SIERRA MADRE MOUNTAINS, Wyo.--When I was planning stages for Road Trip 2009, my wife told me, point blank, that if I fiddled around with either my iPhone or my iPod while I drove, at some point during the thousands of miles I'd be behind the wheel, I'd have an accident.
Fortunately, I was able to counter that argument by explaining that the Audi Q7 TDI I'd be road-testing was supposed to feature really nice integration between those devices and the car, and I promised a hands-free experience, no matter how much I drove.
After more than 5,000 miles in the Q7, I'm prepared to grant Audi high scores for how they managed to make both devices seem like built-in accessories.
In point of fact, the car doesn't have specific iPhone integration. Rather, it's supposed to be for any Bluetooth-enabled mobile phone. But since the only one of those I have is an iPhone, that's what I've been using for 32 days, seven states, and nearly enough miles to cross the United States and return.
I've included lengthy videos in this post demonstrating how both the iPhone (see below) and the iPod (see further below) work with the Q7, so rather than explain it all in writing as well, I'll just touch on a few highlights and let the videos speak for themselves.
I'd read in a blog post by Guy Kawasaki that pairing his iPhone and the Q7 TDI he was testing out for a couple months couldn't have been easier. Having seen that report, I was excited about trying it out myself.
And Kawasaki was right. A quick configuration and a recognition by my iPhone of the car's Bluetooth, and I was connected. From then on, anytime I was in the Q7 with my iPhone, it automatically connected, as I could see instantly from the five bars and the Bluetooth logo that would show up on the car's main multimedia interface. In fact, since my iPhone was usually hidden away in a pouch in my backpack, I could tell when its battery had died by the fact that the Bluetooth logo had disappeared.
Dialing numbers is a little tricky--the first time. The car doesn't have a touch screen, so you can't tap out numbers. Instead you have to dial them in, one by one, with a round dial in the center console. But once you've entered a number, you can redial it simply by pushing a "mode" button on the steering wheel that you can easily reach with your left thumb, and then, also with your left thumb, a small scroll wheel when the interface is on your previously dialed numbers.
When you hit the number you want to dial, you click the scroll wheel and it dials, pumping in over the car's audio system. You generally have to turn the volume way up (by scrolling the volume wheel with your right thumb), but I've had dozens of very clear phone conversations in the car without having to move either of my hands at all on the wheel, or, really, my eyes from the road.
And that's pretty cool.
The reason I ended up road-testing the Q7 is Apple and Audi were both interested in showcasing how the car integrated with the iPod. So, with Apple having lent me an iPod Touch, and having copied most of my music onto it at home, I brought it along as my music player for the trip.
The integration is good (as the below video demonstrates), but the interface is a bit less elegant than the iPod famously is as a stand-alone device. It maintains the menu-level structure of an iPod, but moving in between the levels is not all that intuitive.
Still, once I got the hang of it, I enjoyed having the device and the car linked up. The songs display on both the car's main interactive screen, and on a small screen in between the speedometer and the RPM meter. Controls to pause, lower, or raise the volume, switch to the next or last song, and move up a level in the menu structure are easily at hand on the center console.
And perhaps most elegantly, the iPod itself would be difficult to find for anyone who didn't know where it was. It fits in a small drawer--connected to a dedicated cable (not a generic AUX IN cable) that continuously powers it--that hides away in a compartment that itself hides away. Which means I need to remind myself to fish out the iPod when I return the car.
All in all, iPod users and those who have Bluetooth phones like the iPhone, will find themselves pleased with Audi's attention to how people want to use their music players and make calls.
From my perspective, they just wanted to make sure I could keep my word to my wife that my eyes would stay on the road, even as I talked on the phone--usually with her, by the way--or controlled my music. She seems won over.