TomTom iPhone App with HD Traffic Review

June 6, 2011
3 mins read

$9.95 per month or $49.95 per year
5 Stars

TomTom brings the state-of-the-art in real time traffic based GPS navigation to its iPhone app and it’s a winner

GPS navigation used to be simple: you bought an in-car satnav unit, mounted it on your dash and lived with it, happily or not. Some unfortunate souls may have ended up with units built into their car, which swiftly became obsolete as technology moved ever onwards – these units were about as upgradable as a coal fired power station.

Then came the GPS-enabled smartphone and with it, phone based navigation, shortly followed by dedicated apps from some of the major players. I’ve tested a few of the smartphone solutions and found TomTom’s iPhone app to be the best choice of the lot. In fact, I’d choose it over any of the dedicated in-car units that I’ve reviewed.

TomTom recently introduced HD traffic on its higher-end in-car units (reviewed here on the GoLive 1000 model) and this live traffic update service lifted the experience to new and increasingly intelligent heights. At the time of my review, I predicted that HD traffic would be ported to the iPhone app in a hurry, and so it proved.

HD traffic is an add-on to the TomTom app, which is purchased from within the app itself. The cost is $9.95 per month or a far more palatable $49.95 per annum. I spent a few hundred kilometres around Auckland and on the motorways down to Tauranga with the HD Traffic-enabled version of the iPhone app, getting to know its abilities.

A quick update on HD Traffic is probably in order – this service uses the mobile phone network to access real time data from the AA (supplied by commercial vehicle operators). This data is used by the unit to keep track on delays on your planned route, making changes as needed to keep you moving towards your destination at the best possible rate of knots. TomTom’s iPhone app duplicates the functionality of the in-car units right down to spoken street names, IQ routes and Advanced Lane Guidance.

The HD traffic service on the iPhone is seamlessly integrated and easy to use. It seems far quicker to update and to calculate routes based on traffic info than on the Go Live 1000 that I tested, perhaps because it’s running on a device that is natively designed to be connected all the time.

Start up the app and it finds its position very quickly indeed. Click the Traffic icon after planning a route and it will tell you exactly what delays there are en route, at least as far as it is aware based on the incoming data. It picks up new delays as you drive and finds an alternative with lighter traffic flow, even if the alternative is a longer route, and it does this quite efficiently. HD Traffic works well within its limits. That is, if you’re on the motorway and just getting onto the Auckland harbour bridge and there’s a delay, then you’re out of luck unless your car can swim or fly.

After a few days, I found the app changing the way I drove. Not because the HD Traffic functionality is inaccurate or that there are any other problems with the app itself. It’s actually very accurate and any glitches seem to fall in its favour: it will predict a three minute delay and you’ll find it to be only a minute or so long as the delay naturally clears up. The real problem is that the HD-enabled app is damn addictive, even for someone like me who only uses satnav in a strange area or when I’m reviewing one. Think about it, why on earth wouldn’t you want to be plugged into the road network and directed around incidents and delays whenever and wherever you drive?

I went from hardly ever using satnav to using it for every trip (excepting the short haul to the shops). Most of the time, it made little difference as there were no major delays but occasionally, HD Traffic was a real boon and once it saved my bacon before an important meeting, sending me down Great South Road instead of the nose to tail motorway.

On the downside, you need to remember that the app drains the battery on the iPhone as if there was a 100-watt light bulb in the loop somewhere, so you’ll need a car charger to make best use of it. A car kit is also a good idea so you can see the screen on the iPhone but fortunately, TomTom offers a dedicated car kit with GPS booster and a bigger speaker.

The costs are also something to bear in mind – the app is over $90 (for NZ maps only), the car kit $200 and the HD Traffic service will cost you $49 a year. I’ve never needed the GPS boosting abilities of the car kit, so that’s not a real issue for me, but even if you factor it into the equation, you’re getting a state of the art navigation solution that should be easily upgradable, at least until the car kit no longer works with the iPhone 7. The app should just keep slogging on though, regardless of the version of iPhone software.

So, I like the TomTom app and I love HD traffic. It’s changed my perspective on satnav from a ‘nice to have’ to a ‘must have’. Highly recommended. ASHLEY KRAMER

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