For someone who drives as much as I do, you’d figure I’d have bought a proper car mount for my phone years ago, but I always resisted or procrastinated – at least I did up until this past weekend when I found myself perusing Best Buy for nothing in particular.
I spotted this small orange box that contained something called the iBolt MiniPro. I did a quick search on my phone to look at Amazon reviews of it, and found they were quite positive, so I paid the $26.99 and walked out with it.
Opening the box, it came with a suction cup post mount, a smaller adhesive ball mount, and the actual phone holder (which can attach to either the post mount or the adhesive mount). It also comes with a couple of alcohol wipes for surface prep purposes.
The photo below shows the post mount which I installed on a flat smooth portion on the top area of my centre console. The suction and stability of this post is very very good. However I’m not a big fan of having something up that high in my field of view so I also mounted the stubby adhesive ball mount directly to my dash.
The actual mount is a spring loaded affair with foam cushioned grips. It feels fairly robust. Nothing is creaking, overtly bendy or anything. It grips the device on two sides and extends wide enough supposedly for a Galaxy Note 3, so it fit my Nexus 5 (with Spigen case) no problem at all. The grip can be rotated on the ball mount in whatever direction or orientation you want. The mount slips onto the ball mount and then you use the threaded sleeve to tighten it up. It’s all plastic, but once hand tightened, the connection is quite strong.
I’ve noticed that with my phone (a Nexus 5) installed on the adhesive mount, it does have some “give”. Meaning that while it’s definitely not going anywhere, if I drive over bumpy roads, you can see the phone and mount slightly jiggling – which I think is a good thing. If this was a completely rigid connection, then the phone would see some pretty abrupt jolts and vibration on rough roads. This slight movement is from the short stub holding the ball, not movement or flex of the clamping portion itself. The adhesive connection to the dash seems quite good. Better than I expected. We’ll see how it holds up this winter when things get frigid.
Overall I’m very pleased with the mount. I won’t be using the suction cup post mount, but it’s in the glove box if I decide otherwise. As my daughter unsurprisingly pointed out, it could also be used to watch video (as long as it’s turned to face the passenger).
So now that I had a decent mount installed, I took a look at what was available in terms of apps for the car. While ideally I would love to have the Motorola X’s Moto Assist features on my Nexus 5, that doesn’t seem possible. So instead, I found a good application that does almost everything I want. It’s called Car Dashdroid, and of the 3 or 4 I looked at on the Play Store, this is the only one that looked like something I’d want on display in my car. It has a Google Now-ish card looking interface. In the daytime it’s white cards with dark text and info, and there’s also a light on dark background night mode as well. Here’s a screenshot.
It’s a fairly simple affair just showing the time, current weather (and optionally a couple of other things like compass and current speed) on the display along with some nice big chunky shortcuts to apps and things. You can also swipe left to bring up another page of chunky shortcuts and swipe right to bring up a dialer. My setup is fairly simple. Shortcuts to the two or three main things I need and on the screen to the right, direct dial shortcuts to the 3 or 4 people I call most frequently, and that’s it.
The app is quite customizable. You can, for instance get it to show audio controls on the main screen, decide whether it will show the status bar of your homescreen or run in immersive mode, choose whether a tap of the back button will bring you to it’s main screen or your phone’s home screen, etc.
A couple of things I like: You can set it so it will pick up OK Google voice commands from its main screen too. So without touching the phone, I can navigate to an address, dictate and send a text, or just ask it something. Another great feature is that it starts up the app automatically when it connects to the bluetooth in my car, and then closes itself automatically when it disconnects. Nice.
Of course there are things that could be improved. For instance the switch from day to night mode is based on a hard time that you choose in the settings. It would be good if it used the ambient light sensor to do this automatically instead. Google’s Navigation app does this, and it works quite well. Also, based on very limited testing, I’m not sure the stock audio controls that it will show on the main screen control my podcast app properly. But that may be a problem with the podcast app and not Car Dashdroid. It does let you choose between several different types of media controls (builtin, Google Music, PowerAmp, and Generic). I tried Generic, and the pause button didn’t seem to work. But I should really test that more thoroughly and let them know.
So no more phone sliding around on the seat or getting jostled around in the centre console – should have got this thing a long time ago. :)