Steelie magnetically mounts smartphones in cars

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/ Updated: October 22, 2013 4:37 PM PDT

Steelie smartphone mount
The Steelie smartphone mount holds your phone against any flat surface on the dashboard. Josh Miller/CNET

Smartphone mounts in cars tend to follow a uniform style, a suction cup attached to a clamp or cradle with a mounting arm. But the Steelie mounting kit comes out with a completely unique look, using a magnet for minimal cabin impact.

The mounting base of the Steelie kit is a 1-inch silver metal ball cradled in a plastic holder. The flat end of the plastic comes covered in adhesive, so it can be stuck anywhere on a car's dashboard. The silver metal makes the base an odd addition to a dashboard, but its small size makes it unobtrusive.

The other part of the Steelie kit takes up even less space. It's a magnetic grommet with an adhesive backing, intended for the back of a smartphone or a smartphone case.

This grommet, which sticks up about an eighth of an inch, is a little unsightly when stuck to the back of a phone.

Steelie smartphone mount
The Steelie kit consists of a ball mounting base and a magnetic grommet. Josh Miller/CNET

To put the whole thing together, you need to find a flat spot on your dashboard, preferably plastic and vertical, to adhere the base. Once you have stuck the grommet to the back of your phone or its case, the magnet will make it stick to the metal base.

The advantage of this setup is that you can stick the phone to the base and pull it off repeatedly, an essential quality of a good in-car phone mount. The grommet moves freely around the exposed surface of the metal ball in the base, making it easy to twist the phone for portrait or landscape viewing.

However, unlike mounts with longer arms, the 1-inch ball of the Steelie kit means limited positioning. A phone stuck to the mount can only pivot through an arc of about 50 degrees. As such, the base pretty much has to be mounted on a vertical surface on the dashboard for the phone to be viewable by the driver.

Steelie smartphone mount
As the base is only 1 inch tall, it allows only minimal phone adjustment. Josh Miller/CNET

To test how well the Steelie mounting kit would work on the road, I stuck the base to a black plastic trim piece on the dashboard of a Toyota Corolla . Not wanting to scuff up my shiny iPhone, I stuck the grommet to the back of plastic iPhone case. In the car, my encased iPhone easily snapped onto the Steelie base with a magnetic click.

And although the grommet does not look very big, its magnet proved powerful. It required more force than I would have expected to adjust the position of the phone on the base. However, I could still pull the phone off the base without ripping apart the adhesive bonds of grommet or base.

As I drove over rough city streets and at speed on the freeway, the phone held firm to the base. I saw no evidence that it would fall off even on a really bumpy ride. The phone's position on the base changed slightly as I was driving. Over a longer trip that might become annoying, but it was easy to adjust back into place.

Sticky mess
Like other magnet-based mounts, the Steelie kit requires that a piece be adhered to the back of your smartphone. The Steelie's grommet is small, but it still mars the look of a nicely designed smartphone. It also sticks up a bit, which can make it snag on pocket linings.

Another drawback to the Steelie kit is its limited in-car positioning -- some cars may not even offer a usable spot on the dashboard for the mount.

Taking all those hurdles into account, the mount certainly does its job of holding a phone in place, and the base part of the kit is not particularly obtrusive. The biggest advantage is the ease with which you can snap a phone to your dashboard, then remove it when you've parked.

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