Review: Nokia Car Mode


It's a fair cop, Nokia Car Mode has been available for a while, and has been gradually introduced to more and more Symbian-powered handsets via the Store. But it's something that I'd never really used for more than a few seconds, it's something that AAS has never covered in depth, and when I came across a comment on the site wondering where our review was, I thought that revisiting this much-underused Symbian application was definitely in order. If, like me, you spend a fair amount of time in your car then you might find that Nokia Car Mode simplifies your interactions with your phone for the better...

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First of all, getting hold of Nokia Car Mode. If you have a Nokia 808 or 701 then it's almost certainly built into the firmware, you'll find it in the main application menu. For the Nokia 700, 603, N8, E7, C7, X7 and so on (though not the E6, annoyingly), you'll find Nokia Car Mode in the Nokia Store here, just download it as any other application.

The idea, obviously, is to handle the tasks most of us need to do on our smartphone while driving. So that rules out playing Angry Birds! Or indeed anything involving text input or any more than minimal use of the screen. Maybe this is just me, but i've been caught out many a time trying to do something (normally) simple, like exiting Google Maps, on a touchscreen phone, while driving, and spending about three minutes and a dozen taps and swipes trying to manipulate the interface, designed for static use, while also staying moderately safe on the road.

The secret is to have large, clear text, large touch buttons and deliberately restricted functionality. Which is exactly what Nokia Car Mode aims to do. Here it is in action:

One important note is that Nokia Car Mode, quite deliberately, overrides the normal auto-display power options, i.e. the screen stays on at full power all the time. This is for every one of us who have wanted to do something quick on our phones while driving and have wrestled for the first 10 seconds, dangerously, just trying to get past the lockscreen. I know it's a trivial thing to do, but not while you're (safely) hurtling down the motorway at 70mph. Therefore, Nokia Car Mode stays on all the time. Whenever you need it, it's a simple finger stab away. Usually just one touch.

Of course, with the screen on all the time, with the GPS and cell data and FM transmitter all likely on all the time too, there's an implicit assumption that your smartphone will be plugged into your car's 12V system. I use a Nokia lighter adapter to microUSB, though there are many other solutions, depending on which phone you've got.

Also important to note is that, if your car phone holder supports it, you can run Nokia Car Mode in landscape mode - it runs just as well, with the buttons simply presented side by side in a different layout. It really is up to you.

Having got this far and delivered a very positive verdict on Nokia Car Mode, I should point out that, as an arch geek, I do find it quite limiting. For example, I usually want to listen to podcasts while driving and it's a little tiresome getting to these from Nokia Car Mode. Plus, if I'm honest, it would be great to have emails and tweet mentions read out too. But then I'd be tempted to respond... and I'd likely end up ploughing into a lorry half way up the M6.... Maybe it's best to keep Nokia Car Mode simple after all!

If you've never tried it, then do so this weekend. It's free and it's worth it.

PS. If you have car with MirrorLink integrated into the dash then you've probably already found the commercial MirrorLink version of Nokia Car Mode. Just thought I should mention it for completeness.

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