TomTom Rider 400 review

TomTom Rider 400

TomTom Rider 400

“If you’re serious about riding, the TomTom Rider 400 GPS is a worthy addition to your gear.”
  • Easy-to-read screen, even in daylight
  • Superb handlebar mounting hardware
  • Voice-based turn-by-turn navigation
  • Display works horizontal or vertical
  • Free, real-time traffic info via smartphone
  • Response lag from slow processor
  • Glitchy handling of incoming calls
  • Inadequate custom route-planning software
MSRP $499.99

Google “Motorcycle GPS.” Go ahead, I’ll wait. Now let me guess what you’ve found: The Garmin Zumo and the TomTom Rider.

True, many riders are now opting for smartphones, but motorcycle GPS devices haven’t been put out of business yet, but as the current choices suggest, that day is approaching fast. TomTom has been evolving its Rider GPS ever since its 2005 debut in the hopes of keeping it from extinction and its current model, the Rider 400, is a clear reflection of the market reality. The company abandoned its proprietary software in favor of a customized Android build for the Rider 400, an interesting move to say the least. The result is a good choice for motorcyclists who do not want to mount their smartphone to their handlebars (more on this later). Here’s a look at its features and how it stacks up to its one competitor.

Easy Rider?

The TomTom Rider 400 ($499) comes with everything you need to get riding. In the box, you’ll find the Rider 400 itself, a microUSB cable, a special circular mounting backplate, a handlebar mount made by RAM Mounts, and a power lead that you can use to wire the backplate to your bike’s battery. The Rider 400 has an internal, rechargeable battery, which is good for about six hours of continuous use, so technically the power lead is optional, but it’s a must-have for longer rides.

The RAM Mount is very well made and comes with a variety of nuts and bolts to accommodate almost any handlebar configuration. The ball-joint mechanism is sturdy and won’t budge a millimeter once you crank down on the tightening knob. The instructions are pretty basic, however be prepared for some head scratching and trial and error.

TomTom Rider 400
Simon Cohen/Digital Trends
Simon Cohen/Digital Trends

The TomTom Rider 400 is built to withstand the environmental demands of life on a bike. With an IPx7 rating, it’s fully weatherproof, vibration, shock and impact-proof too. At just over half a pound it isn’t heavy, but it possesses enough heft that when you snap it into its charging cradle, it offers up the kind of “thunk” you expect from a quality product. Compared to a smartphone – even one wrapped in a protective case – the Rider 400 is bulky (5.4W x 3.5H x 1.2D), yet still small enough that you can slide it into a jacket pocket, which is good: We recommend you take it with you whenever your bike is out of sight, because there’s no way to lock it to the mount.
There are only two input options (microUSB and microSD) on the Rider are both located on the back, protected weatherproof doors. You may never need the extra storage, as the Rider 400 comes with a very generous 8GB of internal capacity.

Screen

The TomTom Rider 400’s screen is 4.3-inches with a resolution of 480 x 272. That works out to a pixels-per-inch (PPI) of 128, which by today’s display standards is laughably low-resolution. To be fair, resolution and pixel density are not the be-all and end-all, and the more expensive Garmin Nuvi 395LM has the same resolution, so the Rider is hardly a laggard. However, there are still times when a better spec’d screen would really help – especially when trying to read street names quickly.  On the bright side, the screen is very bright indeed and performs very well in daytime riding. Off-angle viewing isn’t very good, but neither is it a deal-breaker as the RAM Mount has enough flexibility to aim the screen directly at your eyes.

Performance

TomTom doesn’t publish the specs for the Rider 400’s CPU, but whichever chipset it chose, it did not spend enough money. Looking at, let alone operating, a GPS is probably something we riders should avoid, but we do so for the added convenience it offers. So you would think that TomTom, knowing this, would make their unit ultra-quick. But that is not the case with the Rider 400. Navigating menu items is brisk enough, with only a tiny amount of lag. During the ride, however, tasks like offering a new set of directions when you miss an indicated turn, can take up to seven seconds as it calculates a new route.

When you shift from horizontal to vertical orientation, it takes five seconds to respond, instead of the nearly instant shift of today’s smartphones.

Features

Easily the biggest improvement the TomTom Rider 400 offers over previous Rider models is the ability to rotate the unit on its mount, from landscape to portrait mode. This has the effect of increasing the amount of viewable road ahead. On winding roads, it’s a game-changer. Knowing when you’re going to need to turn, without taking your eyes off the road is a huge plus. Portrait mode enhances your ability to predict the future, and it’s only a 90-degree turn of the wrist away.

Pairing the Rider 400 with your smartphone opens up real-time traffic data, importing saved routes, and the option to accept and end incoming calls. You need to have the free TomTom MyDrive app, and it has to be running. The real-time traffic is the most valuable option, giving the Rider 400 Waze-like abilities to save you time when traffic is heavy.

We were less impressed with the call management feature, which simply wouldn’t work for us, even when the Rider 400 was paired to an officially supported headset: a Cardo SRC-System designed for the Schuberth M1 helmet.

Route Management & Planning

There are three ways to route plan. You can search for your destination via address or by description, and the Rider will pick out a route, based on your preferences (fastest, shortest, no-toll, no freeway, etc.). Or, you can simply look around the map, zooming in and out until you see a spot that interests you and then tap it, which triggers the same routing process.

If you want a moto GPS so that you can simply enjoy your ride, we’re hard-pressed to think of a better value than the TomTom Rider 400.

Any location can be saved as a “my place” for later, likewise any route that you are currently using can be saved as a “my route.”

