R56 NAV/stereo: Sirius satellite radio

To round out my opinions on the stereo system of the R56 with navigation, here’s a quick look at Sirius satellite radio. The factory system is very expensive, especially compared with a sub-$100 standalone receiver that you could connect to the AUX input … but with the factory system it’s fully integrated to the car, there’s no additional antenna on the roof, and you get your first year of service included.

When you access satellite radio, the NAV screen shows a list of all channels – every one has a check mark next to it, assuming you’ve activated the receiver. Seems a bit odd to show that; why not simply omit channels that aren’t available! But anyway, you get a list of channels and you can rotate the joystick to listen to any one – with less than 200 channels, it’s much easier than the iPod! You can call up a “Details” display for the channel you’re listening to, which shows the artist/title info – but nothing else!

I’m sure this would look fine on the non-NAV R56, but it looks a bit empty here. It would have been better to integrate with the channel list, like the iPod interface does.

You can set up a list of 12 presets for your favourite Sirius channels, you can also access the list by Genre if you wish – but personally I find the 12 presets sufficient to cover all I need, making it extremely easy to access the music I want to listen to.

One interesting feature is that the satellite radio seems to be “instant on”; when the car turns on the music is immediately playing – there’s no delay for a couple of seconds while the receiver powers up and syncs to the channel. I’m guessing that the receiver powers up when the car is unlocked, giving it a headstart, but however it’s done, it’s a noticeable improvement over non-factory solutions (and yes, 2 or 3 seconds isn’t much of a delay, but it’s better if the delay is zero!)

R56 NAV/stereo: iPod

GBMINI#5 came with the iPod interface installed – good news because I’m not sure I’d have liked to pay $500+ for it!
In GBMINI#5, the iPod cable is installed into the “secret” storage space above the glovebox – you push the dash trim piece (firmly, in the center!) to open it, and inside is an iPod connection cable; like most iPod interfaces, the iPod goes “dead” when connected, just displaying a graphic and “OK to disconnect” screen (the storage area is rubber lined, and the cable helps to hold the iPod, so it doesn’t rattle around – good):


When you’re planning music, the NAV screen has a quite nice display showing the current track, along with “before & after”; there’s a submenu option to toggle “Details” on and off, which gives you the artist as well as the song title, for the current track, but that’s pretty well where the nice iPod interface ends! For example, here’s what you might think is a nice menu of artists on the iPod:

What’s so bad about that?
Well: notice first that we have “CD2” selected, and above we had “CD1” selected. The iPod interface is implemented by mimicking a CD changer; CD1 gives a menu of music in Playlist order, CD2 is Artists, CD3 is Albums, CD4 is Genres, CD5 is Podcasts and CD6 is All Songs.
So to get to the Artists list, I had to switch from CD1 to CD2; to do this you simply push the joystick up, a couple of times, then rotate, then click. But then comes the really “exciting” part … I had to wait EIGHTY SECONDS for the Artists menu to appear!


When it’s finally ready, it automatically starts to play the first song by the first artist – of course that’s probably not what you want, so simply push up, click, rotate left, and click. Now finally you have a list of Artists, with the first alphabetic artist shown.

OK, so we want to listen to a different artist. How about Supertramp?
There’s no way to quickly jump to a specific letter of the alphabet, or even to move by more than one menu entry – the only choice is to rotate the joystick to go down through the Artists; this of course takes FOREVER (worse still because the display update is slower than the rotation speed!)
Luckily, it doesn’t take quite as long as you’d expect – cleverly, the iPod interface is limited to 255 menu entries! So we actually can’t get to Supertramp anyway; in fact the screen above with Lucero as the last item, is the end of the menus.
Alright then, how do we get to Supertramp?
Well, I could build lots of Playlists to set up different ways to access my music – maybe a Playlist for “A”, “B”, etc … but I saw someone post online that method doesn’t work because the menu gets overloaded and still runs out!
Plus, the menu is only one level deep – for example, here I accessed via CD4 / Genres and called up “Electronica”:

