Of the hundreds of apps that I have on my phone, and the dozens of new ones I try every week, there are just a few that I actually use when I’m driving. No, I don’t have a death wish. These are apps that actually get me where I’m going more quickly, more economically, and more happily than if I didn’t use them.
My car has a radio, but I almost never use it. You don’t have to either. If you commute in an area with good cellular coverage, you can get better music and entertainment from your smartphone. I use Spotify for music. It plays my playlists when I want to know what I’m going to get, or I can put it in “Radio” mode to have it play songs it thinks I’ll like based on the ones I already do.
With the paid version of Spotify, $10 a month, you can also download songs to play them when you don’t have a signal. Get Spotify.
And for my talk show fix, I play podcasts. With Stitcher, I subscribe to podcasts I like so I always have something thought-provoking to listen to on a tedious commute. There’s also a car mode in the app with big onscreen buttons, which is safer if you want to control it when you’re on the move (not that I would recommend that).
Stitcher is free. Go to Stitcher.com.
I also listen to books in the car, with an Audible subscription. Although it’s expensive, with plans starting at $14.95 a month, it’s the easiest way to stay current with the books that everyone is reading. Or just to catch up on classics when you’re on the road.
Automatic is an app that works with a piece of hardware that plugs into your car’s diagnostic port under the dash. It knows when you’re driving uneconomically and alerts you with a beep when you do. I’ll be honest: I turned off that feature immediately. What I do like about Automatic is that it automatically marks down where your car is parked, which is pretty handy.
It also tracks the routes you take, your fuel use, and any fault that causes the Check Engine light to come on — and it can even send an emergency alert out if you’re in an accident (although it’s not as reliable as built-in OnStar for that function).
I mostly like Automatic because it knows where I parked. Every once in a while, that feature is worth its weight in gold.
There are a lot of navigation and driving apps for smartphones. My favorite, by far, is Waze. It’s not the prettiest, but it gives you very good directions that always take traffic conditions into account. You’ll also get warnings for jams and accidents up ahead, police cars parked on the side of the road, and even obstructions like objects you might run over.
Where does all this data come from? From Waze’s users. When you see a traffic incident, you can easily report it, so other Waze users get an alert, too.
And here’s a great thing about Waze for commuters, if you already know the route to where you are going: You can turn off the spoken routing instructions, and it will still speak incident and obstruction alerts to you.
Waze is free and available for most smartphones.
Read more: Deb Amlen’s 7 Things I Love About Waze
One final tip: Get a good car mount and use it to mount your phone high up on your dashboard, so it’s easy to see when you need it, and close enough so you don’t have to fumble for it. You should not fiddle with your phone when you’re driving. But if you’re going to be glancing at maps or media information, you want the phone in your line of sight.
A ProClip vent mount.
Or wait for Navdy, a completely hands-free gadget.