With the aid of a few apps (and a bit of self-restraint), the Nexus 7 can become the navigation and media center of your car's dashboard.
by Antuan Goodwin
August 1, 2012 4:51 PM PDT
Your Google Nexus 7's new home could be in your car's cabin.
(Credit: Antuan Goodwin/CNET)
So, you've got your shiny new Google Nexus 7 in the mail and, after watching the lackluster "Transformers" movie that was included with the purchase, you're looking for something interesting to do with the 7-inch tablet. Why not transform your Nexus 7 into an automotive toolkit that helps you get from point A to B safely and can entertain you along the way?
OK, I'm sure that a number of you are already rolling your eyes and shouting something about distracted driving, which is a genuine concern. I don't see how the 7-inch Nexus 7 could be any more of a distraction than the 7-inch Magellan RoadMate 9055-LM that I recently reviewed. The Nexus 7's lack of an always-on data connection should remove the temptation to check your e-mail, but, yes, slapping a tablet onto your dashboard will require quite a bit of self-control on your part to resist undue distraction. With that caveat in mind, let's get started.
Mounting and power
The first thing you'll need to do is figure out how to mount the Nexus 7 safely in your car's cabin. You'll want a location that provides easy access, but you also don't want the bright, 7-inch screen filling up your entire field of vision. Ultimately, the best location for your tablet will depend on your vehicle, but here are a few suggestions to get you started:
Magellan 9055 in car
My preferred Nexus 7 mounting configuration would be similar to this Magellan 9055 setup.
(Credit: Antuan Goodwin/CNET)
I wouldn't recommend windshield mounting. The Google Nexus 7's screen is smaller than the almost-10-inch iPad's, but still probably takes up too much windshield real estate to be used safely while driving.
Dashboard mounting is probably the best setup for most users because of its simplicity. However, you'll want the tablet as low on the dash as possible to keep it out of your field of view while driving. In a pinch, look for a windshield mounting arm that's maybe a little longer than you think you need and try to hang the tablet below your sight line with a dashboard puck like I did with the Magellan GPS in the photo.
The benefit to using something like the Satechi Cup Holder Mount is that the tablet sits about as low as it possibly can, but there are a few tradeoffs. Extra-low mounting means that you'll have to move your eyes (and maybe your head) farther to simply glance at a map. Additionally, depending on the position of your cup holders, the tablet could interfere with the operation of the shifter.
With the Nexus 7 mounted, you'll need a car charger. (You could elect to skip this step, as the tablet's battery life is probably good enough for most short trips.) Tablets suck a lot more power than smartphones, thanks in part to their larger screens. So, if you want to arrive at your destination with a fully charged battery, I'd suggest you invest in a 2.1-amp USB charger. My personal favorite is the Qmadix Twin Tablet Charger 4.2 because it features a pair of high-output charging points (which can come in handy if you want to also charge a cell phone or hot spot), but there are literally dozens of good single-port 2.1-amp choices to be found, so just take your pick.
Connecting to your car stereo
Your tablet is mounted and connected to power. Now, you actually have to connect it to your car's stereo. Normally, the easiest, most applicable way to do this is simply to use a patch cable to connect the Nexus 7's headphone jack to the car's analog audio input. However, I've found the Nexus 7's headphone jack to be oddly placed in such a way that none of the half-dozen 3.5mm patch cables on my desk will make a clean connection. Your patch cable may work, but this route didn't work for me.
In cars that support it, Bluetooth A2DP streaming is your best bet. This wireless connection saves you from having to drape an extra cable in your cabin, involves no fiddling with the Nexus 7's headphone jack, and automatically reconnects when you enter the vehicle.
For more ideas on connecting the Nexus 7 to your ride, check out this handy guide to using an Android device in the car.
Apps to bring it all together
Now, it's time for the fun part: picking your dashboard apps! Depending on your needs, there are apps for navigation, audio playback, and a number of other functions that could come in handy behind the wheel of a car.
The built-in Google Maps app seems like the obvious navigation choice thanks to its new ability to cache map data for offline use. However, it does have its drawbacks. For starters, you can only plan a trip while connected to the Internet. Once you're under way, Google Maps can continue routing and even handle simple rerouting of missed turns, but you'll need to be in range of a Wi-Fi hot spot at the beginning of every trip, somewhat limiting the usefulness of this app.
NavFree USA is a free navigation app that lets you download offline maps, search for destinations, and navigate without an Internet connection. Its available list of points of interest isn't as complete as you would get from a connected Google search, but it's good enough to get the job done.
The Nexus 7 tablet (top) is as large and powerful as the Magellan Roadmate 9055 portable navigator when running the CoPilot GPS app.
