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Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol F1 review

Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol F1 review

What is a DJ? Everyone who considers him or herself one can probably give you a unique answer. Is everyone with a music collection and a sense for good timing a DJ, or does their music collection have to exceed a certain number of gigabytes or slabs of vinyl to be in the club (no pun intended)? Audio playback devices are certainly getting more plentiful and powerful on a large scale; anyone who’s played with an iOS DJ app can tell you that. In the deeper end of the DJ pool, things aren’t expanding at such a frantic pace. But every once in a while a new toy crops up that adds depth and breadth to the way music nerds play back music. Native Instruments‘ just-released Traktor Kontrol F1 is a blinking slab of rainbow-tinged hardware with an intense devotion to manipulating samples. While boxes from Roland and Akai have been defining genres for decades, this 16-pad add-on takes the sampling game to a new arena. Will DJ’s want it? We feel it’s safe to say they will. At $279, should they buy it? That question’s a little more complicated.%Gallery-156497%

Native Instruments

Traktor Kontrol F1


  • Brings production and DJing closer in new ways
  • Colorful display is useful and beautiful
  • Versatile


  • Steep learning curve
  • Difficult to use with non-electronic music
  • Expensive


If you’re already a Traktor junkie, the F1 will make your addiction more severe. If you’re not, congratulations: come back and hang with the F1 when you’re ready to dive off the deep end.


The bottom half of the 5- by 11.5-inch F1 is home to a grid of 16 MPC-style sample cue pads, each around 3/4-inch square. Every translucent button houses an assignable 16-color LED. This eye candy will catch newcomers’ eyes and, perhaps just as importantly, help the operator classify sample types according to his or her own preference. The pads also form a low-resolution display that elegantly aids in navigating tasks: scroll to another sample page, and a white bar “flips” the current page away kind of like an e-book. Four “stop” buttons bring sounds into or out of the mix.

Four pairs of filter knobs and volume sliders sit atop the box, offering individual control of each column. The function keys in the center are typical Native Instruments fare, offering precise control over each pad’s settings as well as more general control of the columns and remix decks. The 14-segment LCD display and clickable rotary encoder will also be familiar to Traktor hardware users. Everything feels slightly more rigid than earlier hardware: sliders are more ratcheted, filter knobs offer more resistance than usual, and the pads themselves feel more spry than those on the drum-sequencing Maschine controller, another NI mainstay.

Like any good member of a commercial ecosystem, the F1 eventually tugs at your heartstrings to bring home a friend: although it’s simple enough to switch between controlling left and right remix decks with one unit, we certainly couldn’t help but wonder how much more we could get done with a companion to address both sides of the crossfader.

We’re growing a little weary of NI’s (very) standard design. The typefaces, coloring and weight will certainly match your other NI gear. But we’d prefer more diversity in the appearances of our setup, or at least the option to get something that looks slightly less…techno. Shift-functions of buttons have been drilled into gearheads’ fingertips since Roland popularized them decades ago, but they are starting to feel antiqued in an era defined by multitouch interfaces. Until Colorware starts doing F1’s, we’ll make do with this: a hard-working black box that feels fine-tuned to the more performance-driven direction Traktor is marching in.


Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol F1 review

Along for the ride with the F1 is a key upgrade to Traktor Pro — version 2.5 brings Remix Decks into the fold. They’re a bit like Sample Decks, cubed from a meager four slots to a stately 64, and have gained more control over many of the tricks their elder siblings, Track Decks, have had forever: keylock, FX, individual monitoring, fine playback and level controls. The takeaway here is that you’ll now be able to manipulate samples in ways that are more akin to how you’re used to manipulating entire tracks.

Each sample slot reflects the user-defined color of the corresponding pad in hardware. Traktor Pro 2.5 comes with 1.4GB of samples, so even if your hard drive is a little bare in the kick, snare, and loop departments you’ll be able to get a feel for the flow of synthesizing and re-constructing sets with the F1.

Capturing new sounds from existing tracks is one of the trickier tasks to master. Familiarity with the Loop Recorder feature in older versions is a pre-requisite — routing, quantization, loop size, trigger types and synchronization are all thrust into the foreground with Remix Decks.

