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SatNav,GPS,Navigation

TomTom iPhone Car Kit Review

11th February 2010

Author: Darren Griffin

 

Introduction

TomTom launched their iPhone Car Kit at Apple's Keynote iPhone 3GS Launch event on June 9th 2009. There is no better publicity than being invited to participate in an Apple Keynote, an event that has a massive audience of world wide viewers watching via the web as well as the event attendees.

 

Until then, turn-by-turn navigation on the iPhone had been blocked by a clause in Apple's App Developer agreement. So it was with much relief that they changed their policy and finally unleashed turn-by-turn navigation on the iPhone user community.

 

Amongst a number of other partners chosen by Apple to demonstrate their wares at the launch were TomTom so Peter Frans Pauwels stepped onto the stage to demonstrate TomTom for iPhone and to unveil the

car kit reviewed here.


Technology

Whilst the arrival of turn-by-turn navigation software had long been rumoured and was almost a given, TomTom's involvement had not been leaked nor had the launch of a dedicated car kit been anticipated. So it was even more of a surprise to discover that the car kit was not just a simple cradle with charging capabilities but also contained its own dedicated GPS receiver.

 

iPhone owners will know that the GPS contained within the 3G version is far from the most sensitive available. The 3GS is better but for Apple to allow a car kit with its own GPS receiver is tantamount to an admission that for in-car use, the internal GPS was not good enough and comes as a huge surprise.

 

Features

TomTom's cradle has been well thought out and contains some nice little design touches. Although disappointingly, it cannot accommodate an iPhone that is installed in a case. Amongst its features are:

  • Charging capability using miniUSB
  • Hands Free
  • Loudspeaker
  • Rotates between portrait/landscape
  • Line Out

The design allows the iPhone to be inserted very easily with the sync connector at the bottom swivelling outwards a few degrees to aid insertion. The back of the cradle is rubberised and the TomTom logo is a rubber 'cushion' that support the phone. The top catch that secures the iPhone when installed contains a small roller that aids insertion and prevents scratching, a nice touch.

 

Car Kit Features

TomTom iPhone Car Kit Features

 

TomTom have used a similar design suction mount to that first seen on the TomTom ONE 'EasyPort' models. This uses a large flat disc that is turned to secure the suction mount. This is attached by means of a small ball joint to the speaker which rotates against the rear of the main cradle for adjustment.

 

In addition, the cradle can slide up/down along tracks to allow a wide choice of positions. This allows the mount to be used fitted to a dash top or hung from the windscreen in both portait and landscape modes without the top or bottom of the cradle fouling. Difficult to explain in words but this picture demonstrates the adjustment.

 

Cradle Adjust

Mount slides up/down for more adjustment

 

In Use

Bare cradleThe car kit comes complete with a 1.2A cigarette lighter charger, an adhesive disk that allows the cradle to be mounted to a flat surface instead of the windscreen if preferred and a getting started instruction leaflet.

 

Installation is easy with only a small turn of the knurled suction base being required to secure it. Power needs to be applied to the cradle for the GPS, loudspeaker, hands free etc to work and of course for charging. The iPhone sucks battery power at a rapid rate of knots when GPS is in use so 12v power is essential for use in-car.

 

The cradle uses Bluetooth to service the hands-free functionality and so you will need to pair your device to the cradle (and have Bluetooth switched ON) if you wish to make use of the hands-free services.

 

Once the iPhone has been inserted and paired the only thing that remains is to fire up your navigation app. Whilst TomTom would naturally prefer you use their own solution, the beauty of this design is that it will provide GPS assistance and loudspeaker functionality to any GPS app installed on your iPhone. When docked, the iPhone automatically uses the GPS installed in the cradle. This is a nice touch and means you are not locked into a TomTom solution for navigation instructions.

 

In-Car

Portrait/Landscape Positions

 

In-use I noticed a large improvement in sensitivity and TTFF on the iPhone 3G and a much smaller but still worthwhile improvement on the 3GS. The car kit also supports the original 2G model which is great news as the 2G did not have a GPS receiver.

 

The loudspeaker works well and delivers a huge improvement in volume. On its own, an iPhone struggles to be heard above the noise in a normal family car whereas when docked, it is much more akin to the volume levels you get from a PND.

 

Cradle Rear

Rear view showing mount and speaker

 

If you have a car stereo that has an AUX-IN facility you can connect the car kit direct using a 3.5mm male to male cable. With the stereo input switched to AUX-IN, all the audio from the iPhone would then be fed through your vehicle speakers. This includes any music you have on your iPhone so you could have music playing from your iTunes library and have voice guidance on top. The iPhone automatically mutes the music as navigation instructions are played.

