Never Get Lost With TomTom U.S.A.

It used to be that if you didn’t want to get lost, the best options were to get a standalone GPS unit that sat on your dashboard or have one installed at the dealership in your car. Both options were expensive, and they all had their downsides. You’d think that having Google Maps on your iPhone would solve that problem, but in reality, it’s tough to drive and touch a screen without going into the median.

TomTom saw that standalone models were starting to go the way of the dinosaur, so they decided to build an app for the iPhone. At under $50, it’s cheaper than most standalone GPS models, plus it’s with you everywhere your phone goes. Granted, $50 is a lot of money for an app. Is it worth the cash?

The Schematics

TomTom U.S.A. uses the GPS antenna in your iPhone to triangulate your position, and tell you where you’re at. Of course, if you have an iPhone you knew this already, but a turn-by-turn GPS setup has to be incredibly accurate or else you’re going to get lost after the first turn. Fortunately, the iPhone has the ability to do that, and TomTom taps into it easily.

Plug in your destination and you get an ETA and distance as well

Plug in your destination and you get an ETA and distance as well

The longest part of the process is determining where exactly you want to go. Just touch the screen and input either your point of interest, address, or recent destination, and away you go. You start with a screen that overviews the entire trip, giving you distance to the spot as well as the estimated driving time. If you don’t like what comes up, then you can click on the options and change up your trip. Inputing in all of this information can seem tedious the first time you do it, but once you’ve entered in a few locations, you can also store them as favorites in the system. This makes recalling previous destinations easier, and makes it much quicker to get from A to B.

Driving

TomTom is all about being able to drive while not holding your phone in your lap, and there are tons of different voice options to make the process easier. The program comes with several different language choices, and even options for different accents. So if you’re a guy from New York who prefers a woman with a British accent telling him where to go, then just select Jane from the UK, and it’s her voice you’ll hear as you drive.

Touch to navigate from place to place, then watch as it's displayed and spoken to you.

Touch to navigate from place to place, then watch as it's displayed and spoken to you.

The GPS response time in TomTom is ridiculously fast. Not only will it tell you your speed accurately and display it in the bottom left corner of the screen (and if you’re speeding, it turns red), but it also displays your spot pretty precisely. There’s no lag time like there is with the built-in Google Maps option, so you don’t have to pause and wait as you drive. The bottom of the display also shows you how many miles and even feet until you reach your destination, which means no more missed turns. Reminders come on audibly as well, but that’s something you can turn on or off if it gets annoying.

Horizontal view works nicely as well, and looks more like a traditional standalone GPS.

Horizontal view works nicely as well, and looks more like a traditional standalone GPS.

If you prefer, you can also lay your iPhone on its side, and the display compensates accordingly. Nothing changes, but it does become a bit more difficult to see off in the distance. It comes down to personal preference, but sometimes it becomes easier to use the app vertically as opposed to horizontally.

The Add Ons

When comparing the Google Maps app to TomTom, the big missing link is traffic coverage. There’s no telling how accurate the Google option is or how frequently it’s updated, but if you want to pay extra money, Tom Tom has a 12-month traffic subscription available for $19.99 a year. We didn’t test this option, but the fact that it’s available is a nice added bonus.

Buy a traffic pack for $19.99, or change up your icon to your preference.

Buy a traffic pack for $19.99, or change up your icon to your preference.

Up in the top left corner of each screen is a little music icon. Touch it, and a panel drops down with play, fast forward, and rewind as options. TomTom plays a shuffle of your iTunes library, but it doesn’t let you choose what you want to play from TomTom itself. There is a workaround though, and it almost seems like it was meant to be this way. Start by opening the iPod app and choosing your music. Then switch to TomTom. Once inside TomTom, the music icon is now highlighted, letting you skip forward and backward as necessary. It’s weird, but it works.

The Downsides

Actively using your GPS antenna can really suck down the juice. In a recent trip from Phoenix to Las Vegas, I noticed I was at 20% battery life about two hours into my drive after starting with a full charge. Now I have a car charger, but it was a bit difficult to stretch the cable across the dash to where the iPhone was easiest to view while driving. Even with it plugged in, the iPhone was barely charging, and I’m not even sure if it registered at 50% when I arrived at my destination a few hours later.

Lane diagrams show up to help you figure out where you need to be.

Lane diagrams show up to help you figure out where you need to be.

It’s also a bit expensive. It does go on sale for under $40 fairly regularly, but that’s still a lot of dough for an iPhone app. Compared to a standalone, it’s still much cheaper and more convenient, but if the turn-by-turn thing isn’t your bag, then you can stick with the Google Maps option.

Verdict

Three years ago, I went on a business trip to Oklahoma, and I bought a standalone TomTom for my trip. At the time, it had Bluetooth, and all sorts of other cool features, so I figured it was worth the few hundred dollars I spent. It was. I used it on my honeymoon, for business trips, and all sorts of other places that would otherwise be foreign to me. When it was stolen a year ago, I was pretty upset. It wasn’t until I replaced it with the TomTom U.S.A. app on my iPhone that I felt better again.

Once you’ve used GPS, you never want to go back. It’s easier to get places, and it’s hard to get lost. Having all that in your pocket at all times is incredibly convenient, and almost a necessity when you’re travelling. A $50 app may seem like a lot of money, but after it’s saved you 20 minutes by not getting lost, you’ll think it’s worth every penny.


Summary

Navigation for your iPhone, with turn-by-turn directions. Available traffic pack as well.

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