALL of their emails.

    Not sure if all of this will display correctly, but here is what they sent me sometime back:

    Dear Mr. ****,

    Thank you for contacting TalkTalk Customer Support.

    I understand from your email that you are experiencing problem while accessing your email account via. Thunderbird.

    I sincerely apologize for the inconvenience caused to you.

    Following are a few reasons to why you may be unable to send or receive emails using Thunderbird:

    - The Incoming and Outgoing servers are not set correctly.
    - The accounts may not be configured properly.

    To resolve the issue, please follow the steps given below in sequence:

    * Remove the accounts from the Mozilla Thunderbird.
    * Reconfigure the Mozilla Thunderbird.

    Please follow the steps listed below:

    === Steps to remove the accounts from the Thunderbird ===

    1. Open Mozilla Thunderbird. On the top level navigation bar, click Tools and on the drop down menu which appears, click Accounts Settings.
    2. You will then see the Outgoing Server setting window.
    3. Select the accounts and click Remove. (Delete all the account listed in this Window)
    4. After deleting the account click Close.
    5. Close Mozilla Thunderbird and restart the computer.

    === Steps to reconfigure the Mozilla Thunderbird ===

    For your convenience I am providing you the web site which contains detailed instruction for reconfiguring the Mozilla Thunderbird. Please visit the Web site given below:

    Quite apart from the comical Engrish used, they didn't pay attention to my complaint (this is normal, and you only get any sense after a second attempt). Exactly the same problem had already been reported by several users on their forum (which I alerted them to), but the goons in Bombay just push out the usual automated reply.

    You think loosing your placemarks is a pain - how would you feel about loosing all your emails?

    I'm not in any way suggesting your problem is insignificant, just that this sort of "customer support" is (unfortunately) far too commonplace.

  6. That's a proper horror story, that is.


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