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Friday, December 18, 2009
iPhonetunes review: TomTom Car Kit
iPhonetunes review: TomTom Car Kit

A few days ago, we have published the un-boxing and presentation of the TomTom car kit. We also tested the compatibility of the car kit with the first generation iPhone models; iPhone (1G/2G/EDGE) and the GPS navigation application TomTom Western Europe 1.1. Now, it’s time to publish the road test results with a combination of 2G, 3G and 3GS iPhones.

One comment before starting, I didn’t make an analysis of the GPS application, I only tested the car kit. We have already written a lot about GPS applications, both in articles and reviews.

Design and installation

The car kit integrates a SiRFstar III GPS chipset and the iPhone’s Infineon GPS chip. It has a simple but elegant design. You can slip-in and take out the iPhone easily, and it stays firmly once docked. The cradle can rotate 360 degrees, allowing vertical and widescreen view. The cradle can also slide lengthways. While driving, the set remains fixed; the iPhone won’t be spinning around.

The mounting type used, to fix the car kit to the car, is called EasyPort. The suction pad is very easy to use: a simple twist on the dial, tightly secured the kit onto the supplied adhesive disc or the glass (yes, it can be used on the windshield). The ball joint system is also robust and moves with difficulty, thereby ensuring that the set doesn’t tilt.

Note: dial locking system.

The car kit and the iPhone sync via bluetooth quickly and without any problem. Note that the iPhone should be placed in the car kit cradle to synchronize.

The voice instructions are heard through the car kit’s external speaker. In my opinion, the sound quality is better than the iPhone speakers. On the left side you’ll find the volume switch.

Finally, you can’t dock the iPhone to the car kit if the phone carries a case.

On the road…

Time to hit the road. In open spaces, the car kit quickly locks the GPS signals. However, if we run the app starting from a garage, it’ll take a lot of time to lock the signal. Therefore, I recommend initializing the navigation application outside the garage.

Note: car kit on the dashboard.

En route, both the car kit and the iPhone 2G operates as a single device, and it does this very well. One of my fears was that the 2G’s processor wouldn’t be powerful enough to successfully run the application. My fears vanished from the first moment I set in motion. The iPhone manages the data flow perfectly, I presume that most of the navigation process is run on the car kit, freeing the 2G of those heavy tasks.

Alternative route calculation and rerouting is fast.

In areas of intersections, roundabouts and crossroads, the car kit works very well; both positioning and view of the map are good.

I haven’t noticed any abnormal warming of the 2G or 3G S, neither excessive battery consumption, in fact, the iPhone is loaded pretty fast when it’s docked to the car kit.

Note: Car kit on the windshield.

When I tested the car kit with an iPhone 3G S, I didn’t notice big differences compared with the iPhone 2G. The 3G S calculates the routes a bit quicker.

As for the 3G’s GPS performance with and without car kit, I have noticed that in cities the performance of the 3G S ostensibly improved. Also coming out of tunnels, the GPS signal is picked-up faster. Another point in favor of the 3G S connected to the car kit, is the improved positioning on crossroads, intersections, etc. It may not be necessary in highways, roads, open spaces, but in a big city, this can be decisive, the difference between taking the right street and having to make a detour.

The car kit also works with other GPS applications than the TomTom.

The car kit has a 3.5-mm audio output to connect to the AUX input of the car audio system. To hear both the voice instructions and the music through your car’s speakers, you have to select “AUX” in the audio system. Anyway, you’ll only hear from one speaker, the output isn’t in stereo, in fact, it sounds better with the car kit speakers because the car’s speaker has a lot of background noise.

Finally, the car kit also functions as a hands-free device. When receiving a call, the conversation is heard via the car kit speaker. The car kit also has a built-in microphone (better quality than the iPhone, although I recommend for optimal performance talking in the direction of the mic).


If you have an iPhone 2G / EDGE ... and you have no alternative GPS device, the TomTom car kit is a good choice. There are cheaper options, like buying a Bluetooth GPS antenna (40€ minimum for a decent one) and a support (minimum 10€), but then you must find an application to link the devices and crossing your fingers wondering if it’ll work. Personally, I would go for the easiest solution and buy the TomTom car kit, easy to install and easy to use, coupled with good quality and the certainty that it’s compatible with other GPS applications (a lot of GPS apps already incorporate 2G compatibility in their latest update).

If you have an iPhone 3G or 3G S ... it’s more difficult to advise. If you live in a remote part, a town or a small city without big buildings, I wouldn’t pay nearly 100€ for the car kit, to hardly notice differences or improvements in the GPS performance. By contrast, if you live in a big city and need to improve the accuracy and performance of the iPhone 3G / 3G S, then I recommend buying it.

If you have both a 2G and 3G / 3G S ... it would also make sense buying the car kit. You can use the 2G as stand-alone GPS and leave the iPhone 3G S for other things.

The TomTom car kit is sold at a price of 99.99€ on TomTom’s. Not cheap, but not too expensive. It’s a quality product, works well and is easy to install and use.

Appearance: 4.0
Functionality and performance: 4.0
Usability: 5.0
Value: 4.0
TOTAL: 4.25 out of 5.


Note: The car kit has been provided for the test by TomTom Iberia.


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