Tomtom U.K. & Ireland: Worth the Wait?

TomTom U.K. & Ireland declares itself to be “world-class car navigation.” If you want to get from point A to point B, surely a map is better? Couldn’t you just ask a friend for directions, or just follow your nose? Anyways, aren’t satellite navigation systems notoriously unreliable and slow?

I would like to take you on a little tour of a new place — a place where satellite navigation works, and works very well. A place that shows you where your friends have been recently, key points of interest and where highly rated and liked places are nearby. And we will get there in the quickest time, on the best routes and if there are problems on the way — traffic jams and slowdowns — we will simply glide right past them on an alternative route.

Does all this sound too good to be true? I have lived with and tested the latest version of TomTom U.K. & Ireland for the last two months, and I can say that I am very, very impressed. Read on to find out why.

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Opening

TomTom is the company behind the popular Satnav app for iPhone, and whilst there are quite a few good offerings out there, this is often referred to as the industry standard. I have used both stand alone hardware-based TomTom devices and the iPhone app at home and abroad. My tests for this article were performed on an iPhone 4 which more than matches the speed and efficiency of the dedicated hardware platforms.

Main Navigate To screen.

Main Navigate To screen.

When you open the app, your current location is shown, but you’re going to want to dive right in and navigate somewhere, so tap anywhere on the screen and then tap Navigate To. This will open up the main screen where you can select an address, a recent destination, postcode, point of interest, etc.

Whilst earlier versions of TomTom Navigator also had an integrated Google Search, this is now replaced by a cut and paste Copied Address option.

Two notable options are Navigate to Places and People. For those of you in the social-app know, Places will show you nearby places that have been visited and checked-in on social media apps. FourSquare and Facebook provide integrated data at this stage, so you can select places that have accumulated tips and likes. It would be great to see TripAdvisor data here eventually.

Options On The Move

The last thing you want to be whilst driving is distracted, so TomTom have limited your interaction possibilities to a single tap cog, top left, for quick access to music, voice instructions on/off, 2D/3D maps and daytime/night-time colours. It is not too fiddly to tap the cog, music and forward track whilst going along. If you’re on a long journey, it’s worth getting some playlists organised before you start to drive.

Basic music control is available under the cog, top left.

Basic music control is available under the cog, top left.

Audio instructions are provided by clear voices, with many selections available for British, Australian and American English, as well as a great selection of European languages.

Jump the Queue

If there are delays on your planned route, TomTom will offer you a way through with minimum hold-ups, and in my testing the alternative route was also well away from the incident. I can’t stress how important the regular three-minute updates are — and therefore how essential a good Internet connection is while travelling. Traffic updates require an online connection, and occasionally I found that the updates were not available for a few moments, mainly due to the strength of the mobile signal. This might not be ideal in remote areas, but perhaps you could argue that there are less likely to be traffic jams in remote areas, by their nature.

The HD Traffic (United Kingdom) proved to be surprisingly accurate and up to date. Imagine my excitement when I was alerted to a possible traffic issue on the opposing carriageway, and sure enough, the traffic was slowing down or stopped. What amazed me most, however, was that as I drove passed the end of the queuing traffic, the delay on-screen ended too. Amazing to see.

Clear lane guides make turning off the main roads very clear.

Clear lane guides make turning off the main roads very clear.

As you approach your exit, the display on the main navigation screen changes to a very clear lane picture, sometimes with distant towns and cities showing in the background. It very closely imitates real life, and makes for easy navigation in all but the most complex of junctions. If you like to hear A-road numbers, you can select an advanced voice in the settings that will read these out for you also.

Time For Your Turn

The general turn-by-turn navigation gives prompt directions, well before they are needed, and audio repetition is the norm, advising you when a junction approaches, when to turn, turn now and so on. If you are playing music at the time, it gently fades out while the instructions are given and fades back in afterwards. The volume of the voice and music can be set independently.

Initial delays are highlighted, top right, and tapping the symbol shows more detail.

Initial delays are highlighted, top right, and tapping the symbol shows more detail.

If there are delays encountered while navigating to a destination, they are highlighted initially by the green traffic symbol, top right, changing from green to amber or red. Tapping once on this brings up details of the delay, its duration, and how far ahead it is on your route. If the delay becomes more serious, then an audible alert is sounded and an optional redirection screen is displayed. You can, of course, ignore this or simply tap yes to chose the update.

Delays on-route are highlighted as they occur, with an option to save time.

Delays on-route are highlighted as they occur, with an option to save time.

When the delay is over, you are greeting by a an audible alert tone and the traffic symbol turns green once more.

Share And Share Alike

TomTom asks permission to share information about your location with its central servers. This local sharing and traffic alerting is quite clever, and includes Map Share (to enter map corrections) and Speed Camera to add locations of noted speed cameras.

Make adjustments to the road database, and all benefit.

Make adjustments to the road database, and all benefit.

Without this sharing, situations with such accurate reporting as I encountered above would not be possible, or as common, and the sum of the many devices working together create this key added-value information exchange.

Settings

There are many aspects of TomTom UK & Ireland that you can tweak to your delight, from the look and sound of the app, to the detail shown and alerts selected (speed, cameras, schools etc.).

Toggle what alerts you would like whilst driving.

Toggle what alerts you would like whilst driving.

If you are not happy with the built-in voices, or would like to enhance the driving experience with traffic or updated speed camera locations, then you can fire-up the TomTom shop and purchase useful add-ons. It costs £19.99 for a year’s subscription to the live traffic, or you can use it for a month for just £2.49 to see if it makes a difference to you.

The selection of voices is particularly good, with the ability to hear samples of your desired voice before purchase. I’ve not seen support for third-party voices, of which there are many, but perhaps these will come in time.

Voices to go — celebrity and comic voices a-plenty in the shop.

Voices to go — celebrity and comic voices a-plenty in the shop.

Worth The Price?

One of the main objections to this app is the price — at £31.99 ($44.99 US) it’s not a cheap option, especially if you add on the £19.99 yearly traffic purchase. If you think that buying a dedicated device would be better though, I don’t think so. Some of the benefits of having your SatNav on your phone are: you don’t leave it on sight in the car when you leave, as you will most likely take it with you; updates are handled through the phone’s mobile, 3G and Wi-Fi connectivity; and integrated social media check-ins and local searches make this so much more than an in-car solution. You can even set the route method to walking rather than driving.

Conclusion

I wholeheartedly recommend TomTom UK & Ireland. The cost of the app is easily outweighed by not needing dedicated hardware that may be left in your vehicle, and regular software and map updates as you drive. The add-on traffic updates have saved me a couple of times from sitting in long queues, and there is nothing quite like the feeling of watching stand-still traffic as you sail by on an alternative route.


Summary

Top class navigation system for the iPhone that provides fast, accurate directions.

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