Car Advice

Mirrorlink review : Android

We review Mirrorlink, one of the new breed of smartphone-connected car infotainment systems.

BACK IN the day in-car entertainment was simple. You had a push-button stereo system that could tune into AM or FM, and there would be six presets. Then came cassette players and CDs, but that was ok because the units were still pretty easy and simple to operate. And then we had satnav, which is where things became complicated. Satnav systems used to be, and many still are, overly complex. Too many tiny, non-intuitive icons, too many presses to do simple tasks, and even the obvious such as “cancel guidance” can be hard to find. But the systems were fairly reliable, because they were all-in-one.
 
Now we’re seeing a new breed of in-car infotainment unit, the smartphone integrated system. Our long-term Vitara has one, and if you have an Android phone it uses something called MirrorLink (http://www.mirrorlink.com/). This means it operates in two modes – without the smartphone, and with. Without the smartphone is fairly straightforward – you get the usual radio or media (Bluetooth, USB etc) streaming, satnav and phone functions. These all work reasonably well, although the radio system has icons that are a little too small and fiddly. Your smartphone, when not connected to MirrorLink, can operate as the usual Bluetooth audio streaming for music or phonecalls.  And when your Android smartphone is connected you get extra features via apps installed on the smartphone. Apple users get the similar CarPlay, which we’ll cover in an update.
 
The Vitara’s entire infotainment system, including the volume control, is touchscreen only. Yes, touchscreens are all the rage these days, but are sadly inappropriate for in-car use. The reason is very simple – they require you to look at the control when you touch it, as distinct from reaching out to operate a dial, switch, lever or button by feel alone without the need to look. 
 
So here’s what you get to start with:
 
IMG_7936
 
That’s with my Android mobile connected via Bluetooth only, no Mirrorlink at this stage. That means we can Bluetooth audio-stream using the likes of Spotify:
 
IMG_7947
Or select another sound source:
 
IMG_7945
There’s no CD player, which is fine. CDs are pretty much a thing of the past now, and even download is dead, it’s all online streaming these days. Here’s the radio screen:
 
IMG_7937
It’d be better if it said the name of the station at the botton as opposed to just the frequency. And there’s a lot of wasted screen space with the frequency band itself which could be used for more interesting information like the current song, time, or other data.
 
Then there’s satnav:
 
IMG_7939
I’m still a fan of using my phone (in a proper mount of course), but this system is better than average, especially for a car the price of the Vitara. The map graphics are more detailed and easier to read than usual, and the system retains some perspective when zoomed out. Entry of destinations isn’t as good as phones, and it’s not Internet connected either. But you do get the usual Places of Interest:
 
 
IMG_7941
 
And the usual route options:
 
IMG_7940
The map data is stored on an SD card. You can remove the card and play music files stored on a different card.
 
IMG_7969
 
There’s voice recognition too. This works reasonably well, but like all systems you have to know whether it wants you to say ‘call’ or ‘dial’. And sometimes it just refuses to recognise your words. Worth a try, but don’t rely on it.
 
 
IMG_7970
 
The phone system gives you a dialpad, contacts and recent calls. It’ll also read text messages as they come in.
 
IMG_7938
 
So that’s the standard features, and now, Mirrorlink for Android. That means connecting your smartphone via Bluetooth, and then also via the USB cable.
 
When you connect via Mirrorlink you lose the ability to operate your phone via its normal screen, which is annoying if you’re a passenger:
 
IMG_7942
And that’s assuming it works. Sometimes you plug in and there’s nothing, no recognition. This means a reboot of either car, or phone, or both. Such is the way with this new integrated smartphone tech. Also, the phone screen turns landscape (sometimes) and then the phone requires a post-disconnect reboot to re-orient itself. Despite the name, there’s no actual screen mirroring.
 
Anyway, once you’re in you’ll see this screen:
 
IMG_7944
Except you probably won’t. Because like me, you won’t have installed either one of these apps, so you’ll just see a blank screen and wonder what’s going on. A “you have no Mirrorlink compatible apps installed, please visit Mirrorlink.com to select one or more” would have been nice.
 
