Will your iPhone become your GPS? Not likely

The scoop: TomTom car kit for iPhone, about $120, by TomTom. Separate application required for turn-by-turn navigation, which costs $59.99 through the iTunes Store.

What it is: This is a docking station for your iPhone that can mount to your car's windshield or dashboard for when you want to use the separate TomTom navigation app, or if you want to mount the iPhone on your windshield for hands-free calling, listening to music or to just use as a device recharger.

Why it's cool: The mount is very easy to install on the windshield; just suction it on and twist the dial to get a tight fit. The bracket also rotates to let you use your navigation application in landscape mode. The line-out jack connects to your auxiliary audio input (if your car stereo has one) to allow you to listen to music while getting the GPS navigation. The mount also has a built-in microphone that enhances the speakerphone for hands-free calling.

Some caveats: The docking station and the separate TomTom navigation app required for turn-by-turn navigation is very overpriced. For almost half the price, you could buy a stand-alone basic unit from TomTom or other GPS makers. True, there are more expensive stand-alone units, but you know with those units you'll get GPS positioning that keeps you on the road. In my tests with the TomTom app and my iPhone 3G, the GPS fix was so bad that I was constantly being "thrown off" the road and onto local roads, and I was driving along a major highway (the Massachusetts Turnpike) at the time. Stopped at a traffic light on local roads, I would often bounce around from road to road.

The car kit is supposed to include an enhanced GPS receiver built into the device, but it didn't do anything to enhance the signal, or prevent the application from putting me on the wrong roads. A TomTom free app that is supposed to show GPS information and give your location also failed to recognize when the iPhone was plugged into the dock.

The auxiliary audio jack in your car is an absolute necessity if you want to hear any voice directions coming out of the app -- my older car doesn't have one, so the voice directions sounded like Charlie Brown's teacher (or a muted slide trombone) When I used a different car that had the audio jack, the audio voice sounded good through the car's speakers.

Because I was using an iPhone 3G, it's possible the GPS abilities of the iPhone 3GS would be better, but I didn't have one available for testing. If you own a 3G model, I can't recommend this at all. If you own a 3GS model, use at your own risk.

Grade: 1 star (out of five).

Shaw can be reached at kshaw@nww.com. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/shawkeith.

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This story, "Will your iPhone become your GPS? Not likely" was originally published by Network World.

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