Five great gadgets for your car
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
In-car audio occupies two distinct worlds. One is about raw power, earth-shaking bass and accidentally setting off the alarms of cars parked nearby. That’s quite easily achieved: chuck a subwoofer in the boot and crank the volume. The other is about pursuing the kind of optimum audio quality you might have at home, and that’s a little more tricky.
French audio brand Focal is well known for its high-end studio and home speakers (its floorstanding Sopra model will set you back around £16,000 a pair). In 2019 it launched a new speaker cone made out of recycled, non-woven carbon fibre that they dubbed the Slatefiber, and incorporated it into a couple of its popular hi-fi and studio monitors. Now it’s introducing them into cars, with these PS 165 component speakers and their co-axial brothers, the PC 165s. The eminently reasonable price (given their pedigree) puts them in direct competition with the JL Audios and Hertzes of this world.
The woofers measure a standard 6.5in (165mm) for maximum compatibility with a range of vehicles, and they’re driven by a four-channel inline amp that is pretty much plug-and-play. If sheer volume is your thing, you won’t be disappointed: they provide 80W RMS/160W peak output, which in testing meant Michael Bublé singing way, way louder than you could ever want or need (NB: not my choice). If you’re more appreciative of delicate, breathy vocals or the sheen of a string section, then the separate tweeters of this composite set deliver those exceptionally well, too.
Of course, you’re ultimately at the mercy of your vehicle and its structure. Certain models (old BMWs are prime culprits, I’m told) will never do justice to quality speakers, while badly installed ones will push sound in strange directions, delivering perfect sonic clarity to your drinks holder while leaving passengers wondering what all the fuss is about. But a pair of Focals, installed by someone who knows what they’re doing, gives you the best chance of prime audio fidelity on the motorway, freeway or autoroute. Focal Slatefiber PS 165, £239, focal.com
Tell us a story
I’m still to experience the parental hell of keeping a child amused on long car journeys, because my son is nine months old and falls asleep as soon as the engine starts. But the Yoto Mini is designed to do just that – primarily as a storytelling device, but with “no microphone, no camera, no ads”.
It’s exceptionally cute, with a tiny, chunky-pixel display and tactile dials that double as buttons. Stories come on cards that pop into a slot at the top, while the buttons can trigger a daily Yoto podcast or a couple of kid-friendly radio stations. An accompanying app helps parents tailor the experience for their child, and can play any Yoto stories if (God forbid) the Mini has accidentally been left at home. Yoto Mini, £59.99, uk.yotoplay.com
A matter of record
Rather like travel insurance, dashcams are one of those things you end up wishing you’d bought when it’s too late. Given that their main job is to capture proof that an accident wasn’t your fault, they need to be unobtrusive and reliable, and the Miofive ticks both boxes. It adheres neatly to the windscreen behind your rear-view mirror with cabling tucked away in the trim, has a 140-degree field of view and produces crisp video along with a wealth of real-time trip data (time, speed, GPS).
The built-in AI is a little oversensitive, audibly warning of “sudden turns” when I did no such thing (honest) but that’s easily muted in the settings. I hereby resort to the cliché: “small price to pay for peace of mind”. Miofive 4K UHD Dash Cam, £150, miofive.com
Cool as you like
In case you were planning on squeezing this refrigerator into your Smart Fortwo, I should stress at the outset that it’s a bit of a hulk, although a 40-litre version is also available. It can be powered by your car (DC 12V/24V), a solar-power supply or standard 110-240V, so it doubles nicely as a mini-fridge (or mini-freezer) when you’re not on the road and can be easily wheeled to and fro.
The target temperature is adjustable from 20°C (slightly pointless) down to -20°C, and on its Max setting (ie, rapid cooling) it got down to fridge temperature from a standing start after 20 minutes of gentle whirring. There’s also an Eco mode for foodstuffs not in imminent danger of perishing. Outsunny 50l Car Refrigerator, £349.99, aosom.co.uk
Suck it up
A battery-powered garage workhorse (no faffing around with extension leads from the front room to the car out the front door), this compact and portable hoover doubles, trebles, quadruples as an all-purpose dirt sucker, a wet vacuum for messy spills (although it’s not capacious enough to be used as a water pump), a leaf blower and general-purpose inflator.
You charge the removable battery as you would an electric drill’s, and on full power it made short work of elderly garage cobwebs and unpleasant car-boot detritus. The filter is a cinch to clean, and there’s a familiar bundle of attachments that are all destined to be mislaid or trodden on, but hey, that’s 21st-century cleaning for you. Bosch AdvancedVac 18V-8, £119.99, bosch.co.uk