MC Tested: TomTom Rider 400 GPS

New and improved, and it swivels!

TomTom Rider 400 GPS
TomTom Rider 400 GPSTomTom

TomTom's Rider 400 was introduced last year to finally take on Garmin. It has a totally new platform with a 4.3-inch glossy touchscreen, 16 GB of internal memory (plus a slot for a Micro SD card), and a battery claimed to run the unit for six hours. It also includes a variety of motorcycle mounts that mate to a clever and durable base for the unit itself. That base holds a key feature: the ability to swivel 90 degrees. Just by twisting the unit, you can have the screen in landscape or portrait mode.

While the size of the Rider 400 is close to that of Garmin’s zumo 300-series units, the screen seems to have both more resolution—the images are finer, some of the text more gracefully rendered—and yet uses a more subdued color palette. In general, the Rider works like other GPSs: Touch an icon to get to the main menu, punch Search, and use the QWERTY keypad to look for your destination. There are extra steps in the TomTom that make use a bit fussy, but overall its operation is simple enough that you can get navigating without reaching for the manual.

In landscape mode, you get a nice moving map with the right third called the Route Bar, which shows gas stations, rest stops, and traffic-camera locations. And, if you’ve connected your smartphone through the Rider via Bluetooth, you’ll also have near-real-time traffic that shows up as congestion or construction warnings in the Route Bar. Very nice. These functions work as long as your smartphone has a data connection, which also means it’ll keep your phone working while you’re riding. You can also connect to a Bluetooth headset for verbal navigation assistance.

The main map screen is quite detailed, with the next turn, distance, and direction shown at the top, total distance and time, time of arrival at the destination, and local time. There’s also an oblong button on the left side that changes the map scale and can change the map orientation from north-up to track-up.

TomTom Rider 400 GPS
TomTom Rider 400 GPSTomTom

This button is emblematic of the Rider’s software philosophy, which is just a little fussy. To zoom in, you need to press the “spyglass” icon in that button once, then the button changes to a plus and a minus; press either of these to change the screen range. Similarly, when you search for your destination, you first go to the main menu, hit Search, type in an address or a place name. A list of results comes up, some obscured by the keyboard, which you dismiss with another button. Then you touch the result you want, which takes you back to the main map page showing the location and a floating menu. One option is to Ride there, which loads the address as the destination, but another submenu allows you to add it to My Places, add it to the current route as a “fly by,” use it as a starting point, or “search near here.” That’s a lot of icon touching.

The Rider 400 has the ability to record trips and export them as GPX files or data that TomTom’s mapping app, Tyre Pro, can read. You can also create GPX-based routes externally and import them to the Rider through either the SD card or a connection to the free MyDrive service through your computer via USB. The system works well, but the process is slightly picky, and the MyDrive mapping site isn’t nearly as intuitive as using, say, Google Maps to plan a trip.

Overall, I’m pretty happy with the advances made in the screen clarity and brightness over the last TomTom I tried. The software itself has been greatly improved. The previous versions had us scratching our heads a lot, but the Rider 400 is much more intuitive. Sure, I’d like a few more shortcuts, and if you use the TomTom alongside the current Garmin offerings, it’s clear that Brand G has a head start in terms of refinement. At least the $500 TomTom Rider 400 undercuts the least expensive Garmin zumo model by $100, and that includes lifetime maps and traffic.

TomTom Rider 400 GPS
PRICE: $499

VERDICT: Capable, feature-laden motorcycle-specific GPS moves TomTom to the adult's table in terms of features but is held back slightly by fussy software.