- Good sound quality
- Microphone extension and mountings
- Works with iPhone undocked
- No built-in GPS
- Review Price: £79.99
- Suction screen mount
- iPhone charging dock
- Bluetooth connectivity with HFP and A2DP
- External microphone with mountings
- 2W speaker
Signs are beginning to appear that the sat-nav is about to go full circle. What started out as a peripheral and software add-on package for the PDA then became a standalone device in itself. But this hugely successful gadget could be supplanted by the evolution of what it replaced – the smartphone – as the power of the mobile increases.
TomTom has clearly seen this one coming, and launched a range of car mounting kits including this, the new TomTom Hands-free Car Kit for iPhone. Not all of them are for Apple devices, either, in anticipation of the TomTom for Android app version due in October. However, the one we are reviewing here is still focused on the iPhone, and replaces the original TomTom for iPhone Car Kit, although it’s not quite a direct replacement.
The Hands-free Car Kit is of noticeably sturdier build than the original Car Kit. Not that the latter was flimsy – far from it – but this goes even further to house your beloved Apple smartphone in the manner it deserves. The new kit is designed to accommodate every iPhone from the original version up to the latest iPhone 4S. However, the new kit does lack something important from the original – the GPS receiver. So any remaining users of the original iPhone will be better off getting the first Car Kit, if they want to use a satellite navigation app, although this point is a bit moot as the lack of recent iOS updates will probably be more of a hindrance.
You can still get the original Car Kit, although now it is being marketed for the iPod Touch only, as it’s not designed for the iPhone 4 body. It’s worth noting that, physically at least, the TomTom Hands-free Car Kit will only fit future iPhones so long as the use the same docking connector, as such this might rule out the iPhone 5 onwards with Apple seemingly set to do away with its 30-pin dock standard for a new 9-pin option. The flexibility of the securing mechanism means that the Hands-free Car Kit will fit a phone even if it’s inside an unusual cover.
The phone attaches via its 30-pin dock connector at one end, and a rubberised bracket at the other, which secures with friction. The Kit has a regular windscreen suction mount, with an adhesive disk so you can make a permanent placement for it on your dashboard. We found the suction mount provided a more secure attachment than the previous kit. It rotates, too, so you can have your phone in portrait or landscape orientation, the latter being preferable for satellite navigation.
What the TomTom Hand-free Car Kit for iPhone loses with the GPS it gains in other areas, primarily revolving around the facility to use your phone safely whilst driving, as implied by the device’s name. There’s a microphone connected to the mount, but it can be detached, with a number of accessories to help you reposition it. There’s an extension cable, so you can reposition the microphone where you want. A sun visor clip, so you can attach the microphone there, and another clip to attach it to an A pillar. There are also three adhesive clips you can use to route the cable neatly to the microphone location. A 2 Watt speaker is located at the rear of the mount to assist with the hands-free capabilities.
Although the TomTom Hands-free Car Kit for iPhone has a physical iPhone connector, it actually supports Bluetooth with HFP and A2DP and uses this for its audio connection to your iPhone. Once the phone and mount are paired, you can use the Kit with the phone whether the latter is in the cradle or not. Pairing is pretty easy, as once you press the menu button on the Kit it prompts you verbally to pair the devices, and guides you through the process.
We connected the TomTom Hands-free Car Kit to an iPhone 3GS and placed a few calls whilst on the road. Audio quality was very good, with even a hearing aid-equipped elderly person having no problems making out what we were saying. What’s more, the menu button on the right calls up voice control on your iPhone, so you can give it commands hands-free as well. There’s also a volume control on the right edge, but we found the sound to be perfectly audible above the engine noise in our car, at around the 75 per cent mark. When the phone isn’t in the mount, you can accept and reject calls using large and obvious buttons on the mount itself. So you can talk easily even if your phone is in your pocket whilst you are driving.
We also tested the mount with the latest 1.11 version of TomTom’s navigation app. This comes with support for the Kit so you can use the latter’s speaker, and the latest TomTom maps. It’s a free download if you have already purchased any of the previous versions. It also expands TomTom’s social media obsession with support for foursquare, so you can post your destinations using this service and navigate to where your friends have checked in. You can also now copy and paste addresses from other websites, and the TomTom app will automatically parse these into a sensible destination. We found this worked quite well with the addresses we tried.
As we mentioned earlier, TomTom also now does kits that aren’t for the iPhone. There’s a kit for the same price with broadly similar features to the iPhone one, but using a mount that will fit most smartphone configurations, as long as they are 54-80.5mm wide and 100-127.5mm tall. This is ready and waiting for the imminent arrival of the Android version of TomTom’s navigation app. There’s also a charger kit for £39.99 and a mount for £24.99 that merely secures your phone onto an air vent, with no electrical features whatsoever.
At £79.99, the TomTom Hands-free Car Kit for iPhone is rather expensive as mounting kits go. It can also be purchased with the TomTom iPhone app navigation software as a bundle for £129.99. This is pricey, but in our testing TomTom’s software is the best iPhone navigation app on the market, and can happily replace a standalone device, particularly as it supports the same HD Traffic service as TomTom’s LIVE products, making it great for regular rush-hour commuters. So the Hands-free Car Kit is not the best value, but it provides high-quality hardware to go with TomTom’s excellent navigational abilities.
Score in detail
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