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TomTom for Android review

Verdict

Superb route-finding, traffic avoidance and guidance, but too rough around the edges to recommend yet

Review Date: 11 Oct 2012

Reviewed By: Jonathan Bray

Price when reviewed: £26 (£31 inc VAT)

Overall Rating
4 stars out of 6

Features & Design
4 stars out of 6

Value for Money
3 stars out of 6

Performance
4 stars out of 6

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.

TomTom for Android

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 - HD Traffic

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.

Author: Jonathan Bray

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User comments

why would you?

Why spend all that money on this app when android phones have Google maps for navigation? It's never let me down & I use it every day. Tom tom has had it's day & is a dying technology.

By GlidemanUK on 12 Oct 2012

why would you?

Why spend all that money on this app when android phones have Google maps for navigation? It's never let me down & I use it every day. Tom tom has had it's day & is a dying technology.

By GlidemanUK on 12 Oct 2012

Yes, why would you?

I agree with GlidemanUK, I have experience with TomTom on a moble issued with my work phone and I now have Nokia maps on my current phone which works well when i'm out and about. For everyday car use an inexpensive, dedicated TomTom satnav stuck to your windscreen is far less hassle.

By ken19ud on 13 Oct 2012

Sorry but I fail to agree about Google Maps navigation, the voice is to say the least awful & navigation quite clunky, you can't add "Safety Cameras" aka Government Piggy Banks easily either.

Sygic is much better for navigation although its interface isn't very friendly & tricky at times, try getting it to find Channel Tunnel!

I don't know whether to try Co-Pilot at £35 for EU mapping + another £10 for Active Traffic, making £45, does this include free map upgrades or are they extra?

TomTom I used to rate quite highly for in car PND's, but I found their mapping was quite abysmal and in one or two locations I found myself (according to my TomTom) driving either in fields or along railway lines!

Until TT get their mapping sorted out then I think I'll stick with my trusty Garmin & Sygic on my mobile.

By SKINHEAD1967 on 13 Oct 2012

Each to their own.

I've used TomTom hardware and software for years and the answer to why would you? Simple, it's much better in many many ways. Google nav is great for a free product but has very limited functionality.

Annoyingly, the blurb on Play Store says that the necessary free space can be on internal or external storage but still wouldn't use my external sd and I had to clear internal sd space.

But contrary to the review, it installed happily on my S3 so must have been updated already.

I think this app will come on in leaps and bounds and the missing functionality will appear over time.

By PsYcHoTicTac on 13 Oct 2012

Nexus S

Are these real photos or mock ups ? The phone shown the Google Nexus S appears with its buttons the wrong way round, ie you have the volume on the top and power on the bottom, but on the actual phone its the other way round. Same with the keys on the front of the phone.

If its a Google Nexus S you tested this on, then why did you not upgrade it to 4.1 (Jelly Bean) first ?

By fussy_joe on 14 Oct 2012

Nexus S

Are these real photos or mock ups ? The phone shown the Google Nexus S appears with its buttons the wrong way round, ie you have the volume on the top and power on the bottom, but on the actual phone its the other way round. Same with the keys on the front of the phone.

If its a Google Nexus S you tested this on, then why did you not upgrade it to 4.1 (Jelly Bean) first ?

By fussy_joe on 14 Oct 2012

@PsYcHoTicTac

How did you install it? On the Play store it says my S3 is not compatible (unbranded stock ICS).

By tech3475 on 15 Oct 2012

Why would you? Real time traffic accurate to the yard

The real time traffic info is uncannily accurate. Google maps is far more vague and unreliable.

By UberNerd on 15 Oct 2012

I'm with SKINHEAD1967 - I have just returned from a round trip to Sweden and back. I had just bought a Nexus 7, so needed standalone satnav app and signed up for the Sygic trial. At the end of a week we very happy to cough up £30 for the whole of Western Europe. Being able to download individual countries is a plus and getting us in and out of towns handled very well, but poor search on small streets in Wilhelmshaven and Bruges annoying.

By WilliamW on 16 Oct 2012

Armles

I am surprised you say "For years, TomTom simply ignored Google's popular mobile OS" yet every message I get from PC Pro urges me to try the new PCPro iPod magazine. I do not have an iPod, I will always avoid the closed shop that is Apple and I am a supporter of Android devices. Tell me when PCPro will stop "avoiding Google's popular mobile OS"

By armles on 18 Oct 2012

Armles

I am surprised you say "For years, TomTom simply ignored Google's popular mobile OS" yet every message I get from PC Pro urges me to try the new PCPro iPod magazine. I do not have an iPod, I will always avoid the closed shop that is Apple and I am a supporter of Android devices. Tell me when PCPro will stop "avoiding Google's popular mobile OS"

By armles on 18 Oct 2012

Armles

I am surprised you say "For years, TomTom simply ignored Google's popular mobile OS" yet every message I get from PC Pro urges me to try the new PCPro iPod magazine. I do not have an iPod, I will always avoid the closed shop that is Apple and I am a supporter of Android devices. Tell me when PCPro will stop "avoiding Google's popular mobile OS"

By armles on 18 Oct 2012

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