Thanks to the wonders of Bluetooth and the 30-pin dock connector, your iPhone, iPod touch or even iPad can become a wonderfully useful device in your car. With a huge range of accessories including Bluetooth capable in-car stereos, Bluetooth earpieces, cradles and chargers there really is a product to suit every requirement.
It’s also worth noting that in some Australian states, doing anything with your device if you are the driver is illegal and means if caught, you can be issued with a hefty fine. That’s why I think it’s easy to justify spending money on an in-car Bluetooth system and a cradle.
At a minimum, if you plan to use your iPhone in the car you will need some form of Bluetooth speaker system. These range from tiny little earpieces that sit snugly in your ear, or could be the larger, more powerful units that clip on to your visor. Both of these types of products have the advantages of being portable and relatively cheap (under $100 in some cases) but have the disadvantages of needing to be charged regularly. While this may sound like a good trade-off you can run into issues when you get in your car, need to make a call and realise the earpiece is flat.
That’s why my recommended solution is to properly install a Bluetooth handsfree kit or upgrade your stereo system to a later model that has integrated Bluetooth. If you’re in the market for a new car, checking the ‘integrated Bluetooth’ on the order form should be a priority.
Once you’ve sorted out the Bluetooth your next task is to work out where you’ll keep your iPhone while you’re driving. In Victoria it is illegal to touch your phone while driving unless it is in a cradle. These rules really don’t provide much leeway and my advice is to invest in one.
There are many different types of cradles – some attach to your windscreen via a suction cup, others can attach to your air vents. The best idea is to determine where you think the best place for the cradle is and then find the one that functions the best and suits your budget.
There are also cradles that can improve the quality of the speakerphone by channelling the audio from the handsfree speaker into a larger sound cavity that results in a natural form of amplification. In my experience these are only average in real-world use and are no substitute for in-car Bluetooth devices.
You’ll also need to think about if you need to charge your iPhone while in the car and if you’ll want to use your iPhone as a music source. Some in-car Bluetooth-capable stereos also have iPhone integration (and charge your iPhone at the same time), but other options for listening to music can be via a device that streams the output of your iPhone onto a FM frequency that you listen to with your radio.
Kensington SoundWave iPhone holder
If you’re looking for a quality holder for your iPhone or iPod touch look to the Kensington range of holders. In particular, I’ve been using the SoundWave Sound Amplifying Car Mount that provides a sturdy home for your iPhone. The flexible cradle arm lets you position the cradle in just the right position, and the cradle the iPhone sits in can pivot between landscape and portrait mode – a great feature if you’re planning to use your iPhone as a GPS device (and why wouldn’t you?). Additionally, the SoundWave comes with both window (suction cup) and vent mounts. The SoundWave is aptly called because the iPhone sits with its speaker in a little rubber gasket that amplifies the sound through an audio chamber at the back of the cradle. Kensington says that this amplifier effectively doubles the volume of the iPhone. In my experience it does a reasonable job when there is low ambient noise, but it’s still no match for proper Bluetooth integration. Kensington does have other cheaper products in the range, such as the Quick Release and Dash Mount, which are both a little cheaper but don’t provide the ability to change orientation or provide any additional sound amplification.
Kenwood KDC-X8016BT Bluetooth Car CD USB iPod Tuner
RRP: $390 plus installation
For those who require a bit more flexibility there’s always the option of an in-ear Bluetooth headset, which gives you the flexibility and portability of being able to talk while in and out of the car. In-ear headsets are so small these days that often people won’t even realise you are wearing one. The HK200 is a nice example of a portable unit that is lightweight and features good noise-cancelling functionality. And $34.95 is very affordable.
Motorola TZ700 in-car Bluetooth Speech System
The Motorola TZ700 is an in-car speakerphone and digital FM transmitter that is an economical way of getting Bluetooth functionality in your car. The TZ700 has a special attachment designed to let it easily clip on to your sun visor. You can pair multiple phones thanks to the Multipoint technology. Once paired, you can use the TZ700 to make and receive voice calls, plus stream music via the A2DP protocol and either listen to it on the built-in two-watt speaker or get the TZ700 to transmit the music to your car stereo via FM. Another trick of the TZ700 is the ability to control the unit with your voice. According to Motorola, “There’s no need to reach for answer buttons while driving, just use your voice to ‘answer’ or ‘ignore’ incoming calls and with its auto on/off sensor the TZ700 automatically turns on and connects to your handset when you get into the car and off when you leave, enabling significant power savings.” The TZ700 provides up to 20 hours of talk time and up to three weeks of standby time. Smart, audible voice prompts give you updates on its battery life and more. As with the other in-car units, if you require privacy while on the phone then you’ll need to choose an in-ear Bluetooth model.
