Posted by Jim Martin 05 December 2013
Renault R-Link review: a connected infotainment system with a few niggles
The R-Link infotainment system is currently available in the new Captur and all-electric Zoe, but will soon be rolled out across Renault’s entire range.
Renault calls it a tablet, which is a bit misleading: the 7in touchscreen is pretty much the equivalent of having a 3G-equipped Google Nexus 7 built into your dashboard and connected to the car’s sound system and steering wheel controls. But, like all other infotainment systems, it stays bolted to your dashboard.
See also: Ford Sync review
R-Link covers satnav, radio, a Bluetooth connection to your phone, weather forecasts and even measures air quality. Plus, it also has a reversing camera and an Eco section where it monitors and reports on your driving style, with a view to helping you save fuel (and reduce emissions) or optimising battery life if you have a Zoe.
Like a normal tablet, there’s also an app store where you can buy 50 or so apps covering everything from local fuel prices to Sudoku and other games. Email, Twitter, weather and Renault Assistance apps are pre-loaded. There are no free apps which is likely because, just like a 3G Amazon Kindle you don’t have to pay for R-Link’s data connection and selling pricey apps is one way for Renault to claw those data costs back.
R-Link is standard on some models, on others it’s a £450 option which comes with maps for your country. Upgrading to full maps of Western Europe costs a further £110.
Renault R-Link review: Satnav
We’re fans of TomTom, so it’s great to see this polished navigation system in R-Link. You get all the features of a high-end TomTom including HD Traffic and IQ Routes, both of which help you get where you’re going as quickly as possible.
You also get other TomTom Live services including weather, safety camera alerts and Local Search, so you can find points of interest anywhere: not just major tourist attractions, shops, hotels or restaurants but real local information such as the range of nearby curry houses.
In addition to TomTom’s safety camera warnings, there’s a separate Coyote app which warns you of fixed speed cameras, danger hotspots and accidents. As well as its radar-like interface, full-screen warning countdowns appear over TomTom’s route guidance as you approach.
Disappointingly, there’s no real integration with your Bluetooth phone as you get with standalone TomTom satnavs. When choosing a destination, you can’t scroll through your contacts list (or use voice recognition as you can with Siri on the iPhone) to find an address. Your options are limited to the traditional city/postcode manual entry, points of interest, a point on the map or Latitude and Longitude (and we can’t see anyone using that option).
You get a three-month trial period of LIVE services and after that they can be purchased for £55 for a year or £150 for a three-year subscription through the R-Link Store.
Renault R-Link review: Radio
Strangely, there’s no DAB radio: you get standard FM and the well-past-its-best-before-date AM. Alternatively, you can stream music from a compatible Bluetooth phone, from a USB drive or using a normal aux input. There’s an SD slot, but this is already used by a card containing the TomTom maps.
Renault R-Link review: Apps
Apps are called Services in R-Link and they include TomTom services as well as more traditional apps.
For any service in R-Link which requires a network connection to work, a 'Pack' is required. It comes with the ‘Discovery Pack’ which lasts 12 months. It includes Email, Weather, Euronews, and R-Link Tweet. The Digital Pack gives access to more applications such as Google Calendar, Google Tasks, Fuel Prices, TV Guide and more and can be purchased for £50 for 12 months or £125 for 36 months.
Once your subscription has ended, internet connected apps will cease to be useful, but any that don’t require a connection, such as R-Effect, will still work. Bear in mind that the system doesn’t support roaming, so internet services will work only in the country where you buy the car.
In the Discovery Pack, Email is one of the most useful, especially as incoming emails can be read out by the computer voice while you’re driving. Up to six user profiles can be created in R-Link, each with their own Bluetooth phone and email. You can set up a PIN code to prevent other users accessing your email, which is handy.
It’s easy to set up as long as you have a Gmail, Yahoo or Hotmail (Outlook) account, but emails aren’t displayed in HTML, and reading the plain text versions is painful these days. You’ll know if there’s an attachment, but you won’t be able to open or view it.
The Twitter app shows your feed and lets you re-tweet and reply to tweets. Unfortunately it works only when stationary and doesn’t work with the text-to-speech feature so incoming tweets aren’t read aloud when you’re driving. Given that, it’s hard to see the point if you already have a smartphone.
Another omission is that there’s no text message support when using a Bluetooth phone, so not only do they not appear on screen, but they’re not read out either.
Renault R-Link review: Voice recognition
We’ve seen a fair few in-car voice recognition systems, but none are wonderful. R-Link allows you to speak a destination, make a phone call or launch applications. What you say is very limited, and we found that even when parked with no ambient noise, it wasn't great at understanding our commands. It's useful for firing up the email app when driving, or calling a number from your phonebook, but trying to read out an address is more trouble than it's worth: you're better off tapping on the keyboard to enter a postcode.
Renault R-Link review: Multimedia
Using the USB port or SD slot, you can use R-Link to play videos, photos or music. As you’d expect you can stream music from a Bluetooth phone. The bad news, if you were planning on using the screen as a DVD player replacement, is that it works only when the car is stationary. Plus, we couldn’t find a video format from our mixed bag of files that it would play. The only ones that appeared were those with MP4 extensions, but none would actually play.
Renault R-Link review: Eco mode
After each journey you get a Trip Report which scores you on your driving style for gear selection, braking and anticipation. This is either something you’ll turn off after the first drive or use it to help you get more miles per gallon.
If you have a Renault Zoe, the TomTom Live Z.E. system will show you the current range on the remaining charge, help you find the best route to optimise that charge and also warn you when there isn’t enough juice left to reach your chosen destination.
Plus, if you have a compatible smartphone, you’ll even be able to download an app to check on your Zoe’s remaining battery charge, estimated range, time until fully charged and the nearest charging stations.
R-Link: bottom line
Although you have to pay fairly steep prices for apps and app packs, R-Link is a decent system that will help you get where you’re going quickly, safely and using the least fuel. It’s a shame there’s no DAB radio and that some obvious features such as entering a destination from your smartphone contacts list are missing, though. Given the problems that even Microsoft has persuading developers to make apps for Windows Phone, it’s unlikely you’ll see big-name apps coming to R-Link, but if it has the features you’re after already, then it’s well worth specifying when your order a Captur or Clio.