In Car Android : Easy access, The Car Home app

10/16/2012 7:19:44 PM

Follow our guide to upgrading your motor’s in car system with an Android tablet.

People have been doing it for years; unhappy with the limitations of the factory stereo systems found inside cars, or even those that can be bought off the shelf at Halfords and designed primarily with music in mind, ordinary folk have been shoehorning in fully functioning PCs in an effort to create the ultimate in car entertainment system.

Well, those ordinary folk aren’t quite so ordinary because they’re automotive enthusiasts with the necessary knowledge and drive to carry out such a thing that either belongs on a desktop or perched on our laps – it’s certainly not supposed to go in a car.

Description: “Out of the box, android is tailored to work in a car”

“Out of the box, android is tailored to work in a car”

Apart from the cost and massive effort that it requires, hacking away at your interior in order to permanently install a computer isn’t very practical. But technology has moved on a lot since the ‘carputer’ was invented. Instead of a Windows box, a hacksaw and nerves of steel, people are starting to use Android tablets instead. After all, modern tablets can do practically everything their desktop counterparts can, and more.

Sure, plenty of people are still doing it the traditional way. There’s nothing wrong with fitting a conventional PC, but it’s so much easier to install a tablet, it seems crazy not to go down this route.

One of the main advantages of the tablet approach is that it’s not a permanent one, so the device can be removed from the car after it’s served its purpose, or when it’s time to upgrade. Tablets are also relatively inexpensive the example in this feature costs just $150 – so anyone can have a go at installing it inside a car if they fancy it.

Easy access

But the best thing about using tablet PC in car is all the wonderful things you can do with it to make long, tiresome journeys easier and more entertaining. To begin with, tablets – particularly those running the Android operating system come with an excellent, free, satellite navigation application built in, which helps you get from A to B easily and quickly.

They can also play music and movies, and you can even surf the internet or send emails on the go – basically everything you can already do on it, but all this functionality is available at your fingertips so you’re never without access to information. Tablets are seriously easy to use in a rush, too, thanks to their easy-to-navigate menu systems and responsive touchscreens.

If you only drive very infrequently, you might not get much benefit from an in-car PC, but for those of us who spend a considerable amount of time on the road, it’s a real boon. Sure, you can do all this on a smartphone, but a screen size of at least seven inches makes tablets much easier to work with. Bigger tablets with screens larger than 10 inches are probably pushing it a little, but mid-sized devices like the 7 inch Archos 70 Internet Tablet pictured here seem to be the sweet spot.

But the problem with the tablet is that it’s not really designed to go inside a car, much like a desktop PC isn’t supposed. That throws up all sorts of problems. Where are you supposed to install a tablet inside a car? How do you connect to the internet, and how do you even see the thing when it’s a sunny day? Thankfully, these are all minor hurdles that are relatively easy to get over, provided you know what you’re doing.

Installing a tablet PC can be approached in the same way that you’d install a smartphone inside a car, only no one really makes a cradle for devices this big. There’s a variety of ‘universal’ cradles on the market that you can use to fit any kind of tablet, although some of them are of dubious quality. We decided to make our own simple Velcro in car mount instead – no sniggering, it really works and it costs practically nothing so if you don’t like it, it’s easy to reverse the changes. Check out the walkthrough on the right.

Description: Apps like YouTube can help keep passengers entertained on long journeys

Apps like YouTube can help keep passengers entertained on long journeys, so you can concentrate on the road without “help” from backseat drivers

Once you’ve found somewhere suitable to mount your device, you’re pretty much ready to start using it straight away. Our operating system of choice is Android, simply because out of the box it’s tailored to work best in a car, so it doesn’t take much to set it up.

The Car Home app

For this kind of work, Google has included a dedicated app called the Car Home application, which gives you easy access to the functions on your tablet that will be of most use in your car, including music, navigation and finding points of interest on a map. Whenever you get in the car and turn your tablet on, this is where you’ll want to head.

In the apps menu, look for the Car Home application and open it. If it’s not there, you can download it from the Market. On the first screen that appears you have a variety of functions at your disposal, but first we recommend swiping the screen right to access the secondary menu. From here you can adjust the brightness settings choose from Daylight, Night, or just set it to Automatic.

If you want to customize what you see on Car Home, it’s easy to do so by simply adding new shortcuts to the main menu. Just click ‘Add shortcut’ and choose one from the available menus. Any that you don’t like can be removed simply by holding your finger down on them and dragging them to the bin.

You can choose to listen to your music collection by tapping the ‘Music’ shortcut and searching for a song, but the most valuable app in the collection is Navigate. Just tap on it and it determines your whereabouts in seconds. You can then enter your destination and it gives you turn-by-turn navigation instructions. Alternatively, you can tap the ‘Speak Destination’ icon and say where you want to go. You can give it either an address or a venue you’d like to visit “the theatre”, for example.

The only slight setback of Android navigation is that maps aren’t pre-loaded and must be loaded on the fly. Subsequently, a mobile data connection is essential. 3G isn’t always reliable wherever you drive, but thankfully Navigation still works if your connection is dropped partway through your journey.

