Motor mouth – the iPhone in car

Danny Gorog
10 May, 2010
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Using an iPhone in your car isn’t just a luxury anymore. As the primary means of communication for many, the iPhone has taken centre-stage in the car. Because the iPhone is so capable there are many things you can do with it, but in the car there are three things that stand out: Talk, listen, and navigate.

iPhone car connectivity is a burgeoning market and you’re sure to find many different products that suit your needs. Below is a list of my favourites that I use on a daily basis.

Docks. With the recent changes to legislation in Victoria, holding your phone in the car is illegal so the first thing you’ll need in your car is a good dock. I’ve sampled many but my favourite is the Kensington car mount with sound amplified cradle.

The Kensington cradle holds your iPhone (supports iPhone 3G, 3GS and original iPhone) securely even when you’re driving on the bumpiest road. There’s also the advantage of the sound amplification which almost takes the place of a hands-free by routing the iPhone’s sound with clever use of an audio chamber in the back of the cradle.

The cradle can also be pivoted from landscape to portrait mode with a quick flick. If you’d prefer the cradle closer to you Kensington also supplies a vent mount, but in my testing this was nowhere near as secure as the windshield mount. Also, while the sound amplification is a handy feature, in practise the sound is still too soft to be an effective replacement for handsfree.

In-car integration. Once you’ve sorted out where to put your iPhone while you’re driving you can move on to the next problem; how to talk hands-free.

There are many solutions for in-car handsfree, from the cheaper Bluetooth units that fit snugly in your ear to more full-featured integrated solutions.

Portable Bluetooth units are cheaper and more flexible than integrated solutions, but you’ll still need to remember to charge them occasionally, and they can be fiddly to fit while you’re driving. I’ve had experience with many of these units including some of the newer Motorola models.

In particular, the Motorola H790 Bluetooth headset is a great option that filters out background noise and provides excellent sound quality.

The H790 also talks to you to tell you how to pair your device to a phone, and when mute is active it notifies you when the phone is ringing. At only 9.5g you’ll hardly notice when you’re wearing it, and with a talk time of up to five hours one charge should get you through most of the week.

The best solution, if your budget and car allows it, is to get a fully integrated Bluetooth car kit installed. If you’re looking for the best in class you can’t go past the MKi9200 from Parrot (pictured).

The MKi9200 is a Bluetooth hands-free system that integrates with your car stereo to provide full hands-free calling functionality plus the ability to play music via a range of different inputs including an iPod dock connector, USB plug, SD card and streaming via A2DP Bluetooth.

A convenient 2.4in high-resolution TFT colour screen lets you view the unit, select from the different audio inputs and browse your contacts (which are synced by Bluetooth). A wireless remote control, which can be positioned on the steering wheel or dashboard, lets you control the MKi9200.

Because it’s a sophisticated product, the MKi9200 is also firmware upgradable which means it’s future-proof in a way. For example, when Apple upgrades the iPhone software expect Parrot to release an update to provide compatibility if required.

Sound quality was excellent, but the screen was difficult to see in the sunlight. Another negative, in comparison to a portable Bluetooth unit, is that you’ll need to get it fitted professionally, something that will add to the nearly $500 cost.

This article originally appeared in the April issue of Australian Macworld magazine.

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