2015 BMW M235i: Mixed Opinion on Bluetooth Audio
by Dan Frio, Automotive Editor on February 17, 2016
I've been carrying my phone's data/charging cable with me more often since the phone is aging and the battery doesn't hold a charge like it used to. Somehow I haven't managed to buy a charging adapter yet and still use the USB port and data cable to keep the phone juiced or top it up. Unfortunately this causes all kinds of confusion with phone and audio integration in cars like our 2015 BMW M235i.
When presented with a simultaneous Bluetooth phone connection and a wired data connection, the system seems to ask itself: "from which channel shall I play music?" Usually you can choose the audio source yourself, but many cars still have trouble remembering this arrangement (especially after a power cycle), and often trip over themselves trying to perform two tasks at once.
On one hand, I really like that our BMW displays cover art and artist/playlist information on its fantastic, crispy high-resolution display. Few infotainment systems do this yet or are limited in what they display. Some can offer artist and album information, but that's about it. Even worse, some will throw up some generic cover art defined by genre ("alternative" or "folk") with some dopey microphone or guitar icon.
I like that the BMW can pull in that data and let you search and select from your phone's library by the Bluetooth connection alone.
Except when it doesn't. Most of the time when I deal with the BMW's Bluetooth connection, I can search and select an artist or song, and the system will queue it up, but won't initiate playback. It's bizarre. It'll tee it up for me on my phone, for example, but I still have to reach down to the phone screen and tap the playback arrow. There's no playback icon in the iDrive menu, at least not that I could find. Advance and reverse, yes, but no simple "play."
Minor annoyance in the scheme of things, but this should be an easy operation. Select artist, song, and press the iDrive dial to "play." But it doesn't. My iPhone has its latest software. Maybe the car needs a software/firmware update?
About the Bluetooth versus wired connection: On principle, I prefer the audio quality delivered by a wired connection. You simply get more gain, more signal at the source, from a wired connection than through the comparatively narrower bandwidth of a Bluetooth connection. This delivers better clarity and fuller sound at higher volume, although I don't have any empirical evidence to suggest Bluetooth degrades the sound quality of the signal. Your mileage and ears may vary.
But a wired connection is increasingly a pain in an increasingly wireless world. And freely hanging cables are also just an all-around bad idea in a car's cabin. Can't beat Bluetooth phone and audio for convenience, even at the sacrifice of sound level or quality. So while I like the metadata ability and some functionality of the Bimmer's Bluetooth audio, the hiccups, freezes and general confusion are a disappointment.
Dan Frio, Automotive Editor @ 14,742 miles