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My review of Garmin StreetPilot Onboard versus TomTom apps on an iPhone

nutcase 91 Points
edited April 2014 in Smartphone Navigation
I couldn't find something like this when I was looking around the forums, so I figured I'd start a "discussion" here to describe the Garmin and TomTom iPhone apps.

I've been a long-time GPS user (I had a StreetPilot III almost as soon as they came out and then moved to a nuvi 765 that I've been using since about a year after it came out). I can navigate by paper maps when I have to, but I like the "freedom" that a GPS device gives me.

On our last trip to Europe, we used the nuvi as well as Google Maps on an iPad (with an international data SIM card). This time around, we thought about using our iPhones so I wanted to try things out back home before making a decision on which to use over there.

I tried Sygic, Scout, Google Maps, and Apple Maps here at home, but I found them too clunky or "unpolished" for my tastes; additionally, Google Maps, and Apple Maps require an internet connection (although Google Maps can cache maps, I found it too much trouble). I then moved on to Garmin StreetPilot Onboard for North America (Canada, U.S., and Mexico) and TomTom (Canada and U.S.).

I will say right off the bat that each has its quirks; I really wish I could combine the "best of both worlds" to come up with what, for me, would be the "perfect" app, but I'll make do with what I have.

I'm not a "professional" reviewer, so I may wind up rambling here and there, bear with me :-) Also, this will be mostly about the "little things" that I wish reviews would include but often don't since both apps get me from point A to point B (and sometimes points C, D, and E in between).

I bought a Garmin Universal Smartphone Mount to use with the Garmin beanbag mount I'd been using with my Nuvi.


Neither app comes with a traffic subscription (that's extra and uses your phone's data plan). I haven't purchased traffic yet so I can't tell you whether the coverage is any good.


Both work in portrait or landscape mode.


The TomTom app lets you choose whether to hide the phone's status bar (the top line with the connection status, time, etc.). That provides welcome extra real estate in landscape mode.


The Garmin app will run on an iPad, but it's not optimized for it -- it runs as a phone app that you can hit the "2x" button and get to full screen.

The TomTom app is a true "universal" app; when installed on an iPad, it provides a different experience (I haven't actually tested it out yet, but it seems that the map stays visible while accessing menu options, for instance).


The Garmin app has a "Trip Planner" which allows you to set up a route to be used later; however, I can't find a way to view the directions (only an overview map of the route) or do a route simulation.

The TomTom app has "Advanced Planning" which lets you plan a route for a future time -- the route will change based on IQ Routes (TomTom's traffic predictions based on historical data) for the time you set; however, I cannot figure out how to save the trip to be used later. On the plus side, I can view the directions and do a route simulation.


The Garmin app does not have pedestrian routing "out of the box"; it is available as an in-app purchase called "Urban Guidance". "Urban Guidance" can also do public transit planning in some cities.

The TomTom app does pedestrian routing "out of the box", but it does not have any public transit routing options.


The Garmin app's routing options are: Faster Time, Shorter Distance, and Off-Road. If you've already started planning a route and want to change the type, you have to get back to the main menu, go into Settings, Navigation, Route Preferences. (The "Route Preferences" selection is tiny and can be hard to hit when in motion.)

The TomTom app's routing options are: Fastest, Eco Route, Shortest, Avoid Highways, Winding Roads, Walking Route, Bicycle Route, and Limited Speed. You can change the type of route by tapping the map, "Route Options", "Find Alternative", "Calculate Alternative", and choosing the type of route. (All of the icons are fairly large and easy to hit.)

With "Winding Roads", you can choose "Maximum", "Medium", and "Minimum". With "Limited Speed", although you can set a maximum speed you want to drive, it won't always avoid freeways even if when that's possible.


The Garmin app allows you to set avoidances including: U-Turns, Highways, Toll Roads, Traffic (only useful if you've subscribed to traffic), Ferries, Carpool Lanes, and Unpaved Roads. You can either choose to avoid or not avoid each type.

Changing avoidances on the Garmin app requires going back out to the main menu and into Settings, Navigation, Avoidances.

The TomTom app allows you set avoidances including: Toll Roads, Ferry Crossings, Carpool Lanes, and Unpaved Roads. You can choose to avoid, not avoid, or ask to avoid each type. (Example: If the "Toll Roads" avoidance is set to "Ask" and the planned route includes tolls, the app will say "Tolls", and provided a pop-up that the route includes tolls and present you with the choice of whether to avoid the toll roads.)

Changing avoidances on the TomTom app also requires going back out to the main menu and into Settings, Route Planning.


Getting out to the main menu in the Garmin app requires finding a small arrow in the bottom-left corner of the screen.

Getting out to the main menu in the TomTom app requires tapping anywhere on the map.


