When was the last time you used a standalone GPS unit? If you don’t already own one, probably never. Or it was borrowed. But smartphones are handy enough at getting you where you’re going, with voice prompts and everything as well as a pretty darn good sense of direction. Better than ours, anyway, and that’s just Google Maps. They can’t pronounce South African place names worth a damn though.
Still, add Bluetooth integration to your vehicle and your smartphone is a GPS. And companies like TomTom have realised this, which is why they’ve finally dropped their TomTom GO Mobile app for Android. It’s been around for a while but it’s presence in South Africa is new. We got a chance to tool around with a beta test version of it a few days before the local Android release last week and we have to say that we’re pretty impressed with how it all works together.
The First One’s Free
The concept for the Android app is quite cool, even if it seems a little drug-dealer-ish at times. TomTom GO Mobile is free for users to download – the app itself came in about 90MB on our test device, the map was considerably larger – and free users will be able to make use of the full features for a time. TomTom is giving free users 75km a month of everything, with a year’s subscription costing R250. Three years of access is R550, which is the better deal (and it beats paying R5k for a dedicated GPS) but we daresay there are some users who can get by on the free distance. At least the 75km resets every month, though we haven’t been using the GO Mobile app long enough to actually see that in action. We’re taking TomTom on their word with that one.
Just A Taste
Yeah, you’re going to be quite limited when it comes to using the app for free but 75 kilometres is enough, even as a once-off, to decide whether you’re going to want the full version or not. If you’ve never used TomTom’s Live Traffic feature before then putting down cash for a subscription is going to be a likely outcome. For the 75km at your disposal you have access to everything. Live Traffic, points of interest, speed-limit indications and everything else you will find on a full-fledged TomTom GPS are present for your approval and they all worked beautifully for the most part.
For a test, we left to travel to the Stuff offices during rush hour (intentionally) in order to see what how the Live Traffic feature performed. During the trip the GPS directions were dead-on and the voice prompts, running through a Bluetooth connection in our vehicle, were clear and precise. And when we encountered traffic (oh, how we encountered it – and it encountered back, hard), the TomTom Go Mobile app had our near-stationary periods estimated down to the minute. Oh, and the maps will work offline but it kinda goes without saying that Live Traffic won’t be active. It’s a nice-to-have.
Complaints And Grievances
There are a few negatives, believe it or not. Our initial attempts at locking in a route keep trying to drive us from Kinshasa, for some reason, but a quick clearing of route data sorted out that problem. On one trip the audio just refused to work, though we’re unable to determine whether we may have accidentally disabled the voice directions by mistake.
The app’s download size is a bit prohibitive, near-on 1GB isn’t a chore for those without home WiFi and a DSL connection. Unfortunately the app currently doesn’t have a South Africa-only map, you’re getting the whole continent. Nice if you’re a traveller, not so much if you’re just heading to a new shopping centre.
Lastly, there’s the usage. While the interface is just the same as TomTom’s GPS units, odds are you’re going to be using the app on a device with a smaller screen (your minimum resolution needs to be 800 x 480). Making changes on the go is almost impossible without putting yourself in a precarious position on the road. So is using a GPS, to be fair, but it’s tougher using your smartphone. It’s way, way simpler to select destinations than using Google Maps, once you’ve done a spot of setup though.
If you’re going to pay for a GPS app, we’re going to have to side with the new TomTom GO Mobile every time. Not because of the slick interface, accurate directions or smooth instructions over Bluetooth. Certainly not because it’s a mission to use while you’re driving. But because of Live Traffic access, at a reduced cost compared to buying a full-fledged GPS. That alone is worth the price of admission.