As you can see, what appears is just a list of songs. There’s no sub-menu of Artists or Albums first … it looks like the song list here is in Artist order (it’s displaying tracks by AudioBody), so I guess with enough knowledge of what’s in your iPod you might be able to scroll down the list to get to the song you want. Although I suspect the list of songs might still stop at 255 entries!
In the end, I’ve decided to use Random play which hopefully will give me a random choice from all the songs in the iPod:

Of course you have to be careful what you have selected – counter-intuitively, “Random All” apparently randomly selects from a subset of all music in the iPod, depending what you have selected; it acts more like you’d expect “Random Directory” to work …

Infuriatingly though, when it’s playing in Random mode, the skip previous/next buttons don’t skip to a different random track!
Suppose you have Random play active and it selects an Artist you don’t fancy listening to today. In GPMINI with the Alpine HU I click -> (next track) and get some new random song. But in GBMINI#5, if I click -> I get the next song from the same Artist/Album; exactly what I don’t want!
The only choice is to click the joystick to turn off Random play, then click again and turn it on again.
I really wish the iPod interface was better. It should be much faster (my Alpine/iPod interface is instantaneous when I select by Artist/Album/etc), and there should be no problem with having music collections of more than 255 Artists/Albums.
As it is, I don’t expect MINI to do anything different, and it will be hard for an aftermarket company to develop something – the MINI is becoming more and more proprietary and difficult to change.
I wonder if the non-NAV iPod interface is any better. Maybe it’s slow on the NAV because it has to display more on the bigger screen? I hope one day to try my iPod in a non-NAV R56.
As it stands, I probably would still have to spec this iPod interface in a future R56, since the only other choice is connecting via the AUX plug and using the iPod controls (and honestly, trying to wave your finger around the iPod controls while driving is much worse than using the R56 NAV joystick!)

But much better is out there; why can’t we have it?
(anyone seen that Ford / Microsoft car advert where the driver presses a button an SPEAKS the Artist name to get it to play? sounds wonderful!)
Oh, nearly forgot – one more ludicrous limitation of the R56 iPod interface!
It doesn’t remember where you are in the current playing track, when you turn the car off – well, if you switch off for a short time it does remember, but after a few minutes it will revert back to the beginning of the track when you come back to the car! That’s really annoying when you’re listening to a long track, and never get to the end of it.

R56 navigation

Another large collection of pictures, detailing how the navigation system works in GBMINI#5. Note that you can also talk to the car (!) which might arguably be an easier way to drive the complex navigation system – but for now, let’s push, turn and click the joystick 🙂

When you’re not being guided somewhere, the navigation display will show a map around your current location; the bottom of the screen shows what audio is playing (here, Sirius satellite radion channel 22 “1st Wave”, as well as the time. I think “TI” means that traffic information is available). Top left is highlighted white, indicating it’s the selected control for the joystick. You can rotate the joystick left/right to decrease/increase the map scale (currently “1/4 mls” whatever that means), and you can click the joystick to go back to the navigation menus (as indicated by the left pointing arrow).

So let’s choose a New destination; The display shows recent destinations, which we could select by rotating then clicking the joystick – but we’ll just click now to enter a New destination (which we could select from our address book, or specify step-by-step). An address is specified by State and Town and optionally also by Street and perhaps House number or Intersection.

The last destination is shown – so here, we push down on the joystick to select the last address, then select and click on State to enter a new State; we rotate to the State we want, then click to select it. Next, we move to Town, and click to enter a new Town. We’re given an A…Z list which we can rotate through and click the joystick to choose a letter; as we do this, the list of Towns reduces to match the partial entry we’ve made; once we’ve entered a few letters, we can select the Town by pushing down in to the list and rotating to the Town we want, then clicking to select:

And now, we might want to enter a Street – if so, we proceed in the same way by selecting letters from the A…Z list, homing in on the address we want, but instead, we’ll just choose Start Guidance which will now navigate us to the center of Peabody, MA … it took GBMINI#5 9s to do the calculation, and then the display shows us the map once again, but with the right half showing diagrammed route directions (we also have audio prompts):


