TomTom for the iPhone

Author: Sven Rafferty
January 12th, 2010
TomTom, iPhone, GPS

Ratings

Overall:

Ease of Use:

Features:

Accuracy:

POI:

Audio Volume:

Price (Overall):

Pros

  • Best routing we’ve seen
  • Great menus system
  • Fast start-up
  • Wealth of information on navigation screen
  • iPod pausing during voice instructions

Cons

  • Horrible iPod interface
  • Dated map interface
  • Limited POI database
  • No Internet-connectivity for POIs

The Bottom Line
TomTom has a strong history of being one of the best in the GPS industry and as the first to the iPhone, it took the market lead. But with a dated interface and lack of Internet look-up of POIs that the other guys have, TomTom may have a tough sale at $60. It’s saving grace may be the fact that it routed us better than any other GPS app we have tested.
Recommended
Yes

Full Review
I’ve been a fan of TomTom navigation products way back to the start of the millennium dating to our first review of its Palm OS navigator in 2002. Yes, this isn’t the first time TomTom has brought GPS to a “PDA”. (Remember that acronym?) We all first learned of TomTom’s navigator when the second generation iPhone, the 3G, came to the world with the ability to run third-party applications. Unfortunately, it would take over a year before one was able to download it from the App Store. Now that we have it, is it as good as a TomTom dedicated device or is just a little better than the nearly decade old Palm OS version? Truthfully, there is no short answer as to how good TomTom for the iPhone is. Like all the other GPS applications for the iPhone, it has it’s lacking and it has its strengths. Take a ride with me as we make a turn-by-turn review of TomTom’s navigation for the iPhone.

The first thing I noticed when I powered up TomTom for the iPhone was the menu. The layout is simple and intuitive. You will not struggle to figure out how to enter your address, find a POI, or even change the voice to German. With a few taps, you’ll have your address entered and starting on your way to your destination. The second thing I noticed, once the map came up, was the interface. It has changed very little, and I mean almost not at all, since that first time I used it on my Palm T3 in early 2002. While it was a fantastic looking map then, it’s showing its age now. The map does not move fluidly as you drive but jitters little by little. Sure, the color scheme works great as does the arrow indicators, but in light of the many other brands filling the App Store up with GPS navigation, I’m not sure how long TomTom can hold on to this look of its. Additionally, the highway numbers, such as California State Road 12, are small and difficult to read. The street names are a bit larger and easier to read but still do require some eyeball time to get the information to your brain which is dangerous on the road. That said, it is very easy to follow the directions and make it to your destination without a hitch. If you miss a turn, TomTom does a pretty good job getting you rerouted correctly fairly quick.

There are many things I like about TomTom for the iPhone, one being Map of Route. You can quickly bring up a map of your route and as your move your finger over the route, a bubble, much like the iPhone magnify text bubble, appears giving you specifics such as street name and turns right at your finger. You can also create route alternatives if roadblocks are a head of you or you just want to avoid known commuter traffic. One can view a list of your route to make a quick review of your journey as well. Other routing options include A-B routing allowing you to specify your starting position which can be very convenient when setting up a trip away from your staring point.

Entering an address is fairly straight forward with the city name coming first. Once you’ve entered a city, it will show a list of prior cities below for quick tapping access in the future. As you type the cities name, any city matching that name will appear for your country selected. This helps skipping the state entry and surprisingly works well without much clutter. After the city is found, enter the street name. If the street is an East, West, North, or South, they will be listed in the search results. Finally, enter the house number or tap Crossing for a cross street. Very simply and easy; however, I do wish there was the ability to paste in an entire address from your notes, Google Maps, or another source. Grabbing an address from a contact is as easy as tapping Contact and finding your person of choice. Recent, Favorite, Home, and Point on Map are other selections you can choose from.

While TomTom may lag with a stale interface, its routing is top notch. In testing three other navigation apps for the iPhone, I found TomTom’s to always be the best. In fact, it was the only one to accurately get me home in the most quick and direct route. Since I live in the country, all other GPS units want to keep me on the state road as long as possible before having me turn off. This adds another eight minutes to my trip. TomTom never suggested the longer route and always found the best routes to my most commonly traveled places that have many avenues of connection. I never founding myself doubting TomTom’s routes.

New to the latest rev of TomTom for the iPhone is iPod control. I guess to tie the tired looking interface, TomTom didn’t try very hard with the iPod user interface. Basically, the bottom bar of the screen toggles to a volume controller with back, play/pause, and skip controls. That’s it. You’re better off double pressing the home button and invoking Apple’s built-in pop-up iPod controller. In short, TomToms iPod interface is useless and a joke.

If your iPod is playing, TomTom will pause the music prior to making an audible announcement and restart play on the iPod per conclusion. At first I thought this was annoying and preferred the fade sound feature of other devices but actually found the fade treatment to be more annoying as I would miss important bits from news-based podcasts due to a chatty instructions. So in truth, TomTom’s pausing is the better, excuse the pun, route.

Text-to-speech has also been added to TomTom’s minor update and it is a welcomed improvement. The computer does a pretty good job of pronouncing the upcoming roads allowing you to keep your eyes on the road. In truth, this is what GPS units should really be about and I think TomTom is darn close to getting to this goal. Sometimes it is a bit early on your upcoming turn, but more times than not, it can be a hair to late which makes a big difference for turns on a busy street. Hopefully, with some more minor tweaks, TomTom will iron this out. As for the standard voices, we enjoyed the Australian “Ken” and other voices such as the German female. These are not text-to-speech and thus do not announce road names. It would be nice to see TomTom allow its PND voices, such as Mr. T., to be added to the iPhone app as it’s always funny to have Mr. T. call you a fool.

Points of Interest, or POI, is okay with various items from stores, fast food, parks, gas stations, and even the new Help Me, filled with emergency services, all bundled into the phone. But, like every navigation unit I’ve come across since the beginning of time of GPS, there is things missing. Lots of things. I can understand niche or lesser known places missing from the POI database, but when grocery stores or even well known McDonald’s locations cannot be found, you have to wonder what’s going on. The only good fix I’ve seen for this is Internet connectivity. Dash Express was the first to do this and it did it well. Since the iPhone IS the most used Internet handheld today, it makes sense for TomTom to just tap into that and make available pretty much everything you can get on your computer, right? Nope, TomTom hasn’t added the must-have feature while many of TomTom’s iPhone competitors have. Another oddity I found was when searching for Chipolte Mexican Grill in the South Bay Area, having first to find it on Google Maps since the TomTom didn’t have it, it would not allow me to put in the proper address. Located at 2400 Charleston Rd, Mountain View, California, TomTom iPhone kept forcing me to 2400 East Charleston, the other side of the Bayshore Freeway, which was the incorrect address. What makes this so odd is we had a TomTom PND and it DID have the correct address!

TomTom has made a nice application with great menus that give easy to understand navigation through this application. Its routing is top-notch and I believe the best, at least in the Central Valley area of California, that I’ve seen. Start-up time is quick, which is nice for getting back to the GPS after a phone call, and the extensive features with heavy routing options are great. The iPod interface is a joke and the maps interface is aged which are not deal killers in my book. I think the most lacking feature, really, is the absence of Internet connectivity which SvenOnTech’s media contact just could not give us a straight answer on. If POIs are important to you, I’d suggest looking elsewhere (or just Google Maps) but if this isn’t that big of a deal for you, I would strongly recommend TomTom for the iPhone.

Price: $59.99

Platform: iPhone 3G and 3GS; iPod touch (All)

Website: Product Information


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