TomTom mobile app rolls along easily - review

TomTom maps make it easy to navigate offline. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)
TomTom maps make it easy to navigate offline. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)

Cape Town - Navigation is a big deal and as more people migrate to GPS-enabled smartphones, companies in the space are paying attention and developing mapping applications to serve a growing customer base.

TomTom, long known for its GPS hardware and mapping services in luxury cars, has rebuilt its software into an application on smartphones.

Based on the hardware, the new TomTom Go app turns your smartphone into an effective GPS device.

Fin24 took it on a test drive to see how well it worked.

Before you can get started, you have to ensure that you're logged on to a Wi-Fi network because the app needs to download the map for your local area.

Regular routes

However, because we in SA are not in Europe or the US, you have to download a massive map for the whole of Africa - useful if you're travelling regularly from Cape Town to Cairo, but somewhat of a mission if you're doing the school run in Sandton.

Once you get through what is a lengthy map download, the application turns your phone into a brilliant TomTom device.

All the features you expect from TomTom are there: You can easily switch between 2D maps and driving mode quickly. The menu bar pops up easily where you can punch in your destination much like other navigation applications.

The TomTom application provides traffic data if you have an internet connection. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)

You also get voice guided navigation built in and even if the app is running in that background, you will get traffic data if you have an internet connection.

You can also save you regular routes and report speed cameras as you would expect from a GPS device and it neatly switches from daylight mode to night mode - a feature that makes it easier on the eyes.

But the application raises some issues with how it handles a wealth of data on a generally smaller screen of a smartphone.

Recent TomTom hardware is touch screen and the company has made a smooth transition to your phone. However, while trying to deliver effective navigation, you still have to punch in an address manually in order to navigate.

Immersive experience

Users may not know that a long press on a location will also result in the navigation menu and the app requires too many clicks to cancel or end a current route.

The current beta version also limits navigation to just under 100km, which means that any attempt to do that Cape to Cairo trip might leave you stranded just outside Worcester.

But the app delivers traditional TomTom features like adding diversions to your route, looking for fuel stations, and avoiding blocked and toll roads.

It takes while to download the entire African map. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)

But despite the immersive TomTom experience on the application, the market has since become crowded since traditional mapping firms dominated navigation.

Google and Apple have entered the direction race, and those free maps offer unlimited navigation. However, the biggest competition to TomTom is likely from Nokia's Here Maps and Here Drive apps.

Here is available for Apple iPhones and the Google Android platform, but critically, unlike the Google and Apple product, you can also use Here (which is free) for offline navigation.

The TomTom Go mobile app is a clever piece of software, but remember not to handle it while driving.

- Follow Duncan on Twitter

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