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Many of today’s new cars come with all the in-car entertainment options we demand: Navigation, Backup Cameras, MP3 player interfaces, Bluetooth, Rear seat DVD/TV, Satellite and HD Radio, etc.
For those of us with older cars, those integrated features are a pipe dream and we’re left with a cluttered dash of power cords, stick-on gadgets, and compromising features.
Unless you go the route of a custom PC install in your vehicle. when we think of PCs in cars the image that comes to mind is the state trooper with a laptop bolted to the console, but there’s actually a growing subculture of people using common PC and Mac computers to achieve the same goals.
I had an opportunity to look at one such installation and I was blown away. In addition to a sizable MP3 collection, decent Nav system, XM and HD radio tuners, bluetooth integration and video capability, Eric Mindte’s Honda Prelude also has access to full on-board diagnostics, wi-fi internet and anything else you want to run in Windows XP™!
So what do you need to get a PC setup going in your dash? A 7″ touch screen is a good place to start, as is a Micro-ATX PC case that looks like an amplifier with big heat sinks. Then you’ll need a motherboard, processor and memory. A hard drive, a radio tuner card, and then pretty much everything else is plug and play USB componentry. The Logitech diNovo Bluetooth Mini-keyboard is a necessity, as is the Grippin PowerMate remote volume knob. Centrafuse software is the best of the available offerings that I’ve tested, and all told Eric’s project ran him around $1000. That’s not bad considering the price of a navigation system in most vehicles, especially at the lower end.
When I received one of these Portable Playtime backpacks, I had one of those moments. One of those "why didn’t I think of that?" moments. I also thought how incredibly handy this would have been on all the flights I have endured with my kids.
This fabulous backpack has all the necessary compartments to bring those must have toys on a flight. Books, action figures, crayons and paper, even snacks – all of it will fit in there and have a place to stay organized and keep your kids entertained. But that is not even the best part.
Everyone can find a bag for these things, but what makes Portable Playtime genius is that not only is it a great bag, it is also a perfect playmat to fit on the tray table. Yes, it open up and covers the germ infested tray table, stays securely in place, and gives your kids the perfect place to play with all the things they brought along for the trip.
Easy to keep clean, kid-tough, and in great colors and patterns, the award winningPortable Playtime backpack makes flying with kids so much easier, you will wonder how you managed without it.
To make this product even more appealing, Portable Playtime is offering Car & Caboodle readers 20% off through the end of the year, simply use the code "caboodle" when you check out.
Our family loves technology. Cell Phones, gaming systems, nav units, dvd players, walkie talkies, ipods,cameras and video cameras, laptops and gps units. These are a few of our favorite things…
Yes, of course we looked forward to spending some quality time together, to getting back to nature, to laying on a beach and counting how many seagulls flew by. But with over a thousand miles to travel in each direction we also looked forward to getting in touch with our inner geeks. Young and old alike, we had enough bluetooth, wifi, battery operated techno gear to get Gilligan, the professor and the entire cast of Lost off their respective islands. Sort of.
Packing all that gear meant packing a lot of batteries and car/wall chargers. Fortunately we were able to leave several bulky chargers at home by packing the iGo everywhere retractable charger . This is a device that needs to be in every car. One retractable cord set works (with the use of multiple tips) to charge any of several dozen devices. And it works both in the car and in the wall! It whittled a stack of more than ten separate chargers down to a single cord set and small bag of device tips. And it worked perfectly. The retractable cord is a dream come true. No more tangle of chargers cluttering up the glove compartment. I’m officially in love with iGo and it’s staying in my car. As my new Honda only has one charge port, this device also serves a peacekeeping mission – ending the ongoing car-charger turf war between myself and my husband.
For our picture and video taking we brought along our beloved Sony Alpha and Sony Handycam HD Video Camera. Just so you know, any great shots are all them. Not my expertise. They only make me look good. One mac ibook and one PC promised to keep us connected with a little help from the widespread Boingo network. The beauty of Boingo is that it lets you get online at over 103,000 hotspots all over the world, for one monthly fee. No more signing up for a daypass here and an hour of connectivity there. It’s especially great in urban areas.
But when wifi was unavailable (the majority of the trip on the remote No.Cal and Oregon coast) we had our iPhone to keep us connected. Good thing too. On more than one occasion we found ourselves tapping into Yahoo’s powerful mobile search engine. We used Yahoo mobile to locate food, lodging, hotel and restaurant reviews and more. If you have not had occasion to explore this feature of Yahoo, take a look around before you next hit the road. It helped us find great lodging at the end of our first day, by providing reviews that our Nav units could not.
