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Reviewed : TomTom iPhone Car Kit with SiRFIII GPS
Posté le 15 janvier 2010 à 11:56:59 par gpspassion.

REVIEWED - TOMTOM CAR KIT FOR IPHONE
SiRFstarIII GPS + Patch Antenna - Loudspeaker - Bluetooth - Power In - Audio Out

1. COMMENTS - 2. ANNOTATED PICTURES - 3. CONCLUSION - 4. FORUMS

Product page on the Apple Store : US Site - UK Site

The TomTom Car Kit was announced by Apple and TomTom in June at the same time as the iPhone 3Gs and became available for order in mid-September in Europe and I went for it. It came in at the end of September and I started sharing my comments in this topic of the iPhone forums. After a few months of use on the road this is a good time to go over its strengths and weaknesses and take a detailed look at the GPS performance.

1. COMMENTS
  1. The content : a pleasant surprise, a dashboard "sticking plate" is included and it will come in handy as an iPhone will be interacted with, conditions permitting of course, unlike a "standard" GPS once the destination has been programmed. There is a car charger too, outputting 1.2A, a bit more than the usual 1A, but the iPhone needs that based on my experience with other chargers. The miniUSB connector is straight so it might be a bit of an eye-sore...The manual is short but gives enough information to get started, like pairing the iPhone with the Bluetooth module of the car kit (you need to press the "jog shuttle")

  2. The form factor : the car kit certainly looks quite smart with a pleasant finish and even a "rubbery" bumper with the TomTom "hands" to dampen the impact of the bumps on the iPhone. In spite of the many features it packs, it remains light, but it's weighty enough to feel solid.

  3. The features : EasyPort (the screw-in suction cup premiered on the ONE v4 and XL v2 in 2008), SiRFstarIII GPS Module with dedicated patch antenna, loudspeaker with a "jog shuttle" to set the volume, Bluetoth for handsfree conversations, audio out (3.5mm jack), it's hard to do better and I don't remember seeing such a comprehensive car kit since the Seidio G4850 for the Dell x50/x51 in 2005 but it lacked Bluetooth as it was a PDA, not a Smartphone.

    We'll get back to the GPS aspects in detail, but looking at the other features, everything works as expected once the mount is powered. Fast Bluetooth pairing (mind the unusual 5555 code) for handsfree conversations (I suppose there is no hardware pin for a "mic in"), the loudspeaker is a bit louder than the iPhone's built-in speaker (arguably the best one on a smartphone) but has more bass when playing music and "cracks" less when pushed to its max level using the "jog shuttle" on the side. This speaker is certainly a welcome addition as it is the biggest limitation on the powered Carcomm mount I'm currently using

  4. The GPS feature : this is the most anticipated feature of the car kit with the built-in SiRFstarIII chipset. The performance of the SiRFstarIII chipset, the first "high-sensitivity" module launched in 2005 and regularly optimized since, is well documented and the use of a dedicated patch antenna inside the mount will help get the satellite signals where the is less interference than inside the iPhone, what with its large screen, wifi, bluetooth, gsm modules. This should finally bring decent GPS performance to the iPhone, on par with a standalone GPS system. The built-in module is the capable Globallocate Hammerhead II used successfully by TomTom on the ONE, XL, GO x40 and GO x50 AIOs but it clearly struggles in the "GPS hostile" iPhone environment and tends to lose the plot in dense urban areas as I found this week again in Paris.

    As a reminder, the iPhone handles positioning in a "centralized" way using three sources in order of increasing quality : GSM, WiFi and the internal GPS. The SiRFstarIII module of the car kit is considered as an additional source with top priority, you can use the GPS INFO tool to monitor the source being used. Compared to the internal GPS module, the external GPS module cannot benefit from the AGPS assistance provided by most GSM networks to speed up the initial acquisition but since the switch from internal/external is seamless it will not have an impact on the road.

    Unlike on the Windows Mobile/PocketPC platform, there are no GPS tools available for the iPhone to dig in and see what's going on and run cold/warm/hot resets. Still, the first tests are encouraging since I quickly got a high quality position (according to Motion-X GPS) in my office. After disconnecting the power, the fix was lost and the positioning switched to the internal module that slowly got the fix back with a lower quality. Same thing with Google Maps, iGO, Navigon, TomTom or CoPilot.

    It is hard to measure but there's a chance the iPhone will offer snappier performance overall since the hosted internal GPS module will not by using any CPU cycles


  5. GPS Performance : Did some first GPS performance testing at the usual spot and the results of the car kit (track in red) are very good, on par with other SiRFstarIII based receivers. On the other hand the internal receiver (track in green) clearly shows its limits, poor resolution (roundabout "erased") and poor sensitivity (no tracking )underground passage). Note that I don't have two iPhones for simultaneous testing so the two tracks were recorded a few minutes apart to rule out any variation in the satellite configuration.





2. ANNOTATED PICTURES
THE CONTENT OF THE BOX


360 DEGREE ROTATION (32 "notches")


SEEN FROM THE BACK - LOUDSPEAKER AND MINIUSB PLUG


FLEXED OR FOLDED


ZOOM ON THE CONNECTORS AND ON THE "JOG SHUTTLE"


A "BUMPER" WITH THE TOMTOM "HANDS"

3. CONCLUSION

There was a long wait for the TomTom Car Kit but it was certainly well worth it and it's a "must have" if you're serious about GPS navigation on your iPhone (or iPod Touch now). The integrated SiRFstarIII GPS module complemented by a healthy patch antenna provides "best of breed" performance, much improved over the built-in Broadcam Hammerhead II module that doesn't stand a chance when it comes to accuracy with the tiny wire antenna it has to rely on. But that's not all, good ergonomics, a powerful loudspeaker, Bluetooth handsfree, power in, audio out, a nifty utility, round it up. The investment is not negligeable compared to an entry-level Garmin nuvi or TomTom ONE, but for those who have already invested in navigation software (the kit is compatible with all known GPS software as of today), it should be an easy decision.

If you have questions or comments you can use this topic in the "GPS on the Apple iPhone - smartphoneGPS.com" forums.

 
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