Review: TomTom Navigation App for U.S. and Canada

Discussion in 'iOS Blog Discussion' started by MacRumors, Sep 10, 2009.

  1. MacRumors macrumors bot


    Apr 12, 2001

    We took a first look at the TomTom U.S. & Canada turn-by-turn navigation app a short while ago, and have taken it through its paces over the past few weeks to complete our full review of this highly-anticipated app.

    Navigation Guidance

    The TomTom app offers several options when choosing a destination. Contacts integration is built-in, so it's easy to select a contact as a destination, and we really like this ability. However, we found that we'd often get an address format error when selecting an existing contact, even with addresses that appeared to have nothing out-of-the-ordinary about them, containing a simple street address in a city that exists in the TomTom's map data with everything correctly spelled:


    We found that navigation guidance showed us off the side of the current road more often than we would have liked, even under weather and set-up conditions where other GPS apps, such as Sygic's MobileMaps and Navigon's MobileNavigator, showed no such problems. We also noticed that it lagged somewhat behind our current location, often showing us slightly behind an intersection that we were actually passing through. This lag can be confusing, especially if you are in an unknown location, which is of course where you are most likely to use a navigation app. We switched to 2D view to see if this was still the case and found no change in this behavior. In switching to the 2D view, we noticed that the "2D Map North Up" setting is on by default, which can be a little disorienting when you switch from the 3D view, which has no such setting, to the 2D view on the fly.


    Off-road excursions we never really took

    If you're starting out and try to select a destination before the app has obtained a GPS signal, you'll get a message asking if you'd like to start navigation from the last known location. While this is nice, particularly compared to Navigon's MobileNavigator's only option to view a simulation of the planned route from a starting point of its choosing, we'd prefer to see more options, such as the ability to start from your Home location or a previous destination if you're in a hurry to get going.


    Once you've set a destination, you can also choose to generate a route for walking or riding a biycle. After the route has been generated, you can easily calculate an alternative to avoid a roadblock, travel via a certain road, and more. You can also see a demonstration of the route, read written route instructions, and browse the map of the route using the iPhone's standard pinch-to-zoom gestures.


    The app correctly identified all toll roads in all our tests and can let you know before you start out that you'll encounter one on your route. It also shows speed limits and indicates when you're traveling above the speed limit by changing the numbers displayed to red. There is no option to provide any audible alert when you are exceeding the speed limit. This speed limit information only appeared on interstate highways during our tests and showed current vehicle speed at all other times. Unlike competing apps, including MobileNavigator and MobileMaps, the TomTom app does not provide any on-screen lane guidance to help you identify the best lane to be in on a multi-lane road.


    The speed limit notification

    When traveling on an interstate highway, we noticed that the TomTom app gave potentially confusing information about upcoming exits. For example, it would announce that an exit we needed to take was coming up about 2 miles in advance of the exit by saying "Exit approaching on the right." This would prompt us to look at the next upcoming exits on the highway and then compare it to the next exit shown on the TomTom app to ensure we didn't need to exit right away. It would be less confusing if the app stated how many miles we needed to travel before exiting, such as "Exit approaching in 2 miles."



    The maximum and minimum zoom levels during navigation

    The app offers voice guidance in multiple languages, unlike Navigon's MobileNavigator app for North America that only offers guidance in English. However, TomTom's app does not provide any text-to-speech capabilities at all. Sygic's MobileMaps offers some text-to-speech capability for numerically-named streets, such as highways and interstates and has announced that complete text-to-speech capability is coming in future app updates, while Navigon's MobileNavigator was just updated to bring full text-to-speech capability to the app.

    Perhaps our biggest issue with the TomTom app's navigation guidance is that it does not tell you which side of the road your destination is on. You can always pay attention to the street addresses and find it yourself, but driving, hunting for addresses on buildings, and paying attention to navigation guidance is not always the safest combination. Additionally, Navigon's MobileNavigator and Sygic's Mobile Maps provide this information and it's disappointing to see TomTom not matching its competitors here.


    Written instructions of a route

    The TomTom app also offers the company's signature IQ Routes feature, which promises to offer the "smartest, most efficient" route based on road data collected from millions of drivers. You probably won't notice it in action unless you are very familiar with an area and its traffic patterns already and repeatedly use the TomTom app to navigate the same route at various times of the day. IQ Routes was most evident for us when using the Advanced Planning feature. In the following screenshots, the same route was calculated with different starting times. The route planned with a starting time on a Sunday afternoon yielded a more direct route, while the one planned during rush hour on a weekday morning gave a different route that detoured around common congestion areas in downtown Boston. This feature will prove particularly useful to those who need to get around a busy metropolitan area at peak traffic times.