It’s important to note that only one sample can be played back at a time per column, which essentially limits each Remix Deck to four-voice polyphony. We understand this limitation: it allows the hardware controller to remain simple enough that the operator can always grasp what’s going on quickly without getting caught up in parameters. And considering that this is software for DJs, nimbleness should always take precedence over sonic detailing. With only four voices to work with, the F1 won’t be winning any live MPC production contests soon. But precise customization will help users mold the F1 into the device they want it to be. We dumped all the one-shot samples from our trusty SP-404 into a Remix Deck and, within a half-hour of tweaking, found ourselves with a nice little 404 emulator enhanced by Traktor’s synchronization capabilities.

Usage and the learning curve

Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol F1 review

Are there other ways to integrate samples cleanly and perfomatively into DJ sets? Any Ableton user will tell you they’ve been doing it for nearly a decade. We have been career-long devotees to Roland’s SP line of sampling products, triggering completely independent of timecode, and experts can of course use non-synchronized sampling to monumental effect. With Traktor Pro 2.5 and the F1, the digital DJ becomes even further separated from the traditional vinyl-lugging jock, a trend that we expect will continue to evolve in interesting ways. Not that this is a bad thing.

If you already feel overwhelmed by your music collection, or by DJing in general, don’t get the F1. You don’t need it: spend time with your current setup and bounty, feel comfortable with it and push it to its limits. Remix Decks actually take a good deal of time and dedication to set up and program properly. And they require an intuitive familiarity with the Traktor’s timing functions to perfect loop editing. Each time you create a workable remix deck, trying to integrate it into a set is a bit like learning a new instrument. Each pad takes on a distinct life of its own, with stacks of parameters requiring fine-tuning for every sample before it actually gets integrated in a live context.

Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol F1 review

If you’re a producer with leanings towards the DJ universe, the F1 might be a good solo unit to get you familiar with Traktor. Remix decks are certainly easier to setup and handle if you’re generating the samples yourself; in fact, we feel straight DJ’s might become frustrated with the complexity of loading in samples on the fly for tracks that are not 4/4 electronic music. The F1, for all its multi-colored, popular appeal, relies on a system that certainly requires more than a straightforward DJ is usually familiar with.

If you’re the tweaker type, always thirsting for more knobs to rock and more blinky bling in your setup, rest assured you’ll be grinning when this thing powers on and struts its rainbow-colored stuff in your man (or woman) cave. If your cave-dwelling friends are anything like you with your hardware and iTunes Visualizer fixations, they’ll share your grin with you. And sharing grins is what it’s all about!


Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol F1 review

We get the feeling that hacker types will be having their way with the F1 in all sorts of unholy ways within a few weeks of its mass release today. NI has included a plastic overlay that casts the F1 as a standalone (and fairly limited) DJ controller, an obvious retooling to appeal to a larger group of folks. We can very easily see the F1 helping to bridge the gap between Maschine and Traktor much as The Bridge brought together Ableton‘s Live and Serato‘s Scratch. The colorful 4 x 4 grid holds huge creative potential and we can’t wait to see how both Native Instruments and its devotees evolve the low-resolution display. It’s the anti-Retina display, if you will.

We see the transitioned DJ–someone who learned on vinyl, then made the switch to digital–a bit like a pop producer who’s been schooled extensively in classical composition and music history (hitmaker Scott Storch comes to mind): while most audiences can appreciate the outcome, those who know where the techniques come from can appreciate the production on a different level. Those who learn purely in the digital realm are less concerned with the architecture of what they’re doing, and just want to make a cool sound. Kind of like a self-taught punk rock guitarist with a knack for what sounds good (a Kurt Cobain type). Both types of producers concentrate on different aspects of performance, and both are completely valid. While the Traktor and F1 may automate and further distance DJ’s from previously-essential skills (like…beatmatching!) we don’t think dedicated producers will squander the freed-up creative brainspace. They’ll just use it for something…different.

James Trew contributed to this review.

