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Audi and Qualcomm's 3G car system early review: Web on wheels

Audi and Qualcomm have supercharged sat-nav by sticking a 3G Web connection in the Audi A8. We took it for a spin

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Richard Trenholm

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Qualcomm and Audi are bringing the information superhighway to the actual highway. The chipmaker has developed a 3G Web connection for the carmaker's Mobile Media Interface Plus in-car navigation and entertainment system, supercharging your sat-nav with the power of the Web. We took it for a spin.

Well, we sat in it and pressed some buttons, as the demo car was parked on the Qualcomm stand at Mobile World Congress. The system is being shown off at MWC in an A5 Cabriolet, but it will be available in shops on the A8. We got in and went "Brrrrrmmmm" until someone from Qualcomm agreed to talk us through the technology.

Qualcomm's UMTS Web connection opens what looks like a sat-nav into a world of wireless wonder. Live traffic updates can be displayed over 3D maps courtesy of Google Earth. Because the car knows where it is, it can tell you what the traffic, news and weather are like where you are or where you're going.

The driver doesn't get to have all the fun. The car shares its 3G connection as a Wi-Fi hotspot, so passengers can use laptops or other mobile devices. In the back, passengers can watch broadcast FLO TV on head-rest screens.

Click 'Continue' to burn rubber through our gallery of the system in action, showing off the different technologies in the car -- including a prototype feature that'll give your phone a jolt. Vorsprung durch technik, and all that.

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The screen is set in the centre of the dash, between driver and passenger.
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The system is controlled with a dial and buttons set behind the gear stick, rather than a touchscreen.
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The home screen offers access to car, telephone, information, navigation, media, radio and equaliser functions.
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The phone option displays a nifty retro-style rotary dial.
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The car delivers traffic updates based on your location.
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You can go into more detail, or choose how to see the traffic information.
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You can be taken into a super-swish Google Earth 3D map showing delays and traffic updates.
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Zoom out for the bigger picture.
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Other location-based services include local weather, news and landmarks of interest you may want to check out.
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Here you can select where you want your news, weather or updates to be from: your current location, or perhaps your destination.
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Here's the local weather information. What's the weather like in Barcelona? Scorchio, obviously.
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The news feature allows you to choose from different sources. These currently include Agence France-Presse -- the oldest news agency in the world -- but local deals in different territories are likely. We'd like to see the BBC on board.
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News is presented in a list of headlines, with colour pictures. Click one and you can read the story in full, with bigger pictures.
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To get your driving tunes on, there's a CD player and two SD card slots. No USB yet, however.
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Isn't it ironic that one of the biggest stories at a mobile phone show isn't even a phone? No, it isn't.
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The two front-seat head rests include screens to keep you entertained on the back seat. They play Qualcomm's own FLO TV service.
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The display model also included this feature which isn't quite ready for market: a wireless charging bin. Dump your phone -- wearing a charging sleeve -- into the well beneath the central armrest, and it will charge without needing a cable.

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