The iPhone has easily become the best jukebox in the car with your iTunes library, iTunes Radio, streaming services like Beats Music and Spotify, and great apps for keeping up with podcasts. With hands-free features powered by Siri, you can even stay in touch with phone calls and text messages all without ever taking your eyes off the road. If you’re a passenger, the iPad is a great screen for gaming, reading, watching movies, and more.
This holiday season is especially exciting with new features built-in to iOS like CarPlay and Hey Siri, which allows you to activate Siri while your iPhone or iPad is charging completely hands-free, and below are some of the best products to gift the iPhone or iPad-owning driver this year.
CarPlay, which Apple describes as the best iPhone experience on four wheels, allows you to interact with your iPhone apps including Phone, Music, Maps, Messages and some third party apps like Spotify and CBS Radio on the built-in display in your car. The feature is support or coming soon to various models from different automakers like Hyundai’s 2015 Sonata and Ferrari’s FF, but buying someone a new car is a pretty big gesture (although those giant bows sure are nice!).
Luckily, both Pioneer and Alpine introduced CarPlay-compatible aftermarket displays recently for upgrading the radio in your car to something a little more future friendly. I had the opportunity to review CarPlay with the Pioneer NEX-5000 shortly after its release in October. While there’s still a few hiccups and features to be desired, that’s a lot more forgivable when it’s a gift. So which aftermarket display should you buy to give the gift of CarPlay? Two good options:
Pioneer AppRadio4 (SPH-DA120) In-Dash Receiver
The Pioneer AppRadio 4 includes support for CarPlay for iPhone 5 and higher in a 6.2-inch capacitive touchscreen. Having a capacitive touchscreen rather than a resistive touch screen is important if you want the screen to feel more like your iPhone and less like a low-quality ATM screen.
The AppRadio 4 also includes Bluetooth connectivity for pairing iPads or older iPhones, other smartphones or devices, or just playing content wirelessly as CarPlay requires connecting over the Lightning cable. You also get AM/FM radio of course, dual USB ports, a line-in AUX port, and support for lots of non-CarPlay apps when you’re not using the CarPlay interface.
If you want to give the gift of CarPlay to someone special in your life (and who wouldn’t?) but you’re looking for something a little bigger at an affordable price, Alpine has released an aftermarket head unit specially with the iPhone feature in mind.
Alpine’s iLX-007 in-dash receiver can handle CarPlay and sports a 7-inch touchscreen–also capacitive so it’ll be closer in feel to your iPhone screen than an old laptop screen–with AM/FM radio, USB input, and line-in AUX input.
You won’t find Bluetooth, however, as this Alpine headline anticipates you’ll be using CarPlay primarily and almost full time, but Alpine does include its own interface for when your iPhone isn’t connected. With its larger display, Alpine prices its CarPlay receiver at $800 with availability at Alpine authorized retailers.
Geek Squad® -Advanced In-Dash Video Installation
Yeah, yeah, I know, but hear me out. While gifting someone a CarPlay receiver is a generous offer, you’ll at least want to be able to share some points for how to get the hardware hooked up and running in the recipient’s car. While the installation job might be manageable for the DIY-er in your life, I personally didn’t fit into that camp when upgrading to CarPlay.
For me, Best Buy’s installation service provided a smooth experience with no surprises. We’re talking $99 and tax plus about three to four hours with an appointment scheduled after you buy the appropriate hardware. You can even pre-purchase and schedule the service online to ensure a smooth experience.
Okay, all that was a little expensive and the iPhone learned some new tricks like how to perform tasks hands-free just by hearing you say “Hey Siri”, so what are some more affordable gifts for the iPhone-toting driver this holiday season? Let’s go small to start.
Kenu Airframe+ Car Mount for Phablets
Shortly after the release of the 4.7-inch iPhone 6 and 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus, I got the chance to go hands-on with the Kenu Airframe+ car mount, which supports up to 6-inch phones including both of Apple’s large display iPhones.
