Using the Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 as a dedicated car GPS

Using the Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 as a dedicated car GPS

Summary: With an opportunity to acquire an inexpensive, quality 4G tablet, it was time to try something different.


Last month, I finally decided it was time to upgrade my personal cell phone. I had been using an iPhone 4S since its introduction and the various updates of iOS since then had made the phone much less usable, with random restarts and poor battery life. Comparing the iPhone 5S, HTC M8, and Galaxy S5, I decided to go with the Samsung; I was already using a Galaxy Note 3 as my business phone.

With the purchase of the S5, AT&T was offering a promotional deal that included a Galaxy Tab 3 (7-inch) and a $100 credit for $99. As I already use a Mobile Share plan, adding another tablet would cost an additional $10/month.  As attractive as the offer was — with my rep telling me that some 80 percent of his customers were taking the tablet deal — I initially couldn’t see a use for another tablet. My daughter uses an iPad, my wife and son Windows tablets, and I used the Galaxy Note and a Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1, which pretty much filled my tablet needs.

tab 3

But I did realize that I did have a need for an electronic device; I was planning on buying a new GPS for my car and I realize that the 7-inch tablet could make an excellent alternative. At a cost of $10/month, it made the price competitive with the purchase of a dedicated 7” screen GPS. So I left the store with both a new phone and a new tablet.

With the iPhone, I had primarily used the MotionX GPS Drive app as a backup for a Garmin GPS I kept in the car, but I had played with the Waze app, recently acquired by Google. So for use on the tablet, I installed Waze, along with two other free navigation apps, MapFactor and Navfree. The two latter apps offered free use of the OpenStreetMap data or allowed the purchase of commercial navigation maps as well as the ability to download maps over a Wi-Fi connection to allow navigation without a data connection being available.

The Waze app, with its real-time interactive routing and interaction with other users regarding potential traffic issues, became my favorite navigation app for the tablet. The number of local Waze users actively integrating with the system makes it quite accurate for traffic information.

To mount the tablet in my car, I went with an Arkon SM517 windshield mount, designed for the 7-inch Galaxy Tab. A very sold mount with flexible mounting options, it allowed me to secure the tablet in my preferred center windshield location, which also allows me to use the shortest cable for connection to accessory power in the car.

The Waze app as displayed in my car

After using the tablet as a GPS for a few days to assure myself that it would meet my navigation needs, I went on to the next step of my configuration. I installed the Pandora and Xbox Music apps and linked the tablet to the car’s audio system over Bluetooth. I also copied 20GB or so of music from my personal collection to a microSD card installed in the tablet, which I could access using the preinstalled Android Music player app.


Although I use the tablet primarily for navigation and audio, other members of my family have made use of it in the car for other activities when I didn’t need to use the navigation feature. It has all the capabilities of a tablet and has been used for everything from checking Facebook to streaming video (neither by the driver), things that would not be possible with a dedicated GPS unit.

The primary negative with this configuration is that even when attached to a 2 AMP car charger, the tablet will not charge when running the GPS. In general it will maintain the current charge, but to increase the charge level the GPS app would need to be shut down. This generally isn’t a problem, but should you elect to use the tablet for another purpose non-tethered to the charger, you will need to bring the charge back up before using it in GPS mode.

This is not the perfect solution for everyone, but it fits well into my life, and provides navigation options with different apps and methods of use. Even something as simple as using Google Maps Streetview to identify a destination is an advantage, and one that is not currently possible with a normal dedicated GPS.

Should a low cost 4G small format tablet become available, you might want to consider this scenario as a reasonable option.

Topics: After Hours, Mobility, Tablets

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  • That's pretty cool, David, but...........

    isn't that large display a distraction when driving? IMHO, it's a good example of TMI. For basic navigation (once you've programmed in a destination), all that's REALLY required is turn information: how far to the next turn and which direction you'll be turning. And it's good to know that you're on the desired track. Anything more than that on a display is basically clutter.
    Yes, I know that sometimes you need more detailed info to get where you're going, but I hope that if you need to really study the map or fiddle with the screen, you'll pull off the road to do it, and not be a hazard for other vehicles and pedestrians in your vicinity. :)
    • It depends how far away you are from the screen

      At 6'4", with the seat all the way back , it's nice to be able to glance at the screen and see where the turns are. It's actually less of a distraction for me than a smaller GPS that would require that I actually have to specifically focus on to view upcoming turns.

