Review – TomTom for iPod Touch


I was a GPS refusenik for quite a while. The problem as I perceived it was rarely knowing where you are, I can get a decent road atlas for a few quid, and years on the bridge of Her Majesty’s ships has instilled strong navigation fu that doesn’t wear off. I finally caved and bought my wife a TomTom One after a trip home from the Lake District where it became obvious that none of this helped much when I was behind the wheel. Since then I’ve gotten kind of lazy, and will normally grab the PND before heading somewhere unfamiliar.

With a family holiday coming up in the States I thought it would be a good idea to get some US maps for the One. At least until I saw the price, and also that there wasn’t enough memory on my device (in fact it seems that only the most expensive devices have the space for you to buy more expensive maps – an odd choice in my mind). So… what would I do?

I’ve dabbled with using a GPS on my netbook, but it doesn’t seem to fix fast enough, it’s hard to position it right, and the (Microsoft) software is a bit clunky. Certainly a cheap option, but probably not something that’s going to work when I’m driver rather than copilot.

I considered buying a PND in that US, but it seemed hard to justify getting something that would only ever have US maps on (I go there a fair bit, but most trips I don’t drive). It also appeared that anything that could handle more maps for back at home was going to be expensive (e.g. as expensive as buying something at home and getting US maps).

TomTom for the iPhone/iPod looked like a nice idea, but it’s not particularly cheap, and the reviews of v1.2 seemed pretty mixed. A sals offer with $10/€10 off the maps, and a free upgrade to the next release was too tempting though, and I was able to find a TomTom car kit for my iPod Touch on eBay for a reasonable discount against the list price (which is frankly insane, given that you can get a TomTom Start for the same dough).

I gave it a road test yesterday, which revealed some good points:

  • The car holder attaches easily, holds firmly and allows you to choose between portrait and landscape orientation
  • It seems to fix quickly
  • It works just like I’d expect a TomTom to work
  • The built in speaker might be a sanity saver for those hire cars without a line in jack or bluetooth

and some bad:

  • It only works when plugged into the USB charger
  • It forgets routes if you have to exit the app to change the music that’s playing
  • Pausing any music that you have playing for turn by turn instructions gets annoying really quickly
  • No downloadable voices (we’ve got to quite like having Homer Simpson on the One)
  • The adaptor will probably take nearly the same space in a travel bag as a separate PND would
  • The ‘advanced lane guidance’ isn’t all that good, for example coming off the M3 to the M25 it showed that we could use either of the exit lanes when in fact we needed to be in the right one if we didn’t want to find ourselves heading the wrong way.
  • The ‘advanced lane guidance’ also doesn’t seem to respect the choice of day/night colours
  • ‘Advanced lane guidance’ as you leave a motorway can leave you with little time to figure out which lane you’re supposed to be at the top of the slip road
  • I’ve never used TomTom’s traffic or ‘Live’ services, so I don’t miss them, but I suspect this may be a huge omission (especially on an iPhone or MiFi’d iPod)
  • Position tracking on roundabouts seems a little behind the curve (e.g. not as good as I recall from my One)

That seems like a lot of bad versus good, which probably distorts the overall picture. It’s not THAT bad, there’s just plenty of room for improvement. Fingers crossed for v1.3 and that free upgrade. I’ll post again following the upgrade or if I have a significantly different experience with the US maps.

Update – 24 Mar 2010

Well, that 1.3 upgrade came out shortly before my trip to the US. The best part seems to be that it talks over the (faded) music now rather than stopping it, and there are controls for the music that’s playing (though no ability to select a new album or playlist). There’s no sign of the traffic features on my iPod, so I’m guessing that’s an iPhone only feature – a shame, as I’d be happy to pay for a day here or there, and it should work fine with a MiFi. On my run from Tampa to Kissemmee the route was fine (and I’m starting to find that portrait orientation makes loads more sense for a wider screen device). My only disappointment is that TomTom though that huge chunks of the I4 had a 65mph speed limit where the posted limit was actually 70mph (and those signs looked far from new) – dodgy data like that undermines confidence.

Update – 3 Apr 2010

More disappointment followed over the last couple of weeks using my iPod and TomTom in the US. It wasn’t just the I4 where it got speed limits wrong. To be honest it seemed so inconsistent that speed limits were more guidance than rules. I was also deeply unimpressed with the user experience as I left Tampa for the airport – the route through the city’s grid system felt like a torpedo avoidance zig-zag – far too much turn right, then get in the left hand lane, turn left, then get in the right hand lane (which was bad enough for me, but a real struggle for my poor father in law following behind). The system seems to badly need something akin to advanced lane guidance for city grids (it is after all easy to place yourself into the right lane if you know ahead of the turn which one you’re going to need for the next turn).

2 Responses to “Review – TomTom for iPod Touch”

  1. 1 Chris Swan

    Another quick test yesterday revealed that Bluetooth audio doesn’t work when the iPod is in the cradle – poor show :(

  1. 1 Waypoints — March 13th, 2010

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