Say Topfield and most people will think TV set top boxes. So when the company announced it was branching out into in-car iPad cases, I was intrigued.
Australians love tablets with a passion, and they also love cars. Combining the two isn’t always the best idea, though, at least for the front seat where there’s an awful lot of potential for distraction. I’m willing to bet that somebody, somewhere, has been booked for checking Twitter on their iPad while driving; I’m hopeful that nobody’s been stupid enough to try Skyping while driving. Wait, what am I saying? Of course somebody has — and hopefully they got nabbed for it.
The back seat, and its passengers are a different story. Australia is a big place, and getting from one spot to another often involves lengthy car journeys. That’s where in-car tablet stands can really pay off, because there’s nothing quite as annoying as back seat whining about boredom while you’re trying not to crash into some of the maniacs that trawl our highways on a regular basis.
On the plus side
My previous experience with in-car iPad mounts was with the pretty looking Wallee Headrest, so upon opening the TF-12-1’s box, I was rather taken aback with quite how… plastic it all is. Still, it’s robust plastic, and it’s quite obvious how to set up. Doing so involves fixing the mounting bracket part to the headrest of your car, and then popping an iPad — anything but first generation — into the case. The rear of the case houses a multi-toothed stand that clips into the headrest very securely indeed. I’ve driven a couple of thousand kilometres now with this case in the back of my bumpy little Yaris, and it’s delivered (almost) flawlessly.
On the minus side
There are some issues to contend with, and they’re almost entirely to do with the way the case part of the TF-12-1 is laid out. It’s bulky, and frankly pretty ugly, which means you’re more likely to want a more functional case when you get out of the car, rather than leaving it in. It’s also possible to slightly mis-mount an iPad into the case. I did this once, and a few kilometres down the road, the case and mounting bracket bumped along just fine… but the iPad flopped out into my daughter’s lap. No damage was done, and the lesson was learned — but a better case design might fix that.
There’s also the slight issue that the design is pitched at a single backseat user, because it sits behind one seat. That means that if you’ve got a full back seat, the passenger to the far left or right won’t have a particularly good view of whatever you’re watching.
Topfield sells the TF-12-1 for $129, or in a “premium” variant, the TF-12-3-A for $189, which scores you a pair of infra-red headphones and a car charging plug.
Pitching the Wallee against the Topfield, I prefer the Topfield for its robustness, but the Wallee for its elegance and multi-viewer capabilities. The Topfield shakes less in a bumpy vehicle, because once it’s in place, it really won’t move much at all.
The key market for in-car tablet entertainment would have to be parents with kids who travel a lot. If you do travel a fair amount with backseat passengers, the TF-12-1 is an attractive proposition, as long as you ensure it’s properly clicked into the case, and preferably if you’ve only got one or two backseat complainers… erm.. I mean children.