Vogel’s Mount & Cover System for iPad
RRP: From $34.95 (iPad TableStand)
Many people need – and want – to mount their iPads in all sorts of places. Vogel’s Mount & Cover System for iPad has everything you need for mounting the iPad in the car, on a wall and on the table. The kit consists of an iPad cover that clicks on to all sorts of mounts.
The WallMount is a button that is screwed onto the wall and rotates 360 degrees. The CarMount connects to a car’s headrest supports and TableStand holds the iPad on a table, and can be used in both landscape and portrait. Also included in the kit is a screen protector and soft bag great for holding the accessories on the go. All the items are available for individual sale as well.
RRP $499 + installation
The MKi9200 is the Rolls Royce of in-car Bluetooth systems and is designed to work alongside your existing car stereo. The system has three external parts: a 2.4in display, a wireless remote control and a microphone. Once the device is installed (normally using a professional installer) you pair your iPhone and, like magic, all of your iPhone contacts (up to 2000 per phone) are available on the MKi9200. You can use the wireless controller to navigate through your contacts to dial someone, or you can use the built-in voice activation to dial. Normally I’m not a big fan of voice dialling but Parrot seems to have perfected its system to the point that it works about nine out of 10 tries. Voice quality while on a call was superb thanks to the double microphone and noise cancellation software built in to the MKi9200. The MKi9200 also comes with a variety of inputs including a 30-pin dock connector for your iDevice and a standard USB and 3.5mm audio jack. You can also choose to stream music wirelessly via A2DP Bluetooth. While all these options are good, there are still some kinks that Parrot needs to work out of the system to make the MKi9200 really exceptional. Often in testing the unit reset itself (while in the middle of playing music) when plugged in to the 30-pin dock connector, and sometimes when I plugged in my iPhone the unit simply wouldn’t recognise it. Streaming music via Bluetooth seemed the more reliable option. I found the audio quality a bit scratchy at the top end while streaming, but it was excellent when using the dock connector. Lastly, another great feature of the Parrot MKi9200 is the ability to pair it with more than one phone.
Apps for the car
After you’ve sorted out your in-car Bluetooth and cradle it’s time to jump on the App Store and download a huge range of apps that can enhance your drive. Apart from the included Google Maps app, there is an enormous range of GPS navigation apps available on the App Store. TomTom ($89.99), for example, provides the full TomTom GPS experience as an app and works nicely. Cheaper alternatives are NAVIGON MobileNavigator, CoPilot Live and Sygic Aura – all $59.99. The final option is Mocal, an Australian app which costs just $1.19 to download but works off a subscription base – $7.99 for a 30-day pass, $49.99 for an annual pass, and $59.99 for a three-year pass. Other apps like Speed Cameras Australia ($1.19) can be used to provide you with a visual and sound alert if you are approach a speed camera or red-light camera. In a similar vein, the free Trapster app is serviced by a large community who constantly provide real-time speed camera information rather than the known, fixed camera data. Lastly, there is also a range of apps that provide Heads Up Displays (HUDs) which provide detailed driving information like speed, distance and direction. Check out the free Car Dashboard and Speedometer apps.
One common problem you may run into when buying a cradle for your iPhone is that most aren’t designed to hold the phone if it’s in a case. But, like most things in life, there is a solution. Head over to HoldMyPhone.com.au to see an enormous range of custom-designed holders for your iPhone. The range available online is really quite impressive. To start the ordering process you’ll need to specify the model of iPhone and specify whether the iPhone has a skin. You’ll also need to specify the type of plug you want to use in the car (either an aftermarket plug that has a wider plug, or choose one that accommodates a standard Apple USB cable). Next, select the type of car you’ll be using the cradle in and HoldMyPhone will return a list of different options. For my Subaru I was given the option to choose either a centre or angled mount.