    [​IMG] [​IMG]

    IQ routes: weekend route (left) vs. weekday rush hour route (right)

    We found that the app's navigation guidance was more or less accurate and trustworthy enough for us to not feel the need to double-check it against another source. We did encounter a few hiccups, such as an incident where it wanted us to go around a block to get to a destination instead of continuing straight on and making a left turn to get there. We captured a screenshot of this situation where you can see the red line indicating the intended route and the edge of the finish line flag indicating the destination ahead of us on the current road:


    No need to go around the block to get to our destination

    While the TomTom app offers reliable guidance, we remain disappointed by the features that competing apps offer that TomTom's more pricey offering does not, IQ Routes notwithstanding.

    Map Data and POI

    TomTom acquired Tele Atlas, one of the major providers of map data, in 2008, ensuring a direct source of map data for its navigation products. The TomTom app includes the most recent version of Tele Atlas maps at this time at version 8.30. In its FAQ, TomTom has not provided specifics on how much updates will cost, noting the following:

    Another FAQ response indicates that several free updates to the app itself will be provided this year.

    We found the app's POI database to be very good in most cases, allowing us to find popular retail chain stores as well as independent, non-chain stores all the way from Target and Lowes to a small Korean grocery store. We did have difficulty locating Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Los Angeles, one of the largest cemeteries in California, which could not be found in any POI category nor through a search of the entire POI database. We realize that a cemetery may not be a popular destination for many, but the size and prominence of this site makes its absence from the POI database feel like something is amiss.

    We did encounter a glitch every now and then when performing a search of the entire POI database. When the search results appeared and we selected one, we would sometimes get an error indicating that no search results could be found. We would then need to repeat the search but could always select the desired POI without a problem the second time around.

    Integration with iPhone Functions

    As suspected in our First Look review, the TomTom app does not use the iPhone's ambient light sensor to automatically adjust the map color scheme between day and night modes, requiring you to switch between them manually. Also as previously noted, music playing through iPod app stops and starts abruptly before and after voice guidance – a smoother approach here would be much appreciated.


    One of the available night themes you'll need to switch to manually

    Switching between landscape and portrait view is smooth. Incoming calls take you to the standard iPhone active call screen. For calls received during navigation, ending the call causes the app to open to open up again by itself, but we found it did not always return to navigation guidance on its own, requiring us to re-select the desired destination again from time to time. The app will automatically override your iPhone's auto-lock setting and will keep the iPhone's screen on during navigation at all times, though it does adhere to the screen brightness level set.


    The option to call a POI directly from within the app

    As expected, the TomTom app uses quite a bit of power, appearing to decrease battery capacity by about 5% for every 10 minutes of guidance (with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth on and screen brightness set to about 40% of its maximum level). Despite this level of power usage, an iPhone-approved Belkin car charger could still charge the iPhone while the TomTom app was being used, albeit at a slower rate than it does when the iPhone is in sleep mode.

    We found that the TomTom app incorporates well the UI feel and gestures of the iPhone's stock apps and our only wish was for a 'Done' button in all screens to avoid the need to step back through multiple layers of nested menus to go back to navigation guidance.

    We do want to note that the TomTom app was impressively stable through our testing, never once shutting down for no apparent reason in the middle of providing navigation guidance.


    The iPhone GPS app market is turning into a heated one with apps from multiple providers, both all-in-one and subscription-based at a wide variety of price points. TomTom's app has been one of the most talked-about apps in this space following its announcement at the Worldwide Developer Conference in June, though it made it to the App Store later than many competitors. It also made its appearance in the App Store at a higher price point than many of those competing apps. At $99 for the North America version, it is $10 more than Navigon's comparable offering and $20 more than NNG Global Services' and Sygic's comparable offerings at the time of this review. Many of these apps offer more features now with more promised in the near future, as we've noted.

    TomTom's app is a solid one that will suit the majority of users without any problems. However, it's not so stellar that we'd recommend it over all other competing apps hands-down, particularly at its $99 price point.

    Article Link: Review: TomTom Navigation App for U.S. and Canada
  2. aardwolf macrumors 6502

    May 30, 2007

    Navigon has text-to-speech now... They updated the app last night to add it in. It also has full iPod controls now too.
  3. theBB macrumors 68020


    Jan 3, 2006
    Can you add waypoints for more than one spot to visit? It could come in quite handy for house hunting when you are not quite sure which address is closer to you.

    How practical is "avoid roadblocks" option? Is it possible to say avoid this freeway for the next, let's say 10 or 20 miles, if the traffic seems jammed due to an accident, but you don't want to avoid the whole freeway and get too far way from it to use an alternative route. I hope I am able to make myself clear enough.
  4. taltal macrumors member

    Jul 16, 2008
    Great Review. Matches my experience 100 %.