Description: In Car Android

1.    Get the ingredients

An easy way to fix your tablet to your dash is to use old-fashioned Velcro. It might seem a little basic, especially when you’ve just shelled out $450 for a new tablet, but it works. Get yourself some Velcro strips, but not any old ones – you’ll need the heavy duty stuff so your tablet won’t fly off the dash when you’re going round corners.

2.    Ready your tablet

Once you have your Velcro strips, attach one side your tablet. Fix one to the top and one to the bottom for maximum strength when it’s attached to your dash, or use a long, thick piece and affix it to the middle of your tablet. If you’ve got pre-cut strips, you’re set to go, otherwise cut them to shape. Apply more to make it more secure.

3.    Attach it to your dash

Find a suitable spot for attaching your tablet to your dashboard – a flat surface works best, although a curved area is also fine. Ten apply the other half of your Velcro strips to your dash so that they attach to the strips already applied to your tablet.

Now just attach the tablet to the dash and you can start using its in-car functions.

1.    Charge it up

While those perky review writers might rave about your new tablet’s battery life, if its constant demand while you’re driving along, it’ll last about five minutes. To avoid ending up with a tablet running on empty, you need an in-car charger in the form of a 12V adapter. You can pick these up from Amazon for under a fiver.

2.    Installation

You need to mount your tablet. Sure, you might be able nestle a smart phone in an air vent, but try the same thing with a tablet and your health is at risk – imagine a kilo of wafer-thin plastic heading towards your face in an accident. There are some universal mounts available, or you can make your own, as shown on the previous page.

3.    Sun screen

It’s amazing how little you can see on the screen of your tablet once the sun comes out, so you should invest in a screen protector. You’ll need to shop around because there are many tablets out there. We found an anti-glare screen protector for the Archos 70 on the Archos website store for less than $15.5 (

4.    Turn it up

Tablets don’t have the finest audio, so why not port the sound through your stereo? The easiest way is to connect your tablet through its headphone socket to your car stereo’s auxiliary input via a 3.5 mm analogue audio cable. Or you can use an FM transmitter to output sound to the car’s speakers. Bluetooth is an option if your stereo has it.

5.    An internet connection

Some of a tablet’s functions only work when you’re connected to the internet. To enable a 3G data connection, you can tether a smartphone to it or get hold of a Mi-Fi device, which lets you connect multiple devices wirelessly. This is particularly useful if you have more than one tablet or smartphone and want them all connected at once.

6.    In-car apps

What good is your tablet without some apps to help you get the most from it in its new surroundings? Most Android tablets come with free satellite navigation, and there are apps that turn off unnecessary functions that might interfere with others.

There are even some that tell you what speed you’re doing or what the weather forecast is like.

1.    Get set up

Typing on your mounted tablet is slow and annoying, but you don’t need to brother using your digits each time you want to navigate to an address. Android has a voice function built in, so you can use your mouth to issue commands instead. To find the voice navigation application, go to the Car Home app in apps menu.

2.    State your business

From here, tap ‘Speak Destination’ (Ok- you do need to use your fingers once) and the Navigation app finds your current location. Then just speak the address of the destination you want to reach and the app finds it for you in moments. If it’s a particularly long address, you’ll appreciate how much time you save doing it this way.

3.    Find an unknown address

Description: Find an unknown address

If you want to go somewhere but aren’t sure of the address, you don’t have to fumble about searching for it. Tell Speak Destination roughly what you’re looking for (the Imperial War museum in London, for example) and search for you using the power of the cloud, finds your destination automatically and starts navigating you towards it.

In-car tablets and the law

UK law hasn’t kept pace with the speed of technological advancement, and as it stands there is no legislation aimed specifically at using a tablet in a car. The only information that might apply is aimed at smartphones and states that it’s only a crime if you’re holding the device while you make a call, send a text message or access the internet while the car is moving.

It isn’t illegal to use the device hands-free or access satellite navigation, but you can still get clobbered by the police if they believe you’re not in control of your vehicle while you’re doing so. Obviously, you don’t want to be seen using the touchscreen while you’re driving. Nor do you want to be seen watching Toy Story 3 while bombing down the M1.

In other words, you’ll be fine to use your tablet in-car as long as you exercise a little common sense. Make sure your tablet is properly secured too – although it’s not illegal to have a tablet on the loose, it is dangerous.

Check your car’s performance

The Torque app tells exactly what your engine is doing while it’s running. There is a variety of information available, such as how much power and torque your engine has, what the fuel and air status is, and – if you have one of those fancy turbochargers bolted to your motor – how much turbo boost is being used.

Proper boy racers will rejoice, because you can also measure your 0-60mph and quarter-mile time, as well as search through a list of logged faults if it all goes wrong. You can even customize the main display to show only your favorite functions, and there’s huge list of other options you can add whenever you get bored.

All this doesn’t come cheap, though, and the Torque app alone will cost you $4. You also need a compatible OBDII Bluetooth adapter, which connects to the OBDII port in your car and sends the appropriate electronic signals to your tablet via Bluetooth.

(Pic: Install Torque to find out what’s going on under your bonnet.

The app presents masses of data. Who need a rolling road? )

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