Jewish World Review March 7, 2003 / 3 Adar II 5763

Up and down the road with joyride

By Mark Kellner | Clarion Corporation of America's Joyride automotive entertainment/navigation system, whose cost, including installation, is around $4,000, offers a unique premise: an in-car system controlled by a computer processor and Microsoft's Windows CE for Automotive, a version of Windows designed to bring computing power to your dashboard.

In the first installment of this review, I noted the travails encountered with getting the system properly installed, operating and then restored after the software was wiped out. (Had Clarion opted to continue, in this product, its earlier use of a programmable read-only memory chip for the operating system, my near week of silent commutes might have been avoided.) Now, let's look at some of the ups and downs of this system's performance.

My test vehicle, a 2002 Hyundai Santa Fe is, I believe well suited to an "after-market" audio product like the Joyride. The crew at Audio Options in Torrance, Calif., near Los Angeles, was able to do a quality installation of the stereo, optional CD-changer, and GPS hardware.

On a daily basis, however, the Joyride presented challenges: I've noted the tendency to have to "reboot" the system, using a reset button accessible either with a bent paper clip or the tip of a ballpoint pen, every couple of days. Even after a "clean" reinstall of the Joyride system software, my reset issue returned: last Friday morning, an ear-splitting noise emanated when there should have been music.

Another periodic problem also remained: every so often, with no explanation, the unit would switch over to voice command mode, announcing the current application, "CD Player," "Radio," and wait for me to issue a verbal command. During this time, often a crucial part of a song or radio broadcast, the sound would be lowered, and I'd miss a bit. On CD and MP3 music files, there's no way to skip back a few seconds to hear just what one missed, so the loss can be irritating.

Voice commands on the Joyride are a mixed bag. You can easily switch from one mode to another, but some commands - "next song" for a CD or "scan" for the radio - are nowhere to be found. The vocabulary of the Joyride needs to be beefed up, although the unit gets high marks for voice recognition without any "training" by the user to make the system know one's own voice.

I had a pleasant surprise when playing a CD containing MP3 songs: artist, track and title information appeared on the large display screen. Why similar information can't be obtained wirelessly for regular music CDs played on the system - something easily done with a computer hooked up to the Internet - is a bit surprising.

Such a lack of two-way communication is a real disappointment with the Joyride. The original Auto PC concept from Microsoft included ways to access e-mail and some Web information, if memory serves me correctly, while on the road; pairing the Joyride with a built-in, hands-free cell phone would not only make sense, but also make some wireless data activity possible.

Another somewhat astonishing lack is that of any obvious integration between the Joyride unit and satellite radio. Even though Clarion apparently has an arrangement with Sirius Satellite Radio (the display screen had buttons for the service), there was none provided and no commands in the Joyride software to handle such an accessory. With both the high quality satellite programming provides and the need by the satellite services to succeed, it seems like a natural that satellite radio would "be there."

There's a lot to argue for adding computing power, serious computing power, to a vehicle, and I hope to try some other experiments in the coming months. But for now, Clarion's Joyride gets an "E" for effort, but an "F" for frustration. If you really, really need a computer in your car, buy a laptop instead.

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JWR contributor Mark Kellner has reported on technology for industry newspapers and magazines since 1983, and has been the computer columnist for The Washington Times since 1991.Comment by clicking here.

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