No stopping for directions:
It may sound ridiculous, but we actually hit the road with three navigation systems. Four if you count the GPS in our iphone. As copilot I tested them all, pitting them against each other to see what would happen and whether the sound of three female voices telling my husband to get left, and slow down, might be even more annoying than that of one wife. Separate reviews are in the works for the Nav-U by Sony, the Navigon 2100 Max and Honda’s onboard Navigation units but to sum up the finer points:
The Sony Nav-u had the best lists of places to stop and turn by turn instructions to get you there. The unit was easy to program and read and saved us on more than one late night “we need a motel and we need it NOW” moment. The bluetooth cell feature makes it especially attractive for drivers in states that require hands free calling.
The Navigon unit was a pleasure to look at. The three dimensional display made sense and when it was on, there was no looking at the built in screen. Every turn in the road displayed beautifully and complicated highway interchanges, lane changes etc were stressless. Plus this unit was the fastest at the all important “display the closest Starbucks” challenge and was able to speak street names.
The Honda’s built in Navigation was the easiest to operate. Probably because it did not have cords that hogged the only power supply, suction cups etc and had a bigger screen. It also never lost GPS contact, and updated the fastest.
When all else failed, we found that the GPS on our iphone, combined with data from Yahoo Mobile guided us to the more obscure places we needed to be and provided detailed reviews of those places – but not without a cell connection! It was also the easiest to use for traffic updates when in an urban environment.
Plugged in, in the back seat:
Up until recently our kids have not been big fans of handheld electronics. But for this trip they wanted their own cameras. V-tech to the rescue. Each of our kids got to take their own pictures of the trip, with Vtechs sturdy and easy to use kidizoom camera. The cameras are fun and offer all sorts of amusing templates. Consider the following pictures that my daughter took of her siblings:
These cameras don’t have the very best picture quality, but they do capture both still and video images and are so much fun to use that we found ourselves begging for the kids to hand them over and give us a chance to take pictures of each other with devil horns and angel halos.
When they got sick of taking pictures with the cameras, the kids spent many miles playing the included games that the kidizoom camera has built in.
The latter part of our first day of travel took us across the Golden Gate bridge, and into Sausalito where we had lunch. While in Sausalito we drove by the offices of Cartelligent, the awesome online brokers that negotiated a stress free deal for us on our new car lease and waved hello. Then it was on to Sonoma before dark.
Night fell as we pulled into Santa Rosa. A sleepy little town with a lot of heart, we were thrilled to find a cosy room at a historic hotel with amazing customer service. Sheer luck led us to the Hotel La Rose. Good luck! This gem is located across from a historic train depot and within walking distance of Santa Rosa’s downtown. The staff was friendly and courteous – bringing our children an unsolicited snack of fresh baked cookies, fruit and water soon after we checked in. Charming homey decor and fluffy down quilts on the beds made us feel right at home in our spacious room. Our kids marvelled at the vintage wc style toilet in our room, proving that even when travelling domestically, encountering a novel toilet is always a thrill.
A somewhat lavish continental breakfast , complete with fresh baked goods, was included in the price of the room. This inclusion makes the hotel one of the most affordable choices in the area. The staff at Hotel La Rose took good care of us weary travelling parents as well, sending up vouchers for two glasses of excellent local wine from the hotel bar. It was such a sweet pit stop that we wished we could stay longer. As we rolled out of Santa Rosa we glanced back longingly at a summer festival, complete with model trains, local artists and a puppet show. We’d have to return to Santa Rosa.
On day two we’d be cruising down the Avenue of the Giants. Many more miles and the massive silent redwoods awaited us.
“Well, we call them the Oh S#!t Handles..
And I can happily say that we dont have a toy that we cant leave home without..
We just found out we are expecting, so that is soon to come!
Thanks for the contest!”
Seems like a whole lot of you are cussing cousins when it comes to your car. “Oh Sh*t” Handles were the #1 name of choice for your car handles, along with a few other creative expletive related entries.
We’ll be announcing a brand new Dashboard Confession this Friday afternoon. Until then, be good!
Internet Service that will be provided by Autonet Mobile, costs $29 a month, with a $35 activation fee. One-, two- and three-year plans are available. The technology arrives in August as a Chrysler Mopar accessory.
No details as to what band and transfer rate the router utilizes or what connection speeds are offered by Autonet have been provided. Chrysler says the hot-spot connection has a radius of about 100 feet around the vehicle. It works wherever cell-phone service is available, and all passengers in the car can connect wi-fi-enabled devices, including laptops, PDAs and video-game consoles.
Fine family eateries have long known the art of successful family dining is often about letting the kids make art on the table. And, no, not the food variety. Many restaurants offer crayons and write-on menus but you never really know what you are in for when you dine out. Is there anything worse than a lame menu and those waxy crayons that break and don’t work? What’s up with the places that give you a yellow crayon and a menu photocopied onto green paper to color on. Do they really want to hear that tantrum?
