There’s a lot of gear out there for your Apple devices, but how do you know which are worth your time and what’s not worth your money? In our Gear We Love column, Macworld’s editors tell you about the products we’re personally using—and loving.
Though texting and driving is dangerous—and in many places illegal—you do want your phone to be accessible and visible for tasks such as in-car navigation. Which means that you need a good car mount. A few months back, I wrote about Kenu’s Airframe, a compact iPhone car mount that’s perfect for tossing in your pocket or bag (say, for use in a rental car). But I mentioned in that article that when I’m in my own car—in other words, when portability isn’t a concern—I have a sturdier mount that I prefer. That mount, from Mountek, is this week’s Gear We Love.
I’ve actually been using an older Mountek car mount for over a year, but I recently got to test both an updated version of that mount and a brand-new model. Both offer significant improvements, and, like the original, both are based on the same great idea: If you’re using your smartphone or a similar device in the car, there’s a good chance that you no longer use your car stereo’s CD player, so why not put that CD player to good alternative use?
Instead of using a suction cup, an adhesive pad, or a vent clip as its mounting mechanism, Mountek’s $30 nGroove Snap 2 Multi-Use Car Mount and $20 nGroove Grip Universal CD Slot Mount each repurposes the long-neglected CD slot on your car stereo for use as a mount point. You just slide the nGroove’s “blade” into the CD slot, turn a small knob to expand the blade, and you’re set. Mountek’s mounts are much sturdier than vent-attached mounts, in my experience, but they won’t damage your slot-loading CD player—just turn the knob the other direction to collapse the blade, and the mount slips right out.
If you still regularly listen to CDs, you can instead slide the blade into a horizontal dashboard groove. Even if you do still occasionally use your car’s CD player, you can use the Mountek mount in the CD-player slot—you just need to remember to remove the mount from the slot before ejecting the CD.
The main difference between the two mounts is in how each holds your phone. The nGroove Grip offers a padded, adjustable-width cradle that supports your phone on three sides and can be rotated to any orientation—vertical, horizontal, or anywhere in between. The two longer sides of the cradle are spring-loaded: You squeeze them together until the cradle is the right width for your phone. If you ever want to widen the cradle, just press a button along the top edge and the sides pop apart. The cradle expands to fit devices as wide as 3.7 inches, so it should fit the rumored larger iPhone(s) just fine.
The side of the cradle that supports the bottom of your phone sports a useful cutout for removing the phone without disconnecting any power or audio cables. (This bottom ledge is also removable if you don’t like it.) The cradle can also tilt in any direction, but not a huge amount—my only real complaint about the cradle is that I wish I could tilt it a bit more, so I could get a slightly better viewing angle in my car.
Compared to its predecessor—the model I purchased a couple years ago—the new nGroove Grip features an improved cradle and a smaller knob, the latter reducing the chance that the knob will obstruct other dashboard controls. (More on that below.)
nGroove Snap 2
Instead of the Grip’s bulky cradle, the Snap 2 uses a small, square, magnetic pad on the same sort of tilt/swivel ball joint. You attach a thin, metal plate to the back of your phone or phone case, and that plate secures your phone to the mount. Mountek includes two plates, one slightly thicker than the other. The company says that the thinner (.25mm) plate is for use with smartphones, while the thicker (.55mm) plate is for use with small tablets, but I found that the thicker plate also works well if you place it inside the back of a thin iPhone case, letting you use the Snap 2 without having to adhere anything to your phone. (For the record, I didn’t test the Snap 2 with a tablet.)
Of course, if you’re using your iPhone without a case these days, as I am, you’ll need to stick a plate on the back of your phone. I initially thought this would be a deal breaker for me, as I’ve always been loath to use adhesive to attach things to my gear. But after doing just that and subsequently testing the Snap 2 for over a month, I’m a convert. The metal plate is thin and light enough that I barely even notice it’s there; and other than the unnecessary logo, it doesn’t look terrible, either. More important, I love being able to casually hold my phone near the mount and have it stick instantly and securely. Removing the phone from the mount is just as easy—just a gentle tug is all it takes to overcome the magnetic attachment.
Interestingly, the Snap 2 also features a standard threaded mount point, so you can use it to hold your phone on a tripod for taking photos and video; and if you expand the mount’s blade completely, the Snap 2 can even serve as a desktop stand.
One minor downside to the Snap 2’s magnetic design is that because a gentle tug is necessary to remove the phone from the mount each time, the Snap 2’s blade does eventually work loose from the CD slot—every few days I had to give the mount a gentle push to seat the blade firmly into the slot. I suppose I could have tightened the blade more, but I didn’t want to apply too much force to the CD player’s slot. Still, this is a minor issue—in my experience, I had to reseat the Snap 2 much less frequently than the constant fiddling required with many vent-attached mounts.
Overall, the biggest limitation of both Mountek mounts is that if other controls or displays are directly below or above the CD slot (or whatever horizontal dash opening you use as the mount point), the nGroove or your phone may block access to those items. For example, our car stereo’s large volume knob is just below the CD-player slot, so the Mountek mount makes it more difficult to turn that knob. (For me, this inconvenience is easily overcome by the volume buttons on the steering wheel.)
But if your car’s dash accommodates the nGroove mounts, I highly recommend them. They’re cleverly designed, sturdy, and convenient. I personally prefer the Snap 2 for its more-compact and -elegant design, but you can’t go wrong with either model.