Once routes and places have been saved, they will sync automatically with your MyDrive app (if connected), which will also make them available via the MyDrive website. Both the app and the website let you plan routes using the same techniques as on the Rider itself. The MyDrive website has the additional benefit of letting you import and export GPX route files that may have been created with other software or on other GPS devices.

The third way is the Rider’s marquee feature – the “Plan a Thrill” option (which will pick out the twistiest roads between you and your destination) –sounds good in theory, but don’t expect miracles. If there are no interesting roads between you and your intended destination, “Plan a Thrill” amounts to “take the long way.” You can choose between three levels of windiness and three levels of grade extremity (“hilliness”) with this option, as well as the ability to make the route a round-trip, but these must be chosen before the route is planned – there’s no way to edit these toggles after the fact.

There’s one glaring omission: Being able to plot a specific route, road by road and turn by turn in advance, so you can load it onto the Rider 400. Not that you can’t do this – you can (as mentioned earlier, GPX import and export is fully supported) – but TomTom doesn’t include this kind of planning option on the Rider itself or on the MyDrive app or website. Instead, the company has offloaded this incredibly useful feature to a 3rd party: The TyreToTravel software (for PC users) and its web-app MyRouteApp (for Mac & PC).

Usability and Interface

Riding with the TomTom Rider 400 in navigation mode gives riders a clear view of their route, in either a 3D or 2D perspective, provides lane guidance on freeways so you don’t end up having to suddenly veer across three lanes of traffic, and the voice prompts are clear and (usually) well-timed. Its quick-settings menu lets you toggle voice prompts, sounds and night-mode. The guidance screen incorporates some nice touches like a constant compass indicator, and a progress bar that shows you how far you are from the next gas station, parking, heavy traffic, or planned stops. Our favorite feature is the speed indicator, which shows you the posted speed limit for the road you’re on (if known) and your current speed. Audible warnings will let you know when you’re exceeding those limits, something that is all too easy to do when you’re focused on enjoying your ride.

Road labeling in vertical mode could be improved.  In horizontal mode, your next turn is indicated with directional arrows, remaining distance and street name, in high-contrast white letters against a dark oval background. When vertical, the arrows and distance stay on the dark background, but the street name is relegated to a lower position, with the bright colors of the map behind it. It’s much harder to read this way – especially if you depend on reading glasses for small text.

The Rider 400’s touch screen blends capacitive and resistive technologies to respond equally well to both gloved and bare fingers, however we strongly recommend you avoid trying to use it while riding. Touch screens can be tricky to use at the best of times, but add in the vibrations and movements of riding, with the small target areas on the 4.3-inch screen and you’ve got a recipe for major rider distraction.

The Competition

Garmin currently sells four different versions of its Zumo, (five if you include the Harley-Davidson specific version of the 590), starting at $599. The TomTom Rider 400, at $499, is the least expensive option. Saving $100 means you will be giving up some Zumo-exclusive features like the included car mount accessory, remote control of music on an MP3 player or your smartphone and the ability to connect your GPS to optional tire-pressure sensors. What you won’t get is the ability to change the orientation of the Zumo’s screen – a feature that is only found on the more expensive 590LM ($799) and 595LM ($899).

The TomTom Rider 400 is built to withstand the environmental demands of being a motorcyclist’s constant companion.

Most of the other features are consistent between Garmin and TomTom: Both offer lifetime map updates for you region (typically North America, Europe, Africa etc.) and lifetime safety camera (read: Red light and speed cameras). The biggest difference you’ll notice is the interface. Garmin favors a very boxy design, which clearly separates portions of the screen by function or information. Street names and directions, for instance, sit at the top of the screen in their own box, on a dedicated green background. TomTom tends to overlay its buttons and information on top of the map view, which you may or may not prefer.

What about simply using a smartphone? With a suitable protective case, handlebar mount, and power adapter cord, you can turn your phone into a very helpful navigation device for your bike, especially if you’re prepared to invest in some dedicated apps like like Garmin’s Navigon (starting at $50). These apps offer a huge number of the features you’d find on a dedicated GPS device, including what is arguably the most important feature of all: Turn-by-turn navigation. There’s also something to be said for having your GPS, phone, and music features all contained within one device.

TomTom Rider 400
Simon Cohen/Digital Trends
Simon Cohen/Digital Trends

But downsides do remain to using a phone: The cost of an iPhone 6s eclipses the price of even the most expensive Garmin Nuvi – do you really want to strap it to your bike, going 75 MPH? Will your smartphone work with gloved fingers? Then there’s the question of route planning and management. With the right collection of apps – you can probably equip your phone with the same capabilities that the TomTom Rider 400 offers. What you won’t find — or perhaps more accurately: what we haven’t found – is a single app that reproduces the full features that a motorcycle GPS combines in one purpose-built device. Is that worth $499? We’d argue that if you’re racking up thousands of miles per year on your ride, the answer is yes.

Warranty information

The TomTom Rider 400 comes with a one-year warranty from the manufacturer.

Conclusion

If you’re in the market for a motorcycle GPS that will free you from the worry of missing exits and roads, so that you can simply enjoy the ride, we’re hard-pressed to think of a better value than the TomTom Rider 400. At $499, it’s less expensive than the entry-level competition from Garmin and offers a rotating display. It’s not perfect: We found glitches when trying to receive phone calls, and its underpowered processor sometimes makes you wait seconds for responses that should be instant. The lack of custom route-planning software is also a missed opportunity. But these drawbacks aside, the Rider 400 is worthy addition to any rider’s road arsenal, especially if what you enjoy most is long distance touring.

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