When it comes to issues of road safety, distracted driving is one of the most pressing issues. According to the NHTSA, around 15% of injurious crashes are linked to the cause of distracted driving, putting it third behind speeding and DUI in terms of danger.
Cell phones, while handy, have been the greatest form of distraction over the last 20 years. Sending text messages and thumbing through apps will take your eyes off the road and at least one hand off of the wheel. Impairing drivers in this way for even a few seconds can lead into dangerous scenarios. Many countries and states have also passed laws banning the use of phones behind the wheel without hands-free assistance.
Plenty of people, however, are still relying on their phones to do things like play music and give directions. The most elegant solution for safe use in these cases is to get a dedicated phone holder mounted at eye level, in your peripheral vision, and to only punch in controls when you are at a complete stop.
What to Consider
The first think to look out for is how the phone holder grasps the phone, then how it mounts to the vehicle. Many models use spring-loaded clips. Others use a strong magnetic clasp, which requires adhering a metal plate to your phone or outer case.
There are a few popular methods of mounting the holder to your car, first being a suction cup that attaches to a windshield or dashboard. Those will need a clean, smooth surface to seal onto, but may come loose and need resetting after several hours of use. Adhesive brackets similarly require a smooth surface, are more permanent than a suction cup, and may leave sticky residue if removed. There are also products that clip onto air conditioner vents, which give a sturdy mount, but may get in the way of airflow or radio controls depending on the vehicle. Lastly, there are cup-shaped holders that can be fittingly placed into a cupholder. That’s a very easy setup, but may not have the most optimal placement in many interiors. Some models will also offer additional features like an adjustable position arm or a built-in charging pad.
How We Selected
Popular Mechanics has chosen these products based on a combination of hands-on experience, user reviews, and research gathered from publications such as PCMag, TechRadar and AutoGuide.
BUDGET OPTION: WixGear Universal Magnetic Mount
This circular mount is as simple, cheap, and unobtrusive as possible. There are no moving parts to fumble around with. Simply clip the holder to an AC vent, stick the magnetic plate to your phone, and it will hold to the flat base. As the holder is always flush to its mounting surface, screen angle is fixed.
No clamps on the body means you don’t have to worry about device size or orientation. The one drawback with this method is that big Otter Box-style cases may render your phone too heavy for the magnet to hold tightly in place. For those who don’t want the vent clip, an adhesive mount version is also available.
Low profile design
Not strong enough for heavy cases
QUICK RELEASE: Beam Electronics Phone Holder
This Beam Electronics mount also uses a vent clip, but employs two mechanical grips instead of magnets, with a plastic groove on the bottom making for three points of contact. Screen angle is fixed and tilted slightly upward, with a swivel head allowing for portrait and landscape rotation.The phone grips use a fairly unique ratcheting system with a quick release button on the bottom of the device. Push the button and they automatically pop out to maximum width, then simply push them back with your phone placed inside. The clamp can be set anywhere from 1.9 to 3.7 inches wide, which is enough of a range to accommodate most smart phones and cases.
Easy to use ratecheting system
Three points of contact
ADJUSTABLE: Miracase Universal Magnetic Holder
The Miracase uses a sturdy metal hook to attach to a car’s vent at the rear. Up front is a flat magnetic pad, and in the center is a locking ball-joint mechanism allowing for 360-degree rotation and a nice range of angle adjustment.The hook grasps the vent more firmly than most mounts, and includes a quick release button for easy removal. The magnetic clasp is also demonstrated to be strong enough to hold the weight of a full-sized iPad, so phones and cases should be easily secured.
Adjustable ball joint
Not so low-profile
BEST OVERALL VALUE: Arkon Phone Holder
This Arkon unit combines two spring-loaded fork-like grips with a large suction cup mount. A button valve at the rear pushes air out of the cup and ensure a good seal. The grips attach along the top and bottom of the phone, being able to fit devices up to eight inches length-wise. A particularly large phone such as the iPhone 12 Pro Max in a particularly thick case may be slightly too big to fit.
This item also comes with a swivel arm featuring two points of adjustment, allowing for fine tuning of your phone’s position and angle. The entire assembly can also be inverted for low-profile use on top of the dashboard.
Highly adjustable arm
Can be mounted upside-down
Largest phones are a tight squeeze
AMERICAN MADE: WeatherTech CupFone
The CupFone comes with a quirky, unique design, but the actual convenience of it will depend on where your car’s cup holders are located. Setup is a breeze. Just select one of the few sizes of included cup bases, slip it into the cup holder, and slot your phone into the adjustable groove on top. The mount can hold phones and cases up to 3.375 inches wide.
The device sits just above the cupholder, with an optional extension available for extra. While screen angle is adjustable, the orientation is fixed to vertical portrait view.
All WeatherTech products are also produced locally in the USA, which does result in this mount being fairly pricey for what you actually get.
Made in USA
Fixed portrait mode
STURDY SPRING CLIP: Ram Mounts X-Grip
The X-Grip design gives four separate rubber-tipped prongs holding the device as securely as possible. These arms rotate along the central head, and the spring tension within allows them to grip each corner tightly. Reviewers have mentioned, however, that arms can bump into the volume and sleeps buttons on some phone models.
A suction cup with a twist-lock valve fixes the assembly to a windshield or dashboard, and two ball joints allow for full rotation, and angle, and position adjustment. It has room for phones from 1.8 to 3.25 inches wide, while the pricier X-Grip Large will fit up to 4.5 inches
Two ball joints
Possible button interferance
CHARGING PAD: Kinu Airframe
The Kinu holder is a very simple design with one important trick up its sleeve. The mount includes wireless Qi charging functionality compatible with many contemporary phone models, such as the iPhone 8 through 12, Samsung Galaxy S6 onward, and Google Pixel 3 onward. Power is derived from a 12-volt car plugin that includes a spare USB port for other devices. Also be aware that thick phone cases can interfere with the connection to wireless chargers.
Apart from charging, there aren’t a lot of fancy features in this package. There are two basic stainless steel spring clips, allowing 2.24 to 4.33 inches of width. Big enough for an iPhone 12 Pro Max with a case. It mounts to the vehicle via vent clip, and the head provides landscape rotation with a fixed screen angle.
Fits large phones
WORKS OUTDOORS: Ram Mount Tough-Charge
This Ram phone holder is made with the outdoorsy driver in mind. The durable aluminum construction is weatherproof, resistant to hours of direct sunlight or rainfall.
Perfect those who like to mount navigation on their motorcycle, ATV, or open-top Jeep. It can also provide wireless power to newer phones which have Qi charging enabled, and comes with a basic USB cable to plug in. A ball joint on the back allows the device to rotate to portrait and landscape views, while four spring-loaded posts grip the phone firmly at all corners.
The durability however comes at a price much higher than most phone holders, so is really only for consumers who plan on using it out in the elements. The included diamond-plate mount also requires drilling screws into your vehicle to properly install, but compatible swing arms, suction cup mounts, and motorcycle handlebar clips are available separately.
Sturdy metal construction
Basic installation requires drilling