So I figured this out and installed RockScout, for sounds, and Glympse, which is a personal tracking system, which allows you to see where someone else is, so let’s say you take the Vitara off for a drive your partner and friends can see exactly where you are and what speed you’re doing.
 
So I take the RockScout option, and:
 
IMG_7963
I can play podcasts from the Guardian, and then Spotify to cheer me up again. Let’s try the Guardian:
 
IMG_7966
A nice list of podcasts. I select one:
 
IMG_7967
 
and it doesn’t play. I have had success before playing these podcasts, but not today. Did I mention this new tech was less reliable? I think I did. But nobody wants to do a double-reboot-and-pray before setting off on a two minute trip to the shops.
 
Let’s try Spotify:
 
IMG_7964
 
That’s better. Mirrorlinik has big, easy buttons and minimal text. These are good design principles, sadly ignored by the people who designed the rest of the Vitara’s infotainment unit.
 
Here’s Spotify playing something, I don’t know what, it’s just random.
  IMG_7965          
In the three weeks we’ve had the Suzuki the infotainment unit has rebooted itself without warning three times. No apparent pattern to it.

Summary

Mirrorlink is the way of the future, but it’s arrived a bit too early. It’s not the most reliable or easy to use infotainment system, and doesn’t (yet) offer significantly more features than non-smartphone systems so for me and many other users the feature-convenience tradeoff isn’t worth it.

Fortunately, you don’t need to Mirrorlink-connect your smartphone to use the radio, audio streaming, phone or other features, and these are reasonably well implemented on the Vitara; all the basics functions are provided and are easy enough to use after a bit of familiarity.

The Mirrorlink system really just enables extra content and apps. But right now, there’s not enough of either to make it a must-have. That could change with a few more apps, so watch this space. We’ll update this post with the Apple experience in a couple of weeks.

Related links

Do you have Mirrorlink in your car? What’s your view of it?

 


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Andrew Riles
Andrew Riles
4 years ago

Mirrorlink sounds like more trouble than its worth…..and certainly doesn’t inspire confidence….

Quite happy with the performance of bluetooth audio on our 2013 Mazda…..plays our spotify fine, we can change tracks from the phone (as a passenger) or using the steering wheel controls, or I can even do it from home (on spotify) when my wife is out and about lol….

Robert Pepper
4 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Riles

Have to agree, Andrew. On short trips you can spend more time messing around getting things set up than getting there!

Atholl
Atholl
4 years ago

I have been trying/experimenting for the past week or 2. I have read blogs, been on the official suzuki /murati websites looking for assistance. I have tried heaps of android phones with smartlink / htc mirrorlink / other suggested programs, to NO avail. I even went out and purchased a recommended smartphone eg the LG Nexus 5X, even that would not connect.

I have never come across a system which is absolutely in chaos. Different versions of mirrorlink do not talk to each other. It is with extreme difficulty trying o find your version of mirrorlink on your SLDA header unit, even though it is manufactured by Bosch.

The whole Mirrorlink system is just diabolical, and it is like being in an overgrown maze with no exit. No one manufacturer seems to be taking ownership and/or being able to inform you intelligently of what route to follow to get your smartphone to talk to your SLDA/Murati/Bosch header unit.

The SLDA/Murati/Bosh manuals just tell you to connect your phone and mirrorlink will start working. What a load of fallacious twaddle.

Time I think to swop to Apple iPad as that seems to work with no problems according to write ups, but then only time and testing will tell.

Praveen
Praveen
3 years ago

Sir
Very useful information…..i was searching details abt mirrorLink for last 2months…..it is really helpful……thank you

guest
guest
3 years ago

for mirrorlink use LG MirrorDrive to mirror your phone. Be aware that this will work with OS 850. If you upgrade to 1840 or to1850 LG MirrorDrive will not work. But after upgrade to 1840 or 1850 you will have Android Auto!

Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper