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

Its screen provides a useful platform for navigation apps

As soon as the Apple iPad Mini was announced, we recognized that it could be an ideal device for in-car GPS navigation and other purposes, and we were 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 our opinion), the mini looked like a great road companion and navigation device.

Over the shoulder view of young businessman using digital tablet in car
Annie Engel/Getty Images

Mounting the iPad

The Mini seemed like an obvious choice for car use, but how to mount it? We've had some good experiences with iOttie mounts and cases for smartphones, so we dug into the company's offerings to find the iOttie Easy Grip Universal Dashboard Mount. We 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 sticky disk with very firm suction attaches to the disk, for a solid mount that never came loose in our test drives.

With the iOttie, you can position an iPad Mini front-and-center on the dashboard, completely below the windshield's line of sight. You may also windshield mount it, but take care to position it so 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, 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're positioned where you want them. The iOttie performed well as an iPad Mini mount, overall.

GPS-Enabling an iPad Mini

We tested with a Wi-Fi-only Mini, but that didn't prevent us from GPS-enabling the iPad, and from getting data to it while we were on the road. We used an aftermarket Bad Elf GPS with Apple Lightning connector. 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, we ​data-tethered it to our iPhone, 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, we only had to choose a turn-by-turn GPS navigation app for our road trips. For this test, we selected the MotionX GPS Drive app for iPad, although there's 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're considering are designed to make the most of the iPad screen.

We chose MotionX because of its reasonable price and a packed menu system that makes the most of the iPad's roomier screen. MotionX features include voice-guided turn-by-turn; 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 expected, with the luxury of large-screen maps and app controls, and all of our music on-demand with Apple Music. 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 the Mini has so many features 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.

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