TomTom hands-free

By: Dave Lorimar, Photography by: Dave Lorimar


Everyone knows that using a cell phone while driving is a pretty stupid thing to do. Not only is it illegal, it’s downright dangerous. A fair number of our readers are professional drivers and it’s important that they have all the right equipment at hand to assist the challenging job they do. Thankfully the advent of hands-free kits, like this model from TomTom, and voice-activated dialling, can make the whole process much safer and more enjoyable.

TomTom hands-free
TomTom hands-free

I spend a lot of time in my car. Like many others, I have two jobs and a busy family. My life involves a lot of driving around, and just as Murphy predicted, as soon as I'm comfortably driving along, my cell phone will ring. Not having a hands-free kit, I would normally just let the phone ring and wait for the answer phone to pick up. Sometimes I might have the headphones on and I could then answer the phone using them. My car is old and doesn't have all the modern bluetooth features you find in today's vehicles. I'm sure a lot of people are in the same boat as me and get by as best they can. Enter the TomTom hands-free car kit.

Setting up the well-made and presented iPhone version (an Android version is also available) of the hands-free kit was simple and straightforward. With the phone's bluetooth turned on, once the TomTom was plugged into the cigarette lighter power source, it started connecting to the phone. Enter the password and 10-seconds later, I was all set up. The unit uses a voice menu with spoken instructions so just follow these and you're good to go.

The unit mounts to either the dashboard or windscreen of your car in exactly the same way a GPS does, using a suction-cup-like system, and it works well. The phone can be set either vertically or horizontally, or anything in between, depending on your preference. There's a small microphone attached to the front of the device and it also comes with an extension cable that you can use to place the microphone closer, such as on the pillar or sun visor. The unit utilises noise and echo-cancelling features to improve the sound quality of your call. There's a two-watt speaker at the rear that provides loud and clear audio, or you can choose to use your car stereo (if it's bluetooth enabled).

If you decide not to mount your phone, a few seconds after you start your vehicle the TomTom will announce that your phone is connected and you can start using the device. Calls can be answered or sent to the answer phone using the big green and red phone icon buttons on the front. The volume can be adjusted with two buttons on the left side and you can access the menu or access Siri or voice control with one button on the right. You get all the useful phone features without having the phone mounted.

If you had to remove your cover every time you mounted your phone you just wouldn't bother mounting it. One really cool feature is how well this unit works with the many different types of covers available. There's a simple adjustment control on the top clamp that allows the clamp to open wider or close smaller. Once set, it holds the phone securely and enables it to be placed or removed in one easy movement, all with one hand. This system will work on most phone covers available today, however I can see a potential problem with some of the waterproof covers I've seen.

The unit can be set up to work with two different phones and employs a fast charge system to maximise the charging rate. It comes with a USB plug and a separate cigarette lighter charger. I like this setup option as you usually only have one lighter installed in a vehicle and it's easy to daisy-chain USB devices.

At this stage there is no iPhone5 support. Apple changed to a connector called 'lightning' with the iPhone5. The TomTom model tested is compatible with the first iPhone ever made through to the iPhone4S. I expect an iPhone5 version will be released soon enough.

I liked having the phone mounted where I could see it while driving. This enabled me to use a GPS app for navigation. I could then remove my dedicated GPS and combine two separate devices into one phone and GPS unit. This is a great space saver in my small car. I can use either the standard Apple maps (not recommended at this stage), or the much better and newly-released Google maps app, but these require a data connection to work. TomTom provide a GPS app with the entire map of New Zealand (or just about anywhere in the world), preloaded and will work anywhere, regardless of whether you have cell phone or satellite coverage. However, this is not a free app, where the other two are.

Conclusion

The hands-free car kit is great; it's as simple as that. I found having the ability to charge and use the phone/GPS at the same time a real godsend. Small trips around town were enough to keep the phone battery topped up, and I didn't need to worry about giving the phone a charge the night before.

I did have one issue when the phone was mounted in the hands-free kit. When I received a call, I had to select TomTom under the phone's audio options. It was only a two-click fix but still annoying. I'm sure there's a simple fix but I couldn't find it. This only occurred when receiving calls while mounted. My colleague testing the Android version didn't have this problem so I guess it may just be an iPhone setting issue.

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