09:00 Wednesday 10 April 2013

Smartphone sat nav from trusted favourite TomTom

Written byGareth Butterfield

SMARTPHONES are, slowly but surely, taking over the world. They’re jumping from one industry to the next and swallowing them whole.

One of the more recent targets — now that they’ve eaten up a massive chunk of market share in the camera and MP3 player markets — is personal satellite navigation.

For a few years now, sat nav functionality has been shoe-horned into mobile phones with varying degrees of success but, surprisingly, one of the last big names to join the party was the sat nav giant, TomTom.

But the wait is over. Late last year its app finally made it through the iPhone jungle and is now available on Android phones, which more than half of us in the UK use.

But is it any good? Let’s start with the bad news. It’s not free. This is bad news because it’s up against some established and very accomplished free sat nav apps, not least of all Google’s own lumpy but useable navigation app.

But the good news, for TomTom, is that its new app is good. Really good. It needs to be too. For the UK and Ireland edition you’ll need to stump up £40.99 and for the Europe edition it’s £56.99. This is before you opt for subscriptions to its services, which I’ll come to shortly.

One of its closest competitors, Sygic, undercuts it by more than half, so TomTom’s system needs to be more than just a trusted, market leading brand.

Like the Sygic app, but unlike some of the better free apps, TomTom’s navigation software starts off by downloading its entire mapping data on to your phone or its SD card. This is a very good thing because it means you do not have to rely on a signal or rack up huge data bills to use it.

You’ll need plenty of space of course, but TomTom updates the map for free and, because the phone has less thinking to do, it helps battery life and makes the navigation that bit smoother.

There’s an option to subscribe to a few of TomTom’s premium services. You can have the app check constantly for speed cameras, for example. There’s also a traffic monitoring service. These are pricey, but very effective — although these do rely on your phone being connected to the internet for them to work.

TomTom fans will be instantly familiar with the menu and navigation screen layout. It’s all there. Nothing’s been left off. This is every bit as good as using a hand-held TomTom device but mobile phones tend to have more responsive screens and some of them nowadays even have bigger displays.

So, in reality, nothing’s taken away from what would normally be in a hand-held unit. If anything it’s better and, because it’s on your mobile phone, it’s more convenient and you’re more likely to have it by your side if you jump from car to car.

It’s also — and this is a very important point — a fraction of the cost of even the cheapest hand-held sat nav unit, yet you’re essentially getting all the features of a top-of-the range model.

So it all stacks up rather well for TomTom’s new app. There are a couple of things to remember, however. Firstly, you’ll need to make sure your phone is on charge. Despite efforts to drain as little battery life as possible, the app is quite power-hungry.

You’ll also need to make sure you can hear it. Some phones have woefully inadequate speakers, especially when compared to the loudspeaker on a dedicated sat nav.

For sheer convenience, I’m ready to leap on the band wagon and opt to have a sat nav on my phone, rather than buy a new hand-held device.

It’s entirely up to you whether you pay for a decent sat nav app, or whether you stump up for the functionality and polished performance of a premium one like the TomTom system.

For me, I’d always pay a bit more for the reliability and the sense of security that comes with such a well known brand. Basically, I’d look past the price and opt for the TomTom, every time.

 

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