31 August 2016

Anker Dashboard and Windshield Phone Mount: Secure Mobile Device Mount

It took me the better part of a year (and no small number of purchases) to test and land on the best phone mount to use in my car, and I eventually settled on a generic adjustable mount which fits securely in my CD tray. It’s a pretty good setup for my car (Subaru BRZ), which has a shallowly-sloped windshield far away from my driving position. It’s not a great solution for other cars, though, so I always struggle to come up with a good mount to use when in my wife’s car or a rental while on vacation.

So I was excited to be offered the opportunity to try out the Anker Dashboard and Windshield Car Mount. The mount arrived just before I embarked on a cross-country roadtrip, so I got to put it through an excellent real-world test.

Like all Anker products, the mount arrived in friendly easy-to-open packaging. Included within were the expandable phone holder, sturdy adjustable arm with suction cup base, brief welcome guide, and Anker product feedback card.

Assembling the mount is a breeze. The two pieces are attached by a ball-and-socket joint, so simply unscrew the large plastic nut from the socket on the back of the phone holder, slide it over the protruding ball on the end of the adjustable arm, and screw the nut back down. The joint allows the phone holder to swivel in any direction to accommodate any phone orientation you desire, but the proximity to the squared-off end of the arm prevents the holder from tilting more than ~30° or so in any one direction. As a result, only about 60° of the arm’s impressive 260° rotation range is actually useful if you intend to have your phone’s display roughly perpendicular to the ground. I didn’t encounter any mounting problems due to this limitation, but you may run into trouble if you attempt a more extreme mounting angle.

The square arm telescopes to extend an extra ~2.5”, and is securely held in place by a few turns of the locking knob. This adjustment allows you to place your phone within easy reach without being in the way. A hinge where the arm connects to the suction cup base lets you rotate the arm to place it just where you want it (providing it doesn’t exceed the tilt capacity of the ball joint, as mentioned earlier), and a knob on the side of that hinge will lock it down tight.

Below that tilt adjustment knob is the high-quality suction cup that firmly affixes the mount either to a windshield or smooth and flat dashboard. The inside of the cup is coated with a tacky not-quite-adhesive which doesn’t leave any residue on the glass or dash but does make it stay in place fairly well even before engaging the suction clamp. Over time, this sticky coating does naturally pick up some dirt and dust, and it will gradually lose its stickiness - wiping it clean with a damp cloth every now and then should get things back in order.

Anker’s marketing literature highlights how the locking mechanism for the suction cup features two positions for varying degrees of suction, but I have trouble imagining a scenario where a user would say, “nah, I’m good with this only being halfway locked down.” When it comes to sticking an expensive phone to my windshield, I believe that more suction is better. So while the need for two-stage clamp is a bit lost on me, the second stage does provide an impressive degree of vacuum-powered adhesion.

Of course, the location and style of the lever used for engaging the clamp can be a bit of a problem, depending on where you want to place the mount. The lever is tucked up inside the cavity into which the extension arm folds, meaning that you will not be able to access the lever at all when the arm is at a close angle. I found that I often needed to pivot the arm open about 30° or more before I could reliably engage the suction clamp - not that big of a deal until I tried to place the mount at the bottom-left corner of the windshield, where I then couldn’t access the knob to tighten the arm. The controls seem to get in their own way in certain positions, which can be quite frustrating - or, depending on your placement, you may not encountered that problem at all. It’s just something to be aware of and plan around.

The business end of the contraption is, of course, the phone cradle, and this is a component which really shines. The padded spring-loaded wings easily compress to snugly hold the sides of any size phone, while a rubberized pin supports the bottom edge. Unlike some of the other phone mounts I’ve tried out, the pin is actually able to slide side-to-side to better accommodate the varying port placement found on different phones without getting in the way of the all-important charging cable. When it’s time to park the car and move on, simply pressing the button on the back of the cradle will expand the wings and allow easy one-handed extraction of the phone. This part works beautifully.

Once everything was positioned how I wanted it, I was quite impressed with the rigidity of the thing. Even with two straight days of driving across hundreds of miles of interstate in varying states of disrepair, my Google Maps display remained in place and steady without bouncing all over the place. The extension and pivot range of the arm made it easy to keep the phone’s display in sight while not being in the way, and the ball-and-socket joint also allowed me to use my phone in either landscape or portrait orientation without too much fuss.

I primarily used the mount while affixed to the windshield, and that stuck quite well. In fact, removing it from the glass often required two hands to pry it loose. The mount had no problem staying in place during the extended cross-country drive. That said, my co-driver didn’t like having a phone in front of him while driving, so I had to reposition the mount after each driving shift. The adhesive underside of the suction cup must have picked up some dirt and grit along the way, so the mount sometimes came loose while the car was parked overnight or for several hours in the sun. I’ve since wiped clean the suction cup and haven’t had any further problems with leaving the mount in place for days.

I also tested mounting it to the dash. It worked there for a bit (maybe a few hours), but the mottled texture really prevented the suction cup from making a good permanent seal. It would likely work better with a dashboard which was perfectly smooth.

All told, this is easily one of the best and most flexible car mounts I’ve ever used. It’s sturdy, adjustable, and the phone holder itself is brilliant and incredibly easy to use. It does have a few oddities that can cause issues in certain scenarios, but once they are identified they are easy to work around or avoid entirely. The Anker Dashboard and Windshield Car Mount has found a permanent spot in my traveling gear bag.