Boy, TomTom sure has chosen the worst possible time to release its Car Kit for iPhone, and to make matters worse, its decision to not include the iPhone app is now set in stone. That's right, the hardware alone will set you back the cost of a TomTom ONE nowadays, and the $99.95 app works on the iPhone 3G and 3GS without it. So here's the question: is the car kit worth the extra $119.95? To find out, we got hold of a review unit for a sunny road trip around London. Surprisingly, the car kit uses Bluetooth to connect the GPS receiver and the hands-free function to the iPhone, even though there's a dock connector for charging. Bluetooth connectivity does have its advantages: according to TomTom it can work as a generic Bluetooth GPS receiver for any satellite navigation app -- including Google Maps -- on the iPhone, or any smartphones at all for that matter. TomTom even confirmed that the car kit could potentially compensate for the first-generation iPhone's lack of built-in GPS, but since its app won't run on anything but a 3G or 3GS we'll have to wait and see if that's actually useful.
[Thanks for being our driver, Sam]
So we're impressed by the car kit's hardware, but what really matters is its GPS performance. To see the difference we installed the TomTom app on two iPhones and placed them side by side on our dashboard: the iPhone 3G connected to the TomTom car kit, while the 3GS used its built-in GPS receiver and sat on a generic phone cradle. Sure, the two phones are different, but we know they share the same Infineon GPS chip, and we thought it would be interesting to see if the car kit can compensate the 3G's slower processor. In our first round of tests we drove around the motorway and intercity roads, and the only significant difference we noticed was that the car kit provided a slightly quicker positioning, shouting out instructions at more sensible times when approaching junctions. The 3GS sans car kit didn't do too badly, but had we driven any faster in the city streets we would have missed a few turns. See for yourself in the video below.
We had a feeling that the car kit would make a bigger impact on the smaller streets, so to prove this we ran a torture test in Central London: we left the route planner on and drove around small streets randomly to test the GPS' accuracy and speed. The result? Again, the car kit proved to be quicker -- even with the slower phone -- and more accurate most of the time. Depending on the complexity of the route the iPhone 3GS' faster processor may even save a further two or three seconds when used with the car kit.
There's no denying that the TomTom Car Kit for iPhone can make your life a tad better, and it's also a much better looking iPhone cradle compared to a generic-style holder. For those often driving around small city streets you'll get a greater benefit from the car kit, but at a dear cost of $119.95 for iPhone or $99.95 for iPod touch (neither of which includes the app), it's probably worth it if you're still stuck with a GPS-less first-generation iPhone or any iPod touch