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Using the Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 as a dedicated car GPS

With an opportunity to acquire an inexpensive, quality 4G tablet, it was time to try something different.
Written by David Chernicoff, Contributor

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.

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