Setting up a tablet for use within a vehicle can take a little bit of work, but it can be done with some really good results. I personally have been using a Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 10.1″ device in my Subaru WRX for over a year now using custom Brainiac printed plastics that hold the tablet in place which makes it appear like an actual built-in unit.
We’re currently test printing a set of these plastics (without the old buttons) for both the 05-07 WRX and 02-05 350Z that will hold a Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 10.1″ device. The FRS/BRZ is still a bit of an unknown. The idea is to upload our 3D models to a website where you can have them printed and shipped to you from a printing partner. We’re not the creators of plastics or electronics… instead simply making our knowledge, designs and experience available to you so that you can pull something awesome together yourself. More details on that to follow later 🙂
Some of the tricky bits for making a tablet work in your car are subjects such as power management, touch navigation (touch points are too small), volume control, screen brightness and other annoying bits I found when using a tablet for in-car entertainment while driving the vehicle. There are lots of great things you can do with Android and inside your car, but there are some common things that you do all the time while driving, and finding a good solution for those common tasks can be a challenge. In this post I’m primarily going to focus on power management and screen brightness configuration.
Galaxy Tab 4 10.1″ tablet with initial prototype plastics and Brainiac software
First thing that I did with my tablet was to lock its rotation. That way there was no way that my screen was going to go sideways on me. To do this first rotate your tablet to the desired direction, then swipe down from the top and make sure that “Screen rotation” is not highlighted. This will lock the screen in place.
Next up was power management. Personally I turn off Wi-Fi, Location based services and Bluetooth unless I absolutely need them. The reason why I do this is because I’ve configured my tablet to go into sleep mode when the accessory charging input is not active. That means when the car turns off it will also shut off the tablet after a short delay. This means that there is no power draw on the car’s battery when turned off, and the tablet can sleep for a very long period of time on its built-in battery when there are no radio modems active.
To configure this kind of behaviour you’re going to head into the Settings menu and go to General. Near the bottom of the general settings you will see Developer options. You’re going to want to turn on developer options and select the Stay awake checkbox. This will ensure that the tablet will never go into sleep mode while there is power active on the USB charging port.
NOTE: If Developer Options isn’t visible by default go to Settings > General > About device and in there you will tap on the Build number 7 times.. this will make the developer options appear.
So now you have constant power taken care of and you don’t have to worry about your tablet turning itself off after a period of inactivity. if you’re looking to run any kind of accessories through Bluetooth, Wi-Fi or other means you don’t want the damn tablet constantly turning off and disconnecting. Also this becomes very important for the next step… If we didn’t turn on this developer setting we wouldn’t be able to do a timed “dimming” of the screen after X seconds of inactivity.
You might say, why the heck does it matter, I can have a nice bright screen on all the time in my car. The crappy part is that when you’re driving around at night you will have a crazy bright beacon of a dashboard in your face. This quickly becomes very annoying. The combination of setting these developer settings so that the device won’t turn off in addition to screen inactivity timeout configuration makes a nice combination.
This means when you touch the dimmed screen it will come bright and then go back to dim after a period of X seconds without turning off the device.
Once you have these configured you have a pretty darn usable system. The entire tablet will go to sleep once the accessory power is turned off in the car and it will instantly come back to life where you left off when you turn the car back on because of the tablet’s battery backup.
Now, if you leave the car to sit for a prolonged period of time the battery can drain to zero. When that happens unfortunately you’ll have to get access to the physical power button to turn the device back on so that it can start charging again from the power from the car.
I’ll be writing some follow-up articles on how you can deal navigation of the tablet when the home, app-switcher and back buttons are covered by a bezel like the one from Brainiac as well as how you can wire the tablet into your car for both power and audio 🙂