TechnologyTell

WTF-SPORT: Of Mice and the Lexus GS F-SPORT

Sections: Infotainment, Navigation, Telematics

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The "mouse" controller for the Lexus GS F-SPORT's Enform system

From left, the two “mouse buttons” that take you to the main menu and navigation map of our 2013 Lexus GS F-SPORT’s Enform infotainment screen, the haptic feedback-rich “mouse” used to navigate the system, and a handy pad on which to rest your arm while toying with the aforementioned items. (Lyndon Johnson photo.)

Our test Lexus GS F-SPORT is more than just a good-looking devil that begs to be driven fast– it’s also home to one of the most innovative infotainment control systems on the road today.

Featuring a 12-inch widescreen monitor mounted in miniature cavern in the dashboard, the Lexus Enform system relies on a control system that favors a computer mouse rather than a series of buttons, a touchscreen, or making everything voice-controlled. Placed to the right side of the center console, the control interface is a squarish, joystick-like device the driver or, if the driver is feeling particularly generous, the front-seat passenger can use to navigate the seemingly endless layers of information displays and media.

The 12-inch widescreen display of the 2013 Lexus GS F-SPORT's Enform infotainment system

This 12-inch widescreen display is mounted in what at first seems like a small cavern dead center in the dashboard of the 2013 Lexus GS F-SPORT. It displays a wealth of information on its split-screen layout, including HVAC controls, media information, fuel efficiency tracking, navigation map, phone contacts, and more. (Lyndon Johnson photo.)

While the control device has two buttons, kind of like a standard PC mouse, sitting just ahead of it on the console, those buttons are not used in selecting things the cursor points at on the screen. The left button brings up the main menu screen, and the right button will bring up the navigation map screen in a single press rather than requiring the navigation of the menu system. Selecting items on the screen requires the control device to be pushed down, like a big, rounded-off square button.

Perhaps the slickest thing about the control device, however, is its haptic feedback. Rather than having a smooth range of motion and a freewheeling cursor on the screen, the Lexus engineers tuned the device to have detents for each selectable button the screen. So if you scroll over three buttons on your way to check your fuel economy stats, for instance, you feel three “notches” in the device on your way there. It helps the driver keep his eyes on the road while still being able to summon the desired information.

The screen– our Brett Solomon refers to it as the IMAX of infotainment screens– is split roughly 70/30, so that two information displays may be viewed at the same time. Even here, the haptic feedback is smartly done: moving the cursor from one section of the screen to the other requires a significantly harder nudge of the control device, almost as if you’re pushing the on-screen cursor over a big bump that exists where the screen splits.

Therein lies the coolest thing about the haptic feedback system: It allows the number and location of the “notches,” for lack of a better term, to change depending on how many buttons are on the screen and where on the screen they are located.

Disclosure: Lexus provided the vehicle, insurance, and a tank of gas.

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