(Credit: Antuan Goodwin/CNET)
A premium navigation app like CoPilot GPS is probably your best bet for the Wi-Fi-only Nexus 7. This fully featured GPS software features onboard route calculations and the ability to download local maps for your part of the world. You'll need 1.3GB of space to download the full North American maps data, but I was able to specify the Southwest U.S., which includes my current home state of California and requires only 172.6MB of my Nexus 7's 16GB of storage space.
The stock Google Play Music app will let you download your music library for local playback once you leave the warm glow of Wi-Fi connectivity and will probably be your first stop on the road to driving tunes.
Internet radio apps such as Spotify and Mog will also let you save music and playlists for offline use.
If you love podcasts, check out my favorite podcatcher app for Android, DoggCatcher, which can also sync unplayed episodes of your favorite shows on Wi-Fi for offline playback.
Google Wallet's compatibility with MasterCard PayPass stations and the fact that it can be used offline after initial setup means that you can grab your tablet when you stop for fuel to pay for gas or buy snacks on the go. Sure, a Google Wallet-enable smartphone would be even more convenient, but I'm just pointing out a possibility.
Apps like Torque can make your Nexus 7 into a secondary instrument cluster and data logger.
(Credit: Antuan Goodwin/CNET)
Data-logging software such as Torque and Torque Pro can transform the Nexus 7 into a secondary instrument cluster for monitoring your car's cornering G-forces, acceleration, 0-60, and quarter-mile times. With the help of a Bluetooth OBD-II connection like the $99 PLX Kiwi Bluetooth, the Nexus can even give you a look into the inner workings of your engine and its sensors.
To tether or not to tether?
As I said, the Nexus 7's lack of an always-on data connection can keep you from distracting yourself with Facebook and IMs, but it can also limit the device, preventing it from being used with many great free navigation apps like Waze and streaming-music sources like Pandora. The simple addition of a Wi-Fi-tethered smartphone or portable wireless hot spot can make the tablet much more powerful. (Of course, if you're going through the trouble of Wi-Fi tethering to a smartphone, you may decide to simply use the smartphone as the primary device.)
I looked at one but passed on it. No HDMI port and less important no rear facing camera.
It all sound nice. But brings one question: how big this type of device can actually get before it will qualify as "obstructing driver's view". Other problem is practicality. If you want use it as navigation it should be placed against windshield. In some states it means right or left bottom corner. In this position it is either good navigation location and bad entertainment center or opposite is true in other corner.
But other than that there is nothing bad in having big screen showing bigger part of map at once. Especially if you remember first GPS with square 3.5" (if I remember correctly) screen. If screen can get bigger I'm all for it.
Of course, if you're going through the trouble of Wi-Fi tethering to a smartphone, you may decide to simply use the smartphone as the primary device.)
I already use a smartphone for navigation on occasion - when I am not using a dedicated GPS unit. However, the phone screen is simply too small for these old eyes, at least when it is located in the only practical locations in my car. The 5 inch screen of my GPS is just barely acceptable for the same reason, so a phone is not really what I prefer. (Part of the issue is that the location is too close for the distance lenses of my bifocals, but also too far for the reading lenses of my bifocals.)
Accordingly, I am planning on experimenting with a Nexus 7 as a GPS nav device. I'm getting one anyway for other reasons, so I'll try it out with one of my Android GPS apps that uses downloaded maps. If that works out well, I'll figure out how to tether it to my phone to get broadcast traffic info.
Different strokes for different folks . . .
With best wishes,
- Tom -
I used my nexus 7 tether with my phone data and free navigation apps had serve me well. Still looking for a decent after market car mount.
Until the "Google driverless car" app comes out, there is nothing new nor exciting for me. We had this kind of story way too many times already, from small factor PC, nettop PCs, Mac mini, iPhone, Android smartphones, iPad, and other Android tablets.
Still looking for a decent after market car mount.
Same here - although I haven't received my Nexus 7 yet to be able to test with any mount that I think may work.
I see on their web site that Arkon has a "Universal Tablet Holder" that will attach to any of their mounts that use their "double-tee" connection. I have one of those that I use with my GPS, so I'll probably try that if I don't find anything better before my Nexus arrives.
If you find something that works well with the Nexus 7, please post the info here.
If you haven't already you might try Ram Mounts, they seem to have a mount for just about everything.
I like this idea very much. Since Garmin doesn't seem like they will release an affordable large screen GPS with music playback support, other then their ridiculously expensive (imo) motorcycle version. This can easily be swapped between my motorcycle and car without anything more complicated then a single power cable.
Only problem I see right now is the limited amount of space on the device and no easy way to expand the space without rooting the device and buying a USB OTG cable.
I think I'll wait a few months and see if there will be an updated model with a built in SD port or similar for space expansion before taking the plunge though.
With best wishes,
- Tom -
I'm still looking for a decent mount. All the mounts I seen so far kinda bulky or expensive. My recommended: Google should made a car mounting kit for the Nexus 7.
