Today we'll be kicking off a new series, where we look at the most useful mobile accessories you can have in any situation. Today, we'll be looking at the most essential mobile accessories for your car. I'll be using the iPhone 4S as the example smartphone here, but many of the accessories I've chosen will be available for most any well known phone, whether it's iPhone, Android, BlackBerry or Windows Phone. Let's get started.
1. Car Holder
The first thing we'll need is a car holder - a common mobile accessory that attaches to a part of your car and holds your mobile in an easy to reach position. These typically affix to your dashboard or windscreen, but other configurations are also possible.
When looking for a car holder, the first thing you'll want to determine is whether it needs to be case compatible or not. If you don't have a case or don't mind taking it off when you place your phone in the car holder, then you'll have a wider range of accessories to look through, including most official accessories made by your phone's manufacturer instead of a third party. If you'd prefer to keep the case on, then you'll need to look for either a universal car holder or a case-compatible car holder for your particular model. For the purposes of the article, we'll go with one that isn't case-compatible.
The next most important attribute for a car holder is durability. Generally, the more you spend the better the build quality will be, although there are exceptions in both directions. Official accessories tend to do well here, but aren't the only viable options.
Our example is the Xtand Go, which combines strong durability with a number of other features, including a large number of mounting options and orientations. This comes at a price though - £30.
Now, we'll move onto another essential accessory - the in-car charger.
2. Car Charger
Car chargers generally come in two forms - car chargers that are integrated into car holders, and ones that are standalone. When looking for a car holder, you might find that the higher end models include an integrated connection, while lower end packs tend to just bundle a standalone cable with the holder. This can be a good way to save a bit of money. For the purposes of the article though, we'll assume you're looking for a standalone charger.
So what to look for in a car charger? Well, build quality is important here as well - there's nothing worse than realising that your car charger has become frayed and hasn't been charging your phone half way through a six hour drive. Some car chargers also include extra features, like retractable cables and additional ports. The last thing you'll want to look for is how much charge will be provided - the higher the amperage, the better. The iPhone will requires 1.1A to charge, but higher amperages (within reason) will speed up charging and ensure the full rate even when the iPhone is busy in a battery-intensive GPS role.
One charger which combines good build quality, sufficient amperage and a fully retractable cable is this model from Cellular Line. An optional additional USB port is available too, even at £13.
Next, we'll have a look at something that can really save the day - an emergency charger.
3. Emergency Charger
Emergency chargers are power packs that'll recharge your smartphone if you're running low. They are a bit more convenient than the alternative - extended batteries - as they don't add any bulk to the phone. If your car charger fails, you break down or you need to leave the car for an extended period then an emergency charger can be invaluable. As you'll presumably be leaving these in the car, the primary attribute you'll want to look at is storage capacity and price. Generally, more capacious batteries will become quickly more expensive, but it isn't really worthwhile to choose one that's less than 2000 mAh.
The Pama Plug N Go ticks the boxes nicely, offering 4000 mAh of power for £30. The portable charger comes with a variety of tips too, so you're able to power pretty much any device.
Now we'll have a look at a more optimistic investment - an FM transmitter.
4. FM Transmitter
The FM transmitters offers a simple way to play your music over your car's speakers. Most car stereos, particularly in older models, won't come with an iPhone or auxiliary input, so the FM transmitter is the perfect fallback solution. These transmit what's playing on your phone over FM radio, albeit at a very small range.
There are a whole host of FM transmitters available. Generally, ease-of-use is the important attribute here. Better models will include things like displays, user-selectable frequencies, and integrated chargers, all of which will make the transmitter more convenient to use. Even more expensive models will connect to your phone over Bluetooth instead of the cheaper connection via the 3.5 mm stereo jack. These higher end transmitters also tend to offer apps that make the hardware itself quite streamlined. These are a bit much for most uses though, so we'll go for a mid-range model that includes a display and user selectable frequencies but not Bluetooth.
One such transmitter is the Bubblegum FM transmitter, which connects over the iPhone's dock connector. By using the dock connector, it can draw power as well as the audio from the iPhone whilst retaining a small size. The product is cheap at £12, but still allows for custom frequencies through a small display and buttons.
Now, we'll move onto another truly essential accessory: A hands-free kit.
5. Bluetooth Hands Free Kit
Bluetooth car kits fulfill an important function, allowing you to safely and legally make and receive calls while you're driving. Most Bluetooth car kits consist of a microphone and speaker embedded in a flat panel, which clips to your sun visor. As well as providing a microphone and speaker in a convenient position, they also often include voice commands so that the driver doesn't have to take their hands off the wheel. More advanced models will include other features, such as streaming of music over AD2P or apt-X and switching on automatically when the driver's phone comes within range.
Generally speaking, a low-cost Bluetooth car kit will accomplish the job just as readily as a high cost one. High-end models will include additional features and more convenient operation, but models as low as £20 will still perform the same basic task with dexterity.
One such Bluetooth car kit is the Clip and Talk V3+, which comes in under £20 but still includes a reasonably sized battery, a powerful speaker and multipoint technology, allowing for multiple phones to be connected at once.
And there we have it - a fully kitted out car. We spent £100 in total, which I feel is a reasonable investment for the functionality that's provided.
The most important advice I can give you for choosing any mobile accessory is to ensure you read both user and professional reviews of the model that you're interested in before you purchase it. This simple step can save a lot of hassle, so invest the time. I hope you've found this article helpful. If you've got any questions about mobile accessories, then feel free to leave them in the comments below. I can't promise a response to each one, but I'll try to help if I can.
This article was written by William Judd, a freelance tech journalist and copywriter.
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