Review: TomTom Car Kit for iPhone and iPod Touch

Short Version

TomTom Car Kit $219.94. The price says it all. The TomTom Car Kit is great; it works perfectly, and I loved using it. In fact, I wish I could keep the review unit that TomTom sent me. That said, would I ever spend 2 bills and change on it? Mayyyybe, but it’s unlikely. A standalone TomTom GPS unit can be as cheap as $100, which is half the price of the TomTom Car Kit ($119.95) + TomTom GPS App ($99.99) for the iPhone. Furthermore, it’s hard to justify buying both the hardware and the software when there are cheaper options for both (more on that later).

Of course, the product does serve multiple purposes as an in-car iPhone charger, Bluetooth speakerphone and GPS unit. All in all, I was fairly impressed with the device and think those that aren’t turned off by the price might consider its purchase. The convenience of an all-in-one device is compelling.

Hit the jump to read on…

Slightly Less Short Version

The TomTom Car Kit (as previously mentioned) was a blast to use. Super easy to install: I simply stuck the kit onto the dash, plugged the car charger into the cigarette lighter and popped in my iPhone. The first time around you have to pair the TomTom’s Bluetooth signal with your iPhone, but after that it automatically connects whenever you plug the iPhone into the kit. Then, I fired up the TomTom GPS application on my iPhone and it was just like any other TomTom GPS. You type in your destination and it provides turn-by-turn, voice-guided directions.

iPhone Pics 961The directions were extremely accurate, and the TomTom kit corrected any problems with the iPhone GPS. On the iPhone, if I’m on a road parallel to another (e.g. driving on a highway and there’s a side-road right next to it), the GPS will go all over the place: one second I’ll be on the highway, the next I’ll be on the side-road. That problem was completely eliminated once I started using the TomTom kit. Moreover, the TomTom kit was quick to determine what direction I was going, which was another problem with the iPhone’s GPS system. Finally, I didn’t ever drop the signal of the GPS – I was pleasantly surprised that even if I was in a dead zone the GPS signal was rock-solid. Overall, the TomTom kit served extremely well as a GPS.

On top of the GPS features of the TomTom Car Kit, it was great as an all-in-one car kit for your iPhone. It charges your phone at a decent rate, so you’ll never run out of battery. The Bluetooth speakerphone is very valuable – it’s not quite as loud as I would have liked, but it’s way better than the iPhone’s abysmal speakers and provides a great hands-free calling option. The Car Kit’s suction cup sticks to the windshield extremely well, which is nice because you probably don’t want your precious iPhone to come crashing down while you’re driving along the highway.

Why the TomTom Car Kit Probably Isn’t Worth It

Ultimately, though, the fact that the kit worked is only part of the puzzle. The other major decision point for me was if I thought it was an overall good buy – and if I was satisfied with its value proposition vis-a-vis other options for navigating with your iPhone. Here are three reasons why I’m fairly uncertain as to whether I’d ever buy the TomTom GPS Kit for the iPhone:

First, Google Maps Navigation. When Google announced that their maps product for Android OS 2.0 was going to be completely free, and provide turn-by-turn voice-provided navigation to all, it spelled the end of for-pay GPS applications. It is only a matter of time before this comes out for the iPhone – absolutely free – and when it does, there would be no reason to buy the TomTom GPS application, or any others for that matter.

iPhone Pics 1393Second, the current Google Maps software is sometimes a better option than a TomTom-augmented iPhone solution. I don’t understand why GPS companies are so dumb. Google Maps has been out for years, yet search on the GPS devices still sucks. In fact, it’s so bad that I am sometimes too lazy to use the TomTom device because of all the buttons I have to press to enter my final location. There are three simple reasons. First, TomTom’s search is awful. It doesn’t have nearly as many cached locations as Google (“In-N-Out Burger” in Fremont, CA yielded zero results). Searching for categories (“grocery” or “restaurant”) is unusable. And I can’t do specific searches such as “chinese food” or “movie theater.” Second, I have to type in the address part-by-part. Instead of “43349 Pacific Commons Blvd., Fremont, CA” I have to type in “CA” >> “Fremont” >> “Pacific Commons Blvd” >> “43349”. Last but not least, I can’t cut and paste in an address. So if I use Google’s far superior search, I can’t simply cut and paste the address from Google into TomTom. Instead, I have to memorize the address and plug it in. Hands-down, Google Maps is easier to use for finding locations and directions than TomTom.

The third reason I’m uncertain about the TomTom GPS Unit is that the price is way too high. If a GPS unit costs $80-$150 for both the hardware and the software bundled together, why the hell would I pay more than $200 for ONLY half the hardware and the software? Them’s crack prices. Seriously, it is ridiculous: my iPhone is far more powerful than any TomTom hardware is, and all I need on top of that is a speakerphone and an improved GPS signal.

The Bottom Line

If you’ve got cash to burn and like the convenience of the iPhone as a true all-in-one full-featured device, then go ahead and buy the TomTom Car Kit. It is great as a Bluetooth speakerphone and the GPS actually works (unlike the iPhone’s native GPS, which is shoddy). If you’re cash-conscious, however, I’d stay away. Be patient, wait until Google Maps Navigation comes out, and then buy a $30-50 speakerphone so you can talk in the car.