A month ago, I previewed TomTom’s Car Kit for iPhone (there’s also a companion product called the Car Kit for iPod; both sell for $199).
The kit requires the TomTom for iPhone software, which is sold separately for $119 (and which you can use quite happily on an iPhone without the Car Kit).
This week I’ve had the chance to use the Car Kit hands-on. Essentially, it’s a stalk that holds your iPhone in place.
The stalk uses the same twist on/twist off ring that makes it relatively easy to detach its sucker from your windscreen or dashboard, and swivels for either landscape or portrait views.
Inside the stalk is a GPS receiver, which is more powerful than that built into an iPhone. The stalk, which draws power from your car’s cigarette lighter, also boasts a built-in microphone and speakers, an AUX out cable for connecting to your car stereo, and recharges your iPhone.
TomTom vs TomTom
TomTom’s biggest competition here is itself: many will - and should - be happy running TomTom for iPhone on their handset without any boost from the stalk.
It’s very user-friendly, using iPhone-style menus. More, I found it very accurate: intersecting streets went by in real-life at the same time they appeared on TomTom for iPhone’s screen - not something that always happens in the world of mobile phone mapping.
Most frills you get in a dedicated GPS navigation unit are present, including crowd-sourced IQ Routes and - in the new Version 1.2 upgrade - spoken street names. And if you take a wrong turn, it recalculates a new route in a snap - certainly just as fast as a dedicated sat-nav system.
There aren’t any real-time AA Traffic alerts (still unique to Navman in New Zealand), but you don’t get that on TomTom’s dedicated car systems either.
And a standalone iPhone already lets you make hands-free calls, and initiate them when with voice commands.
So what does the Car Kit bring to the party?
The cradle does lock onto a GPS signal more quickly when you first begin, in many cases. Using TomTom for iPhone with an iPhone only, I found it often took around 10 seconds. The stalk halved that time.
Trying to get a signal from a real horror-show location (Auckland’s Grey’s Ave, with both overhanging trees, a hill and tall-ish buildings on either side to mask or deflect the satellite borne GPS signal), I found it took about 30 seconds without stalk and, after rebooting, about 10 seconds with.
Most reviewers (see links below) have found that spoken commands, such as which turn to take, arrive a little earlier with the Car Kit.
The kit’s built-in speaker and mic (which sync to your phone via Bluetooth, curiously given the two devices direct connection) boost call quality a little over standard iPhone hands-free. But a couple of callers still complained about call clarity.
If you’re looking for a hands-free cradle for your iPhone, and budget’s no barrier, then by all means check out TomTom’s Car Kit for iPhone. But for most TomTom for iPhone users, it’s solving problems that don’t exist.
Some will like the snappier GPS, and the convenience of the charger - or just having a cradle - but $199 is a high price to pay, especially when you have to shell out another $119 for the TomTom for iPhone app on top.
A free TomTom apps is available for the CarKit, but it provides no point-to-point navigation. Bundle the full-blooded TomTom for iPhone app free with the Car Kit, and I figure a whole lot more people would climb onboard.