TomTom for Android review
Superb route-finding, traffic avoidance and guidance, but too rough around the edges to recommend yet
In past PC Pro satnav group tests, TomTom has swept the board, but when it came to recommending an app for Android devices, we've had to look elsewhere. For years, TomTom simply ignored Google's popular mobile OS, to the benefit of CoPilot – the most credible alternative.
Well, the satnav giant has finally crumbled under the pressure, and its app is now available on the Google Play Store, where most of its rivals have been for some time.
We couldn't wait to get it downloaded and try it out, but we had to exercise a modicum of pateince. At first we were stopped in our tracks completely: we had been intending to use a Motorola Razr i to test it out, but the TomTom Android app currently supports only phones with 480 x 800 and 540 x 854 displays. An odd decision, as it rules out not only owners of the latest high-end phones, the Samsung Galaxy S III and HTC One X, but also a whole raft of handsets and tablets sporting qHD (540 x 960) and 1,280 x 800 displays.
With a compatible phone located, we also had to wait a while for the maps to download: as with most satnav apps that store maps locally there's a hefty chunk of storage required – 3.4GB for the full European maps we downloaded, 2.7GB for Western Europe and 376MB for the UK.
There's no option to download the map a region or country at a time either, as you can with CoPilot, so make sure you have enough space free before buying. On our Android 2.2 test handset, it wouldn't even allow us to save the map to our SD card - not a good sign for older handsets with limited internal storage.
Assuming your device meets all these requirements, you'll be faced with a familiar sight when you fire up the TomTom app for the very first time: the maps are as bland and beige as they are on TomTom for iOS and the firm's iOS devices, and the info panels surrounding the map display lack any kind of design pretension. But as with other TomTom products we've tested, it does the job effectively, with plenty of information on offer.
Below the map display, two stark black rectangles indicate current speed and the speed limit, plus the time and various ETA data. A light blue area stretching across the very bottom of the screen shows the next turning or, when driving on a motorways and dual carriageways, which lane to get into.
A translucent strip across the top of the screen shows the name of the next street you're set to turn down, and a bar running down the right side of the screen displays traffic incidents and roadworks on route. Bear in mind, though, to receive these alerts you'll need to subscribe to the HD traffic service at either £4 per month or £27 per year. In landscape, all the boxes are shunted to the right.
To test the new app's capabilities, we put it through our usual six-leg test route. This involves a mix of named destinations and addresses to put the search facilities to the test, and a host of different road types, from motorways, to multi-lane A-roads, city streets and country lanes to give the voice and 3D map guidance modes a work out.
Voice instructions and onscreen mapping were both exemplary, as we've come to expect from TomTom products over the years. Throughout our route we were consistently warned of upcoming turnings in good time and reminded clearly as we approached, but never to the point of irritation. Turns close to one another were helpfully linked together as one instruction, and the HD Traffic service helped us skirt around the one major traffic jam we might have become embroiled in.
TomTom for Android features the same clever IQ Routes route calculation scheme as the iOS app and its standalone products. This uses historical road speed data supplied by TomTom users to calculate the best route rather than simply posted speed limits as most other products do. The results speak for themselves, with ETAs that are spookily accurate and route choices that are difficult to find fault with, no matter what the destination is.
The app didn't emerge from the road test completely unscathed, though, and our major complaint was with its search facilities. Where TomTom for iOS located all our test destinations either via address, POI or its Google “Places” search, the Android version struggled. We were unable to find three out of five of the named destinations, and had to fall back on the postcode. There's clearly some work to be done here.
On leg two of our trip, even the postcode method came a cropper. Type in a postcode with a space in the middle, and the app will only match on the first set of characters before the space. Thus, our search for "IG1 1EA" gave a top search result that was 8.6 miles away from our intended destination. Admittedly if you remove the space, all will be well, but it's an embarrassing bug that will inevitably confuse some users.
Those search and postcode problems, combined with the issues over restricted compatibility, serve to take the sheen off what was a blemish-free record for TomTom's smartphone app. Add a high price, those compatibility restrictions, and the fact that the equivalent CoPilot app is now only £20 with a year of its ActiveTraffic service thrown in, and it's tough to recommend TomTom on Android right now.
|Price ex VAT||£26|
|Price inc VAT||£31|
|Features & Design||4|
|Value for Money||3|
Operating system support
|Operating system Windows Vista supported?||no|
|Operating system Windows XP supported?||no|
|Operating system Linux supported?||no|
|Operating system Mac OS X supported?||no|
|Other operating system support||Android 2.2 and up|