The latest generation of Audi Connect takes in-car technology to the next level with the integration of everything from social media to Google earth and much more. CarAdvice spent a few hours testing the system during our review of the Audi A3 Sportback in Monaco last week, where all connectivity features were enabled.
Launching with the third-generation Audi A3, the latest advancements in vehicle infotainment systems are finally beginning to meet the expectations of a generation used to smartphones and tablets. Audi has chosen to go with an nVidia tegra graphic chip running an Android core for its multimedia system, which sounds very techy but is simple to use and comes with a ton of features. The 7-inch pop-up screen in the Audi A3 is host to an 800×480 pixel resolution LCD screen. It’s not as sharp as the latest generation of smartphone or tablet screens we’ve come to love, but pixel distortion is unnoticeable from the driver or passenger’s seat.
Although not a touch screen, the system is managed via a centrally located control unit, which is now simpler to use than the previous generation. There is no longer a horde of buttons but simple switches to toggle between different functions. The most obvious addition is the larger central button that also acts as touch pad that you can use to draw letters or numbers for quick typing, instead of having to select one at a time using the on-screen keyboard. The Audi connect system can either take a SIM card or tether your smartphone’s internet connection to get online. Unfortunately for the time being Apple’s iPhone and some Android phones are not supported (despite Audi using an iPhone to demonstrate the tethering technology in their images), but some popular models such as the Samsung Galaxy S3 and nearly all blackberries can share their Internet connection with Audi Connect.
On the opposite side of things, if you insert a SIM card the system itself can actually share its Internet connection with passengers wirelessly (like a mobile hotpost), so you can indeed buy a data SIM for your Audi and have your tablets and other wifi enabled devices use its Internet on the go. A great feature if you travel a lot and have kids. Audi connect can now link up to twitter and facebook, not only allowing you to read facebook timeline or latest tweets, but also to see who’s nearby based on facebook check in GPS locations. Another rather cool feature is picturebook navigation, which uses the GPS log on a photo (taken by any GPS enabled device, like an iPhone) to find your destination.
For example, say you took a great photo of your loved ones at your favourite beach and want to make another trip, you no longer need to reenter that location manually, you can simply feed it the photo (via SD card) and it will read the GPS location from the photo metadata and get started on the navigation. For the more business minded, the Audi Connect can now read out your emails and SMS messages so you don’t have to look at your phone when behind the wheel. It can also listen to your voice and compose a reply. We found its listening capabilities (which, like iPhone’s Siri, are uploaded and processed elsewhere) somewhat poor and it failed to understand us when we attempted to send an SMS with something as simple as “hello”. It works a lot better when you’re sitting in traffic as there’s no external noise, but that does tend to defeat the purpose of connectivity on the go.
Perhaps the most useful feature is the Google earth navigation system, which is pretty nifty. Essentially it overlays satellite imagery over your standard navigation, so you get a much, much clearer sense of where you are and where you need to be given you can see all the surrounding landmarks as actual pictures on the screen. It also works in unison with traffic information online, so you get a better understanding of where you might get stuck and see alternate paths to get around.
The downside is the constant loading of data from Google earth, so the data bill may get a little pricey. Unless of course you frequent the same route over and over again as it can cache up to 1GB of map data. One of the more economically minded features of Audi connect is fuel stop, which can show you all the fuel stations nearby and the price per litre. It doesn’t, unfortunately, do the basic math of telling you whether or not it’s worth driving to the cheapest one based on how much fuel you can fill in your tank and the fuel you’d use to get there versus the offset of costs, but if you’re really keen to save a few bucks, this is a cool feature.
Flight information is one feature that the frequent flyers among us would find extremely useful. The system can see what your closest airport is and show you all the departing and arriving flights, their timing and whether or not they are delayed. This is extremely handy if you travel often. The same feature exists for trains. If you do happen to drive a lot, a feature called city events will give you a rough idea of what’s going on around you incase you’re looking for something interesting to do in an unfamiliar place.
Other features, such as weather display, Audi music stream (which streams music from the web, like spotify) and News online (which is essentially an RSS reader ideal for reading RSS enabled websites, like CarAdvice, on the go) are also part of Audi Connect.
Now for the bit you’ve been expecting. Unfortunately some of these features are unlikely to make it to Australia when the Audi A3 (and future models with the latest generation of Audi Connect) arrives in local showrooms.
The main reason being the lack of digital data feeds available for the local market. For example, the city events system gets its info from one of the many European services that cater to the demand, as does the train and flight information systems. We are still waiting for confirmation from Audi as to whether or not Google maps street view will be enabled for local customers this time around, as the system was previously turned off in Australian delivered vehicles. Either way, it will only be a matter of time before these systems and others become fully operational in Australian delivered Audis. Although extremely useful and a bit of fun, the real question remains, at what point does it become excessive? Although the idea is to make connectivity safer when behind the wheel, does reading your twitter feed, regardless of whether or not it’s on your smartphone or on the car’s infotainment screen, a necessity when driving?