Tag Archives: Electronics

GM exec: Apps coming to select cars later this year

A concept smart car dashboard by GM, unveiled at Mobile World Congress in February.

Roger Cheng/CNET)

LAS VEGAS — General Motors is eager to get its slice of the app pie.

Mary Chan, head of the global connected consumer unit for GM, told CNET that apps would come to select
cars in the second half. The initial set of apps will be per-determined by the company, will be available for download, and will make up the early stages of its in-car app store. More importantly, GM will also debut an app framework in these cars that will enable the download of future apps.

With the proliferation of the app market in mobile devices, GM — and several others in the auto industry — want to get in on the action. Rather than let smartphones power apps in the car, GM is pushing to get more apps built specifically for its cars, which Chan says creates an easier and safer experience for the driver because it’s integrated.

“We don’t want the auto industry shying away from apps and pushing it all to the device makers,” Chan told CNET on Tuesday.

GM declined to comment on which models would get the apps, but they will be cars from the 2014 line-up (which debuts later this year). Chan said the system is flexible enough so that the cars with early access to apps will be able to access additional apps when more become available. GM will determine the initial set of apps that drivers will be able to access.

GM is still working out the details of the business. Chan said the apps may be free, bundled into a service that GM charges for, or paid out to the developers. Another possibility, a subscription paid for an app on the smartphone could be applied to a separate app in the car. The company is looking at different business models right now.

A concept car with 4G LTE capabilities.

Roger Cheng/CNET)

But GM has attracted a small following of developers since it opened up its software development kit and application programming interface in January. Since then, 1,800 developers have signed up, with a mix of well-known companies and smaller independent programmers. Chan said the developers are attracted by the opportunity of an entirely new market with a potentially large base of customers.

GM followed up with its developer outreach with an announcement in February to partner with ATT to introduce cars with 4G LTE capabilities. GM has committed to bringing out millions of connected cars in late 2014.

GM itself plans to build its own set of apps, such as diagnostic programs or other apps specifically built to monitor the car itself, Chan said. She said it was important for GM to work with developers on their apps because they need to be tweaked so they won’t distract the driver. Apple’s Siri, for example, works with select GM cars but had to be stripped of some capabilities because they were deemed too dangerous or distracting.

“We want to make the experience better,” she said.

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Aston Martin reveals Batmobile-like anniversary speedster

It looks strangely like something Adam West’s Batman might drive in 2013, but Aston Martin’s 100th anniversary CC100 speedster wasn’t designed with superheroes in mind, camp or otherwise. Instead, the yellow-and-blue-gray speedster is an homage to the company’s heritage as a manufacturer of luxury sports cars.

Aston Martin’s crazy concept speedster (pictures)

The design is based on the 1959 Le Mans and Nurburgring-winning DBR1, with materials and design elements that look to the future, according to the company. “CC100 is the epitome of everything that is great about Aston Martin. Fantastic heritage, exceptional design, superb engineering and an adventurous spirit,” Aston Martin CEO Ulrich Bez said.

With no cover, it certainly wouldn’t be of any use as a day-to-day
car, but as it was designed as a concept and remains one, we don’t think Batman would have to worry about getting his ‘do messed up.

(Source: CNET Australia)

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The new Pathfinder mixes SUV and minivan capabilities

Nissan’s Pathfinder started life as a truck-based SUV, then went to unibody construction in a subsequent generation, becoming a crossover before there were crossovers. That generation was followed by a truck-based model, which gained a little off-road cred. With the 2013 Nissan Pathfinder the pendulum swings back to a crossover design, striving to retain its backcountry capability while adding all the comforts of a minivan. With the Platinum Premium package, Nissan even throws in a rear-seat entertainment system.

What Nissan really attempts with the Pathfinder is to be all things to all people. This effort is, for the most part, successful.

The Pathfinder offers three-row seating, with a middle row that slides forward to allow easy rear-seat access, making it a capable people carrier. Middle-row and rear seats all fold down mostly flat, creating a good amount of cargo space for those weekend IKEA runs. The aforementioned rear-seat entertainment system keeps the kiddies quiet on road trips, while Nissan packs the dashboard with its standard kit of cabin electronics for navigation, audio, and phone. More ambitiously, the Pathfinder boasts a four-wheel-drive system featuring differential-locking capability.

Although the Pathfinder is equipped with a continuously variable transmission, Nissan rates its towing capacity at 5,000 pounds, more than enough to pull a Sea Ray 21 Jet speedboat.

