Sunday, October 30, 2011
BMW ConnectedDrive & BMW Apps Review
I have been using BMW Connected Drive for two weeks and thought I would post here a full review of its functionalities as detailed information is hard to find even when you have a car equipped with it.
First of all, let me stress that BMW's current offering is quite confusing as the lines are kinda blurry between BMW Connected Drive and what they call BMW Apps. BMW Connected Drive is itself divided into different sections that are or aren't subject to a subscription fee.
So what can you do with this BMW ConnectedDrive?
1) Internet: You have access to Google and the Internet using an Edge Data connection (which is very slow by today's standards). Internet connectivity isn't available while roaming abroad but it is available for the entire lifetime of the vehicle at no additional charge in your home country.
2) BMW Online: access to local weather, RSS feeds, emails and customized applications: the good thing is that these features work while roaming abroad at no additional charge. Equipped vehicle come with 2 years of service that can be renewed on a year-to-year basis.
3) BMW Assist: Concierge service available 24/7 on the phone : they can help in case of an emergency, send you directions or book hotels for instance. This service is available from almost anywhere in Europe for free (no extra charge once you have paid the subscription fee). I repeat the calls are free even outside of your home country and use the built-in sim card in the car. Whenever you place a call to BMW Assist, your GPS location is transmitted. There is an SOS button in the car that looks like a nuclear missile launch button (you have to open a cap, to have access to it): pressing it will dispatch emergency services to your location and put you through to them on the phone. This system is activated automatically in case of an accident.
I've already placed two calls to the Concierge Service and must say that I was impressed by the service. Both persons I talked to were able to answer my technical questions about BMW Connected Drive and BMW Apps. They did know what they were talking about and were extremely nice. BMW Assist comes with the BMW Online subscription.
4) BMW Remote app available on the iPhone. It lets you locate your car, send an itinerary from the app and remote lock / unlock it. Depending on your car, you might also be able to turn the heating system on, blow the horn or flash the lights. Keep in mind not all features are available on all cars. Locating your car is supposedly limited to a 1.5 km radius for legal reasons. This feature is part of the BMW Online offering and is subject to the subscription fee.
5) Google send to car: this is is a cool feature. I had never realized before that Google Maps search lets you send results to your car (the "SEND" option is clearly visible). You just have to specify the make of your car and the name you gave it when you created your BMW Connected account.
What about BMW Apps?
BMW Apps lets you use your iPhone Data connection through the BMW Connected app that you need to launch when your iPhone is in its "snapin" cradle. Once the iPhone is installed in the "snapin", it will charge and once you launch the BMW Connected app, you will have access to the BMW Apps menu in your car.
From there, your will be able to display your Facebook & Twitter timelines (even while driving) and have the possibility to listen to webradios from all over the world. Though I thought that webradio support wouldn't be good, I must say that it seems to work very well. It uses my 3G iPhone connection not the BMW ConnectedDrive sim card. So keep in mind, it will be taken into account in your data usage and make sure you don't do this while roaming as data charges will apply and will probably make for a very expensive radio listening experience. I find it pretty "pimp" to listen to a live New York radio while driving in Europe!
The "Plugin" function lets you control whatever music app is used as default on your iPhone. If you use the default "Music" or "iPod" app, you will have access to your playlists and cover art. If you use a less supported app (such as Spotify), you will still be able to listen to your music but you will only be able to skip to the next song controlwise.
One annoying thing is that whenever you're using your iPhone to play music through the snapin, it will disable bluetooth audio streaming which is not very intuitive to re-activate once you disconnect your iPhone:
You will have to go to the Phone menu, select your phone, then options, then "configure phone" then activate bluetooth audio and then go back to CD/Multimedia and choose your iPhone as the audio source.
One wonderful feature about bluetooth audio streaming is that it is automatic: if you start listening to a podcast, it will stop when you leave the car and continue where you left off whenever you enter your car again. So, you can have your iPhone in your pocket without touching it or any settings in the car, and listen to your favorite podcasts.
More apps and functionalities are supposed to be added via software updates.
One limitation that sucks though: it seems there is a limit to the number of contacts you can sync via bluetooth to the car from your iPhone. I have more than 3000 contacts and they don't all sync to the car which I find frustrating and ridiculous by today's standard.
One last thing that I can confirm: the iPhone snapin works perfectly with the iPhone 4S.