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Native Instruments announces Traktor DJ for iPad, brings the mix to iOS (video)

Native Instruments announces Traktor DJ for iPad, brings the mix to iOS (video)

DJ apps for iPad? There’s a bunch. But — if you’re at all familiar with the craft — there’s a very notable name absent from the crowd. Until today that is. Native Instruments set the high watermark for DJ software with its desktop-based Traktor application, and now it’s available in compact iOS form. Designed by the same team as the full-fat version, aspiring DJs can enjoy two waveform-based decks, with three-band EQ, eight effects (ported over from Trakor Pro) all redesigned from the ground up for the iPad’s touch-based input. The interface eschews the conventional virtualization of a turntable set-up, instead creating a workflow more congruent with the hardware’s form factor. Notably, a new “Freeze” mode stops the waveform from galloping on, letting you tend to cue points, loops etc or slice it into samples for “playable” parts. There’s also interaction between the mobile and desktop versions via dropbox-based media sync, so any tracks loops and so on made on the move can be seamlessly transported to your club performance too. Think an iPad app is nice and all, but want a little more spice? Well, hook it up to one of the firm’s popular Audio 6 or Audio 10 interfaces (via the USB connection kit) you just got proper pre-listen and cue functionality too. Traktor DJ is available today for $19.99, and if you’re still undecided, there’s a demo video after the break that might just swing it for you.

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Native Instruments Releases TRAKTOR DJ App Exclusively for iPad

Berlin, February 21, 2013 – Native Instruments today released TRAKTOR DJ – a unique, hands-on DJ app built from the ground up for iPad aimed at DJs of all levels from novices to touring professionals. Created by the same team behind the top-selling TRAKTOR brand, TRAKTOR DJ strikes a balance between instant, fun usability and advanced, professional features. TRAKTOR DJ allows users to intuitively access their music in a whole new way while also complementing the TRAKTOR family through bi-directional content synchronization with TRAKTOR PRO software.

TRAKTOR DJ puts the waveform in the center of user interaction, featuring two decks, each with dedicated 3-band EQ and filter sections, as well as 8 proven TRAKTOR effects. Utilizing familiar iOS Multi-Touch gestures like pinch and swipe, TRAKTOR DJ brings a professional quality mixing experience to iPad – equally suited to full performance or on-the-go set preparation. Users can intuitively manipulate waveforms by touch, “grabbing” their music with two fingers to instantly set a loop, perform scratches, mark cue points for live re-editing, and scrub, browse or navigate through tracks – the key functions of the TRAKTOR PRO 2 software, re-designed for touchscreen interaction.

TRAKTOR DJ introduces the completely new Freeze Mode, which lets users slice up a waveform into playable parts for on-the-fly remixing and entirely new musical performances. The app also allows users to create beat grids in real time, intuitively mapping out a song’s groove without having to stop the music. DJs are encouraged to discover the full extent of TRAKTOR DJ’s capabilities at their own speed via the Notification Center, which tracks the user’s progress through the app’s features and unobtrusively offers tips, tricks, and techniques from within the app.

With over a decade of technological refinement through the evolution of TRAKTOR, TRAKTOR DJ’s automatic tempo detection and sync engine are now accompanied by precise downbeat analysis. This makes beat mixing completely straightforward and frees users to creatively interact with their music via the touch interface. Full iTunes music library integration of TRAKTOR DJ means DJs can easily search their library for the next track. Unique to TRAKTOR DJ, the app introduces a recommendation engine that uses advanced tempo, key, and timbre detection algorithms. TRAKTOR DJ recommends compatible tracks from your iTunes library with the same tempo and harmonic structure in real time, facilitating smooth and ear-pleasing mixes for users of all levels. Both the advanced downbeat and key detection features will also be available to TRAKTOR PRO customers with a dedicated 2.6.1 software update.

Complementing the existing range of TRAKTOR products, TRAKTOR DJ bi-directionally syncs track settings and properties with TRAKTOR PRO 2. This gives DJs an ideal workflow for planning a set while on the move. Users can also transfer all their stored work in TRAKTOR PRO directly to TRAKTOR DJ – all beat grids, cue points, loops and BPM counts seamlessly transfer between iPad and TRAKTOR PRO 2 and back via a free Dropbox account.

