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Car Tech Spotlight: Web browsing in a 2013 Mercedes-Benz GL350

Automaker allows owners to access any Web address as long as the car isn’t moving -- and its monthly data subscription is paid.

By Douglas Newcomb Feb 22, 2013 7:19AM

The connected car is quickly becoming a reality, as more vehicles offer Internet-enabled applications to bring in features and services. While its German luxury rivals Audi and BMW offer a Google Search function that allows drivers to route their findings to the navigation system, Mercedes-Benz is the only automaker that offers a full Web browser.

It’s part of the Mercedes-Benz Apps option package, which also includes in-dash access to Facebook, Yelp, news and Google Search with Street View. The Web browser is just like one you’d find on a computer, smartphone or tablet and lets you type a URL and go to any website.

But punching in a website using the Comand knob controller in the 2013 GL350 takes awhile, just as it did the last time I was in a GLK350 -- the automaker's compact SUV, as opposed to the 7-passenger GL. Downloading a webpage is a time-consuming process, too.

As you can see in the video below, to input a URL you have to spin the Comand controller to punch in the individual characters. I chose to make it easy. But typing in, say, (my personal website) was tedious and time-consuming compared with using a computer keyboard or even one on a smartphone or tablet. If you’ve ever had to input a destination into a car’s navigation system one character at a time, you know what I mean.

One of the upsides of the Mercedes-Benz Apps feature is that, unlike other automakers’ app integration schemes, you don’t need a connected smartphone since it uses an embedded cellular modem. This means you can remain connected even if you forget your phone or its battery dies.

But the downside is that, as with my previous experience with Mercedes-Benz Apps, the connection was slow. And after a free three-month trial period, the feature requires a subscription of $14 a month -- on top of $280 a year (after a six-month free trial) for the basic Mercedes-Benz mbrace2 system that’s required and an additional $20 a month for the mbrace2 Plus upgrade. Or you can get both the Plus and Apps options for $28 a month.

In case you’re wondering, for safety reasons the Web browser and most of the Mercedes-Benz Apps do not work when the car is moving. Maybe the next generation will include the ability to input a Web address via voice activation while driving. Now that could be a feature worth paying for.

Feb 23, 2013 7:06AM
Well Tesla is already selling vehicles with a full web browser. Not to mention they don't disable it while driving. So a passenger can still look up menus while the driver is on the way to the restaurant.

Plus it is on a huge 17" screen, not this barley adequate miniscreen.

And you get a huge on-screen keyboard with the Tesla, and it also takes usb keyboards!
Feb 24, 2013 8:51AM
That input method is completely impractical! Except in dire need, who in their right mind would want to waste their time turning a knob to input an uniform resource identifier in order to browse the web?

Who comes up with these things?!? That is ridiculous.

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