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Six car USB ports in the multimedia test

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T he development in the field of multimedia virtually overwhelmed the automotive industry. The industry had not expected the sales success of the smart MP3 player a few years ago - above all with the Apple iPod. Even less so with customers increasingly asking about integration options in their cars. For a long time the manufacturers could only shrug their shoulders. That has changed, however, because they are now offering more and more intelligent connection solutions. The focus is currently on the USB connection.

USB - the new standard in the vehicle?

Some brands already offer this variant, others want to enable the interface in the car soon. USB is thus preparing to become the standard in vehicles. Reason enough for auto motor und sport to put six models with this equipment to the test. The connection options in the BMW 1 Series, Fiat 500, Kia Soul, Mini, Opel Insignia and VW Polo must show whether they are better than the previous connection standard via the AUX socket. This can be found as standard in many audio systems from the manufacturers, even with the six test candidates it is still part of the scope in addition to the USB connection.

MP3 player can be operated via the radio

However, drivers should not expect too much from this variant, as the control of the small players via the audio system is very limited. The connection via the AUX socket does not allow more than the volume control. As the test shows, the USB variant is superior. It can be used to conveniently access the various music folders on the MP3 player via the radio control panel on the six cars. The twelve-volt electrical system also charges the player's battery, and information about the song and artist is also transmitted.

The connection does not work the same for all test cars

The biggest plus of USB, however, is the variety of connections; USB sticks can also be connected to the radio. This means that customers don't have to buy a small player. The sticks are cheaper, versions with one gigabyte of storage capacity are available in stores for as little as two euros. This creates space for around 250 songs in MP3 format. On the other hand, it is negative that the connection via USB does not work equally well in all six test cars. Alreadythe integration of the storage media causes problems: while MP3 players and sticks can be connected quickly, iPod and iPhone often require a special cable from the accessories or even a device configuration.

Prices for the USB connection varied from manufacturer to manufacturer

Others Problems arise with the menu structure of the MP3 player. It can also make perfect integration of the playback devices difficult. The systems in the Opel Insignia (the Opel Insignia in the test) and in the Kia Soul do not correctly recognize the music lists on all storage media, sub-folders and super-folders are shown unsorted on the display. This can be fixed by creating new playlists without a cumbersome folder hierarchy. With the BMW and Mini, the system does not ensure that the music list automatically jumps to the next at the end - as is usually the case with MP3 players. The prices are also different. Some brands offer USB as standard, others see it as an accessory. Depending on the manufacturer and equipment, between 170 and 1,500 euros are due. With the Mini, for example, the Bluetooth hands-free kit is part of the package of 420 euros - in connection with the iPhone, this is definitely a worthwhile investment.

USB radios for retrofitting are cheaper and often better

While the MP3 player in the mobile phone is connected to the car radio via USB, the mobile phone can use the hands-free system wirelessly be coupled. Nevertheless: USB is not a bargain among manufacturers. It's cheaper on the aftermarket. USB radios, for example, are available for as little as 100 euros. In terms of performance, they can often easily keep pace with the offers of the car manufacturers.

The USB port in the Insignia is only available with the navigation system. This means that 1,100 or 1,500 euros are due, which only applies to the Selection equipment variant. From Edition, the navigation unit is a series and thus also the multimedia socket that recognizes USB sticks, MP3 players and Apple products. It works best with the iPod and iPhone. With the charging cable of both devices, the internal playlist structure can be transferred to the display in the car, the control works either via the radio and steering wheel buttons or the multifunction button in the center console. Not all MP3 players do this completely smoothly. For some, there may be integration problems as sub and parent folders are transferred unsorted.

Price: from 1,100 euros

For 170 euros there is the USB connection Media-IN in the Polo range. It is hidden in the glove compartment and enables MP3 players, USB sticks and the Apple iPod to be connected quickly. However, the multimedia jack cannot be combined with all VW car radios and can be used to connect theiPod an additional cable is required for around 30 euros. Those are the negative sides. Otherwise, Media-IN convinces by recognizing the folder structure of the plug-in media and transmitting song and artist information without any problems. Control is also simple, the music lists of the playback devices are easy to manage via the radio control panel. Input via the touchscreen is particularly easy with the navigation system.

Price: from 170 euros

From 300 euros, the USB port is available in the 1 series. This also enables sticks, MP3 players or Apple devices to be linked to the factory system. Depending on the equipment, the driver can control it via the radio control panel, the i-Drive controller or the steering wheel remote control. This works without any difficulties, but you have to go through some submenus to get to the goal. The playlist structure of the playback devices takes over the equipment without any problems, but the lists do not automatically jump to the next at the end. Song and artist information are fully supported. Incomprehensible: A separate connection cable is required to connect the iPod and iPhone. Cost: around 50 euros.

Price: from 300 euros

The Fiat 500 is like the Opel Insignia: Except for the basic version (surcharge: 450 euros) all versions via the USB connection. It can be found in the Blue & Me equipment together with the Bluetooth hands-free system. Sticks, MP3 players and Apple representatives can be connected to the audio system in the car. However, the iPod and iPhone connection is problematic - the connection often only works with a special configuration of the devices. The fiddly operation via the steering wheel buttons also deserves criticism. It is sometimes cumbersome and the display in the cockpit is too small. Otherwise, the connection works smoothly: The playlist structure of the player is just as easily adopted as the information on the song and artist.

Price: from 450 euros

Kia does not charge a surcharge for audio system and USB connection. The multimedia socket can even be found in the basic version. However, the special cable for iPod and iPhone is missing. With this configuration, only sticks and MP3 players can be connected to the system. Whoever chooses the next higher configuration called Attract, receives the specific Apple cable. The system quickly recognizes the plug-in media and the management of the music folders works via the control panel of the factory system or the steering wheel remote control (from Vision equipment). However, controlling the radio is tricky. In addition, the system does not completely adopt the playlist structure from the MP3 player. The information about the song and the artist is sometimes not displayed correctly.

Price: Equipment series

Even the Mini does not have USBwithout adding. If you order the connection, you will also receive a Bluetooth hands-free system. Price: 420 euros. A lot of money for a system that requires kneeling in front of the USB port. As in the test car, it can be located under the cockpit, which means work to connect a stick, MP3 player and Apple products - if you have the necessary iPod cable. A special Apple connection is available as an accessory for 199 euros. It should also enable control via the radio. This works properly with the USB port: Playlist structures are adopted, but the lists do not automatically jump to the next at the end. The fiddly operation via the radio is also annoying. Song and artist information, however, is supported.

Price: from 420 euros

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