TomTom vs Google Maps navigation

To left, right?

There was time before navigation systems even existed. Or they were called otherwise. E.g. in my case it was not navigator, it was (and still is) wifegator. What an excellent co-pilot.

In my previous Forester there was not built in navigator. Also no need to dream about any Android Auto or CarPlay support. Once we arrived to Rostok from Helsinki by a ferry. I enabled my wifegator to guide me to Dresden as our final destination was there. On that time we had Navigon app installed on iPad in offline mode. After some confused discussions we managed to get there safely.

– take left from that roundabout
– technically you cannot turn left from roundabout, right?
(if that glance of look could kill…)
– take the 3rd junction to right from that roundabout!

Ever since I have heard that conversation when I am using wifegator instead of a real navigator. Specially when we encounter any roundabouts on our route!

Nowadays built-in navigators are very common and even AA and CarPlay is offered more often. In fact CarPlay is available on every Forester trim level, while factory navigation is only available on higher trim levels.

I was planning to write an article of “Complete guide of the Subaru’s TomTom factory navigation system”. Then decided to change my mind and instead highlight the key differences to the Google Maps system, which is available through Android Auto or Apple CarPlay.

Reason why I changed my mind was that the factory system is somewhat frustrating to use. If there was no other option, sure it would be “good enough” but now when there is alternative option, par is quite high now.

Then Android Auto and CarPlay is available on every trim level but the factory navigation is available only on higher trim levels. So if you are considering what trim level to get. You might be interested of the conclusion of this article. Specially if the navigation system is decider for your choice.

Setting the destination

This is the first step when you start to feel how frustrating or how smooth it is use the system. TomTom is huge step forward when compared to some rivals. E.g. Toyota’s Entune is known for it’s bad interface. Even in the latest version it is somewhat cumbersome to use. TomTom has a qwerty keyboard which helps a lot. It recognizes addresses well and of course it can find POI locations too.

However when comparing to Google’s implementation, even TomTom feels bit outdated. First Google Maps felt bit odd since there is no keyboard available at all. How to input destination there? All it obeys is voice commands. But that is actually far more handy than using just keyboards. It is possible to use TomTom by voice commands too but not when the cable is connected to smartphone. If cable is connected to smartphone, pressing “Voice activation” button on the steering wheel will launch either Siri or Google Assistant. I have now so used to plug-in cable in the phone when entering car. It comes by routine without any extra attention. But the voice recognition is not nearly as accurate as Google Maps. Works best when providing full address.

Update: Even it is true that you do not have a keyboard while using Google Maps via CarPlay, it is possible to open Google Maps from your phone (while it is connected to the car with cable) and there you can enter street address with phone’s keyboard. Once done CarPlay interface will prompt do you wish to set your destination. Handy!

Google Maps strength is unmatched amount of locations. You really do not need to know address at all. It predicts so well what you mean by just saying few words. It knows your intentions almost frightening well. One nice feature is that when you are navigating to the restaurant outside of opening hours, Google Maps notifies you that the restaurant might be closed at the time of arrival.

Guiding to the destination

One real advantage what TomTom has over Google Maps is that they are able to utilize Forester’s Multi Function Display (MFD). That little upper screen. So there they are presenting turn-by-turn instructions. What junction is coming next and when. While on the bigger screen map among the route is visible.

Google presents turn-by-turn instructions on the main screen. You’ll have them on top left corner which works quite well. There is also lane assistant, reminding which lane to keep before next junction.

I did not try English voice-over on either of the systems but Finnish sounds like it has been made with voice synthesizer on both systems. So I toggled voice off as it sounds bit unnatural and amusing time-to-time.

Map visuals

Both systems is possible to have with light or dark mode. Either choose it manually or keep it in auto mode. In auto mode background is changed depending how much light is available from outside.

Visuals works quite well on both systems but I prefer Google Maps style better as it is bit cleaner looks and keeps your mind focused on which road you should be driving.

While navigating with TomTom I had few times very odd map zoom out experience. This I didn’t have enough time to investigate that did I have auto zoom enabled or some other weird settings. I was driving on road which had speed limit of 40 km/h, and then map suddenly zoomed out way too much. This resulted that I couldn’t see anymore upcoming junctions properly. Luckily smaller display still showed me information right.

Settings

Settings are similar on both systems. However access to TomTom settings is via the gear icon from the home screen. Google settings can be accessed directly from the map screen. TomTom has more things to adjust and integrates also to car better. E.g. it can incorporate with the fuel level and suggest fueling stations automatically.

Conclusion

So here is the conclusion. TomTom will do just fine it’s purpose. However it is not quite on the par with Google Maps. Oddly you can have it only with upper trim levels. If you’re balancing between trim levels where other has the factory navigation and other not. If this is the only criteria between those trim levels, I would definitely take without TomTom system. It is so much more convenient to use Google Maps via Apple CarPlay. One thing to remember though. Both Android Auto and CarPlay is possible to use only when phone is wired. For me it is not a deal breaker, since it keeps phone charged all the time.

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