Renault’s Android-based R-Link in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) tablet is now available in 15 Renault car models, selling as a 599 Euro ($800) option. The R-Link system’s 7-inch touchscreen provides TomTom navigation services, Bluetooth audio streaming, speech recognition and text-to-speech, and on Renault’s electric cars, extensive “eco functions” including a service for tracking remaining range.
Renault announced R-Link with TomTom support back in 2011, and earlier this year it began appearing in a few Renault models such as the Clio and ZOE. The IVI system is now widely available in 15 Renault models, says the French carmaker. The models include the ZOE, New Clio, Captur, New Megane line-up, Scenic X-mod, New Scenic and Grand Scenic, Fluence, Laguna 2013 Collection, Latitude, New Kangoo, Kangoo Express, and Kangoo ZE.
Renault’s R-Link IVI system
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Renault may call R-Link an Android tablet, but it’s not removable by users, and the interface is only distantly related to Android. Also, there is no special integration with Android mobile devices, and it appears that Renault has backed away from its earlier plans to open up the code base to a wide group of developers.
With those caveats in mind, R-Link appears to be a capable IVI system that brings the advantage of an app store, as well as TomTom’s maps and navigation features. TomTom features include recommendations for energy-efficient routes, lane guidance for exits and intersections, and map sharing. A subscription-based TomTom LIVE features current traffic information, speed camera alerts, local search, and weather forecasts.
Example R-Link user interface screens
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R-Link runs a customized version of Android on an unstated Texas Instruments OMAP ARM processor, but it cannot run just any Android app. R-Link offers access to an R-Link app store featuring over 50 optimized apps, downloadable over a 3G connection. TomTom collaborated with Orange and Atos to develop the R-Link App store’s ecosystem. Certain applications can only function when the car is at a standstill, including Sudoku, R-Link Tweet, and E-guide apps.
The firmware includes steering wheel mounted controls, speech recognition, and text-to-speech functionality. Multimedia features include Bluetooth connectivity and audio streaming with portable devices.
Renault ZOE EV
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The R-Link system also offers “eco-functions,” which appear to be fairly limited unless one has one of Renault’s electric cars, such as the ZOE. The R-Link system can hook into the car’s telematics system to enable features such as displaying a histogram of energy consumption in real time, as well as electric flow dynamics.
Users with the TomTom LIVE service can see a graphic display of how far the electric vehicle can travel as a function of its remaining range, as well as the location of charging stations near to the vehicle’s actual location or destination. With a “My Z.E. Connect” services pack, which is standard equipment on the ZOE, drivers can use a smartphone or computer to check information ahead of their journey, says Renault. My Z.E. Connect also lets users check remaining battery charge, estimated remaining range, charging status, and time remaining before the battery is fully charged.
With the “My Z.E. Inter@ctive” option, which is standard on some ZOE models, users can interact remotely with their vehicle while its battery is charging to switch on the air-conditioning, or start the battery charge. They can also program the weekly charge schedule “as a function of electricity rates or the CO2 emissions resulting from the production of the necessary electricity,” says Renault.
Renault offered few technical details on R-Link. Last October, however, The Register published a hands-on preview of a pre-released version tested on a Clio. Overall, the review found R-Link to be an effective navigation and IVI system, although still a bit rough around the edges. Disappointments included the somewhat limited 7-inch display, which it estimated to use resistive technology with approximately 800 x 480 resolution. In addition, the apps were said to be subscription-based, although the review noted that users don’t pay for the 3G service.
TechRadar’s preview published the same week had a slightly more negative take on the pre-release R-Link. Once again the resistive screen was hit for its low resolution, and the reviewer criticized Renault for its walled garden approach to apps. While TechRadar calls the R-Link “a big step forward for Renault,” it adds that it “doesn’t look like the really dramatic step change for the car industry that its Android roots might lead you to expect.”
Dutch navigation firm TomTom famously stood up to Microsoft when the company demanded a licensing fee for patents protecting FAT32-related technology within TomTom’s Linux-based navigation software. Microsoft sued, and TomTom countersued with the backing of open source groups like the Open Invention Network (OIN). In March 2009, however, TomTom surrendered, and came to a patent agreement with Microsoft. Since then, dozens of embedded Linux and Android vendors have quietly paid their tribute to Redmond.
R-Link is now available, priced as an option at €590 ($800), depending on model and country, with LIVE Services priced at €69.90 per year ($95). More information may be found at Renault’s R-Link product page.