If you have a dedicated in-car GPS unit, and don’t frequently travel to unfamiliar destinations, I’m betting the unit is in your glove box, where you left it for security about 3 months ago and haven’t bothered to re-mount it. Mine is.
Sure, I use the device when I’m travelling out of town or to an address that I don’t know. The rest of the time, I honestly wonder why I bought the device at all. That’s not entirely true: I know that I bought it because it makes the car feel like an aeroplane or a spaceship. VROOM!
One thing that does live on my dashboard any time I’m in the car is my iPhone. It slots into a snug holder, and plugs into the car stereo’s AUX input. Coupled with a nice Bluetooth handsfree kit, this means I can listen to music or podcasts, and take calls easily. When I leave the car, it goes in my pocket, as my main phone and mp3 device.
I think TomTom secretly understand the shortcomings of a dedicated in-car GPS. A one-use device. Yes you’ll find that higher-end models have additions like Bluetooth handsfree and FM transmitters, but quite frankly the ones I’ve tested have been poor.
Rather than battle to add more features to their dedicated GPS units, TomTom have taken the alternative route: add GPS to your existing all-in-one device. TomTom for iPhone (iTunes link) looks and feels like a dedicated GPS unit, but it is running as an application on your iPhone. It uses the internal GPS chip in your iPhone 3G or 3GS, and it just works.
The app fires up in seconds on a 3GS, and gets a GPS lock immediately under clear skies. I had no issue with reception. The app is a mix of familiar TomTom presentation (the summary bar below the screen) and iPhone usability (scrolling menus, contacts integration). You can listen to music while navigating, and the app saves state (destination settings etc.), when switching to other apps or taking calls. Turn directions are loud and clear, and even in a gen-yoo-inn keewee accint for the New Zealand version.
TomTom is also releasing a dedicated cradle that apparently has an external GPS receiver for better reception. I’m unsure if this enables navigation on a non-GPS device like the iPod Touch. In my experience, any iPhone cradle will be fine.
The one thing missing from TomTom for iPhone (in New Zealand at least) is traffic. TomTom does have “IQ Routes” which use historical travel time data to determine best routes, but not true realtime traffic info. I’ve got my hands on the new Navman MY500XT, which does do realtime traffic, so will be interested to see how it helps.
Conclusion: if you have an iPhone 3G or 3GS and are thinking about getting in-car GPS: don’t. Just get a cheap cradle and the $120 TomTom app.