The Garmin app will (if you have an internet connection) show you a Google Streetview image of your destination when you get close. You can also look at the current weather at the destination (again with an internet connection.)

The TomTom app does neither of these.


The Garmin app allows you to provide feedback on the current speed limit by tapping the speed limit symbol on the map and then setting the correct speed limit. This can be done while in motion (unless the "Safe Mode" is on).

The TomTom app has MapShare functionality which allows you to send feedback on street name changes, road closures, and speed limits; however, this can only be done when browsing the map and selecting a particular road segment.


The Garmin app allows you to choose which areas you want to download maps for (options were Canada, U.S., Canada + U.S., or Canada + U.S. + Mexico -- I think).

The TomTom app will download all of the maps for the purchased region.


The Garmin app lets you download 3D buildings.

The TomTom app does not.


The Garmin app lets you choose whether to download the "Junction Views".

The TomTom app includes "Junction Views" (or TomTom's equivalent) in its initial download.


The Garmin app includes speed cameras and red-light cameras.

The TomTom app does not include these and some TomTom regions do not allow their purchase (apparently the TomTom U.S. app has them available as an in-app purchase, but the U.S. + Canada app does not).


Both apps have "3D", "2D Track Up", and "2D North Up" options.

To change the view in the Garmin app, there are three methods: Go back to the main menu, into Settings, Navigation, Map View; tap and move the map to get into browse mode, tap an icon, and tap "Map View"; or slide a teensy little tab out from the side, choose "Map Layers" and "Map View".

To change from 3D to 2D view in the TomTom app, you tap the gear icon at the top of the screen, then "2D/3D"; you can't change between "2D Track Up" and "2D North Up" from here though; to do that, you have to go to the main menu, "Change Settings", then "2D North Up".


In my vehicle, if I don't plug my iPhone into the car's stereo system, the Garmin app can still send audio over Bluetooth while the TomTom app cannot.


The Garmin app allows you choose to "Detour" around whatever segment of the route you're currently on but there's no way to tell it how far to detour.

The TomTom app allows you to choose to avoid a portion of the route ahead of time.


The Garmin app will provide feedback like "Turn right, then turn right" when it means "Turn right, go two blocks, then turn right."

The TomTom app will provide feedback like "Turn right then take second right" in the same situation. It will also provide feedback like "Turn left, then get in the right lane."


The Garmin app provides the direction to turn and where to turn (e.g. Park Avenue, Exit 435B) at the top of the screen.

The TomTom app provides where to turn at the top and the direction to turn at the bottom of the screen. (Coming from a nuvi, that took some getting used to.)


The Garmin app does not have an easy way to get back to the map once you're buried deep in the sub-menus.

The TomTom app has an icon available in (almost?) all screens that gets you straight back to the map.


The Garmin app has a built-in "Help" section, but it's not always the most helpful. There is no actual manual available.

The TomTom app does not have built-in "help", but there is a manual available on their website.


The Garmin app's "Where am I?" feature is only accessible by sliding a teensy-weensy tab out from the side of the screen. It provides coordinates, nearest address, and "nearest intersection" (although it appears that this is actually the "closest intersection of 'major' streets" since I'm 20 feet from an intersection of a main drag and a side street, but Garmin's "nearest intersection" is a block away).

It also provides quick access to hospitals, police stations, gas stations, and mechanics.

The TomTom app has a "Help Me" screen that shows a map of where you are, and a sentence you can read to a 911 dispatcher (e.g. "I am on BBB street, CCC neighborhood, between DDD street and EEE street. My current coordinates are x latitude, y longitude.") You can choose "Call Help" or "Drive to Help".

"Drive to Help" brings up choices including mechanics, hospitals, fire stations, doctors, police stations, pharmacies, dentists, and veterinarians.

However, I find that TomTom's lists are not quite as helpful as Garmin's. For instance, an eating disorder treatment center, the residential address of a nurse, and the wrong address for a long-term care facility were listed under "Hospitals" in the TomTom app while Garmin's list only included real hospitals. Similarly, the emergency communications center, the "Police Officers Stress Program", and a lawyer's office were all listed under "Police" in the TomTom app while the Garmin app only listed the actual police stations.


The TomTom's menus are somewhat configurable. If you're not a social creature and never use the "Share" button, you can hide it or move it to the bottom of the list. You cannot, however, add something from a different menu.


The Garmin app lets you tap the map, hold, and move to get into "Map Browse" mode.

The TomTom app requires you to tap the map, then tap "Browse Map".


Navigating to an address in the Garmin app is fairly simple: enter the house number and tap "next", start typing the street name, choose the street name from the list (type of street -- Avenue, Street, Road, Alley, etc. doesn't matter), a list of matching addresses in cities across the country pops up, then just find and tap what you think is the right address; you can then tap "map" and see the address on the map to see if it really is the right place.

