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Hidden costs of new car 'infotainment' systems

Hidden costs of new car 'infotainment' systems
photo courtesy of shutterstock

If you haven't bought a new vehicle in years, you might be surprised at all of the new technology that some are equipped with. Some of the more interesting features are trunks that automatically open when your hands are full, cameras that show you everything around your car while you're driving, and built-in Wi-Fi hotspots. Self-driving cars are even on the way.

One of the more common innovations found in new vehicles is a touch-screen computer displayed on the center console. These are known as "infotainment" systems and deliver information and entertainment content. Most infotainment systems integrate stereo, phone, navigation and many connected services.

It's those connected services that could end up costing you an unexpected amount of money. Many new vehicles come with free trial periods for services like in-vehicle Wi-Fi hotspots, Sirius XM satellite radio and live traffic data. The free trials last anywhere from three to 12 months.

When the free trial period expires, subscription fees will kick in. You even have to pay a fee for the navigational system to receive periodic map updates. So before you leave the dealership with your shiny new car, you need to have a conversation with the salesperson to find out if you have to cancel any subscriptions with the manufacturer.

There are ways to keep enjoying your infotainment system without having to pay a fee. Here are some options:

Android Auto

Android Auto was designed with safety in mind. It has a simple and intuitive interface, integrated steering wheel controls and voice actions. It's designed to minimize distraction so you can stay focused on the road.

Android Auto isn't actually a standalone unit; it's mostly a touch screen built into the car's dashboard. You have to link up an Android gadget with a USB cable to make it work. This is also how Apple's CarPlay works.

That's a little annoying, but it does have a privacy advantage. There's no Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connection for passing hackers to snoop on. Plus, if your car is broken into or stolen, the thieves won't get a full Android system with your information in it. Everything is stored in your phone that you'll probably take with you.

Once your gadget is plugged in, you can control it via the touch screen, dashboard and steering wheel buttons and voice commands. The screen displays a driver-friendly version of the Android apps you want to use while driving. Even the GPS on your phone works with Android Auto and you don't have to pay a fee for updated maps.

Android Auto disables apps it feels might be unsafe to use while driving. You mostly get access to navigation, radio or select music apps and voice calling. It does let you interact with Google Now as well for personal assistant features.

While those limitations might annoy some people, they can easily get around them by unplugging their phone, it will hopefully help people drive safer.

Apple CarPlay

Apple CarPlay is designed to automatically sync with your iPhone so that you can safely use your phone in your car.

Basically, CarPlay allows drivers to use certain apps through an in-dash display, rather than on the phone itself. In fact, the system syncs up to the designated phone without having to remove it from your purse or pocket.

You can get directions, make phone calls, send and receive messages, and listen to music. This allows you to use your iPhone while staying safe and focusing on the road. All you have to do is connect your phone with a USB cable.

CarPlay features Siri voice control and is designed for driving scenarios. It also works with the car's controls, buttons, knobs, touchpad or touch screen. Apps themselves have also been redesigned for the car, so you can use them while you're driving.

  • Voice control - To activate Siri voice control, press and hold the voice control button on the steering wheel.
  • Touch control - If your CarPlay-equipped vehicle has a touch screen, you can use it to control CarPlay.
  • Knobs and Controls - CarPlay also works with the knobs, dials, or buttons in the car. If it controls your screen, it controls CarPlay.

One of the best features with CarPlay is being able to listen to your own music. You can access all of your content from iTunes, your Apple Music membership, and additional audio apps using your car's built-in controls.

Or just tell Siri what you would like to hear. You can also enjoy For You and Browse from Apple Music. Artists, songs, and albums are handpicked by experts, plus selections based on your preferences right on your display.

Currently, there are over 100 vehicle models that support Apple CarPlay. There are also some aftermarket stereo systems to which you can add CarPlay.

Podcasts:

Podcasts are all about the convenience. I listen to my favorite podcasts while I'm cooking, or hiking, or in the car during my commute to the studio. With podcasts, you can listen to exactly what you want, whenever you want. It's incredible!

When you try podcasts out for the first time, it can feel a little overwhelming. There are so many podcasts to choose from, and not all of them cover the topics that interest you. That's why it's good to know that you can download individual podcast episodes to test them out.

If you find a particular podcast that you really enjoy, you can subscribe to that podcast. When you subscribe, the newest episode of that podcast will automatically be downloaded to your phone when it becomes available.

How to listen and subscribe:

Listening to my podcasts is simple. If you subscribe to my newsletters, I'll share the latest podcast episode with you each week, as well as some of my favorite episodes from the archives. You can also hop on over to the podcast page on my site and listen for free through your web browser or download the audio files. However, I know a lot of people like to listen on their mobile gadgets, so I'm going to tell you how to listen there as well.

Listening to my podcasts is simple. If you subscribe to my newsletters, I'll share the latest podcast episode with you each week, as well as some of my favorite episodes from the archives. You can also hop on over to the podcast page on my site and listen for free through your web browser or download the audio files. However, I know a lot of people like to listen on their mobile gadgets, so I'm going to tell you how to listen there as well.

Tip in a Tip:

You can listen to my free podcasts without using iTunes, Google Play or another player. If you want to check out my free podcasts and listen right now, click here now to access our free podcasts pages. 

On Apple:

In the Podcasts app on your Apple gadget, search or browse for "Komando On Demand." Then tap on the podcast and then tap on the purple "Subscribe" button. This will give you "Komando On Demand" and "Tech News This Week."

For "Scared Sh!tless," search or browse for it and tap on the purple "Subscribe" button. If you're searching, remember to include the exclamation point in place of the "i" or you won't find it. The podcast is labeled "explicit," but don't worry, it isn't.

Once you tap the "Subscribe" button, this adds the podcast to the "My Podcasts" area of the app and downloads the latest podcast episode. If you want to download previous podcasts, scroll down the episode list and tap the downward arrow coming out of a cloud.

Podcasts will also download any new podcast episodes that are released. Downloaded podcasts will be deleted 24 hours after you've listened to them, or marked as played. To keep an episode download around, or remove a download you don't care for, tap the circle "i" icon and choose "Mark as Played," "Save Episode" or "Delete Download."

On Android:

Downloading podcasts on Android used to require third-party apps, but Google Play Music finally launched a podcast section. You can listen to podcasts through your web browser, or through the Google Play Music app on your smartphone.

To get our podcasts, open the Google Play Music app on your smartphone (or install it if you don't have it) and tap the search icon in the upper right corner. Enter "Komando on Demand" and it will bring up the podcast.

Note: You may need to update the Google Play Music app first to get access to podcasts. Open your Google Play app and tap the icon with the three horizontal lines in the upper-right corner. Tap "My apps & games" and tap the "Update All" button.

Tap the subscribe button so you get notified when new podcasts are available. Of course, the Google Play Music podcast feature is still in progress, so it might not work as well as third-party apps quite yet.

If you want to use a third-party app like BeyondPod, our podcast is available there as well. Simply search for "Komando On Demand," then tap on it and tap the "Subscribe" button at the top of the page.

BeyondPod will start downloading the latest episode. To listen, tap the icon with the three horizontal lines in the upper-left corner and look under "All feeds." Tap "Komando On Demand" and the latest episode will show up. In the title bar, where it says "My Episodes," you can tap and see all the available episodes for the podcast. You can stream or download any of them you wish.

 

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