Bluetooth pairing for car and iPhone, Audi GSM phone system

It was with some amusement recently that I found out I could pair my iPhone with my car, given that the dealership had sold me a cradle for my old phone when I bought the car some years back. In fact, Bluetooth pairing had only ever been a few seconds away, despite the cost of a cradle, which only fitted one phone and therefore ensured I didn’t upgrade that phone!

It turns out that in the Audi system at least, Bluetooth is built in to the system if you have got a dash mounted GSM preparation, or a centre armrest version… as long as you buy the car with GSM phone preparation, it should work.

All you do to get your iPhone connected is switch bluetooth on and let it look for devices. The Audi appears in the list very quickly, and you enter the default password (1234 in most cases). Once done the phone will work through the phone system, allowing you to make and receive calls hands free and with no need for cables or cradles.

There is a delay in the system copying your phone book to the car, and in my case with over 400 entries it took simply ages – I believe three days went by before it finally completed. Voice dialling and voice control is not activated which is no big loss; the Audi system is pretty unreliable if you are driving at anything like normal speeds as it mis-hears almost everything you say. Using a multi-function wheel you can easily scroll through your contacts (which get displayed in your driver’s information panel in the centre of your dashboard) and make the call that you need. When the phone rings with an incoming call you simply press a button to answer it.

It couldn’t be simpler… but it took three years to find and only then through a chance conversation with the salesman who got my new car sorted (Stansted Audi, name of Bert Wildman).

I wish I had known before. In short, don’t buy a cradle unless you crave voice dialling features, use bluetooth instead.

iPod interface for cars, Dension fitted iPod system

I recently changed my car, leaving my trusted Audi A3 and therefore the Alpine N333RRS head unit, sat nav system and iPod interface. I didn’t let the car go with that system in place – I took it out and put back the Audi Chorus radio and tape player.

The new car, an Audi A3 Cabrio (yes, yes, I know… still an A3) came with no sat nav, but I did get a dealer fitted iPod interface. Guess what? It turns out to be a Dension device – either a gateway or ICE>Link – I don’t know which (it is hidden behind the centre console). The clues I had were obvious – the track name doesn’t show, the track number doesn’t advance and there was a leaflet left in the glove box with the Dension name all over it!

And in that nutshell you have it – the Dension systems are working, just, but there are obvious ommissions in functionality still. It must be three years or more since I stopped using the Dension system because of these shortcomings, and here I am right back where I was.

The iPod or the head unit can be used to change the track, but also so can the multi-function steering wheel. What is rather nice is that the phone system in the car works as it should, muting the playback to allow incoming or outgoing calls easily, but I fail to see why after all this time Dension kit still can’t show ID3 tags… specifically, the name of the song playing.

What also causes a wry smile is that a car maker as prestigious as Audi sees fit to install a 3rd party device in their cars. If Alpine can make a system that works as you want it to, showing track names, switching between play lists and folders, etc, then why on earth haven’t the major manufacturers put some R&D into creating their own systems yet? I suppose the argument is that the Dension kit does the job, but I have to say that is less than true. The Dension kit does half the job…

Since it was fitted by the dealership (or rather the local audio specialists) I have no idea what firmware has been installed, what would constitute an update or when I can expect better functionality.

So on the one hand I am delighted to have my iPod working, my phone working and have all the controlls at my fingertips whilst driving, I am disappointed that the old issues have remained for such a long time. I am bemused as to why Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Ford, Mazda… heck, anyone, hasn’t done this properly yet. As far as gadgets go the iPod is the ‘big one’, so what is taking the manufacturers so long to get a decent interface in their vehicles?

Alpine N333RRS quality

Right – now this is in the car and working, let’s talk about how good it is (or isn’t).

First off, I have a bog standard audi audio system – which by all accounts is actually pretty good. I always loved the warmth of the sound and the strength of the bass was OK. But now I have an Alpine system – what differences are there?

Well, for one, I found that I do in fact have a sub woofer in my car – not particularly obvious but it is now punching out some more serious bass than before. The speakers consist of fronts split into two – mid range and tweeters, plus an additional centre channel on the dashboard top, and the rears which are standard single cone stuff.

