Taking our campervan online

We bring our VW T5 camper up-to-date with mobile broadband, an Android-based stereo system and a trip around Scotland to test it out!

Atoto Stereo

Our VW T5 came to us with a Pioneer double-DIN stereo that has served us well over the past 5 years that we’ve owned the van. It had a touch-screen display, reverse camera video and DVD playback but, being techies at heart, we wanted more.

We’ve previously carried a battery-powered Mi-Fi device on holidays before. We’ve enjoyed reasonably good internet connection when tethering our phones to it, enabling us to comfortably access online data in most of the places we’ve visited. We opted for a 90-day, unlimited data SIM from the Three network and over the past couple of years, we’ve made full use of that data.

This year, we decided to up the ante and push for a stereo with built-in satnav and opted for a next-generation computer-based model. Initially, we were swayed by a rediculously cheap stereo. The feedback from previous customers was mixed, but some people had positive experiences, so we gave it a shot. Turns out, we got a dud. The buttons on-screen didn’t line up with the area of the screen that we were supposed to press and, although we could turn the volume up, it was impossible to turn the volume down again. This was back in the box within 30 minutes and headed back to the post office.

We decided to opt instead for a more expensive (but still relatively low-cost) ATOTO unit with an Android operating system. Wow – what a difference! It was working within just a few minutes of opening the box. The controls were familiar to us as Android devices are everywhere these days. It is basically an Android-based tablet set neatly into the dashboard.

After quickly joining our ‘Van Hub’ Wi-Fi, our stereo was online and we immediately fired up Google Maps. The stereo knew exactly where we were to the nearest metre thanks to the built-in GPS module. We could have typed it in, but instead we set a destination using a voice input via the hands-free phone microphone, and off we went – Google directed us effortlessly, and accurately to our destination and we were over the moon with our £179 purchase!

Next, we downloaded the Deezer app from the Play Store, signed into our music account and immediately streamed our favourite music. We tested Youtube, had a play with the File Manager, imported some MP3 files from a USB stick and surfed the web with Google Chrome. This truly was an awesome upgrade.

We had a trip planned which would take us from the East Midlands up to Scotland, around the Isle of Skye and a road trip around Scotland’s mainland lochs reaching as far North as Inverness. Knowing that some of these regions were going to be remote, we wanted to stand the best chance of getting a data connection at all times. For this, we turned to a pair of external magnet-mounted antennas. Mounted just to the rear of our T5’s pop-top, and their cables routed neatly through the one of the van’s rear door grommets, the antennas look discrete but purposeful.

4G Antenna

So, off we set. We downloaded the BBC Sounds app and began to stream our favourite shows. Normally, we’d expect regular drop-outs but by the time we reached Carlisle, we’d had a flawless trip with a constant data stream all the way. We’d had a look at the Three web site and we knew that there were areas in which we were going to find no signal at all once we reached Scotland. We did indeed have some drop-outs, but these were nowhere near as many as we had expected. Overall, we were extremely impressed. Those antennas had made a significant improvement on the reliability of our internet connection – much more reliable than it had been prior to adding the antennas.

In conclusion, this upgrade to our T5 campervan has made a massive difference.

So, what elements made up our kit?

The ATOTO Android-based car stereo

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The USB-powered Mobile Broadband Mi-Fi router

(We actually had one of these previously, but this is the current version of the one we have.)

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The data SIM from Three

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The external antennas

(Note: We found we needed to squeeze the connector together slightly with pliers to make a good connection to the MiFi device connectors)

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In summary, the cost of this upgrade including 3 months of unlimited summer holiday data was less than £350. In addition, this kit gives the whole family unlimited secure wifi data on their mobiles for the duration of your summer break. We think that’s an absolute steal.

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