    I hope Tomtom improves the App.
  5. Revival Cr8tive macrumors member

    Jan 2, 2009
    Great Review...

    Your review says it all really...

    This has definately made me now consider the other options.

    To bad for Tom Tom... I think they may have mist the boat here, unless things rapidly improve....

    Thanks for the great review.

  6. iphones4evry1 macrumors 65816


    Nov 26, 2008
    California, USA
    I hope they fix the bugs and release an update. They have put way too much work into this and it looks too promising to be a flop. I'm looking forward to an update that corrects the errors. :)
  7. megapopular macrumors 6502a

    Aug 21, 2007
    Macrumors Still Snubbing Navigon!!!


    They have yet to give Navigon even a first look and still haven't as they continue to suck up to TomTom... it's like they're on the TomTom payroll or something.

    Navigon seems to be a big enough name and their game is definitely big as they've beat TomTom to the punch with a well rated app (4 stars currently in App store compared to TomTom's 3 stars) and one that is cheaper and offers more features that put in more direct competition to full-fledged standalone units... Hey, Macrumors... step YOUR game up and recognize some other competing apps, please!
  8. schiffdigital macrumors newbie

    Sep 10, 2009
    CoPilot Live Rocks!

    I've been using CoPilot Live on my iPhone since it came out and am very satisfied.

    My only complaint is that once in a while it has a hard time getting GPS coordinates.

    No text-to-speach and it doesn't tell you which side of the street your destination is on, but for $35 it gets the job done. POI works well too.
  9. jlanuez macrumors 6502

    Sep 13, 2006

    I own & use, and need to rely on this EXPENSIVE App. There are LOTS to fix!

    -Does not tell you which side of street your destination is on!
    -No text to speech so it does NOT tell you street names!
    -ALWAYS tells you WAY TO EARLY of a turn or exit. This is confusing as you are passing some exits sometimes miles in advance.

    This APP needs PLENTY of work still, I've been pretty disappointed and don't get me started about still NOT having their dock for sale.

    TomTom blew it big time!
  10. r6girl Administrator/Editor


    Staff Member

    Sep 6, 2003
    It is not possible to add waypoints to a current route in the TomTom app, though this is a feature in their stand-alone units.

    We did not test the avoid roadblocks feature, but this offers the ability to avoid roadblocks between 100 yards and 3 miles out from your current position:


    There's also an option in the Find Alternatives menu to Avoid Part of Route – here, you are presented with the route instructions and you can choose a single entry from the list to avoid a desired street.
  11. imkale macrumors newbie

    Sep 26, 2006
    thank you...

    This is exactly why I love MacRumors! Another impressively throurough review that will definitely help me make my decision. Thank you so much!!
  12. alywa macrumors 6502

    May 6, 2004

    This review further solidifies my happiness with Navigon's offering. I purchased it over 1 month ago, and so far have been very, very pleased. I'm downloading the newest version, so I haven't been able to test the TTS functionality, but as far as mapping and navigation, it has been basically flawless.

    Last weekend, we travelled from Birmingham, AL to Charlotte, NC. Navigon worked perfectly the entire trip, including very small streets and developments where various friends lived. Much better than my stand-alone Tom Tom, and from the sounds of it, much better than their iPhone offering as well.

    Tom Tom blew it... too little, too late, and the marketplace is only going to get more crowded.
  13. fpnc macrumors 68000

    Oct 30, 2002
    San Diego, CA
    Here is another shout-out for CoPilot Live. For $35 (U.S.) it appears to offer just about everything that the higher-priced apps do and in my hands it seems to work pretty well. Although not perfect, based upon this MacRumors review I can't really see that it is any worse than TomTom or any of the other GPS apps.

    The only issues I've had with CoPilot are its sometimes lagging GPS response (accuracy) and from time to time there is incomplete street data (in some areas maps are out of date). Yes, these are obviously important things but from what I've been able to determine all of the iPhone-based GPS apps have similar issues (and in any case, YMMV). However, on CoPilot the GPS lock and app stability seem very good, the maps are clear, and the automatic re-routing works very well.
  14. bilboa macrumors regular

    Jan 16, 2008
    I've been using Navigon's app for the past couple of months, and just tried the latest update today, which includes full Text-To-Speech for street names.

    Based on reading this review, I can make the following comparisons.

    TT has a couple of features that I wish Navigon had:
    • Route overview. No GPS system is going to have completely sensible information about current conditions, or what routes make the most sense on a given day, so I want to be able to verify that the route it chose makes sense.
    • IQ Routes (assuming they actually work well). There are a few cases around here where Navigon always tries to route me on a road that is a shorter distance, but much slower than an alternative highway route. It seems to base its decisions solely on the speed limits, and has no knowledge of actual traffic speeds.