Additionally, because of the powerful Core Audio engine built into iOS, TRAKTOR DJ also offers ultra-low latency playback, manipulation and recording while also supporting professional class compliant hardware audio interfaces, such as the TRAKTOR AUDIO 6 and 10, something currently not possible on any other mobile platform. DJs can connect these and other devices to their iPad using the iPad Camera Connection Kit™ for optimum audio quality and pre-listen and cue functionality, or to a splitter cable with dedicated cue and master controls. All of this allows TRAKTOR DJ users to easily record their mixes live on their iPad, or pump their music out to the house in the highest quality possible.

A video of visionary DJ Richie Hawtin’s first day with TRAKTOR DJ, in which he prepares a set and performs live with the app at BPM festival in Mexico, is available on YouTube at:

The TRAKTOR DJ App is available for $ 19.99 / 17.99 € / 1700 ¥ from the App Store on iPad or at TRAKTOR DJ officially supports iPad with Retina display, iPad mini and iPad 2, running iOS 6 and above.

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‘Home’ creator Benjamin Rivers wants to make a psychological dating sim

'Home' creator Benjamin Rivers wants to make a psychological dating sim

Benjamin Rivers has spent the last three years working on his atmospheric indie pixel-art horror game, Home, which started spooking up PCs through Rivers’ official site last June and terrified a much larger audience once the game hit Steam last August. Despite being a tremendous labor of love, Rivers is ready to move on to his next project, which may be a romantic effort of a different sort.

“Well, I made a joke on Twitter like a month ago,” Rivers told me during GDC, “where I was like ‘Hey guys, if I did a horror game with a dating-sim element, would people play it?’ and people were like ‘Yeah!’ Playing things like Mass Effect while finishing this game, playing Persona, that element of a really relationship-based game where you chase stuff like that, that’s kind of my new jam.”

Like Home, Rivers’ next game will likely still be two-dimensional and will focus on psychologically influencing the player in subtle ways, though this time the goal will be to induce emotional attachment to a fictional character, rather than instill terror. Not that love isn’t terrifying in its own right.

“It’s not a grinding game or anything like that, but I want to take a lot of what you do in those relationship games like Persona and offload some of that to people,” Rivers said, explaining that the ultimate goal will be to have the player become honestly and emotionally invested, rather than solely caring about the gamification of satisfying a social link, or maxing out relationship points.

“I want to basically take a game that makes you feel as cool as you do in Persona, as far as relationships, [being] as connected,” Rivers continued, “but see if I can do it without making it so video game-y, but still make it where people maybe even have a more powerful reaction because they buy in.”

Rivers didn’t speak to any of the game’s specifics, such as its title or potential release window, though he did express his somewhat bittersweet excitement for working on a brand-new project. “It’s been three years that I’ve been living with this thing,” Rivers said in reference to Home. “Desperately I am plotting my new thing, my next thing and so yes, I am looking forward to putting this to bed – part of me is. Part of me is going to miss it when it goes away.”

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Snapshot: Home (PC)

There are so many games out there we couldn’t possibly review them all. Welcome to Snapshot, where we highlight games that might fall outside our usual coverage but are still something we think you should know about. Today: Home for PC.

Snapshot: Home (PC)

Home doesn’t take more than an hour or two to complete – and you’ll have to do so in one sitting, as there is no save system – but that doesn’t mean it won’t have a lasting effect. As a horror-themed adventure game, the simple, pixelated 2D presentation belies Home’s ability to disquiet and unsettle. It serves as a great reminder of what older games once taught us: With a little bit of coaxing, imagination can take you a long way.%Gallery-153906%

While Home is an adventure game on paper (there are some basic puzzles to solve and lots of things to examine) it’s really more of a choose-your-own-adventure story, though that’s not immediately apparent. Waking up in an unfamiliar house, the amnesiac protagonist has to remember things as he goes, trying to find his way home. The detailed descriptions of his surroundings – a dilapidated table, a suspicious chain, a putrescent corpse – aren’t really descriptions, so much as memories. What’s interesting is that, sometimes, you get to choose how he remembers what happened.

Did he decide to rifle through someone else’s belongings? Did he decide to pick up a blood-encrusted knife? That’s up to you, and it can have an effect on what happens next. Where you go and what you choose to interact with is all up in the air, and to be honest I’m not actually sure how intricate it gets, how significantly one choice can affect the outcome of the game. I do know that after a few plays, I’ve definitely witnessed different outcomes, or seen objects in one game that weren’t in another.

