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At first glance, the Cobra JoyRide Cobra JoyRide 2.1 Amp Intelligent Car Charger looks like regular 12-volt-to-USB charger with a large LED illuminated button emblazoned with the Cobra logo. Indeed, the JoyRide's primary function is to charge your phone. It will charge any phone that accepts 5V USB power, but its included Micro-USB cable is an indication of its Android skew. Additionally, it's one of the few 2.1A rapid chargers for phones and tablets that will rapid-charge my Google Asus Nexus 7 tablet, which has been notoriously picky about what chargers it will recognize.
However, the JoyRide has a secondary and more interesting function. Tapping the large Cobra button accesses a variety of customizable controls for your Android phone while in the car, via a free app.
Cobra JoyRide app controls
The JoyRide communicates these button presses to your phone via the USB connection by connecting to your phone as an accessory -- certain phones may need to enable USB debugging in the Developer Settings menu -- and includes triggers for a single tap, double tap, triple tap, and long press of the single button. Any of these button triggers can be set to activate certain actions on the connected phone.
By default, a single tap will task-switch between a user-selectable loop of applications. For example, tap to launch the Music apps, again to switch to Maps, once more to jump to favorite Contacts, and again to restart the loop with Music. You can select the apps in the loop and can add as many as you like from the Cobra JoyRide configuration app.
The single, double, triple, and long-tap triggers can also be set to launch a specific app, play and pause audio, call a specific contact, answer an incoming phone call, automatically initiate turn-by-turn navigation to specific destination (for example, home), open the JoyRide settings app, launch the Cobra iRadar app, or report to cop-spotting app Live Police.
Additionally, users can set actions that will trigger when the JoyRide is initially connected to and recognized by your phone. These On Connect actions include launching an app in the foreground or background, toggling Bluetooth or Wi-Fi connections, and automatically replying to incoming text messages and calls with a customizable SMS message. Users can also set the screen to stay powered on when connected to and powered by the JoyRide, which should keep it from going black while, for example, navigating or streaming audio.
There are also On Disconnect actions, which largely mirror the On Connect actions, including launching apps and toggling the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth states, but also adds the ability to close the foreground app (useful for stopping navigation or audio playback at the end of a trip) and the option to store an automatic GPS location snapshot for the Car Finder.
The Car Finder function displays your current location and the last location where you disconnected from the JoyRide in your car on a Google map. A satellite imagery overlay can be toggled and a walking route back to your car can be displayed, but this function doesn't do turn-by-turn spoken walking navigation. It would be nice if one could hand this data over to the actual, native Google Maps Android app for turn-by-turn navigation.
Via the app, users can also adjust the charger's LED backlight color if they don't like the default green glow or want to match their ride's dashboard illumination. And, unless you launch the app to make changes, the JoyRide app hides in the background, visible only by a notification icon. Interestingly, although the JoyRide was able to charge our Nexus 7, the app was not compatible with the tablet. All of our testing was done on a Samsung Galaxy Nexus.
In sum: should you buy it?
For $39.99, the Cobra JoyRide is a bit pricey for a 2.1A car charger, which would typically cost about $10 to $15 online and usually include two powered USB ports for that price. However, a case could be made for the additional cost with the added convenience of the JoyRide's button. If your car's 12-volt charger is located in an easily reachable place on the dashboard, the Cobra JoyRide is an interesting way to eliminate a good deal of fumbling with your phone while driving.
Cobra's on-the-box claim that the JoyRide launches a Car Mode when connected is a bit misleading. More precisely, the charger's Cobra button just gives you the ability to quickly switch to your favorite in-car apps. However, it can be set up to trigger the launch of a third-party interface (such as Vlingo InCar or Car Home Ultra) or OEM car mode if you so desire.
If you're in the market for a rapid car charger for your Android phone, the Cobra JoyRide is a compelling option, especially if you can find it on sale nearer to the $30 mark.