    On the other hand, Navigon seems to beat out TT in a number of ways.
    • Navigon now has full text to speech for street names
    • Navigon lets you add interim destinations to a route
    • I like that Navigon just lowers the volume of music and speaks over it, rather than stopping the music. I can see though that some people might prefer that it stopped the music, especially if you're listening to an spoken word book or podcast rather than music, so really this should be configurable.
    • Navigon reliably goes back to displaying your route when you exit the app and go back to it, without having to hit any buttons. The review indicates that this isn't always the case with TT.
    • I've never had problems with Navigon not understanding an address in my address book, whereas the reviewer did report that with TT.

    Overall I think I'm fine with having purchased Navigon. I just hope they add in a route overview feature soon. At that point I'll be perfectly happy with it.
  15. ghayenga macrumors regular

    Jun 18, 2008
    Except the review itself has made me lean toward buying Navigon instead.
  16. Locoboof macrumors 65816


    Jun 8, 2008
    Bay Area,Cali
    Thank you so much I was trying to decide between Tom Tom or navigon for my fiancé and I....we are moving to a new area that she dosen't know very well so I wanted to buy one for her and myself.
    After reading this it's navigon as soon as I get home!!.....that's the last thing I need is my fiancé taking a turn at the wrong place or it not telling her which side of the street the business is located on. Thank you!!!!
  17. Wakakanada macrumors regular

    Oct 21, 2007
    Vancouver, BC, Canada
    Wow, thanks for the review. I feel much better about the glitches in my Co-Pilot App. Much cheaper, and from what I'm reading all of these turn-by-turn apps seem to have a few failings. I can't see the Co-Pilot's being any worse than the others...and I like the British chick's voice :p
  18. lfhdez macrumors member


    Jan 3, 2008
    Southern CA
    The LAG!!!

    " We also noticed that it lagged somewhat behind our current location, often showing us slightly behind an intersection that we were actually passing through. This lag can be confusing, especially if you are in an unknown location, which is of course where you are most likely to use a navigation app."

    I have the TT app and this is the most annoying part of all. Of course now I'm hoping that extra GPS chip in the car kit might help, but I have a question for all you Navigon Lovers. Does the Navigon app have a lag? It's really annoying when you're driving through lots of little streets and it says "turn right" when you're 10 feet from the street, you can't even get in the turn lane at that point! Can anyone test this and let me know? I might switch and not bother with the car kit... thnx.
  19. converge macrumors member

    Aug 4, 2009
    My first experience was using the iGo which also had a noticeable lag. Then I tried the Navigon, and surprisingly, there is no lag whatsoever. The GPS arrow is spot on! Although I suspect they are compensating for the iPhone's GPS lag with some sort of predictive programming. Works for me.
  20. mattster16 macrumors 6502a

    Apr 18, 2004
    Did you even read the review? They mentioned other apps and went on to say they DO NOT recommend the TomTom app over them.
  21. Doctor Q Administrator

    Doctor Q

    Staff Member

    Sep 19, 2002
    Los Angeles
    This is very useful information.

    However, it's hard to evaluate price/performance when you don't know the price! They'll need to tell us the update prices before I can decide if it's worth it to me.
  22. DrewG5 macrumors member

    Aug 16, 2009
    After reading this review I feel 200% confident that deleting TomTom was the right thing to do. Navagon may not offer the best routing or take the long way but at least it knows where you are and has TTS along with a much simpler UI
  23. Wakakanada macrumors regular

    Oct 21, 2007
    Vancouver, BC, Canada
    My Co-pilot for all its quirks also has no noticeable lag, puts me in intersections before I'm out of them
  24. djwindsor macrumors newbie

    Aug 4, 2009
    I've tried both

    I find that the TT loads faster and acquires the GPS signal faster. I really like the iQ routes and route overview which is lacking in Navigon. Another really nice feature in TT is the ability to selectively delete a section of a route that you know has lots of traffic and congestion. When you do this, the TT recalculates and avoids that part of the route. I haven't figured out how to do that in Navigon. Overall, I think TT will catch up to Navigon with future updates. I am still annoyed that Navigon only entered the US Market briefly with their PNDs and then left. What happens to the software support for all the US devices they sold? Suppose they back out of the iPhone market? All hypotheticals but food for thought. BTW.. the Navigon graphics are gorgeous whereas the TT is more "game like". Tough choices folks!!
  25. johnnyjibbs macrumors 68030


    Sep 18, 2003
    London, UK
    Seems like a lot of money for something that can only at best be relied on with a pinch of salt.

    Hmmmm.. My advice: buy a cheap road atlas and be done with it!!

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