Reviewer's note: this review is for version 1.0 of the app. A new version (1.1) has just been released, promising great GPS accuracy; we're currently trying to acquire a copy of this latest version for review.
At first blush, TomTom on the iPhone looks remarkably like TomTom on, well, TomTom. The somewhat blocky map, with its range of pastel colours, looks almost unchanged, while the status boxes underneath have been given the merest lick of paint, along with some smoothed out fonts for good measure. It flits between portrait and landscape modes quickly and attractively.
Tap the map to bring up the main menu, though, and it's apparent that you're now on Planet iPhone. The Dutch company has dumped its usual icon-based interface for Apple's suite of swipe to scroll menus and lists. To make it easier to use when Apple's fruity phone is stuck to the windscreen, menu items are double the normal height and feature big friendly icons.
There is a slight lag when scrolling through menus and lists, but that doesn't compare with the wait between keystrokes when keying in a destination. That's because TomTom, like other iPhone navigation apps, is exhausting the iPhone's processing power as it whittles down the list of possible streets or points of interest you'd like to visit. Our other gripe centres around the keyboard, which being the standard iPhone variety, is an incy wincy bit too small, even in landscape mode, when mounted on the windshield.
TomTom's nav app is integrated with a few of the iPhone's native features. Those who have fleshed out their contact lists with addresses and also suffer from bouts of directionlessness are rewarded with the ability to navigate straight to those addresses. Points of interest in the TomTom's database can also be dialled directly from the app.
So far, the TomTom app is the only one of its kind to offer warnings for speed and red light cameras. As you approach one of these revenue generators a loud audio warning is played. This is accompanied by a flashing icon in the top left corner letting you know your distance from it, its type and, potentially, the speed limit; it's rather too small and a large text warning would have been better.
Other than this distinguishing feature, however, the TomTom's goodies cabinet is rather threadbare. There's a tease for the as-yet unreleased TomTom car kit in the main menu: night and day colours for the map need to be switched between manually, text-to-speech for spoken street names is not available, and lane guidance and junction are notable for their absence. The latter's a real shame because the app comes loaded with the latest Whereis maps which can feature lane guidance for most roads.
IQ Routes does make an appearance, though. When enabled, the TomTom app uses real-world average speed data, instead of speed limits, to calculate its routes. As we've noted in previous TomTom reviews, there's little apparent improvement in the routes generated, with some eye-opening suggestions that we drive through packed car-parks-cum-streets.
Starting up TomTom's iPhone app takes around 14 seconds. That's not terribly annoying when you choose to seek some electronic guidance, but it is a frustrating wait when the program restarts after a call. Route calculation times aren't too tardy, nor do they remind us of one Usain Bolt.
Saying that GPS reception on the iPhone's navigation apps is frustrating is about as kind as we can be. On a stand-alone GPS navigator, we'd expect the occasional drop out and odd instance of confused locations in a capital city's CBD; everywhere else in the open it'll work fine. With the iPhone apps TomTom's included, drop outs are the norm in the CBD and they occur all too often in the suburbs as well. Oh, and then there's the slight positioning lag, which is especially apparent when you veer off the TomTom's preferred course.
In the car, mounted on the windscreen of course, the iPhone can be an awful bugger to see. Everything's fine at night, but turn up the sun and it all becomes a glare-ridden mess. Adding a sky full of grey, ominous clouds does little to alleviate the issue, while popping on a pair of sunnies turns the screen to black.
Anticipation is a double-edged sword: deliver and bounteous praise will rain down on you like a victory parade, fail and the disappointment is felt twice or thrice over. With the highest price tag of the iPhone navigation set (currently AU$100), the fewest features (no lane guidance, junction view or text-to-speech) and the same shared failings (poor GPS reception and daytime glare issues) it's not surprising that we're disappointed. In future versions, we'd hope for either a price trim, feature boost or both. Before then, though, we think that Sygic and Navigon's apps have it licked.