Tunes on the road: the options | webOS Nation

Tunes on the road: the options

by Joseph Dowdy Tue, 28 Sep 2010 11:45 am EDT


There are myriad options when it comes to getting music onto your phone. There’s the straight-forward built-in music player app and there are internet radio streaming apps like Pandora. And let’s not forget podcasts in apps like drPodder. With all these options, there’s one place practically everybody listens: in the car. Sadly, webOS doesn’t have the fancy-pants remote control options available to our iOS-using friends, but that doesn’t mean you still can’t get your tunes into the car.

The first, easiest, and most seamless (not to mention cordless) option is with the beauty that is Bluetooth A2DP, known in more verbose circles as Advanced Audio Distribution Profile. A2DP gives us some of that remote control goodness, allowing you to control music playback via Bluetooth, though you’re limited to play/pause forward/back and volume. If your car has a Bluetooth-enabled stereo, you’re in luck, as hooking up via bluetooth is easy as pie. Once your phone is connected, you shouldn't have to do anything else except press play in your music app of choice and it will simply just work.

However, it's not always so simple or easy if you don't have a Bluetooth-enabled radio. There are multiple options for after-market Bluetooth radios if you want to upgrade your sound system and kill two birds with one stone. If you’re not feeling up to automotive surgery, one surefire way of connecting your phone to your car stereo is to run a wired connection to the “aux in” 3.5mm port on your radio (assuming that your car has one). Of course, there’s no control over this port, but it’s going to be the cleanest option for getting tunes on the road.

But what if your car is like so many others on the roads and doesn’t have Bluetooth or an inline connection? If you haven't bought a Bluetooth speakerphone yet, it might be a good idea to consider buying one that has A2DP capabilities (not all come with such support, though most modern ones do). Also, not all Bluetooth speakerphones can handle two simultaneous phones, so if you plan to drive a lot with someone else in the car and you both want to be able to use the speakerphone, then getting one to handle both phones is perfect. Of course, that means your passenger’s calls will interrupt your music (shame on your passenger). Adding a Bluetooth speakerphone is also a strong option in several US states where in-car calling laws have gone into affect.

Keep in mind that if you are going to connect up your phone to your car stereo and essentially replace your car radio with streaming audio (because it's easy to get tired of listening to commercial after commercial or radio stations that just don't jibe with your taste in Coldplay and Vince Guaraldi... which sound perfect when played next to each other by the way), you are going to need to pay attention to your data plan. If it's unlimited as with Sprint (though that may change in the future), then you're fine; with other carriers you may need to watch more closely. That said, streaming music might not use as much bandwidth as you may think. Also worth keeping in mind is the fact that streaming audio (and constant Bluetooth) will drain your battery, so an in-car charging option should definitely be on your shopping list.

Personally, I went through every iteration of this issue a few months back. I couldn't upgrade my car stereo because there are no replacements because my dash is so unique (i.e. my car builder designed it such that only factory replacements were available). There was no 3.5mm inline jack to use, so that option was out too. So, I bought myself a BlueAnt S4 Bluetooth speakerphone. This was not an entirely elegant solution after all because the S4 (though highly recommended) seems to have a difficult time dropping the Bluetooth handshake with my phone (which happens when I get out of the car and move out of Bluetooth range) and then automatically renegotiating it (when I get back in the car). It’s a problem I’ve learned to deal with and work around, because the benefits outweigh the small hassle.

Either way, when my phone and speakerphone are connected up and a call comes in, the S4 handles the call very nicely even if I am playing music. I have had people tell me on the other end that the sound is just as good as if I had the phone to my ear. And what's really amazing is that this setup pauses the music and then starts playing from that point after the call is over. Let's see you figure out a way to do that with regular radio when your favorite song comes on and you're drumming away on the steering wheel and singing along with the lyrics and then suddenly your phone rings.

Due to matters like radio interference, compression, and signal strength you won’t get the same superior audio quality with Bluetooth as you would with a direct wired connection. But on the other hand you do get all of the aforementioned controls and wireless magic. Either way, no matter which method you use to connect up your phone to play music in your car, it's probably going to beat what's on the radio any time of day.