iPhone 5 car kit - time to build your own?
Still waiting on an iPhone 5 car kit? It's time to get creative.
For me the biggest frustration in upgrading to the iPhone 5 was breaking compatibility with my long-serving TomTom car kit. The iPhone 5's change in size and connector rendered it incompatible with most iPhone car cradles except the handful which grip the phone on its side -- such as Kensington's SoundWave Amplifying Car Mount or Belkin's Window Mount for iPhone and iPod.
If you regularly use your iPhone for sat-nav then you really need a way to charge the phone while you're driving.
I got sick of waiting for TomTom to release a new car kit with a Lightning connector, so I bought myself a Belkin Window Mount. I like it in part because you can adjust the grips to support wider devices, offering a certain level of future-proofing. Unfortunately the Belkin's suction cup is less tolerant of the curved glass at the edge of your windscreen. I needed to place it a few inches further away from the edge of the windscreen than where the TomTom sat, before I could get a reliable seal. This moved the cradle further into my field of vision but not so much as to be dangerous. The arm is very flexible, and longer than it looks in the image on the Belkin website, letting me bend it back towards the edge of the windscreen so the phone can still sit in the corner rather than above the steering wheel.
Of course attaching your iPhone to the windscreen is only part of the solution. You then need to supply it with power and perhaps run a cable to the car stereo. Sat-nav apps such as TomTom are horrific power hogs on the iPhone 5 and if you're driving for an hour you'll be lucky to arrive at your destination with half your battery life remaining (especially if you're also listening to music). If you regularly use your iPhone for sat-nav then you really need a way to charge the phone while you're driving.
If you like to listen to music while you're on the road then a cable running from your phone to your car stereo might also be important, assuming the stereo has an auxiliary input. If it doesn't and you're in the market to upgrade your car radio, you should consider something which features Bluetooth and/or USB iPhone support (the latter of which could also meet your charging requirements). You've always the option of using an FM transmitter, but in my experience the sound quality isn't as good as running a cable.
Rather than mess around with separate audio and power cables, I was looking for a single-cable solution which would meet all my needs via the Lightning connector. The solution seemed to revolve around Apple's Lightning to 30-pin adapter, which thankfully carries audio as well as power but still seems over-priced at $45. From here I needed a DAC (Digital-to-Analogue converter) to run the audio to my car stereo's 3.5mm auxiliary input, whilst drawing power via USB.
Initially I thought I'd need to go to the hassle of installing an iPhone 4 dock behind my dashboard to act as the DAC, with a 30-pin extension cable running to the phone because the Lightning to 30-pin adapter is only 20 cm long. I'd need the dock's 30-pin output running to the cigarette lighter for power, as well as the dock's 3.5mm output running to the car stereo.
This was starting to look rather cumbersome but then I came across a ProCable charge cable at Macfixit with a 30-pin connector at one end but both a USB plug and a 3.5mm audio jack at the other end. It was a much neater solution which did everything I needed while eliminating the need to use a cumbersome dock as a DAC. I already owned a Belkin car power adaptor with two USB ports, otherwise that would have been yet another expense. Just last week Belkin released a car power plug with a Lightning adaptor, but it's not much good to you if you're also looking to run an audio cable to your car stereo.
All up my iPhone 5 car kit cost me almost $150 if you include the Belkin car power adaptor, although I've been making good use of that for several years and already consider it money well-spent. It's not as expensive as it sounds -- if TomTom or other vendors released an iPhone 5-compatible car kit with a Lightning connector it would certainly cost more than $100. Alternatively upgrading my car stereo to Bluetooth, or buying a separate Bluetooth adaptor, would also be expensive while still leaving me in needed a cradle and a way to charge the phone. Between my wife and I we use the car kit several times a day, so it's a useful investment.
Did the transition to the Lightning connector create hassles for you? What kinds of solutions have you cobbled together?