Snapshot: Home (PC)

There’s a reason I haven’t really mentioned the plot thus far: It is what you make of it. There are a series of murders, which may include that of the protagonist’s wife, but piecing together who committed the murders and why is entirely in the player’s hands. In my experience, I thought I saw a plot twist coming a mile away, until I realized at the end that said twist would only occur if I wanted it to. I decided to make it true, which means the murderer was me the entire time.

Even when you reach the end, however, Home purposefully leaves several questions unanswered and ultimately leaves the story up for interpretation, so much so that the Home website asks players to share their own interpretations and discuss what they think happened. Some players may be turned off by Home‘s vagueness, but I enjoyed the simple pleasure of inventing a gruesome, horrifying story as I went along. And, for what it’s worth, the excellent sound design, even coupled with the retro 2D presentation, was good for a couple of genuine scares.

Did I mention it costs two dollars?

This article is based on a download of Home, provided by Benjamin Rivers Games..

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Hyundai makes owner’s manuals more interesting with augmented reality

Hyundai makes owner's manuals more interesting with augmented reality

Augmented reality showrooms are one thing, but Hyundai using that tech to make learning about your new car more interesting. This week, the automaker announced its an augmented reality owner’s manual app for Android and iOS. The Hyundai Virtual Guide plays nice with both smartphones and tablets, offering details on repairs, maintenance and vehicle features. Hyundai says the app will only provide reference materials for the 2015 Sonata at first, but other models will be added soon after. There’s 82 how-to videos, six 3D overlay images for areas like the engine bay and over 50 guides to serve up all the details in a format that’s should be engaging that flipping pages. This isn’t the first time owner’s manuals have gone digital, and despite Hyundai’s claim, it’s also not the first to include augmented reality. The apps are available now, free of charge, via either iTunes or Google Play.

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Hyundai lets owners control their cars with smartwatches

Hyundai lets owners control their cars with smartwatches

Hey, Hyundai owners, it’s finally here: the Blue Link companion app for smartwatches that the automaker promised back during CES this year. And yes, you can use it to remotely lock/unlock doors, start/stop the engine, flash lights or honk any Blue Link-enabled car’s horn, even if it’s as old as the 2012 Sonata. It can also help you find your car in humongous parking lots and call roadside assistance — plus, you can do all those by issuing voice commands, so long as you press the mic icon. Not bad, huh? As Hyundai Motor’s Frank Ferrara said: “It is like being James Bond 007 or Scotty in Star Trek.” The companion app’s now out for Android Wear devices, but there’s also an Apple Watch version just waiting for the wearable to hit the market.

Hyundai lets owners control their cars with smartwatches

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Microsoft demos ‘Project XRay’ mixed reality game for HoloLens

Microsoft demos 'Project XRay' mixed reality game for HoloLens

One of Microsoft’s most exciting products to date is HoloLens, and today the company revealed a new mixed reality game for the headset called Project XRay. The title was developed internally, according to Executive VP of the Windows and Devices Group Terry Myerson. Similar to the Minecraft experience on HoloLens, Project XRay also looks incredible — particularly because you can turn most any room into your own gaming canvas. Here, though, you’re wearing a holographic weapon on your arm, which you’ll need to defend yourself from an attack of flying robots. Once they crawl out of the walls, you can shoot lasers at them — yes, lasers. “Holograms behave just like real objects; they can interact with environments and with each other,” said the Microsoft representative on stage about Project XRay.

In addition to the demo, Microsoft announced that HoloLens will reach developers in 2016 for $3,000. For now, we’re really hoping to check out Project XRay ourselves once the event is over.

Get all the news from today’s Microsoft event right here.

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Taking a spin in the first car with Android Auto

Taking a spin in the first car with Android Auto

Get ready for Android Auto to hit the masses. Until now, the only way to get the Google-powered car interface was to install an aftermarket unit from Pioneer, and even those have only been around since March (Parrot is also citing support for Android Auto in its head units, but its availability has not been announced). But that changes today, as Android Auto is now finally available in actual cars that you can buy. That is, if you want to buy a Hyundai. The Korean automaker is the first car company to have Android Auto integrated in its production vehicles, starting with the 2015 Sonata with Navigation models. I recently spent a week with a 2015 Hyundai Sonata Sport 2.0T, and while I think Android Auto still has some growing up to do, I was overall very pleased.

