Is Mercedes’ new COMAND any good?

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Even if Apple and Google might be facing off in the hopes that they can carve up the in-car infotainment industry between them, auto-makers that have been making their own head units for decades are not so happy to go quietly into the night. Many of them are in-fact producing new versions of their own infotainment systems and some have been relatively well received, but what about Mercedes’ latest effort, with its Cockpit Management and Data (COMAND) software?

Fortunately the guys over at Motoring.com.au have had some hands on time with the new system which is being included in practically every car Mercedes makes, from the A-Class to the S-Class. Partly this is to compete with the likes of Apple and Google, but it’s also to help make car digital systems more in-line with modern trends. As apps become the way people consume media and software, cars need to be able to support them and a heavier connection to cloud servers and processing makes it possible for future firmware updates and the introduction of new automated features.

The best part of the COMAND system is apparently the large display, which is far bigger than anything Mercedes has included in its vehicles before. This is made possible by removing the screen from the dashboard and having it stick out on its own separate mount. This not only means that it could more easily be upgradeable, but that Mercedes wasn’t limited in its use of display by the shape and space in the dashboard. That should also allow for more generic hardware usage, which will save the company a lot of money in the long run.

It isn’t touch sensitive however. That means although the controls are limited to buttons along the side, that it can be glossy and bright and doesn’t need wiping every now and again to clear away fingerprints.

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However users can interact with it using their smartphones if they wish, thanks to built in bluetooth connectivity. Not only can the phone stream content straight to the dash-display, but it can also send calls and texts over too, with some prebuilt responses built in for those that would rather send a quick reply and pull over somewhere for a full conversation.

For those that want to drive around without their phone joined at the digital-hip though, there’s 10GB of onboard storage for music and podcasts. Even though this seems rather small considering only a few pounds would have given users several hundred GB of traditional hard drive storage, a spinning disc is not ideal in a bumpy car ride. While a CD might just scratch and skip a bit, one big impact can kill a hard drive without much difficulty.

There is also the choice of built in apps from certain developers. There’s social networking options like Facebook and Twitter, as well as a news application that can give those stuck in traffic a few quick headlines to keep them occupied. They can even be read aloud by the system so you don’t have to take your eyes off of the road.

All in all, while the COMAND system doesn’t seem as versatile as Google’s Android Auto or Apple’s CarPlay, it’s a step in the right direction and quite a unique one, since Mercedes keeps people’s eyes on the road by not forcing them to use a touch screen with lack of physical feedback.

Image source: Mercedes Benz

 

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Jon Martindale is an English author and journalist, who's written for a number of high-profile technology news outlets, covering everything from the latest hardware and software releases, to hacking scandals and online activism.