It has been a long and winding road for the relationships held between our cars and smartphones. Once entirely unconnected – and with cars getting voice control and navigation first, don’t forget – they are now so tightly integrated through systems like Apple CarPlay and Google’s Android Auto and Android Automotive, that your phone can remain safely out of reach and sight.
Although they launched relatively slowly, these systems are now so commonplace that it’s a surprise to find a new car that doesn’t park its own infotainment system at the curb the moment you plug your phone in. Some even have wireless CarPlay and Android Auto, where your phone automatically connects the moment you get in.
These systems usually work in conjunction with a wireless charging pad, so you can simply lay your phone down or tuck it into a charging slot, and away you go – no need to ever look at your phone, let alone touch it while behind the wheel.
If you only connect your phone to the car using Bluetooth – an act that feels positively archaic in 2021 – you don’t need a holder. Instead, your phone can be left in a bag or pocket, or stored in the glove box or wherever it can be plugged in. In most cases, you can then control volume and music playback using your car’s own media controls.
But, somewhere between Bluetooth audio and wireless CarPlay, there are occasions when a phone holder makes the most sense. If your car doesn’t have its own navigation system (or CarPlay / Android Auto) then a smartphone app like Google Maps, Apple Maps or Waze is the answer. Clasped securely by one of the best car phone holders, your smartphone turns into a navigation system. You can even have Spotify playback controls appear within Google Maps, making it easy to safely pause and skip tracks.
Phone holders come in many shapes and sizes, but all aim to do the same simple thing: Securely hold your smartphone so that it can be seen, but without being distracting to the driver. Ideally, they also let you plug your phone into a spare USB port or 12V socket and charge it at the same time.
Some phone holders attach to the air vents of your car and others use a suction cup to stick themselves to the windscreen or the top of the dashboard. They then hold your phone in place either by gripping it, or by using a magnet that can either be stuck to the back of your phone or put inside the rear of its case. Some holders also now use Apple’s new MagSafe magnetic charging system, as seen on the iPhone 12.
What does the law say when it comes to smartphones in cars?
UK law states that it is illegal to hold a phone or sat nav while driving or riding a motorcycle, and that you can only interact with these devices via hands-free options like a Bluetooth headset, voice assistant, a phone holder or a windscreen mount.
It is also important that the phone holder does not block your view of the road ahead, and the police can stop you if they think you’re not in control due to being distracted by the phone. The laws also apply when stopped at traffic lights, queueing in traffic and supervising a learner driver. Drivers are only allowed to hold their smartphone when safely parked, or when they need to call emergency services and it is unsafe or impractical to stop.
In Australia, the laws are similar. For example, NSW road rules state an unrestricted licence holder is permitted to use their phone to make a call or play music only if it is secured in a cradle fixed to the vehicle or can be operated without touching any part of the phone (e.g. voice activated controls). It can also be used as a sat nav, but only if secured in a cradle fixed to the vehicle - providing you don't touch it while driving.
In conclusion, and to answer the original question of whether or not you need a phone holder, it depends on your car. If the vehicle has Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, your best option is to connect your phone using that system, then shut it away in the glovebox or wherever the car’s USB port or wireless charger is.
If your car doesn’t have those systems and you don’t want to use it’s own navigation, then a phone holder is a good idea. It will keep your phone held securely, in a location that isn’t distracting, and you can then use it for navigation. With voice assistants like Siri, Alexa and Google Assistant, you can interact with the phone – playing music, making calls and asking for directions – by speaking and, crucially, without touching it.
So, check out the best car phone mounts now to save your licence!