The front seating area of the Pathfinder reads more like a minivan, with beige leather power-adjustable seats and a rounded dashboard, than an SUV. The driving position is not particularly high, making access easy. The interior design highlights softness and comfort more than rugged utility.

Old, familiar electronics
Greeting me in the center dashboard was an old friend, Nissan’s stock navigation system. I have always found Nissan’s cabin electronics interface to be very usable, with its odd combination of a touch screen and dial controller. The dial, with directional buttons mounted on top, works very well for zipping through onscreen menus. When it comes time to use the onscreen keyboard, I go to the direct input of the touch screen.

The Pathfinder has a hard drive for navigation map storage, making screen inputs and map refresh quick. The maps also show traffic flow and include rendered building images in downtown areas. Route guidance, with its graphics and voice prompts, was easy to follow. Using voice recognition to enter addresses proved tedious, as I had to enter each part separately. I found I could enter addresses more quickly using the dial and touch screen.

2013 Nissan Pathfinder

Zagat ratings for restaurants can direct you to a good place to eat.

Josh Miller/CNET)

Included in the points-of-interest database were Zagat-rated restaurants, a nice addition, but the system did not show me the nearest restaurants, instead making me scroll through a long list of cities.

The Pathfinder also pulls in a weather forecast with this system, delivered through its satellite radio channel, but there is no app integration of any sort.

In the Pathfinder, Nissan restricts this navigation system to the Platinum trim. You can’t get it on S, SV, or SL models, not even as an option. And with navigation comes other niceties such as Bluetooth audio streaming.

A Bluetooth phone system, however, comes standard in all but the lowest trim. In the Pathfinder Platinum, that system featured an onscreen interface giving access to my paired phone’s contact list and a second contact list saved to the car. The phone system allowed dial-by-name through voice command.

Advanced transmission
All Pathfinders use the same drivetrain, based on a garden-variety 3.5-liter V-6 and the previously mentioned continuously variable transmission (CVT). The engine’s output, at 260 horsepower and 240 pound-feet of torque, sounds unremarkable. Nissan almost seems to deemphasize the engine, hiding the tailpipe behind the rear fascia under the Pathfinder.

Given Nissan’s excellent CVT, the engine can afford to be average. CVTs use a set of bands and spools to constantly find the optimum drive ratio between engine and wheels. Nissan has been refining this one for many years, and the work shows.

2013 Nissan Pathfinder

A CVT may seem weak for an SUV, but the Pathfinder’s felt solid and gave it a good driving character.

Josh Miller/CNET)

As I drove over freeways, city streets, and narrow highways, the CVT ensured that I always had available power on tap. The Pathfinder accelerated smoothly, with no gear dumps. When I needed to pick up speed fast, the CVT readily dropped to a lower drive ratio, pulling more power from the engine. There were never any of those flat spots you get with fixed gears, never any waiting for the engine to catch up with a new gear ratio.

The CVT also gave the Pathfinder a very easy driving character. Rather than with an engaged driving experience, the Pathfinder honors its crossover status with get-in-and-go drivability. Although I did have to wait a few moment for the navigation system to boot up before I could enter an address.

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My iPhone 5’s got a V-8

Gasket V8

Id America’s Gasket V8 case comes in five colors, those shown here plus red and yellow.

Josh Miller/CNET)

For the last week, my iPhone has been sporting a case designed to look like an engine’s head gasket. The maker, Id America, calls it a V-8, but as I’ve only got one phone, it’s a four-banger.

The Gasket V8 case, as Id America calls it, is a nice variation on the competition, usually plastic or rubber with decorations consisting of simple prints and decals. This one is made of metal stamped through with four cylinder holes and apertures for cooling, oil, and bolts.

For variation, it comes in silver, charcoal, red, yellow, or blue. You will have to add your own grease.

A soft material coating the inside keeps it from scratching the phone and provides a little shock protection. Installation is a simple matter of snapping the phone in between the sides, no torque wrench required.

For those prone to dropping phones, the Gasket V8 case doesn’t offer a lot of protection. It shields the back and sides, but leaves the ends and face completely uncovered. Id America includes a clear plastic screen cover, but it has a big logo reading “Born in New York” down one side, which I didn’t really want on my phone.

The plus side of the open design is that the iPhone’s ports and buttons remain easy to access.

Gasket V8

The Gasket V8 is more decorative than most iPhone cases.

