A Better Ride
Even if you don’t have a fancy in-car navigation or entertainment system, these apps and services for iPhone and Android smartphones can get you to your destination safely and on time, and maybe even save you a dime. Note: using your smartphone while driving can be potentially dangerous, and some of these apps can be distracting.
Scout is a free, full-featured GPS app with several useful features for iPhone owners. The app gives you real-time traffic updates for your daily commute, as well as guidance on the best time to leave with traffic-based drive times from TeleNav’s database. It includes map-assisted turn-by-turn directions (but no voice navigation yet), with an extensive points of interest database that includes a variety of suggestions ranging from restaurants to gas stations to ATMs. Get Scout for iPhone or visit the companion website.
Social Networking for The Road
Escort Live is a social radar detection service that uses a Bluetooth “SmartCord Live” to connect to an iPhone or Android phone via companion apps. The apps display any radar alerts in a 25-mile radius, from data posted by other users, to help you avoid a ticket. A bundle that includes the SmartCord Live power cord, the app for iPhone or Android, and a subscription to the Escort Live service is available now priced just under $80.
A Social TomTom
In-phone GPS apps are only as good as your 3G data connection. Hit a dead zone and your maps vanish and you're stuck wishing you had printed out those Google Maps directions. The TomTom app for iPhone and iPad ($40) solves the problem by locally storing your maps on your phone so you don’t need to rely on that 3G connection for directions. An upcoming update of the app announced at CES brings linking to social networks, which will enable you to share destinations and arrival times with your friends via Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, and SMS text messages, as well as access friends’ addresses and Facebook places and events locations for quick routing.
The Cobra JoyRide is a $40 12-volt USB car charger that can trigger the launch of the JoyRide companion Android app when you connect the phone to the USB port. The JoyRide (shipping in the second quarter this year) can then automatically enable Bluetooth and disable Wi-Fi (to conserve your battery) and mute the ringer. JoyRide can also run music in the background, bring up your navigation app, or show you on a map where you left your car via a GPS snapshot when you disconnect your phone from the charger.
Have an iTrip
If you’re looking for an in-car charger and music player for your iPhone, the Griffin iTrip DualConnect ($60) lets you listen to music through your car stereo while charging. The accessory combines an FM transmitter with a 12-volt car power outlet so that a cable connects to the iPhone dock to charge the phone and you can play music either through the phone’s headphones jack or wirelessly via FM radio. Hint: The headphones jack solution offers better sound quality. Of course, if your car's sound system is equipped with a USB port, you can forgo this gadget.
Eye On The Road
If you don’t have a new car with anti-collision features, but you have an Android phone, check out iOnRoad. The app uses the smartphone’s camera and sensors to recognize traffic ahead and warn you of potential accidents. With the phone placed on a mount, the app monitors your headway distance and warns of traffic hazards, such as when you are too close or when cars in front of you switch lanes. iOnRoad also has a car-optimized interface so you can see your current speed and weather conditions, as well as access your music library and contacts.
Where’s My Car?
Find My Car (free) is an iPhone app for the car, when you're out of the car. It delivers with the help of GPS location technology, showing you where you parked on its map. A cool new augmented reality feature lets you search for your car with the help of the phone’s camera. For Android users, Parkdroid (free) has similar features.
GasBuddy’s free app for iPhone and Android connects you to a community of users who update gas prices at stations across the U.S. and Canada, so that you can get a better deal on your fuel. You can see the prices at stations near you on a map or list, so you can easily pick the nearest and cheapest station, saving you some money in the process.
Speak To Me
If you have an iPhone 4S, then Siri is a great voice-assisted car companion that can read and send e-mail and text messages or place calls without you looking at the phone. Older iPhone owners can use the built-in VoiceControl commands or choose from four other good voice-control apps. Google’s Voice Action does a good job on Android to quickly search your phone, the web, and nearby locations by speaking instead of typing. If you are looking for other Siri Android alternatives, most of them are free; not as slick as Apple’s virtual flunky, but worth a try.