TomTom for Android with hands-free kit review
A step in the right direction?
A TomTom satnav app has been available for iOS since 2009 and its success has not just been due to the software but also to the bespoke iPhone windshield mount. Android users have now been let in on the deal thanks to the launch of an Android app and a generic smartphone version of the screen mount.
Smart move: TomTom's Navigation app for Android
TomTom has often been criticised for the cost of the windshield mount and at nearly £80 it’s certainly not cheap but you do get a versatile bit of kit for your money. To start with it has a very capable built-in 2W speaker together with a microphone featuring active noise cancellation and echo reduction.
Not only does this mean you can hear navigation prompts far more clearly than if you were relying on your phone’s loudspeaker but it also lets you make hands-free telephone calls, even at high speed, without having to shout.
There's more to this hands-free kit than just a phone holder
Usefully the mic is attached to a cable rather than being built into the mount. TomTom provides a 1.5m extension lead, so as well as clipping it to the dock you can attach it to any convenient part of the car closer to your cakehole.
Thanks to the USB/microUSB pass-through charger you can power the dock from either your car’s 12V socket or a domestic mains USB adapter. This means you can also use the dock as a desktop hands-free charge cradle, a role it performs very well. This flexibility should not be overlooked.
Portrait or landscape: whatever works
The mount itself is a solid bit of kit with a very flexible ball and socket assembly while the turn-collar suction cup works a treat. By dint of a clever rotating mechanism the handset cradle can hold phones in either landscape or portrait by gripping the top and bottom or the sides. No matter how big your phone or where the microUSB socket it should fit.
The cradle’s back panel has built-in call answer/decline buttons. These can used even if your phone is not in the cradle, while the dock’s volume controls consist of an easily accessible rocker on the left hand side. There is volume on the dock as aplenty. If you need to turn it up to the maximum you are either driving with the roof down or need a hearing test.
The dock has uses beyond the car
My only concern is the extendable bracket arm which has a push-to-release ratchet on it. I managed to shear the locking lip off by being a ham-fisted twit who doesn’t read instructions, but this part of the unit could still do with being more robust. Connecting phone to dock using Bluetooth was simplicity itself and every time the two linked a “phone connected/disconnected” message was broadcast to let me know all was well. Incidentally, the dock has no battery, so unplug it and it’s off.
So much for the hardware, now to the soft. First though I’ll deal with the elephant in the room. Until a promised update arrives at the end of the year, the app will only work on devices with a screen resolution of 800 (or 854) x 480. In my tests it wouldn't instal at all on higher resolution devices, so you don't even get a small screen version to use. There’s no way to be polite about this: TomTom has dropped a huge clanger by releasing an app that won’t run on either a Samsung Galaxy S3 or a Google Nexus 7 or any of the other latest generation 1280 x 720 Android phones.
Looks the part in landscape view
It’s not cheap either. The UK maps package will set you back £31 but this is an ‘introductory price’ so presumably it will go up at some point. That’s £11 more than CoPilot Live Premium – also on offer at the time of writing and works a treat on the Nexus 7 – and a whole £31 more than Google Navigation which of course comes free with your phone.
I can’t help but think that TomTom could have been rather more aggressive on the pricing front – how about £80 for the screen mount and the app together?
Pay and display
Once installed and the maps downloaded onto my phone’s microSD card – a four hour process thanks to the 3.5GB Europe-wide maps package on offer for review – the app turned my phone into a very convincing imitation of a fully functional TomTom PND complete with such fripperies graphical lane guidance and street name enunciation.
Main menu and Portrait view navigation
The map graphics and guidance prompts are very similar to those used in TomTom’s stand-alone devices which means the app is one of the best when it comes to the nuts and bolts of navigation. The comprehensive menu meanwhile is very simple to navigate and features large, easily activated buttons.
Running on my HTC Desire HD, everything worked smoothly and the app launched promptly, taking around twenty seconds to find and show my location. I’ve heard some people say the pinch-to-zoom feature is temperamental but I experienced no problems in either the map or navigation views. All the destination search facilities from postcodes to POIs worked reliably and you can access your contacts addresses from within the app. Once you've chosen ‘where’, TomTom’s IQ Routes system continues to lead the field as the best way of working out how best to get there at any give time.
Route selection and Map view
The option to remove a certain road or roads from a planned route by a simple tap on the screen is a feature that I continue to find useful. That said, the occasional tendency for my location and/or orientation to drift on the map when stationary was less welcome.
It came as no real shock to discover that the HD Traffic congestion spotter and speed camera alerts are in-app purchase extras and – like the app itself – they are rather costly. At least infrequent users can buy these additions by the month. Lifetime map updates, four per year, come at no extra cost.
In app purchases and Road Avoidance
If you have deep pockets, plenty of storage space and a phone with the right screen resolution, then the TomTom app and dock combination is an effective way to turn your handset into a top notch satnav – the dock, of course, will work with any navigation app though. Currently, the absence of support for 1280 x 720 devices is a severe limitation and the price of both software and hardware is a bit steep. ®
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