 

Car Kit Landscape

 

I'm not a fan of using your phone in-car, hands free or otherwise. Driving is complex enough without the added distraction of a telephone conversation so for me this feature isn't something I;d use. But for those of you who do, it works as well as can be expected. I say that because the iPhone does not multi-task and so if a call comes in, navigation must be shut down in order to take the call. The app does resume when the call is complete and the microphone is sufficiently sensitive for the other party to hear you without problems though.

 

On the side of the cradle, hidden from view when the iPhone is docked is a small volume toggle. Frustratingly this gives no visual indication when used and so it is difficult to know if it has had any effect. Personally I found it easier to use the iPhone volume buttons instead.

 

Conclusion

TomTom iPod Touch Car KitSo it it worth buying? That is a very difficult question to answer. At £99.95 it is very expensive when compared with the cost of an entry level PND. However, when compared against cradles from Brodit and Carcomm which can cost £50+ and lack the speaker, GPS chipset, hands-free facility and Line-Out then it looks rather better value.

 

The cradle has been well thought out and is well made. If you own a 2G iPhone then this cradle will allow you to install and use GPS apps. If you own an iPod Touch (1st or 2nd Gen) then TomTom have an almost identical car kit to suit those models. It differs in being slightly shorter to accommodate the smaller dimensions of the Touch models, lacks the hands free functions (and is slightly cheaper as a result) but is otherwise functionally identical.

 

Brodit #533091The only downside for me was the design of the suction mount. I dislike windscreen mount solutions, its a personal preference I admit but for me it meant an installation lower down on the dash would be problematic.

 

However, the guys over at Brodit had anticipated this issue and now offer an adapter (see image on right) that replaces the suction mount with a flat plate that can be attached to a Brodit ProClip or screwed direct to the dash.

 

It retains the ball joint adjustment and answers all my concerns.

 

So yes it is expensive but it is also the best cradle solution currently available. If you own a 3G, want to use it in-car, need hands-free and a louder speaker then this is the solution for you.

 

If however, you have a 3GS, don't need hands-free or the speaker facility then it may well be more than you need.

 

Regardless, the biggest question is can you justify the cost!

 

Resources

PocketGPSWorld Editor

Darren Griffin

Manufacturers Web Site www.tomtom.com
RRP £99.95

 

 

TomTom's car kit video is linked below as it offers a good over view of the functions and features:

 

 

Comments
Posted by SaiYaNwEi on Thu Feb 11, 2010 6:33 pm Reply with quote

Where is the Magellan Premium Car Kit Review? IMHO, it is much better than TomToms. It fits cases and works with both iPod and iPhone. Bluetooth can also be paired wirelessly without it being connected.

You should take a look at that before you even consider buying the TomTom.


 
Posted by Darren on Thu Feb 11, 2010 6:58 pm Reply with quote

SaiYaNwEi Wrote:
Where is the Magellan Premium Car Kit Review? IMHO, it is much better than TomToms. It fits cases and works with both iPod and iPhone. Bluetooth can also be paired wirelessly without it being connected.

You should take a look at that before you even consider buying the TomTom.

We will have a review of the Magellan car kit shortly. It has its merits but it is similarly expensive/overpriced.


Darren Griffin - Editor

 
Posted by Des on Fri Feb 12, 2010 9:40 am Reply with quote

I've been using the TomTom cradle since Christmas (Thanks Santa) Very Happy

I disagree with the comment about not being able to dock the phone with a case on. I have an Incipio Feather case on my iPhone and the cradle just manages to accommodate it. Admittedly it is a snug fit.

With regards price, 100 + 70 for Uk maps = 170. Having done a bit of research, to get IQ routes, Lane assist, bluetooth hands free etc, TomTom PND units start at approx. 240 rrp. So i think it's a bit of a bargain.

Laughing


 
Posted by Darren on Fri Feb 12, 2010 10:10 am Reply with quote

Des Wrote:
I disagree with the comment about not being able to dock the phone with a case on. I have an Incipio Feather case on my iPhone and the cradle just manages to accommodate it. Admittedly it is a snug fit.
I too have a rubber form fitting case and yes, whilst it does fit 'just' it will not accommodate any other types of case.

I prefer thicker plastic shell type cases, the runner case I have is only used with the Owle Bubo camera cradle.

As it is not designed or intended to accommodate a case the comment is fair and so will remain.


