Volvo shows off smooth, snappy touchscreen infotainment system

BARCELONA—Volvo wants you to get in touch with its cars. The Swedish automaker is showing off its new Sensus Connected Touch system, which is an Android-powered touch screen interface for its existing Sensus infotainment system.

For those of you who haven’t committed the particulars of in-car systems to memory, “Sensus” is what Volvo calls its human-machine interface (HMI), which is just a fancy way of saying “in-vehicle infotainment system.” Volvo’s Sensus in its current form consists of a 7-inch non-touch display that you can control by head unit, steering wheel, or voice-activated controls.

And now, Volvo is adding the element of touch to that system. I know what you’re thinking—a lot of cars already have touch screens—think Ford’s MyFord Touch system—so isn’t Volvo a little late to the game?

Perhaps. But I had a chance to check out the new Sensus Connected Touch system at Mobile World Congress, and it’s surprisingly smooth and snappy. In fact, it’s much faster and more responsive than other touch screens I’ve tried out, such as the Cadillac CUE system and even Tesla’s whopper in the Model S . So maybe it was worth the wait.

Android-powered and responsive

Sensus Connected Touch is powered by Android, and it shows. The touch screen has the classic Android buttons (home, back, and menu) situated in the upper left corner. So veteran Android users won’t need to learn a completely new system when they hop into their new (or retro-fitted) Volvo vehicles.

Photo by Sarah Jacobsson Purewal
Volvo at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

Sensus Connected Touch is mainly what Volvo is calling the new touch screen, though the system also comes with new apps, voice controls, and web-browsing features. One thing that definitely stood out was the built-in web browser, which offers full Internet browsing and supports Java, HTML5, and streaming video. The only catch is that this browser is not available while the car is in motion—Volvo does pride itself on its commitment to safety, after all.

The system features a new interface, which is snappy and super fast. Apps are displayed in a rotating, scrollable list, which you can fly through by swiping. This is likely the most responsive touch screen I’ve used in a car—there were even a few times when I swiped past the app I was trying to open, it was so quick. The interface is very polished, and even offers cool little pixel bursts when you tap on an app to open it.

Sensus Connected Touch offers all the basic features of an infotainment system, including built-in offline navigation, weather information, and streaming Internet radio (if you connect your smartphone or a 3G/4G dongle for data access). It also runs native apps, including iGo (connected navigation and traffic information), Roadtrip (reads aloud Wikipedia information about interesting points along your route), and a Volvo app that shows you your closes Volvo service center.

Spotify is a native Sensus Connected Touch app as well, and the system lets you search through your Spotify music using voice-activated controls. The system also uses MirrorLink technology and the Parrot Smart Link app to let users “mirror” some smartphone apps on the car’s touch screen. The Sensus Connected Touch system can be controlled with head unit, steering wheel, and voice-activated controls, as well as touch.

Sensus Connected Touch will be available in May 2013 on new Volvo vehicles. It can also be retro-fitted on older vehicles (2011 or later) that already have the basic Sensus 7-inch screen installed.

Updated on February 26 to add a video report.

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