Best to BYO and take matters into your own hands and keep this Doodles at Dinner Pad in the car somewhere. It’s a whole stack of tear off placemats that promise to entertain. Not a lame one amongst them. Just be sure to pack some decent crayons to go with (we like this tin of high quality Stockmar crayons) and you may actually get to enjoy your own meal.
On our last road trip from Columbia, SC to Cincinnati, OH, we used my husband’s laptop computer to play Baby Einstein movies for our son. Since my SUV does not have factory-installed DVD screens, we jimmy rigged a whole system using an A/C adapter, some rubber bands and wiring running all the way to the trunk, where the largest voltage connectors were located. It worked, but it wasn’t pretty. So, what’s a road tripping family to do? Go get a Sony DVP-FX820 portable DVD player from Dell, where it is being sold for $169.99 and free shipping!
With it’s vibrant 800×480 resolution screen and long battery life (though not quite the 6 hours that Sony claims), this device is sure to keep everyone entertained on the road. The swivel screen and 2 headphone jacks make back seat sharing a little easier, and there is a car adapter for when the battery begins to run low.
This portable DVD player is sure to make a six hour trip feel shorter for you and your back seat wigglers!
If you need to constantly entertain your preschooler or toddler, the I Spy bag by Crafting Corner is the toy for you. Reminiscent of the “olden” days when we played I Spy his bean bag looking toy not only captures their attention, but helps them to learn to identify simple objects.
My almost 4 year old does not stop talking and can drive anyone crazy after five minutes in the car. I decided to buy the mini I Spy from Crafting Corner for each of my boys to see what they thought. The way it works is the kids smush around the beanbag till they can "find" an object in the bag’s window. I tell my sons to look for the star, and they both start their hunt.
The best part is that they tell each other what to find, so my husband and I can, occasionally, actually talk to each other. They love it so much that every time we get in the car they each grab it and start to play. I have to say that it’s the best $8 (times two), I’ve spent in a long time.
If you are about to take a trip whether by car or by plane, I highly recommend getting one of the I Spy, or mini I Spy bags. It guarantees many hours of entertainment.
Imagine your child’s saucer-eyes as she realizes that she can watch her favorite Nick Jr. shows as you truck it to over the river and through the woods to grandma’s. It’s true! And if you have headphones in the back you don’t even have to get a headache in the process!
Sirius has debuted Sirius Backseat TV in 2008 Chrysler Group vehicles including Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge. The service features live programming from Nickelodeon, The Disney Channel, and The Cartoon Network. This is so much better than watching fuzzy VHS tapes on the tv in the Chevy G20 Conversion Van back in 1988! Live tv is fed to the car via an in-vehicle video satellite receiver and two small roof mounted antennas. And here is where those headphones come in handy: front seat passengers can listen to Sirius Satellite Radio while the tv is in use!
This service is available for $470, which includes the first year of service. After the first year, it is available for an additional $7 per month when packaged with Sirius Satellite Radio, which is $12.95 per month.
Keep Sirius Backseat TV in mind when you are shopping for you next Chrysler product. It’s just one more way to keep the kids entertained and your road trip more peaceful!
Now… when are they going to add ESPN and Lifetime to the lineup?
Wish that you had internet access in your car? The last time my family drove to the beach, my mind was whirring with ideas from an ongoing project. As we hit the road I found myself jonesing for an internet connection.
Imagine riding down the interstate while doing online research and updating your blog (from the passenger side please!). Think of the convenience of having another option for entertaining the kids in the back seat.
Chrysler is set to roll out their in-car Wi-Fi later this year, as part of an off-road navigation system for the Jeep Wrangler. Those of us with multiple kids, gear and dogs to haul may have to wait a little longer for an in dash system. But not much. Chrysler promises to equip many 2009 model cars with this technology.
BMW’s timeline for Wi-Fi installation are less concrete. As of now their concept has only been seen at the Geneva Motor Show. BMW also promises an in-dash multimedia system that includes streaming music and video content through cellular or Wi-Fi connection. Files will be transferred to the 20GB hard drive from your PC or mobile phone.
Can’t wait till 2009? Mobile internet is already available in the form of an in-car router from AutoNet Mobile. This technology is an aftermarket solution. Routers will cost you $595, plus a $39 monthly charge. This service turns your car into a Wi-Fi hotspot. No need to rely on cellular towers to guarantee continued connectivity.
At the moment, I’ll still have to rely on my slower smart phone to surf the web. But we are not too far away from being able to surf the internet on the road.
Tell Us o you miss your connectivity while on the road? What would you use your on-the-road internet connection for? Leave us a comment below.