Volvo’s new infotainment system impresses

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The next stage in automotive entertainment feels like it’s just around the corner thanks to Apple’s CarPlay system and Google’s Android Auto, both of which will give us near smartphone levels of functionality in the car, with higher resolution displays and a robust satellite navigation system backing it all up. However they aren’t the only two players in town, as it turns out Volvo’s 2015.5 XC60 T6 comes equipped with a very robust infotainment system that’s been impressing everyone that’s taken it for a spin.

TechnologyTell had a look at once recently, and found it to be quite capable. In terms of audio, the system comes equipped with 14 separate Harman Kardon speakers, all hooked up to a 650w Class D amplifier, giving it an impressive soundscape and nice levels of bass without overwhelming the higher frequencies.

However, as impressive as the in-car audio was, the infotainment centre itself was even more so. It’s called Sensus Connected and though it doesn’t’ come with touch-screen controls, that’s likely a nudge from Volvo for you to keep your hands on the wheel – as that’s where it puts much of its controls. However, there are duplicate controls in the central column, so a passenger could also operate the system if they so choose.

Those controls give you access to everything you would expect from a modern infotainment system, bundling together different functions like navigation – with a robust GPS system that should be able to compete with Apple and Google’s without difficulty – AM and FM radio, as well as auxiliary inputs like USB, 3.5mm and bluetooth connectivity. Much like Android Auto and CarPlay too, the Volvo system comes equipped with the ability to use third party applications like Pandora, Yelp, Spotify and a number of other potential apps. It even has its own built-in web browser, should none of the applications have the particular function you want.

You will of course need to be in a 3G supported area for many of these functions to work, but that’s the same for any connected car.

Of course all of this just makes Volvo’s system sound a lot like the ones being offered by both Apple and Google, which makes you wonder why you would specifically buy any of them. In reality, Volvo’s infotainment centre does have one big advantage over the competition though: it doesn’t require a smartphone. That makes it much better in two specific ways: 1- it means that you don’t need to own either particular smartphone in order to use it, which means it it a useful infotainment centre for everyone, meaning it has a bigger potential audience. And 2- even if you don’t have either (or the wrong) brand of smartphone, you don’t have to buy the correct one, which means it’s cheaper too.

Perhaps bespoke systems from auto makers aren’t quite as dead as Apple and Google would have you believe.

Image source: Wikipedia

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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.