Holden's Barina transports the driver into a whole new world. Sometimes ...
Mark Knopfler wanted his MTV. But that's so 1985. I want internet radio in my car. And who'd have thought it would be the humble Holden Barina to bring it to me?
The latest top-specification Barina CDX has a touch-screen system called MyLink, which brings together audio, telephone and other functions with nice typefaces and pretty colours. That's not unusual.
What is a first for MyLink is a smartphone connection that allows you to control certain applications on your phone through the MyLink screen. The first to be offered are internet radio portals: MyLink comes with Stitcher (news, talk, comedy) and Pandora (music) embedded.
Pandora is the one really being pushed by Holden because it's big news in the US (175 million users, and rising) and it's new to New Zealand. The service was officially launched here in December.
Essentially, Pandora allows you to create your own radio station(s). Input your favourite artists, albums or genres and a "music genome" finds music you'll like. The genome is the work of trained musicians who have analysed each of the million-plus tracks in the Pandora catalogue.
You download the Pandora application to your smartphone, but MyLink has the ability to control it once you're connected via Bluetooth. I would like to tell you about using Pandora in the Barina CDX.
But I can't, because our test car didn't have the application on its MyLink screen. Quick call to Holden corporate affairs man Neil Waka. Apparently, our Barina arrived late last year before Pandora was properly up and running here, but it'll be added ASAP. The salient point being that if you rush out and buy a Barina CDX now, you'll get it. The full MyLink setup will also feature in the forthcoming VF Commodore.
I did try Stitcher, which works the same way as Pandora but is tailored to news and talkback. It works seamlessly: hit the app icon on MyLink, it takes a couple of seconds to talk to your phone then you're away, providing you retain a decent 3G signal.
Ah yes, the 3G signal. That means data. The possible downside of all this cool technology is that it's really easy to forget the car is using your cellphone data plan. Streaming radio consumes about 60MB an hour, so 1GB of data gets you up to 20 hours' listening. That's something to be mindful of, since a typical smartphone data plan is 1-3GB a month.
Once you've run out of data - which you may well do - a typical additional data charge of 20 cents per MB would mean you pay $12 an hour to listen to internet radio.
It's an issue we'll have to get used to, because this is the direction General Motors-Holden's in-car media is going. Realising that integrated technology can never keep pace with the portable stuff, particularly in cheaper cars, it's finding ways for cars to simply be a conduit for drivers' own devices. A system like MyLink can also be updated by the dealership or perhaps ultimately by the owner, via home computer and USB.
Other promising apps proposed for Holden's MyLink include BringGo sat-nav, which works in a similar way to Pandora: the driver's personal smartphone does all the work, while the car provides the control screen. It's smarter with data, too, because the BringGo application downloads navigation maps on to the device, meaning you're not eating up MB as the sat-nav checks the route.
By the way, the $26,990 Barina CDX is also good for driving around in, carrying luggage and so on.