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Review of Tom Tom for the iPhone

08.17.09 Posted in Hints and Tips by

Tom Tom have finally released their long awaited turn by turn GPS application for the Apple iPhone, and yours truly decided to splash out and grab a copy to see what it’s like. In short, if this software is as good as Tom Tom gets, I don’t know why anyone would buy a Tom Tom GPS.

The price tag, relative to buying a GPS, is pretty reasonable, at only $100 for the Australian version. You can get versions for other countries, which for some reason are all more expensive than the Aussie version, so I guess thats a win.

Right from the start, however, things were not good. I just bought and paid for an Australian GPS application, and yet the default voice was American, and the distances were being reported in miles. This oversight should be easily fixed, and Tom Tom should move quickly to do so.

A side note on the default American voice, is that it refers to things in the American vernacular, meaning I was told on several occasions to “drive through the rotary”.  After looking around for a rotary engine vehicle, and not seeing one, and thinking even if I did I wasn’t going to drive through it, I safely negotiated the roundabout and moved on with my day. :-)

The Aussie voice is much better, knowing what things are supposed to be called, using metres etc, my only complaint is that the voice sounds more like a bad Aussie accent done by an American, than a true Australian. I guess that’s just being picky though.

What disappointed me early in the day was the fact that the maps are so old. When I got my Garmin GPS, it had roads that were still in the early stages of development; In particular, the Tugan bypass was already in the GPS, despite being more than a year away from completion. While this was amusing at the time, it was great to know that I wouldn’t need to be updating maps too soon;

The Tom Tom, however, still has all the local main roads as they were a couple of years ago, and I was quite surprised to not see the future completed state of major upgrades such as the Centenary and Logan Motorways not there. Hopefully early adopters like myself will get a free map upgrade in a couple of months, although the real worry is that nobody seems to know if Tom Tom will be charging to update the maps in the future.

One thing that was mildly annoying was the way the software interrupts the audio you are playing; On many occasions, it would stop the audio, blurt out one word, then the audio would restart for a second before being cut off once more so the full direction could be given. Another area for improvement.

Zooming and panning the map is nowhere near as good as it is using Google Maps on the iPhone, its very jerky and keeps blanking the screen before refreshing the display post zoom; I think this is an area that Tom Tom could do some work on to make the app a lot more user friendly.

The software also features Night & Day colour schemes, much as my Garmin GPS does, with the exception that my Garmin GPS knows just when to change schemes, and does it automatically, while you have to do it manually on the Tom Tom iPhone app.

It is a bit of a pain that you have to exit the app to choose new music to play, especially if you are in the middle of a complicated navigation through city streets (okay, stopped at a red light during said navigation!), but I think that this is more the fault of the iPhone than the app, and as I have an FM transmitter charger, which has pause, foward and back buttons on it, I can at least do that without too much trouble.

Just before writing this review, I took a drive with the GPS running to get a few final thoughts, and I have to say, the directions are utterly woeful. For example, I was at this intersection (link should give you a google street view of it), and like the cars in the street view, I needed to turn right; For some reason, Tom Tom decided I should turn LEFT, drive off up the road, do a U Turn and come all the way back!

It also suggested I drive right past my house, down to the nearby roundabout, and come back to get home. All this weirdness left me wondering, until I remembered that it seemed to want me to drive around roundabouts anti clockwise; I have a sneaking suspicion the software hasn’t been told we drive on the left side of the road. Then again, I’ve had a close look at the directions to get me home tonight, and they show me driving on the left side, so now I have no idea!

As a final kicker, because I didn’t drive past my house and back again, the navigation had not completed despite me being at my destination; I still had the app open to check a few features and things as I wrote this review, then I put the iPhone to sleep and sat it on the table; While I was finalising the review, out of nowhere, a voice proclaimed “You have reached your destination”. Yeah, an hour ago mate. :-)

Assisted GPS Navigation is certainly a great leap foward for the iPhone platform, but the Tom Tom offering feels more like one small step. Here’s hoping Garmin or Google come out with an offering to add some competition to the market.

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