Tomtom, iPhone, Merc in Zurich

Tomtom, iPhone, Merc in Zurich

Tomtom satnav app for iPhone – a practical test of Western European version
(version 1.0 on iPhone 3G running OS 3.0)
Yellowwheels’s car for the long journey to the Frankfurt Motor Show, via Spa, Nurburgring, and back via Zurich and the Swiss Alps, didn’t have a satnav fitted. The Mercedes E-220 proved to be an ideal car for the trip, but also a good chance to test the practicality of using a phone based satellite system rather than an OEM built-in or dedicated, stand-alone unit.

The journey:
Our journey started well, with a smooth trip down to Eurotunnel for the short train shuttle to France. The Tomtom had already suggested that the fastest route to Frankfurt was via the motorways of southern Belgium. We followed it’s route feeling confident but, as reported in our initial test of the UK edition of the Tomtom app, the lack of satellite accuracy built into the iPhone can be a problem (now addressed by the availability of the Tomtom car kit).

Tomtom satnav for iPhone – Western Europe test from yellowwheels on Vimeo.

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Mercedes E-220 on Münster Bridge in Zurich

Mercedes E-220 on Münster Bridge in Zurich


This was occasionally a problem in parts of London where high buildings shielded reception, but we didn’t expect it in the wilds of Belgium and Germany. It appears that hilly terrain, combined with large pine forests keeps it blind from the satellites too long for it to guide us accurately. Finding our hotel in the Adenau forest was a little frustrating, with failing coverage at vital intersections. Worse still was the trip from the Nurburgring to Frankfurt. Now traveling at high speeds along twisty, tree-lined autobahns, the reception was too poor to be reliable. There were portions of the trip where the Tomtom thought we were traveling along roads parallel to the autobahn up to a mile away. This was presumably because, in the absence of a good satellite fix, it had to assume we were traveling in a straight line, whereas the autobahn was sinuous. We developed a workaround; make a mental note of the next instruction long before we need to react, so that if it momentarily goes off-line we know that we don’t need to turn off the motorway during the Tomtom’s erratic moments. As we dropped down out of the Eiffel mountains into the Rhine valley, the roads straightened out and even during some 120 mph blasts on the speed-unrestricted autobahn got perfect guidance. Much later on the trip we made a big mistake while crossing from Germany into France near Mulhouse. A tunnel complex left us too long without a fix, but that’s understandable, and we were guilty of not looking at a Europe map to get an idea of which major route we’d be heading for. Hey, were human!

map view of channel crossing on Shuttle

map view of channel crossing on Shuttle

The video:
We parked up by the beautiful Münster Brücke bridge in Zurich, Switzerland and selected our home destination. First impression; it took a lengthy 1 minute 50 seconds to analyse and calculate the route. “The current route involves toll roads. Do you want to avoid the toll roads?” was the first question. The second was “The current route involves a ferry. Do you want to avoid ferries?. We OK’d both of those and zoomed in to the channel crossing. As expected the fastest route was via France and the Shuttle tunnel despite it asking about ferries. If you refuse to accept the ferry it says “All the possible routes involve a ferry” but searches first for alternatives.

Interruptions:
If you interrupt you’re journey, or receive a phone call during guidance the app carries on guidance where you left off. If you received the call it will resume automatically, but if you left the app to do something else on your phone, you obviously have to select the app again. It will continue guidance though, if you are patient enough to wait for it to hook back up to the satellites. This takes approximately 15 secs on our iPhone 3G.

Update: during a received call, we discovered that if you pressed the Home button, and then selected Tomtom, the app would startup, but show a strip along the top with options to return to the phone call menu. This means you can continue guidance during a phone call: very handy! It would be better and speedier if a strip appeared on the top of the phone page allowing you to click straight back to the Tomtom.

in Channel Tunnel

in Channel Tunnel

Power:
You need to buy a car charger if you are going to use any GPS app on your iPhone, so you may as well opt for the Tomtom one. The screen obviously needs to be on full-time so, added to the extra power consumption of the GPS, the battery would be flat pretty fast without. Tip: remember to turn off the gps under the iPhone’s settings menu when you reach your destination.

UK vs Western Europe version:
They appear to be identical apart from the vast extra data the European version has to store. There’s no penalty in performance though, and a quick route calculation test from Oxford to Glasgow took the same 50 seconds on both versions. Clearly if you don’t venture beyond the UK plump for the UK and Ireland version – it’s cheaper and takes up less space on your phone. If you fly regularly and rent a car in Europe, chances are it’s not got satnav or they want to charge you extra for the privilege. The Western European version takes up a whopping 1.45 GB of space in your iTunes app folder ( UK version is only 241 MB ) and decompresses to at least twice that when installed on your iPhone, so you’d better have a 16gb version at least, if you are to fit all your videos and music too.

One thing: speed camera warnings work in UK and France, but didn’t in Switzerland (and possibly not in Germany too but we didn’t notice)
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conclusion:
Tomtom routed us all the way home successfully, but those moments on the twisty, tree-lined German motorways where guidance was poor left us thinking we need the Tomtom car kit, (which suddenly makes the price of a standalone unit a better proposition). However, with all our photography kit and the paraphernalia of travel, the convenience of not having to cart along yet another gadget and charger, means we are happy to stick to the iPhone for those moments where satnav is invaluable, and use the built in units that are increasingly standard in today’s new vehicles. This is still version 1.0 of the software; we expect to see improvements in later versions, but no word of those presently.

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Pros:
simplicity
portable
always on you
automatically returns to guidance after receiving phone calls
Works fine on older 3G iPhone
Built in maps, no need for a mobile signal
Runs less hot than when using Google maps
Useful speed and traffic light camera warnings
Well thought out zooming in at junctions
Recalculates route efficiently
Warns about toll roads (ie London congestion charge, ferries, toll roads)
Tomtom in car kit not necessary (but may improve efficiency)

Cons
You can’t see any guidance during phone calls
Huge download 1.45 GB and decompresses to at least 3GB on your phone
only 1 way point allowed
price with car kit approaches standalone units (assuming you already own an iPhone)
Screen does not switch to night view automatically
Zoom buttons are too small
does not support pinching etc for zooming (on main nav window)
Phone calls interrupt Tomtom, although app resumes smoothly after call.
No traffic delay status display
Unlike Google maps app, no possibility of satellite view
Occasional route errors

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Buy Tomtom app on iTunes store TomTom Western Europe = Western Europe Edition

Buy Tomtom app on iTunes store TomTom U.K. & Ireland = UK & Ireland edition

Buy Tomtom app on iTunes store TomTom U.S. & Canada = U.S. & Canada edition

Buy Tomtom app on iTunes store TomTom Australia = Australian edition

Buy Tomtom app on iTunes store TomTom New Zealand = New Zealand edition

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