Voyager car smartphone looks to make driving and dialing safe

BARCELONA—Using your smartphone while driving can be dangerous—don’t do it. But using Accel’s new Voyager smartphone while driving? Supposedly not dangerous, according to the company.

The Israeli telco is showing off its new “connected car smartphone” at Mobile World Congress. At first glance, this phone looks like a large, somewhat clunky smartphone with a touchscreen and physical keys. But pick it up and—oh wait, you can’t. That’s because the Voyager isn’t really a smartphone, it’s an in-vehicle installation that happens to run Android and make phone calls.

Photo by Sarah Jacobsson Purewal
The Voyager on display at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

The Voyager is a car-mounted device that connects directly to the car’s battery. The phone has a 3.5-inch touchscreen, a 12-key number pad, and dedicated buttons for accessing GPS and voice controls. It runs Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, though the operating system has been skinned beyond recognition: the home screen features larger-than-normal icons, text, and buttons catered to easily using the phone while driving.

Still, the Voyager does run Android, and Accel’s spokespeople assured me that it’s capable of running any Android app (even those that offer streaming video). So it’s more of a smartphone than today’s OEM in-vehicle touchscreens, which are typically limited by app selection and other features in the name of safety.

Like other smartphones, the Voyager also makes phone calls. However, you can’t put the phone up to your ear, because, well, it’s mounted to the car. The phone does have a one-touch voice dialing button, so you can call people without having to pick up the phone. (You can also dial numbers using the physical number pad).

The phone can use your existing phone number via a twin SIM card—basically, your operator can give you a SIM card that exactly mirrors the SIM card in your actual smartphone. Then, when someone calls your phone number, both phones will ring and you can choose which phone to pick up.

Of course, the Voyager can also accept a regular SIM, but then you’ll have a car-specific phone number (and you’ll also have to pay for another data plan).

The Voyager will be sold as a kit, complete with phone, mounting tools, and an OBD (on-board-diagnostics) dongle. The OBD dongle can be plugged into your car’s OBD port, so you can monitor your car’s health via the Voyager smartphone. According to Accel spokespeople, the unit will require a professional installation—albeit a quick one.

A “connected car smartphone” is an interesting concept, but I wonder if there’s really a place for it. Assuming you’ve got a smartphone, and possibly a touchscreen in the head unit of your car, do you need an extra mounted touchscreen in smartphone form? Possibly not.

But it might help you out legally. Many places only allow interaction with touchscreens and/or mobile devices if they are mounted in the car (such as mounted GPS units). So maybe the Voyager will let you play Angry Birds and watch YouTube videos while you’re driving, though I’m not sure that’s a good thing.

The Voyager is expected to hit European and U.S. markets later this year, and will cost between $500 and $600.

For comprehensive coverage of the Android ecosystem, visit Greenbot.com.

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