This display shows that we need to turn left on to Gee Avenue, then bear left; at the bottom of the display we see our ETA and distance to destination. Again, the top left is selected (highlighted white) so we can spin the joystick to zoom in/out.
We can also push the joystick right, to switch over to the symbolic menu top right of the screen; we can silence audio directions, call up traffic information, and change the map style – the “back of car” symbol is supposed to represent a “perspective” map view – believe it or not, these maps are “perspective” but they’re nothing like as clear/useful as the TomTom maps I used in California last month!
You can click the “back of car” to change the map view; here now we have “north up” which shows a flat map with North at the top (note how the symbolic menu has changed):


Other ways to get guidance include a Route list; I quite like the “Arrow” view mode, which hides the map and simply gives information on the next turn – but this is because I find the “perspective” view so much less useful than what I’m used to on TomTom … Anyway, the Arrow view has a neat “countdown” bar which shows the distance to the next turn as you approach it, shrinking down to zero as you reach the turn:

 

Other navigation features include planning the route in a different way – for example avoiding toll roads. The “Dynamic route” choice means that the route will be automatically altered if necessary, in response to traffic information. Otherwise, the navigation is supposed to prompt you at the last exit before the traffic problem (I don’t have much traffic driving home to work, to test this feature!)

We can also manually call up a traffic information list, and read details about it – but this is a rather long-winded / un-intuitive user interface!

 

Finally, there’s this rather curious display that shows latitude / longitude and altitude; the only way I’ve got this to appear is to start and then cancel guidance, so the right half display changes from showing the next turn to showing this information (and if I go away from this display and then return to it, the information is gone and the map once more fills the whole window!):


In my opinion, the navigation system – like the audio controls – would benefit from a different user interface. The whole business of pushing the joystick left/right/up/down, rotating it, and clicking it, makes for an over-complex interface. Worse, many times you might expect to use the joystick to do something, you can’t – for example when looking at traffic information, you might expect to be able to step from one traffic issue to the next by pushing the joystick, but no (instead you have to push up, click, rotate to the next, click again!)

On the other hand, having navigation fully integrated to the car should give a better product – for example it should be possible for the car to successfully navigate through the “Big Dig” tunnels in Boston (but I haven’t tried it yet). And the traffic information should be helpful on busy routes (with no need for wires, like with TomTom).
Another interesting feature is that it can start giving you route guidance before it’s finished calculating the route – I asked it to plan the route from home to Monterey, CA and it started giving directions long before it was able to give me a route list. But then, it took 40s before it could offer it’s initial directions, so I guess that feature is necessary (or I’d have perhaps been waiting minutes!)

I’ve hardly used the R56 navigation system at all, but so far my opinion would be to not order it in another MINI, but stay with TomTom – much less expensive, and more user-friendly! But I plan to continue comparing these two systems, in the months ahead …

Cool!

Today we got proper snow – the forecast is 5″ or more; it’s very light and fluffy but still very slippery to drive on – mostly because the roads were already icy! Still, it makes for a cool picture 🙂

Also “cool” today … GBMINI#5 sounds it’s low fuel alarm. It displays a neat gas pump graphic on the tach, and impressively changes the color of the fuel gauge lights from orange to red:

 

And, also “cool” a couple of days ago – a Lamborghini parked at Sublime Restorations (where Josh was having a windshield replaced on Sam’s MINI):

R56 NAV/stereo: CDs

For my next “MINI review” of the R56, I wanted to play some CDs and see how they were handled – I was particularly keen to see how the NAV display dealt with a CDR of MP3 tracks in different directories. So I burned a CDR with a selection of MP3 tracks, and took it out to play … but this is what I saw – strange. So then I tried an audio format CDR that had been handed out at a recent MINI drive – but it wouldn’t play that CD either!

Finally, I tried a regular purchased audio CD – and finally I got music out of it. But the display is rather sparse when playing a CD:

The line represents the music on the CD; you can step along the line from track to track using the MFSW buttons, or by turning the joystick. Below the line, the time in the current track is shown. I wonder if the play arrow moves smoothly along the line as the track plays, or just jumps track-by-track? Didn’t think to watch for that when testing, earlier.

