TomTom Navigator vs Google Maps

I’ve been using TomTom’s products for many years, paying out a huge amount over the years on a regular basis for new maps and new software, across various generations of PDA.  I’ve always used it on a PDA or smartphone rather than on a dedicated device, because I just don’t see the benefit in having yet another device in the car that I need to charge when I’ve already got a workable unit in my pocket.

Over the last few years TomTom’s development of the Navigator version for PDAs has ground to a halt, probably due to their concern over the software being pirated, however they’ve continued to release versions for selected devices usually buried in the ROM of the device in the hope that that would project it. As a result of this - they’ve left me on a pretty stale version, without access to the latest maps.  For reference I’m using an old version of TomTom Navigator on a HP iPaq 910, and GMM on a Google Nexus One.

Whilst I love the PDA software, their desktop software TomTom home is buggy, and frequently frustrating, plus when it does go wrong - don’t even think about trying their support, or finding information on their website.

So when I discovered that Google Maps with Navigation has now become available across a new set of countries in Europe - I decided it was time to see if a free alternative from Google can completely replace TomTom Navigator.

User Interface: One of the most important things about a GPS for road navigation is the ability to use it without thinking about when you’re in the car, and to be able to read the info on the screen at a glance. In this case the TomTom software is excellent, and Google just scrape by with a pass.  

Saving and navigating to a destination: Creating a saved location, and navigating to it in TomTom is pretty straightforward with a good recognition of addresses.  On Google’s alternative it’s hard to do on the device (unless the destination is already a contact, and the address happens to resolve correctly to a location).  It’s fairly easy to do on the desktop (star a location on Google maps), however to name the item with a meaningful name you have to first star the item on Google Maps, then go to Google bookmarks and edit the ‘bookmark’ you’ve just created - which is a bit of a cycle.  

Starting off: Starting off is a challenge with TomTom on my PDA.  I usually first have to run the GPS position accelerator app to download the latest satellite almanac, then start up TomTom as I’m leaving the car-park.  It doesn’t usually lock-on to the satellite location until I’m something like 5 minutes down the road, which is when it then starts to give me a location.  On GMM, the system knows your approximate location immediately from the cell-tower, or WiFi based location information - and so gives you an idea of the route within seconds.  It then locks on and starts to navigate from the GPS after a few minutes.

Voices: Here TomTom is still ahead.  Even though both devices are PDAs, the voices on the TomTom are pre-recorded, where the voice on GMM is computer generated.  This means that GMM can announce road-names, however I don’t know about you - but road-names never bother me.  I just want clear left, right directions - and for this the TomTom’s pre-recorded voices are clearer.

Map view: I love the TomTom map view, and was expecting this to be a hands-down winner, but after having used both the GMM and TomTom side by side for a few journeys I actually find the GMM version a little better.  The larger screen on the Nexus ONE allows me to see more of the view at a time.

Street view: This is an extra bonus on GMM and allows you to take a look at a junction along the route, or the destination using street-view.  This is great fun, and I may use it for checking where I should be going when I arrive, but I’m not sure I’ll use it much in day-to-day usage.

Editing POIs: On the TomTom, POIs are stored in the OV2 format - which isn’t editable by much, but you can convert it to kmz with GPSBabel, then edit the kmz in Google Earth, save it as kmz, and reconvert to OV2 again.  In the Google world, you can use Google My Maps to create a custom my-map, add placemarks manually or through importing a kmz file - then on the device you can load or unload the extra placemarks as a new layer (under more-layers, My Maps)

Traffic: TomTom provides traffic services over cellular (or radio if you’ve got a hardware device), and I’ve found these to be effective in the past at routing me around traffic issues.  I’ve not tested the GMM equivalent.

Speed cameras: Here TomTom offer a subscription service, which again I’ve found to be pretty good; and GMM have nothing integrated - however EZCam uses the data from PocketGPSWorld, and runs in the background, sending a notification through to GMM when getting close to a camera.  While this combination isn’t quite as easy to use, it works just as well, and for less than half of the price of the TomTom service.

Offline vs stored maps: I know GMM has no stored map on the device - so everything is downloaded piece by piece - but if you’ve got an all-you-can-eat mobile tariff - that’s not an issue.  The only big issue is if you’re in a location with no network access.  That doesn’t happen to me very often - and if it does - then I’m usually heading out to the mountains, and I’ve got a map, compass, and handheld-gps as backup.

Voice navigation: Being able to ask the Nexus One to navigate to a destination by voice is indeed cool - but I haven’t found it to be that great here in France so far.  I’ll have to experiment further.

Price: Well… no surprises here.  GMM wins for being free on any Android device.

Overall - I’m pretty happy with Google Navigation application at this point, and I’m sure it will improve over time, given Google’s continued investment in Android (and potential for location-based revenue opportunities!).  

Google maps for mobile wins for me!