Navigating to an address in the TomTom app is more cumbersome: choose the country (or state) by tapping a tiny icon, then scrolling through the list and tapping the right one, type the city name, type the street name, and choose the right type of street (Street, Alley, Avenue, etc.), then enter the house number and tap "Select". If you're lucky, the app will have found the address, but there is no option to see a map of the location to see if it's the right place.


The Garmin app does not have the option to find POI's along a route.

The TomTom app allows you to find POI's along the route and will show an icon indicating how much it's out of the way (green means it's very near the planned route, yellow means it's a little bit out of the way).


Here's my takeaway:

If I could take Garmin's address entering scheme, quick access to map-browse mode, POI database, public transit routing, ability to save a route to be used later, and the ability to give directions over Bluetooth, and combine all of those with the rest of the TomTom app, I'd be very happy.

If you have any questions on other aspects of either app, I'll be happy to answer them if I can.


  • Boyd 2043 Points
    edited April 2014
    Very nice write-up! Would have been nice to find a good summary like this when I was trying to decide which app to get myself.

    As mentioned elsewhere, I used the Streetpilot app as a pedestrian on a recent trip to Greece. It met my needs, and as a long-time Garmin user, it felt pretty familiar. But it certainly is quirky!

    Here are some screenshots





    Although I didn't drive while I was there, these screenshots are from the taxi ride to the airport. Another minor nitpick with the app vs the Nuvi is that you cannot "localize" it. The app uses your language and country settings from the your iPhone. I suppose this might make sense to many people, but I would have liked to show street names in Greek and units in KM, but didn't want to globally change those things for my phone.



    Note that I also have the 3d terrain which is another in-app purchase. This makes the app similar to the Nuvi 3xxx series devices. But another thing missing is support for 3d gestures that can be used on the Nuvi (swipe left/right with two fingers to rotate the 3d view, swipe up and down with two fingers to tilt it). Pinch/spread zooming are the only gestures in the app.

    Now it used to be possible to install additional maps for the StreetPilot app using a bit of a hack. The iExplorer app can access the filesystem when you connect your phone to your computer, thereby letting you copy files into the StreetPilot's map folder. This worked in older versions of the app, but not the current version.

    I tried various things without success, and from what I read on other sites, nobody else has been able to do this either. Too bad, it would have been handy to use the app with my own maps here in the US. Evidently Garmin wants you to purchase separate versions of the app for each country you need. AFAIK, I would have to separately purchase the US app if I want coverage here at home.

    The app costs almost as much as a nuvi.. Now I could have just purchased EU maps and brought my Nuvi 3550 or another garmin device, but I wanted to have everything on my phone. It would have been cheaper to only purchase the regional map and install it on the Nuvi instead of all of Western Europe (which is the only option with the app).

    If you have several iPhones/iPads in your family and share the same Apple ID, the app might be a bargain since it will work on all your i-devices without purchasing separate versions.
  • Great review nutcase. That has answered many questions. Can you tell if both or either the Garmin StreetPilot Onboard or TomTom app will show me the gas stations along a route for planning purposes? Thanks.
  • Garmin's StreetPilot Onboard will let you search for fuel nearby -- but not specifically along your planned route. It does not show icons for fuel stations on the map (at least not that I've seen).

    To search for fuel while on a route:
    Back arrow -->
    Where To -->
    Points of Interest -->
    Scroll through list to see station names, addresses, distance, and direction
    Tap chosen station -->
    Go -->
    Add to Active Route

    TomTom's app lets you choose which types of POI icons will show on the map (so, for instance, you can always have fuel stations showing), and it will let you search for fuel along your planned route.

    To search for fuel while on a route:
    Tap on map -->
    Route Options -->
    Travel Via -->
    Point of Interest -->
    POI Along Route -->
    Gas Station (or "More" and then "Gas Station")
    Scroll through list to see station names, distance, and an icon that indicates whether it's on the route (blue), very near the route (green), somewhat near the route (yellow), or far from the route (red)
    Tap chosen station
    See map of area around station
    Select -->
    Done -->
    Choose route type (if set to ask) -->

    Both apps will let you search for a station name. For instance, if you only want to see Texaco stations, you tap in the search field and type "Texaco" to whittle the list down.
  • I've been primarily using the TomTom app, so I hadn't played around much with the Garmin app, but it does seem that you can get Garmin's app to display teeny-tiny dots on the map for your choice of a single POI category, but only while browsing the map, not while in navigation mode:

    While on a route:
    Tap and drag the map far enough that it switches out of navigation mode into browse mode
    Zoom in far enough to get the magnifier / search icon to appear
    Tap the magnifier icon
    Tap the icon for the category you want to display
    Tiny blue dots appear on the map

    Unfortunately, as soon as you hit the back arrow to return to route guidance, the tiny blue dots disappear.
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