First, a brief primer on Android Auto. It’s essentially a driver-friendly Android interface for your car. “We lock out the phone to make you look at the car screen. It’s a lot safer,” says Andrew Brenner, the lead product manager for Android Auto. Brenner is also the first person Google hired to lead the project two years ago. “The first thing we did [when we started the project] was to put cameras in the cars of Googlers and observe them,” says Brenner. “What we saw shocked us and made us a little scared!” The team found that research participants frequently used their phones while driving, which Brenner says is unfortunately not uncommon. According to a study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, approximately 660,000 drivers are “using cellphones or manipulating electronic devices while driving,” and apparently that number hasn’t changed much since 2010.

People don’t just use their phones for navigation either. Google found that drivers frequently used their devices for calls, messages, music and even things they really shouldn’t be doing, like reading tweets. “Our digital life is so important these days. … People don’t want to leave their connectivity and link to the outside world when they get in the car,” explains Brenner. It became immediately obvious that distracted driving was the main thing that Brenner and his team needed to solve. They started working with auto manufacturers — Hyundai being one of them — to develop an ecosystem that would allow an Android phone to integrate with the car’s existing controls. With some cars, you might navigate the interface with knobs and buttons, while on others, you just use the touchscreen.

The Sonata I tested falls into the latter category, with a touchscreen dominating the center console. It comes with Hyundai’s own navigation and entertainment interface, with SiriusXM, its own GPS navigation system and an SD card preloaded with maps. But if you wanted to use Android Auto instead, now you can. Do note, however, that Android Auto only works with a Lollipop-powered Android phone (that’s Android 5.0 and up). Fortunately, I happened to have a HTC One M9 on hand that meets that requirement.

I plugged the phone into the car’s center console via a USB cable, which then prompted it to download and install the Android Auto app. After I did that, I noticed a new “Android Auto” button appear on the screen. I tapped it and voila — that Hyundai interface was gone. In its place was the Android Auto interface, which is so much cleaner and tidier than Hyundai’s own cluttered UI that I couldn’t help but smile when I first saw it. Interestingly, however, it wasn’t a complete takeover. For example, I could still hear SiriusXM while I was fiddling with the Android Auto interface and similarly, I could keep streaming Google Play Music while over on the Hyundai side.

Now, the Android Auto interface isn’t an exact replica of your phone — you won’t see all your apps on here. That’s because it’s meant to surface apps and features that are relevant when you’re on the road. The first thing that you see when you launch Android Auto, for starters, is an overview screen that’s essentially a car-friendly version of Google Now. “It filters through only the cards that are relevant when driving,” says Brenner. In my case, I often saw the currently playing track, recently missed calls, the local weather and directions to either go home or to the office. It also showed me directions to locations of upcoming appointments. I had booked a ticket to a local production of Book of Mormon, for example, and Android Auto instinctively knew to offer me directions to the theater. Creepy, but useful.

Along the bottom of the screen is a universal nav bar that leads to maps and navigation, the phone dialer, music apps and an app tray. In Hyundai’s case, the latter simply leads back to the default car menu. Aside from these features, Android Auto also supports basic Google voice actions. So, for example, you can say things like, “What’s my next appointment?” or, “What’s the weather today?” and Android Auto will respond with the appropriate answers just like your phone would.

Taking a spin in the first car with Android Auto

Indeed, Android Auto is very voice-driven. In the case of the Sonata, I pressed and held down the voice-command button on the steering wheel to activate the microphone (though simply tapping the microphone on the screen would work too). From there you can say all kinds of commands, like “How did the Warriors do last night?” and, “Find me some coffee.” In the first case, you’ll hear a voice telling you the scores, while the latter command will bring up a list of nearby coffee shops. Tap a spot you want to go to, and Android Auto will navigate you there.