      And yes, If I have to fiddle with the screen I'll either pull over or ask the front seat passenger to do it.
      David Chernicoff
    • I would welcome the larger screen

      It's hard to see what's going on, with the tiny little Garmin screen. I would love a 7-inch GPS
      James Welbes
    • There's more to navigation than directions!

      I used my Nexus 7, and now use my LG G-Flex with its 6" screen for daily commuting. I know the routes and don't need GPS for directions, but there's more to it than that. I use Waze and Google Maps for their real-time traffic information. Having an hour long commute through New Jersey, I can save anywhere from minutes to an additional hour by not getting stuck on the Turnpike or Parkway in between exits, which is a common problem here. The large display gives me a much better view of the traffic than a smaller standard phone display. The smaller display is fine for directions, but when you're trying to rout around multiple traffic jams going into a holiday weekend the BIG picture is best!

      For the record, the G-Flex, as others have mentioned, doesn't charge when the GPS and Screen are both running. At best it holds steady, and sometimes even looses a bit. The G-Flex has a huge battery and can run for 6 or 7 hours easy with the display and GPS running, and all day if plugged in. I had tried this with my old Galaxy S2, but it mostly just got hot and died quickly - technology marches on...
  • I'm an uberX driver so gps is important

    I use a noka lumia 1320, offline gps is killer!

    no dataplan needed
  • Nexus seems fine

    Surprised samsung do not charge. I use a few different apps like sygic, copilot, OSMAnd, navfree etc on Google nexus 7. Simultaneously running a music app. Tested as long as on a 7 hour drive. No issues. Fully charged nexus when I pull it out
    • To clarify

      It does charge, but only enough to keep the charge level at its current state. It won't top off if the GPS is running.
      David Chernicoff
      • Charging

        I use my Samsung Galaxy Note as a GPS while driving. I use Waze for GPS and benefit from instant traffic updates. I had the same issue with the charging due to the large screen of the Note 3, it was only trickle charging while being used as a GPS.

        The solution was to find out what sort of charger you have. Most chargers are 5W chargers. You can get a Samsung 10W charger and that not only charges quicker and can actually charge with the screen and GPS being on all the time.
        Azizi Khan
  • Lumia 920 + Navigon

    Works like a charm. Offline maps and perfect navigation. Saved my bacon couple of times :)
  • my dedicated gps

    came with no monthly fees. it just works :-)
  • my dedicated gps

    came with no monthly fees. it just works :-)
    • Cons

      If you have phone with data plan then dedicated GPS has only cons:
      1. Dedicated GPS means one extra device to worry about.
      2. Does it update maps?
      3. Is dedicated GPS really cheaper than a good app for phone? The cheapest units that I have seen cost at least 3 times as much as decent GPS app.

      There is one pro though. If battery on your dedicated GPS dies you can still use your phone for calls.
      • dedicated GPS "pro"

        I use my S4 for most of my local gps needs with Waze or Google maps, but the dedicated GPS in my moho kicks those butts when there is no signal from anything, just keeps tracking. The large, 7" display is also extra readable for older eyes and almost 3' from the screen. Traffic updates (when there is a signal) and free updates. The built-in mapping on my BMW is awkward to use, and they dreamt I would fork over $199 for an update! ($199 is BMW's idea of nickel-and-diming their customers.)
        common sense
      • thoughts

        "2. Does it update maps?"

        Yes, actually it does - the device has flash memory. However in my experience with TomTom:

        - With TomTom, you have to pay for map updates. They can be expensive. Waze's map updates automatically, and you don't have to pay for updates.

        - Waze's maps are tremendously accurate. Roads are updated by the community within days, rather than whenever somebody working for the company gets around to it (which can be months or years, in my experience).

        "3. Is dedicated GPS really cheaper than a good app for phone? The cheapest units that I have seen cost at least 3 times as much as decent GPS app."

        It's more expensive than the app, but cheaper than the cell phone + contract.

        So, if you don't have a cell phone with a data plan, it's cheaper. But if you do already have a cell phone with a data plan, you might as well go with an app.
      • GPS Pro

        The main pro for a standalone GPS is that it leaves my phone free for other uses.
  • I'm planning on doing the same thing

    Except I'm going to grab something like a galaxy mega for sprint and use freedompop.
  • Might be a bit of a theft target, no?

    as you can see it clearly in the window.
    • Even with a small dedicated GPS

      I've never left it attached to the mount when I left the car.
      David Chernicoff
  • I prefer offline navigation possibility

    My favourite Samsung GPS navigation app is the one from sygic! Not only for it´s free map updates and easy usage, but also for the possibility of using it offline, which is really cool. if you´re intereste, have a look at: