CarPlay can wait: How to get Android set up in your car today

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We’ve recently heard a lot about Apple’s in-car plans. Toyota is the latest to commit to Apple’s upcoming, app-replicating CarPlay dashboard technology.

Audi is another automaker keen to embed tech. It plans to introduce 4G LTE Wireless data in its 2015 Audi A3 for its version of Google Street View, among other things.

Well, what if you’re not in the market for multiple LTE plans, a new Audi, or just want to get this job done right now in your existing car?

Unfortunately, Google’s "Projected Mode" automotive smartphone connection is somewhere off into the vaporware distance, and you can’t just walk into Best Buy and get anything similar—for the moment.

The solution is to do-it-yourself, with your existing smartphone or tablet and tethered wireless data connection. Add an inexpensive Gooseneck mount, and a car-friendly in-vehicle launcher app interface, and you’ll have created your own navigation, infotainment, connected-automobile solution.

Step 1: Purchase and install the Gooseneck

car arkon product

The Arkon Gooseneck holds almost any tablet in almost any position.

Arkon makes a tablet stalk with swivel-ball mount that attaches to your front seat rail bolts (the bolts that anchor the seat-slide to the floor pan). It's not nearly as scary as it sounds.

Follow the Arkon-included instructions to install the kit. You’ll need an adjustable wrench and cross-head screwdriver. It may take a little work to hide your power and audio cables along the arm of the mount, but you'll be glad you did.

Then just slide the tablet onto the mount to create an on-dash, ergonomic touch-pad.

It won't cost much: the mount is $35 at Amazon.

Step 2: Install Car Widget Pro

car widget headset

The Car Widget Pro app keeps your screen on, and performs other functions useful for mounting your Android device in your car.

It’s lame having the screen time-out while driving, and manually configuring screen settings when you get into the car is tedious.

Car Widget Pro will cost you $2 in the Google Play store, and disables screen time-out when an audio output, like car stereo, is connected to the Android device’s headphone jack. Look for actions through detection options in the Car Widget Pro settings area.

Of course, an always-on screen will eat through your battery in no time. Use an automotive power adapter designed for tablets—you need two amps. Get one with two USB ports and you can charge you phone at the same time.

Step 3: Choose your tablet shortcuts

car widget shortcuts

You can make a tablet home screen just for car use, with large car-friendly buttons.

Car Widget Pro allows you to assign a home screen just for in-car use, and provides larger-than-normal shortcuts there—without making the icons all pixellated. We suggest loading it up with Navigation, Maps, Pandora/Spotify, TuneIn, and a good podcast app like BeyondPod.

Step 4: Tether your phone

If your tablet doesn't have 4G connectivity, don't worry. You can still get all the data you need through your smartphone. Just visit the tethering or portable hotspot option on your phone, and share it's connection via WiFi with your tablet. Keep an eye on your data use, though. In today's world of limited data plans, you might hit your cap quickly if you're streaming music in your car every day.

car sony cassette

If your stereo doesn't have a stereo input jack, you may have to rely on one of these old cassete adapters.

Now when you get into your car, just slide your tablet onto the mount, connect the car stereo head-unit to the tablet's headphone jack (or use a cassette adapter if your car has no stereo input jack); and then plug the USB power cables into tablet and smartphone.

Okay, so it's not elegant. It looks like a do-it-yourself solution rather than a sophisticated in-dash experience. But it's adjustable and configurable in a way no in-dash system can ever hope to be. And you can have it in your car right now.

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