In my experience, voice controls worked great. Unlike a lot of car systems where you have to go through a tree of commands to do anything, I could just speak naturally. In my own 2012 Ford Focus, for example, I have to say, “Destination, Street Address,” before detailing exactly where I want to go. With Android Auto, I could just say, “Take me to In-N-Out,” and it’ll just show me the way to the closest In-N-Out. I could also say commands like, “Call Roberto,” or, “Text Michael,” for calls and text messages and “Play [insert name of artist or song]” for music. In fact, I can even specify the exact app. With music, for example, the default is Google Play Music, but Android Auto works with other music services like Spotify, TuneIn and iHeartRadio. So I could say, “Play Vampire Weekend on Spotify,” and it’ll know to switch over to the different app to play the song.

The look of Android Auto is also designed to be very car-friendly. The fonts are nice and big and the UI is meant to be easy to navigate. Google Maps on Android Auto, for example, has fewer location labels than its mobile counterpart. When I get an incoming text message, I see a notification pop up on the screen showing who sent it, but not the actual message itself. Instead, I have to press the voice button to prompt Android Auto to read it to me. The menu system of each app is also simplified and standardized, while maintaining a few individual characteristics. So, for instance, both Google Play Music and Spotify have the same play/pause and track controls, but the former is orange while the latter is green. The apps also have different menu options depending on their features.

Taking a spin in the first car with Android Auto

That’s not to say I didn’t encounter a few bugs. Whenever I requested Android Auto to play a song, it struggled to show me the relevant track information on the screen — it would show “Getting your selection” instead of the name of the song. Additionally, the current Android Auto app library is still relatively small. While I appreciate that it supports WhatsApp and Skype as alternate messaging services, I wish that it could also support Twitter DM, which I use a lot more often (Ed correction: I had originally said it doesn’t support Google Hangouts, but it does). The same goes for music — I wish it supported Rdio and SoundCloud as well. Still, these are mostly teething problems, and I suspect Android Auto’s performance and app library will improve over time.

So if you’re Hyundai, why would you agree to offer Android Auto if you’ve already invested time and money in your own in-car solution? Cason Grover, Hyundai’s senior group manager for Cross-Carline Planning, says it’s all about freedom of choice. “Right now if you want onboard maps, you have to use this SD card. … That’s good technology right now, but over time, mapping will become more and more offboard,” he says, pointing to Google’s ability to have real-time traffic info. But when it comes to driving in areas where you might not get great data reception, automotive GPS will still be useful. Brenner says that Android Auto also isn’t meant to take over your car’s internal system like heating and seat suspension.

But it’s clear that carmakers like Hyundai see the benefit of partnering up with the likes of Google and Apple — Hyundai’s 2015 Sonatas with Navigation will also be compatible with Apple CarPlay down the road — if only to make their vehicles more appealing to smartphone-savvy consumers. “We’ve learned quickly that to offer everything that everybody wants is not feasible, more so with apps on the phone,” says Grover. “Google works with those developers, and those apps work with every Android Auto phone. All we have to do is work with Google to integrate it with the car.”

Taking a spin in the first car with Android Auto

To drive home the point, Hyundai is also planning on rolling out cars with a new head unit called Display Audio. It has a center console touchscreen like the Navigation models except that it won’t come with embedded maps — you’ll have to supply your own. Not only does this make the cars a lot more affordable to the average consumer, but also it’s when third-party solutions like Android Auto and Apple CarPlay really come into their own.

“Right now only less than half of all Sonatas have support for Android Auto,” says Grover, explaining that’s because the Navigation models are mid- to high-level options. But once Hyundai rolls out those cars with Display Audio units, nearly all of Hyundai’s fleet will be Android Auto-ready. “Android Auto is focused on trying to have you use your phone in a much safer way,” says Brenner. “We want to give people the connected experience that they crave.”

If you’re ready to take the Android Auto plunge now, however, well you can always head on over to your closest Hyundai dealership to check out the new Sonatas with Navigation. If you’re already a current owner of a 2015 Sonata with Navigation, you’ll be able to take your car down to a dealer where you can update your car’s software with Android Auto. You could also add an aftermarket unit from the likes of Pioneer or Parrot if you’d rather not give up your existing car. And, of course, you could also just wait for more automakers like Honda, Ford and Audi to roll out their own Android Auto-compatible vehicles later this year.

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