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Using the iPad Mini for GPS Turn-by-Turn Car Navigation

The Mini's Large Screen Provides a Useful Platform for Navigation Apps

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iPad Mini for GPS Navigation

The iPad Mini is just right for car use, with its thin profile, and 7.9-inch (diagonal) screen.

Fred Zahradnik

As soon as the Apple iPad Mini was announced, I recognized that it could be an ideal device for in-car GPS navigation and other purposes, and I was eager to road test it. Significantly smaller, lighter, and thinner than the full-size iPad (which is too bulky to usefully mount in a car, in my opinion), the mini looked like a great road companion and navigation device.

Mounting
The Mini seemed like an obvious choice for car use, but how to mount it? I've had some good experiences with iOttie mounts and cases for smartphones, so I dug into the company's offerings to find the iOttie Easy Grip Universal Dashboard Mount, selling for $39. I settled on the iOttie because of its sleek look (some dashboard mounts, especially for tablets, look awful), its adjustability, and its suction mounting system. The iOttie uses a disk that adheres to a dashboard or windshield very firmly, thanks to a sticky layer that adapts to a textured surface. A a sticky disk with very firm suction attaches to the disk, for a solid mount that never came loose in my test drives.

With the iOttie, you can position an iPad Mini front-and-center on the dashboard, completely below the line of sight of the windshield. You may also windshield mount it, but take care to position it so that it doesn't obscure key line-of-sight areas. The iOttie's mounting bracket adjusts to the full range of tablets on the market, including the Mini I was testing, up to full-size models. The mount's knurled hand-adjust rings can be a bit challenging to grip and tighten down, but they hold well, once they are positioned where you want them. The iOttie performed well as an iPad Mini mount, overall.

GPS-Enabling an iPad Mini
I have a WiFi-only Mini, but that didn't prevent me from GPS-enabling the iPad, and from getting data to it while I was on the road. I used an aftermarket Bad Elf GPS add-on matched to a 32-pin-to-Lightning adapter, and the Bad Elf free GPS app to control the device. Bad Elf will no doubt add a Lightning port model to its line eventually. The Bad Elf worked great, quickly capturing and holding a strong GPS signal. In order to get on-the-road data to the iPad Mini, I data-tethered it to my iPhone (this is an optional upgrade with most cell phone plans), and that worked great, as well.

You can avoid the GPS add-on and data-tethering steps if you buy the costlier, Wi-Fi Plus Cellular iPad Mini model, and activate a cellular data plan for it.

On the Road
With the iPad Mini car-mounted, and GPS and data-enabled, I only had to choose a turn-by-turn GPS navigation app for my road trips. For this test, I selected the MotionX GPS Drive app for iPad, although there is also an HD version. Not all GPS navigation apps are designed to fill the full screen of an iPad Mini or iPad, so make sure the apps you are considering are designed to make the most of the iPad screen.

I chose MotionX because of its reasonable price ($0.99 plus a $9.99 yearly fee for voice guidance), and a packed menu system that makes the most of the iPad's roomier screen. MotionX features include voice-guided turn-by-turn, of course; real-time traffic detection and avoidance, visual lane assistance, live compass (a nice, large one), Apple Contacts app integration, iTunes integration, and a parking spot marker.

On the road, the entire setup worked as well as I expected, with the luxury of large-screen maps and app controls, and all of my music on demand. Matched up with the iOttie mount, the whole package looks good in a car, and putting the iPad Mini GPS to work in this way has a sophisticated, edgy feel to it. The only downside is that the Mini has so many features that it can be distracting in a car, so be careful to restrict your activities to navigation and the integrated music controls while driving. Ask a passenger to do anything beyond that, and front-seat passengers to appreciate having the familiar iPad features available to them as you roll.

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