I used it with both iPhone 6 screen sizes and found it both easy to use and reliable, and while I’ve since upgraded my car radio to a CarPlay-compatible in-dash receiver, I can easily recommend the Kenu Airframe+ for any iPhone driver.
It’s convenient to attach and detach your iPhone, rotates and locks into place in both portrait and landscape orientation (and the iPhone 6 Plus homescreen supports landscape!), easy to pocket and carry if you change between cars frequently, and attaches to most vent types. Recommended for anyone without a smartphone mount in the car at $29.98 from Amazon.
Belkin Tunecast FM Transmitter with Lightning
What if the iPhone owner’s car is more low tech and doesn’t have Bluetooth, an AUX port, or even a tape deck? My car started out in this camp before making its way through the upgrade path to CarPlay (I actually had Bluetooth for phone calls only, and even then it was restricted to a single speaker).
At the time I relied on Belkin’s Tunecast FM Transmitter with 30 pin and later had to add a 30 pin to Lightning adapter, and they’ve since updated it with a Lightning model. While FM transmitters can sometimes land anywhere between frustrating to useless (you tend to get what you pay for in this space), I can recommend Belkin’s solution with confidence. It quickly charges your iPhone while you’re using it, reliably finds good stations to transmit over and can even cover up stations with content, and has a mode to make your content sound better. The Belkin Tunecast FM Transmitter with Lightning usually goes for $69.99, but Amazon currently lists it at $41.11 if you’re looking for a savings.
Using the iPad in the car is probably more for the passengers of course, and as I mentioned above, it makes a great entertainment system for road trips short or long. Strap one to the back of either headrest in the car and you’ve got a built-in TV for the journey. Paired with a decent set of headphones, maybe even Bluetooth ones, this is an ideal setup for entertaining your passengers while remaining distraction-free as the driver.
Felix RoadShow Car Stand for iPad
For mounting the iPad to the back of the headrest in style, the Felix RoadShow is an attractive option. The RoadShow mount supports each 9.7-inch iPad and iPad Air model as well as each 7.9-inch iPad mini model (as well as other tablets) and you won’t need any tools to install it. Felix does note that the RoadShow tablet mount requires “exposed headrest bars 8-16.5cm apart and 1-1.4cm in diameter” though.
The Felix RoadShow tablet mount adjusts between portrait and landscape orientations for using the iPad however you want, and it looks compact and minimal when not in use (which is important to me). You can pick it up $39.99 from Amazon or Apple.
LilGadgets CarBuddy Universal Headrest Tablet Mount
If you’re looking for the same thing but maybe a cheaper option, the LilGadgets CarBuddy goes for a little less and still supports both iPad sizes as well as other tablets sized between 7-inches and 11-inches. No tools required, supports rotating between portrait and landscape, and it’s currently $22.95 on Amazon where it’s regular $29.99. Go ahead and buy one both each headrest.
Finally, a few grab items at various price points for the iPhone-owning driver in your life.
Automatic Smart Driving Assistant
The Automatic Link is nothing new this year, but the smart driving assistant has added new features to its app since this time last year. The Link accessory connects to your iPhone over Bluetooth and can rate your driving, save you money with driving tips, read your check engine light, and even alert your loved ones if your car gets in a crash.
Regardless of what setup you have in the car from a CarPlay-equipped head unit to Bluetooth or AUX for input, you’ll probably still want to turn your 12-volt port into something useful. For me, my CarPlay unit keeps my iPhone charged, but my passenger still needs to charge sometimes too.
This USB charger is rated well at 4 1/2 stars, keeps a low profile, and supports charging two devices at the same time. Just bring your own cable whether its Lightning, micro USB, or even 30 pin depending on what you need.
Okay, why would you need a gorilla-style tripod for your iPhone in the car especially if you’ve already got a dedicated phone mount? Something grippy like this to stabilize your iPhone is really handy when capturing a Time Lapse or Hyperlapse video (or really any photo or video shooting).
Recording several minutes of a journey on the road and condensing it into a few seconds with the iPhone’s Time-Lapse mode is perfect material for documenting your travels, and a cheap gorilla-style mount like this is an easy way to get started.