Of all the iPhone GPS apps, perhaps none has been more anticipated than TomTom’s, thanks to its featured place in Apple’s June 2009 WWDC keynote address. TomTom is also the biggest name in U.S. navigation to enter the space. So does this $99 app live up to expectations? Yes and no. While it’s the most in tune with Apple’s clean interface, and integrates well with the iPhone, it’s still lacking some features that would put it on a par with TomTom’s standalone devices.
Installation and Interface
As with Navigon’s iPhone app, TomTom elected to load everything onto the iPhone, as opposed to having the app pull down maps and POIs from its servers on the fly. As a result, it takes up 1.3GB of space on the iPhone, far more than AT&T (2.3MB) or Gokivo (2.7MB) apps, and its POI database is not as large. However, this means that you’ll still be able to use TomTom’s app even if you’re outside AT&T’s data coverage area.
TomTom’s interface is simple, colorful, and completely Apple-esque. The main screen offers a scrollable list of options, the first for picking a destination (Navigate to...) and the rest for settings (Advanced Planning, Mute Sound, Night Colors, Route Options, and 2D Maps); meaning all of your choices are easily within reach. When choosing a destination, you can search the pre-loaded 6 million points-of-interest database, enter an address, look through your recent destinations, pick a spot on the map, or choose an entry from your iPhone’s Address Book.
Maps and Navigation
TomTom for iPhone’s map view is clean, clear, and attractive; and the same as TomTom’s standard map view. Maps are friendly-looking with bright colors, and the current and next streets are clearly labeled. The app works in landscape or portrait mode, a big plus. Route information is arranged along the bottom in a black panel; here you’ll find next turn information, as well as time remaining, distance remaining, and more. The lettering here is often small and the white text is hard to read at a glance. We’d like to see TomTom improve readability in this section, considering the iPhone’s smaller screen.
Zooming in or out from the map view is simple using on-screen buttons or a two-finger pinch. You can play tunes in the background and the volume lowers when the app gives directions, but we were disappointed that there was no way for us to control the music without leaving the app.
The app offers a choice of four Americanized, English-speaking voices, a rarity in an iPhone GPS app, but none of them speak street names, unlike AT&T and GoKivo’s apps. Instead, TomTom gives more general directions such as, “turn right ahead,” or “make the next right.” This is TomTom’s biggest negative, and one we hope the company will correct quickly. (Navigon’s app shares this weakness.) Having spoken street names is a huge help, since it frees you from constantly looking at the screen.
Points of Interest
While smaller than the 10 million plus entries offered by the AT&T Navigator app, TomTom’s 6-million POI directory felt mostly up to date, and was three times the size of Navigon’s. We noticed a few glitches, such as a local Home Depot that was several blocks in the wrong direction and a local architect came up in the Zoos category, but those were rare occurrences. TomTom for iPhone lets you save favorite destinations and search along a route for POIs, but there’s no multipoint route planning. TomTom also lets you create a route simply by touching the map to indicate an end point; it’s an interesting concept, and a good use of the iPhone’s screen, but, ultimately, it’s not practical for getting directions to a specific address.
You can call up searched POIs with a tap, which is helpful, but you won’t find live services, such as access to local gas prices or movie times, which should be standard in a connected device. While we like that the POI directory has many helpful categories, we wish a few of them had subcategories. For example, the restaurant list isn’t broken up by cuisine, and the shops list isn’t arranged by type of store. That change would make finding destinations much easier.
Traffic and Extras
TomTom uses a feature called IQ Routes to create routes based on historical traffic data; we prefer devices with actual live traffic info, and the company won’t comment on whether this feature is coming. When driving around, the app occasionally took us on minor local roads rather than larger, busier streets, a decision we weren’t thrilled about. When driving through neighborhoods, it’s more comfortable to take the bigger, higher-traffic streets. Otherwise, you’re driving slow, watching for kids, and having to cross those larger streets at the intersections. There’s also no lane assistance feature.
During our testing, re-routing took about seven seconds, which is good, not just for iPhone GPS apps, but for standalone devices as well; it was almost twice as fast as AT&T Navigator and Gokivo. Sadly, TomTom’s iPhone window mount wasn’t ready during our testing. We look forward to trying it, since it powers the iPhone and provides enhanced GPS reception.
While several other navigators beat it out of the gate, TomTom’s iPhone GPS app is off to a strong start. Like Navigon, TomTom has spurned the subscription model for a single purchase price of $99.99, which makes sense in the long run; if you use it for one year, you’ve paid about $20 less than with AT&T or Gokivo’s $9.99 per month subscription. TomTom’s interface is excellent, and the company has made the most strides in terms of integrating its app with the iPhone, not just technically, but aesthetically. Adding spoken street names, multipoint routing, and live services would make it this app even better.