Adding the Alpine unit and I can honestly say everything is that much cleaner and crisper – the bass has added punch and I can hear things I couldn’t hear before… low volumes seems to allow me to still hear the quietest intro – even at high speeds in my turbo diesel. I still get a punch in the chest when I listen to the right kind of music – and the high end is just so much cleaner as to be unreal. A colleague actually thought I had upgraded the speakers – the sound was that different.

I also don’t get as much audio compression in the car- the sound is less ‘oppressive’ if I can describe it that way – the Audi unit seems wooly be comparison to the Alpine. I guess it is a bit like the difference between a Gibson Les Paul and a Fender Stratocaster – you either like one or the other, seldom both.

Overall, quality has improved. The standard speaker set up copes really well and with the iPod unit all working I am enjoying the music far more than I have ever done before. That’s not to say the Dension ICE>Link wasn’t any good – it is – just that the Alpine unit has faster response rates and just, well, works!

What about the navigation?

This has been interesting. So far I have only driven in areas I know really well. On some occasions the accuracy of the unit has been off by about 30 yards (quite normal), but on other occasions I have driven along well known roads and the unit lost navigation. It also tried to direct me through the centre of a town when I could have used the by-pass (I used the ‘short’ route option and not the ‘quick’ which could have something to do with it). It also has some ambiguity at cross roads where there is a ‘straight ahead’ option. It sometimes tells me to turn left and then right. Hmm. Also, on exiting roundabouts it is about 70% accurate as to where the exit lane really is.

All in all you still need a fair degree of common sense. This unit isn’t going to turn on your indicators for you and some roads which bend sharply are considered to be junctions when they are not. Keep some common sense about what you are doing, use the road signs as well and you are going to be OK.

The map feature is fine – all that is needed for most journeys. I really don’t believe a 7″ screen in full colour will add anything to the experience – I’m happy with my ‘Bio-lite’ display.

So have I ditched the map book yet? In short, no – I still think it has a place in the car, if just to be able to show me the ‘bigger picture’ when going to new places.

The one thing I adore with this unit is post code searching… so overall I wouldn’t give it up even if I have violated my manufacturer’s warranty! It sounds great, is very practical and looks the bees knees too… what more could you ask?

(well, a phone kit that works, of course…)


Alpine N333RRS in Audi A3

OK – job is done… Alpine N333RRS head unit is sitting in my Audi A3 car and all seems well.

Well, that is except for a couple of small things…

Firstly, the audi factory fitted phone kit no longer works- calls coming in are not muting the head unit and I cannot hear the phone through the speakers as before. The fitters did add a new dedicated speaker for the phone, but the output volume from the kit is so small it is inaudible. This needs amplification, at the very least.

It also seems that some functions of the driver’s info system are not working – the most significant of which is the display of the CD or radio station info. Wow – no great loss there – all other stuff seems fine.

It’s the phone which gets me irritated -that was one of the main things I needed to retain. I ahve sent a few emails around asking if there is an adapter available, since I don’t really want to be cutting through any wires and taping them together to get it to work. Fortunately I have heard from who say they do have an adapter which will give me the basic functionality. I’d pay well just for that bit!! Everyone else seems to think it is impossible to do – and I can’t believe that for a moment.

I have had some interesting discussion on what to do from the forums… but only from one fellow in Johannesburg (don’t you just love the international possibilities of the Internet??)

However, beyond any of that the most worrying aspect to fitting this after market unit is that my car is less than three years old and yet I may have inadvertently invalidated the warranty! Oops! Can you imagine taking the unit out of the car, refitting the old unit and then going for some warranty work, only to have to reverse the process when done? No, me neither. Let’s hope the car stays in good enough condition not to need it…

ICE>LINK software, Dension config files, iPod in your car, update ice>LINK

Following on from previous posts, you can now download all versions of Dension’s firmware here, including versions 2.03, 2.04, 2.05, 2.06, 2.07 and 2.10. Included in the zip file are the config files for all of the head units that Dension supported, both OEM and aftermarket. Additionally there are the update instructions and the start update.mp3 file.

Click here to download them all – it is a 4.1MB download…

Edited – Feb 18th 06, Check out the page for Dension files – all versions in the updates library are now listed individually, along with the config files and a .pdf about how to run the updates. Hopefully this will help folk get to the exact update they want more swiftly.