I have mentioned many times publically how I feel that cars are often behind when it comes to the integration of mobile technology in the cabin of a vehicle in comparison to the technology we have in our hands and in our homes.
To a point, this is to be expected as innovations and advancements take their time to become proven, tested and finally installed into different environments. However working within the technology industry and having a passion for the best I can own in terms of tech, this desire for an enhanced in car experience is something that is bound to affect me more than most.
This desire for technology goes beyond just mobile, it affects my everyday life. I might be able to buy product A, but product B has a cool new feature and possibly a cool blue LED so I have to have it, thus a car is the same.
I currently own a 2007 Range Rover Sport 3.6HSE Diesel (keep judgements to yourself ) and it has a pretty impressive spec list in terms of gadgets/technology:
- Built in Land Rover navigation
- Voice Control (Phone/Audio/Navigation)
- 7 speaker Harmon Kardon speaker system (AM/FM/6 Disc CD/AUX with steering wheel control)
- Bluetooth car kit (with steering wheel control)
- Cruise control (with steering wheel control)
- Auto lights
- Auto wipers
- Front & rear parking sensors
- Front & rear heated seats
- Electronically adjustable front seats with 3 memory positions
- Anti-glare rear view mirror
- Electronically adjustable mirrors with reverse dipping
- Fully adjustable hydraulic suspension
- Multiple 4×4 modes
- 22” wheels
- Countless other tech like ABS, electronic handbrake etc….you get the picture
So when I can buy an Android phone for less than £100 and get a better navigation experience on screen than I can on a factory fitted extra that often costs £500+, it is fair to say I, and I expect many of you reading this, feel cheated.
Especially when things like map updates, if made available are expensive and often out of date by the time they you get them. This doesn’t happen with Google Maps.
For the last 12 months I have had a navigation system sat idle with my Samsung Galaxy S3 & Google Maps giving me my directions when on the move!
Add to this the limitation of other features. Why can’t I browse the internet in my car or stream music direct to the stereo, or update my Facebook status?!
Some would argue do you need to? Others would say just use your mobile or 3G enabled tablet. All are valid, but for me it was not enough, I became a fed up, the screen of the navigation system was redundant, there was a bigger plan.
Now I should point out here that the likes of Volvo are making steps in the right direction to address such matters (as shown here) as I am sure many others are but these still don’t give what I want.
I own and use a Nexus 7 Android tablet along with my smartphone. It does all that I need it to do and whilst not 3G enabled, it can pair to my phone when necessary to have access to the internet.
So, the plan was to install the Nexus 7 into my dash so that I had a state of the art, fully customisable in car computer. I would be able to navigate, check social networks, browse the web, stream music, read a book, and much much more.
I have been thinking about this sort of install since I began talking about the topic, but I do have to give credit to @mr_bridger (on twitter) for his install HERE and also some other examples on YouTube, most specifically this one by Sonic Electronic which encouraged me to finally do it.
Part of me wanted a complete flush install meaning I couldn’t remove it. The problem is the Nexus 7 needs the power button to be pressed if it runs out of power and that is not possible if it is a flush install. This issue has been mentioned by @mr_bridger and he came up with an elaborate workaround.Now I don’t have the electrical knowledge of @mrbridger and no audio electronics installer wanted to start tweaking like he did.
So I went down the removable route, possibly not as professional looking but actually more practical as it meant I could still use my Nexus 7 outside of the car. In turn this meant keeping only my phone and tablet in sync and not a third device in the car add to this too the fact it less desirable to steal if it isn’t in the vehicle!
Because I am not the most handy with electrics and tools I took it to Audio In Motion for them to install it.
What did they do?
- Removed the factory fitted navigation screen.
- Hard wired a power cable from the ignition to Nexus 7 dock (provided by me) that the Nexus would sit in.
- Chased a cable from the AUX in port on the stereo to the Nexus 7 Dock
- Lined the recess from which the navigation unit was removed.
- Cut slits into the vent surrounds to accommodate the Nexus 7.
Thanks to the official Nexus 7 dock, power and audio leads need be connected to the dock only. The pogo pins on the dock and the Nexus 7 itself contact each time the Nexus 7 is inserted transferring charge and audio through them. This makes the inserting and removal of the Nexus 7 a breeze.
It is a snug fit when sliding the tablet in and out making it secure and giving it more of a factory fitted look. In fact, unless you knew otherwise many would think it was if they peered in through the window.
The slight annoyance here is that if I did a @mr_bridger style install there would have been no plastic cutting at all. The removal of the navigation screen gave enough space to put the tablet in and make it look like nothing had been changed; but you cant have everything you want!
With the Nexus now fitted there was the question of the interface, do I leave it standard or go for something bespoke like @mr_bridger? My decision was to go for a standard home screen with key app shortcuts on the main home screen. The fact the the tablet is used outside of the car, I didn’t see the need for a more in-car friendly layout, not to mention the time and effort it takes to create. In this instance the basic offerings do the job for me, especially as my interaction with the tablet in the car whilst driving is minimal.
The apps I user/require when in the car (be it moving or stationary)
- Google Chrome
- Google Maps/Navigation
- Sony Music Unlimited
The app drawer:
When entering the car, I use an NFC tag to activate portable hotspot on my Samsung S3, which the Nexus then connects to for internet. It activates mobile data on the S3, the Bluetooth is switched on to connect to the Range Rover and I use Vlingo to then control the phone whilst driving. Another scan on the same NFC tag when exiting the car, deactivates certain features and activates others I am likely to need at the destination.
The current install I have may not be to everyone’s taste. Maybe I should have put it where the main radio is but it was about striking a balance between practicality, functionality & price. Placing it where the stereo is would look amazing, but it would have meant either relying on the tablet or installing somewhere a backup radio. Steering wheel controls may have become redundant and i would have had to look at other Bluetooth car kit options. Thankfully the layout of the Range Rover’s dash worked to my advantage and I am very pleased with the result.
Most importantly it works for me and it puts a on my face.
So to give you a better sense of realism and what I have been explaining, see it all in action in the following video:
Your comments are always appreciated.