Darren Griffin - Editor

 
Posted by mkw on Fri Feb 12, 2010 11:13 am Reply with quote

Have just bought the cradle from Apple (amazing delivery - ordered on Wednesday afternoon - delivered Thursday afternoon) and the TomTom Western Europe maps. Have used it locally and also for a trip from Wiltshire to Hull and back to Birmingham. So far so good - although speed camera data included with the TomTom maps apparently not as up to date as Pocket GPS - but no tickets yet!. I was using TomTom on a Mitac Pocket PC before. The TomTom apps are confusing - why buy the UK one when the Western Europe one is the same price and is apparently as detailed for the UK - unless you are short of space on the device maybe? I would have been upset if I had bought the UK maps and then discovered I got them anyway with the Western Europe ones if I had added that later. Hopefully your speed camera database will be accepted by Apple shortly


 
Posted by Darren on Fri Feb 12, 2010 11:18 am Reply with quote

To clarify, the UK App is normally cheaper but Western Europe is on sale at the moment.

If you don't want/need the full EU map it makes sense not to wast a huge amount of space to it on your device but of course if you do then it is rather expensive to have both!


Darren Griffin - Editor

 
Posted by mikealder on Fri Feb 12, 2010 11:51 am Reply with quote

I am personally not bothered about the case issue, and neither do I need the amplified speaker in the mount as I prefer to use the (better) Bluetooth system I have fitted in the car.

For me the main attraction was/ is the huge improvement in GPS positional accuracy, the GPS receiver within the iPhone receiver is on a par with GPS technology from around 5 years ago. OK so the iPhone can work out where it is using the phone transmitter triangulation but thats woefully inaccurate compared to a decent GPS signal.

I do not accept the view that reception is an issue due to the other radio circuits within the iPhone as HTC and Nokia have both managed to get decent GPS reception from a good proportion of their phones so equipped.

The improvement in accuracy and reduction in TTFF is my major reason for this car kit, if you don't already own a powered iPhone car holder then its only going to work out 40 more than a dedicated Brodit iPhone powered holder, so 40 for improved GPS and far better sound (if you need to use the car kits speaker) is a small price to pay IMHO considering it transforms the use of GPS based navigation applications in the car - Mike


 
Posted by Darren on Fri Feb 12, 2010 12:04 pm Reply with quote

Mike Have to disagree slightly there. My 3GS works pretty well without the extra GPS receiver and in most situations I struggle to spot any difference between with/without the TomTom solution.

Personally, having used the TT car kit I find I prefer my Arkon/Kensington LiquidAux solution. The Kensington kit pipes audio via the Aux-In, charges the iPhone and gives me a wireless steering wheel mounted remote.

Each to their own of course but my setup with my preference for a coffee cup holder mount for the Arkon cradle comes in at about 60. Other mounts are cheaper.


Darren Griffin - Editor

 
Posted by cyberhusky on Fri Feb 12, 2010 5:08 pm Reply with quote

Hello

I use the TT cradle with my iPhone 2G not with TT app but with Navigon Navigator.
TT has a "Car Kit Tool" App that allows the cradle to work with other apps.

Personally Navigons Navi is much better than TT. Better map displays, better voice instructions and it has live traffic infos too.

The only thing I think TT is much better then Navigon is POIs.

The cradle works perfect with Navigon or iNavX (on my boat) or Navionics chart app. The craddel also works with other GPS apps.

It's true the price is expensive, but as a tech freak I already bought so much gadgets, that one more item, isn't really killing my budget :-)


 
Posted by Darren on Fri Feb 12, 2010 5:21 pm Reply with quote

cyberhusky Wrote:
I use the TT cradle with my iPhone 2G not with TT app but with Navigon Navigator.

Indeed, my review mentions that it supports any GPS app and Navigon is my preference too.
Quote:
TT has a "Car Kit Tool" App that allows the cradle to work with other apps.

Again, to clarify, the free 'TomTom car kit tool' app is provided to allow you to verify the car kit works and to disable the pop up nasg screen message that sometimes appears.

It is not required for operation with other navigation apps.

iTunes Link is here.


Darren Griffin - Editor

 
Posted by granite-silver on Fri Feb 12, 2010 6:38 pm Reply with quote

Tried cradle with copilot live but found there was no volume control it was either very loud or muted .I did have the tomtom other software app installed. If you buy from an apple store they'll take it back if it's not compatiable with your chosen sat nav software .


Iphone 5s ,Samsung S4, Apps Tomtom W.europe,Tomtom US +Canada,
Copilot UK, N.America, Copilot Live.
Tomtom Go930T Europe + USA
Road Angel Plus

 
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