You've just about convinced me to spring for the Nexus 7.
It seems cool, but I really don't even need or want a screen quite that large or need a tablet mounted like that. Even if it was definitely legal to mount in a particular location, I wouldn't want the extra police attention. With all the bans and limitations with using mobile devices, this seems like it is asking for trouble.
I agree with most of what you said but not for the same reasons, I have both a Nexus 7 and a 2460LMT, for short trips around town where guidance is needed I use the Nexus laying in between seats, for longer trips we will be using the 2460 freeing the Nexus so the passenger can read books/magazines or watch a movie.
No Mickey Mouse mount required: http://bit.ly/NwYJa8
And here the Mickey Mouse install: http://bit.ly/NfSOJd
I was waiting for the Nexus 7 and totally expected to get one as soon as I could. Watched the live conference that introduced it. But when I saw the specs I decided that I had to pass on it.
The resolution is very good for a tablet of this size, that was a big plus. And it has the CPU power and graphic power to back it up.
The NFC feature was a nice unexpected plus. I wasn't really looking for it, but immediately started to think about how I could use it.
No HDMI port, unfortunate but not a deal breaker for me. I already have other things attached to my TV that can play back media.
No rear camera, very unfortunate. Sure, I have a camera, but there are a lot of things that I would do with a rear facing camera on a smart tablet that you can't do with a dumb camera, no matter how better its pixel count or focus capability. I would have even been happy with a minimal cheap fixed focus camera, which would have cost very little. Still, not a complete deal breaker.
No SDHC or miniSDHC slot! What? At first this made no sense at all, as it would have only cost pennies to add a SDHC slot. And adding insult to injury, they did a very Apple like thing by pricing the 16Gig version At $50 over the 8Gig version, even though it really had less than $4 worth of added memory. But I started asking why they would leave off the very important expansion slot, and the answer is that Google wants to steer the customer to use their "cloud" data storage. This was the deal breaker for me. It not only makes no sense for a device that might not have Internet access everywhere you take it, but even in my own home I couldn't use my new Nexus to watch videos or even play music without exposing myself to absurd overage charges that AT&T will charge if I go over a very limited monthly quota (the little old lady next door has already run into that and been gouged because she watched NetFlix). This was the deal breaker, my tablet has to take memory cards so that I can add and switch around media content as desired.
Maybe if I lived in Kansas city and could get the Google Fiber service, then getting a Nexus 7 might be an acceptable compromise (although I'm still not sure that I want to put all of my music files on the "cloud" and wait for the RIAA mafia to come suing me and demanding proof that I own the media for every single song the I have an MP3 for). But in the real world where both the phone company and the cable companies are imposing limitations on monthly data usage even for land lines, I can't begin to buy into letting Google force me to use their "cloud" to store all of my data, and I see no point in getting a tablet if I don't have a specific application I'm buying it for and I can't use it as a general media device.
No SDHC or miniSDHC slot! What? At first this made no sense at all, as it would have only cost pennies to add a SDHC slot.
Are you aware of USB Togo?
I just order one from Amazon, all the external storage I may need. http://amzn.to/OXtfyg
Are you aware of USB Togo?
I wasn't aware of it, but I'm not excited to see it either.
Just because you can attach something via a connector doesn't mean that a device will support it. For example, I could plug a USB webcam into a Nexus 7 (maybe needing a USB to Mini-USB cable or adapter), but that certainly doesn't mean that the Andriod based Nexus 7 is going to be able to run the webcam, or that I can install the PC targeted driver for it into the Nexus 7. So if you have a Nexus 7 and are planning to use this gizmo, please let us know if it works as you might hope.
And to be honest I'm disgusted with the Google effort to force people to "the cloud" and also don't like the the idea of that awkward cord dangling from my tablet. I don't want to pay hundreds of dollars for a tablet and then have to add ugly fixes.
If (and when) I can find a competing device with the similar resolution and processor power, with 4.1 and true Google Play access, that provides the much needed slot, I'll likely buy that, even at a modest price premium and without the Google Play credit.
I have a cup holder mount (2 part sold as kit) for my XOOM tablet and it works great!
I ended up purchasing the Arkon "Universal Table Holder" that attaches to my existing goose-neck mount that fits into my cup holder. I just slipped off the adapter that gripped my GPS and slipped on the tablet adapter. It does what I want and places the tablet in essentially the same position as the GPS, so I'm happy so far.
Now the challenge is to get one of the Android apps I've installed on the Nexus 7 to use my paired cell-phone to get traffic data. I've been able to get a Bluetooth tether that works with some apps, but so far not with any of the nav apps. Except for the lack of traffic data, the Nexus 7 seems to give me what I want when coupled with a satisfactory Android GPS app.
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