You can press the joystick and call up a small menu for options like repeat and random; you can also access “Tone” from here, where you can adjust treble/bass/balance/fader – actually you can get to “Tone” from anywhere by pressing the joystick to call up the menu while listening to something, but there’s no easy way back! It’s not like you selected a sub-menu, instead “Tone” is just a shortcut jump to the Settings/Audio menu.

Curiously, the music I played sounded noticeably better (clearer, more low end) than the same music on my iPod – and there it’s encoded with 256K AAC, which in GPMINI is indistinguishable from the original CD … now I wonder if some of the poor R56 sound quality is due to the iPod interface rather than the car itself!
UPDATE:
This morning, GBMINI#5 successfully read and played the same CDR that I’d tried yesterday – possibly it has trouble reading CDRs when it’s cold? But anyway, the CD/MP3 interface is actually pretty good: you can access a list of directories, and sub-directories within that, down to the songs you want to play. Here’s some screenshots indicating the process:

 

One thing I’ve found particularly odd is that the CD player and the CD changer are treated as one CD-playing device – you can see here that “CD” (the single drive in the center console) and “CD1″/”CD2″/etc are all listed together; the effect is when you use the source button (button immediately left of volume knob in this picture) to step from one input to another, you get: FM(or AM), Sirius (if installed), CD(or CD changer), AUX (whether anything is connected to it or not).
You might expect that “iPod” would be one of the source choices – but since it is (poorly) implemented as a CD changer, it gets grouped with the CD; so what is selected is either the CD or an iPod track depending what you last selected.


I’d prefer to see FM/Sirius/CD/iPod choices – and I’d like the ability to turn off the AUX input if I don’t want to use it. Maybe it’s fine for everyone else, though.

Warning, Will Robinson

(and yes, I know it’s really “Danger”, but this isn’t very dangerous … and if you’re too young to know what I’m referring to, here’s a timely reminder)

This morning, GBMINI#5 reported it’s first warning – it gets quite excited with an audible signal, a graphic on the upper tach display and a text description on the NAV display! These messages clear after a while, but a “warning triangle” remains visible in the lower tach display:

It’s curious how I’ve used up all the washer fluid in just a week – either the R56 tank is incredibly small, or maybe MINI of Peabody didn’t check all fluids before delivering the car!

Key differences #3 (R56 remembers, or forgets?)

If you order “comfort access” for an R56, you get two keys which can be used to open doors and start the engine without needing to press any key button, or insert it into any slot – very nice. A user-replaceable battery inside the key provides power for it to transmit and be detected by the car.

Without “comfort access” you get a key which must be inserted into a slot before you can start the engine – and the key is also recharged while in that slot, eliminating the need for a battery (and sealing the key since the owner doesn’t need to open it). OK so far, just like the 2005/6 MINI keys which also have no battery (and unlike the original 2002/3/4 keys, which do have a battery inside).

Little problem – how do you keep the key charged … answer: you have to use the key!
I have a habit of swapping between GPMINIs two keys about once a month, that way the spare key will always be charged in case it’s needed.

So today I swapped R56 keys – I sort of expected the result that I got, but even so … the R56 has this “clever” feature where the car’s settings/presets/etc are associated with the key being used. So guess what happens when I use the other key:

Yes – no settings or presets!
First clue was that the car only unlocked my door, not the passengers side. Then, as you see in the picture above, the radio presets are all gone. Similarly, no satellite radio presets, and no doubt the tone/fader settings were at default, etc, etc.
I suppose I could have spent time re-configuring everything, storing presets, etc – but even then, any changes I make to one key won’t be reflected when I swap keys.

Presumably this “associated memory” feature is useful if two drivers use the car regularly; each person has their own settings. But when only one person drives the car, it’s just an annoyance! There should be a way to disable the feature, if you don’t want it.
As it is, my spare R56 key will not get regularly charged … hope I never need it!