What Is the Difference Between a Garmin and a TomTom?
By Aaron Charles
Garmin and TomTom devices are pretty comparable, but they also have some significant differences that may sway your purchase decision one way or the other, mostly in terms of style and extra features. Overall, though, despite the handful of differences, both of them do what a GPS should do -- direct you where you need to go.
According to a "PC Magazine" review of Garmin and TomTom devices, "the two are so close in feature sets, pricing, and routing accuracy that you generally can't go wrong with either one." But in terms of product selection, Garmin distinguishes itself from TomTom by providing handheld GPS devices designed for hikers and pedestrians, while TomTom focuses mainly on car navigation. Both companies, however, offer wristwatches powered by GPS technology as well as GPS apps for smartphones.
Professional and public reviewers of both device brands have found that Garmin devices tend to have easier-to-read graphics and icons, while TomTom units tend to display more information, such as more names of ambient streets. Additionally, the "PC Magazine" reviewers reported an anecdotal trend of TomTom devices having better real-time traffic alerts, but of Garmin providing easier-to-navigate, better categorized points of interest menus, or POIs, than does TomTom.
TomTom forms its GPS mapping from Tele Atlas, a European-rooted company, while Garmin forms its maps from Navteq, an American-rooted company. Therefore, some people have found that TomTom devices tend to provide more accurate directions for European locations and that Garmin tends to do better in American locations. However, your experience will largely depend more on your specific location, regardless of what country you're in. Both brands offer 3-D mapping, which helps when navigating complicated and convoluted intersections or freeway exchanges.
In addition to 3-D mapping, any Garmin or TomTom device made in the past several years will likely have text-to-speech conversion for spoken street names, comprehensive POI databases and automatic rerouting for those special moments when, despite having a GPS, you still take the wrong turn. However, there are some extra features that one device might have and the other does not. For example, TomTom offers a Twitter feature that allows you to tweet your arrival time to your Twitter followers via your TomTom device. Garmin has a feature called ecoRoute that calculates the most fuel-efficient way to get somewhere and tracks fuel usage.
Aaron Charles began writing about "pragmatic art" in 2006 for an online arts journal based in Minneapolis, Minn. After working for telecom giant Comcast and traveling to Oregon, he's written business and technology articles for both online and print publications, including Salon.com and "The Portland Upside."