Road test: TomTom U.S. & Canada GPS iPhone app

Hands-on test of TomTom U.S. & Canada app for the iPhone 3GS.

Dong Ngo SF Labs Manager, Editor / Reviews
CNET editor Dong Ngo has been involved with technology since 2000, starting with testing gadgets and writing code for CNET Labs' benchmarks. He now manages CNET San Francisco Labs, reviews 3D printers, networking/storage devices, and also writes about other topics from online security to new gadgets and how technology impacts the life of people around the world.
Dong Ngo
3 min read
TomTom has a very easy-to-use menu with large buttons. Screenshot by Dong Ngo/CNET

TomTom U.S. & Canada is the third full-feature turn-by-turn flat-fee navigation app with built-in maps in the App Store that covers the entire U.S. and Canada.

Like the first two apps, Navigon and iGo My Way, the TomTom app will turn your iPhone 3G or 3GS into a decently dependable driving navigator. However, like the other two, it's far from perfect.

The TomTom app took about 6 seconds to load on my iPhone 3GS, which is very fast (the other two apps took about 15 seconds), and displayed a very easy-to-use interface with big buttons. It also offers a quick and convenient way to enter an address or to find a point of interest (POI) from its very large database of POIs.

The map view of the TomTom is rather messy and much less beautiful- and clean-looking than that of the Navigon or the iGo My Way apps. Screenshot by Dong Ngo/CNET

After almost a week of use, I found that both the map and POI database are slightly outdated. It once couldn't find an address and twice showed me POIs that were no longer in business. During this recession, however, it's not exactly the app that's to blame.

Good news is, like the Navigon after its first update, you can tap on a POI to dial it up, and I would highly recommend doing this before you decide to go there, just to make sure that it's still in business.

Similar to the Navigon, the TomTom can also pull addresses from the phone's contacts, which is a very convenient feature. However, while the Navigon is very good at reading contacts' addresses, the TomTom is very picky. It seems to only understand addresses that have a zip code. Take the zip code out and it will ask you to enter the address manually. This means more than 60 percent or so of the addresses in my contacts won't work. This is sort of strange, as the app won't require a zip code when you type in addresses manually.

The TomTom took very little time (a few seconds) to pick up a GPS signal on my iPhone 3GS, and its navigation was accurate enough. Once in a while it would probably lead you to a location that's slightly off from the actual address, but that happens with every GPS navigator I've used.

Of the three apps, the TomTom has the largest selection of voices, including many languages from English to Danish, Thai, and Chinese. With English alone, you'll find 11 different accents, both male and female. Still, like the other two apps, it doesn't have text-to-speech where it can read you the name of the street that you're supposed to turn onto.

The TomTom's map view, unfortunately, is not as good-looking as that of the Navigon or the iGo My Way. The streets and freeways are rendered into a somewhat messy mixture of moving colors and lines, making it a bit confusing to look at.

The TomTom shares my biggest disappointment with the other two apps: no real-time traffic update. If anything, that makes the iPhone different as a mobile GPS navigator from other GPS navigators in the fact it is an Internet-enabled phone that already has real-time traffic built-in with the Google Map. I just don't see why this feature is not included.

Overall, though not perfect, the $100 TomTom GPS app, like the $80 Navigon (which will also cost $100 starting August 31) makes a great addition to your iPhone 3GS, especially if you travel frequently. Next month, TomTom will release its car kit for the iPhone app that charges the phone and adds hands-free calling.

Depending on how much the car kit will cost, it might be the game changer for TomTom. Check back soon as we'll let you know if the kit will make the TomTom a clearly better choice than the Navigon.