Josh Miller/CNET)

I like the feel of the Gasket V8 case better than the thin plastic case I had previously used. The rounded case edges rest comfortably in my hand, although I had to get used to slightly more bulk.

The best thing, of course, is the look of the case. With
cars so much more reliable these days, and subsequently fewer shade-tree mechanics, few people recognize a head gasket. So the case serves as a kind of secret handshake for gearheads.

Id America also makes a V-6-based gasket case for the
iPhone 4/4S.

The Gasket V8 case for the
iPhone 5 is available from Id America’s Web site for $29.95.

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Simple Bluetooth audio adapter plagued by nonstandard quirks

The GoGroove BlueGate performs one very simple function that can be split into two parts. It receives a digital Bluetooth audio signal from a smartphone (or other Bluetooth capable device) and outputs an analog audio signal that can be listened to through headphones, a car stereo, or home audio system. It basically takes a wireless signal and makes a wired one.

The wireless portion of the BlueGate’s functionality was performed almost flawlessly. It’s the wired half of the equation that frustrated me.

The trouble with wires
The BlueGate device itself is remarkably compact and unobtrusive. The tiny matte black box measures 1.8 inches by 1.3 inches by 0.3 inch, or about the size of a book of matches, and has the GoGroove BlueGate logo printed in gloss black on one of its flat sides. Along one edge is a small black power button and a round power input. Along another edge is a small LED indicator and a 4-inch pigtail that ends with a male 3.5mm analog auxiliary plug.

It’s from the audio and power that my biggest complaints about the GoGroove BlueGate stem.

For starters, although the device charges via USB the cable has a proprietary rounded tip rather than the more conventional micro or mini USB connections. So, if you lose the included cable, you lose the ability to charge the device.

Also, the audio output terminates in a male 3.5mm connection, which is fine if you’re plugging into a car or home stereo, which often present their inputs as female ports. However, if you want to plug headphones into your BlueGate, you’ll have to use the included male-to-male adapter cable, which is of fairly low quality.

GoGroove BlueGate

I found the included 3.5mm adapter cable to be one of the BlueGate’s weakest links.

Antuan Goodwin/CNET)

When I plugged my headphones into that adapter to perform the first tests on the BlueGate, I was repulsed by how poor the audio sounded. Later, when testing in a car, I was surprised by how much different and better the resulting audio sounded. Later, I went back to retest the headphones and was again met with poor audio; I surmised that the weak link was the adapter cable. After a bit of connection wiggling, I was able to clean the audio up by only partially inserting the headphone plug, but you’ll probably want to supply your own adapter.

Power, pairing, and pausing
The first thing that you’ll want to do when you unbox the BlueGate is charge its internal battery. The device charged for me in about an hour and a half and, according to GoGroove’s documentation, will stream for about 12 hours on a full charge. We’re still working on battery life testing and will update the review later with our results.

To power the unit on or off, hold the power button for a few seconds until the LED starts flashing blue. To enter pairing mode, continue to hold the power button after the unit activates until the LED’s color starts alternating between red and blue. The instructions indicate that the unit pairs with a four-digit PIN, but my Samsung Galaxy Nexus didn’t even require that much.

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Chevy sets Spark EV price below 20 grand

Chevrolet Spark EV

Chevy says that, after federal tax credits, the Spark EV can be had for less than $20,000.

Wayne Cunningham/CNET)

Forget pricey Teslas; Chevrolet announced pricing for its Spark EV model at $27,495. If a buyer qualifies for the full federal tax credit of $7,500, that price drops to $19,995.

The Spark EV goes on sale in June but will be limited to California and Oregon. California owners will be able to apply further credits up to $2,500. Oregon may be less friendly, as the state considers charging electric car owners a special per-mile tax.

Chevrolet’s announcement also notes that dealers can offer lease deals for $199 per month, and that the Spark EV will save owners an estimated $150 per month in fuel charges.

Chevrolet Spark EV hits 60mph in 8 seconds, charges in 20 minutes (pictures)

The Spark EV is not the lowest-priced electric
car hitting the market. The Smart Electric Drive goes for $25,000 before tax credits or other state incentives.

The Spark EV is based on the Chevrolet Spark, a compact car with a 1.25-liter four-cylinder engine, and a price tag of $13,745. As the Spark EV, the model gets a range of 82 miles from its 21kWh lithium ion battery pack.

Chevrolet also notes that it is designed to work with multiple DC fast-charging stations. A cabin electronics feature will help owners plot routes with charging stations as waypoints.

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