After moving to a new city and buying a new car to get around in, a close friend of mine found herself needing some sort of GPS navigation to guide her around her new hometown. So, she bought a used portable navigation device and hit the road.
"This GPS sucks! The maps are out of date and it didn't come with a cable to connect to my computer for updating!" she declared after just a few trips.
"Wait, didn't you just buy a new iPhone?" I realized aloud. "You have to be the only person I know who didn't think to just use Google Maps, Apple Maps, or Waze. What gives?"
The answer I received, "I didn't want have to hold my phone while driving," got me thinking about the many different in-car mounting solutions for smartphones that would have left my friend's hands safely and legally free and on the steering wheel. I've rounded up five of these methods. Be sure to share your smartphone-mounting techniques in the comments.
This is probably the most widespread and commonly used smartphone-mounting option. Using a suction cup, this mounting option holds your phone securely in place on your car's windshield. This is a prime mounting location because it places the phone at eye level, meaning that you won't have to look far to double check the map in your navigation app. These mounts are also inexpensive and install and remove in seconds. However, the windshield-mounting position also blocks a bit of forward visibility (which can be critical in vehicles with gun-slit windshields like the Nissan 370Z). Also, some states have laws dictating exactly where on the windshield you're allowed to place a suction cup mount, so check with your local law enforcement before you receive a citation.
Check out the Parrot Minikit Smart. This windshield mount features a built-in smartphone charger and a Bluetooth speakerphone, allowing you to instantly tech-up any car with a 12-volt power point. However, nearly any of the hundreds of suction cup mounts on the market will also do for significantly less money.
With the addition of an adhesive puck, most windshield mounts can be converted into dashboard mounts. There are also, permanent-install options that place the mounted phone lower on the dashboard, but these options often require some disassembly of the dashboard and tools to install. Many drivers avoid these systems because they don't want to permanently alter their ride or are intimidated by the installation process, but the dashboard mount has a number of advantages over the windshield mount. In vehicles with steeply raked windshields, such as the Honda Civic, a glass-mounted phone can end up rather far away from the driver. A dashboard-mount places the handset closer to the driver, shortening the reach required to interact with the phone. The lower mount leaves the forward-view clear and often circumvents obstructed windshield citations.
Check out the Bracketron MobileDock Dash Mount. This mount uses a tacky, rubbery material for its suction cup mount and on the face of its phone cradle, allowing it to stick to your car's dashboard better than most cradles stick to your windshield.
HVAC vent mount
Depending on the configuration of your car's HVAC system, the oft-overlooked vent mount can offer the best of both worlds with the ease of installation and high mounting position of a windshield mount, but with the low profile and unobstructed view of a dashboard mount. Traditional rectangular vents with stationary grilles are the best type for this mounting method. Circular vents are usually too deep or too unstable to use. When using a vent mount, be aware of your phone's temperature. Blasting hot air onto your handset's backside can be bad for longevity; some devices will simply shut down if they get too hot.
Check out the Breffo Spiderpodium. It's about as low-tech as car tech accessories get, but the Breffo Spiderpodium's eight articulated arms are long and strong enough to grip just about any smartphone on the market and flexible enough to wrap in and around almost any car's vents. A rubber coating makes sure that neither your phone nor car are damaged.
Maybe you can't find a mount that works for you, your vehicle, or your phone? Maybe you don't have the budget to buy what you need? Maybe you've got a bunch of free time and need a weekend project? Why not just make your own smartphone mount for your car?
A quick Google search returns tutorials for fashioning DIY mounts for your smartphone out of everything from office supplies to old hard-drive parts to a toilet paper tube and duct tape. Take a look around your house for materials and get creative!
No mount at all
Sometimes, the best mount is no mount at all. Any navigation app worth its salt will feature some system of spoken turn-by-turn directions. Do you really need to watch a tiny map to respond to a spoken prompt to turn left on Mission Street? Do you really need to look at your phone to listen to Pandora? For some drivers, myself included, the answer is often, "Nope!" Leave your phone in your pocket, keep your eyes on the road, and use your ears.
The no-mount option requires more than a little restraint on your part -- the trickiest part for me involves picking a Spotify playlist before starting my trip and then sticking to it -- but by making use of your phone's voice command system (such as Siri, Google Voice search, or Vlingo InCar) over Bluetooth, you'll be able to initiate phone calls, set a destination for navigation, and cue up locally stored music all without so much as a glance at your phone's screen. It's also much easier to ignore text messages, tweets, and status updates when you can't actually see the nagging notifications.
Your no-mount mileage may vary depending on everything from your phone's software to your accent, but going eye-free is a free option that's easy to try out.