The Highlander Saga: Toyota Highlander Says I Should Really Just Go Android

Sections: Infotainment, Telematics

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2013 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Photo Shoot 021

Despite its impressive array of applications supported, I was unable to use any of these features in the 2013 Toyota Highlander Hybrid because, once again, my phone’s too dumb for this stuff. It’s almost as if the Highlander was goading me into getting the Android phone I’ve been eyeing for some time now. (Lyndon Johnson photo)

I’ve had this problem before. Well, kinda, but not really. It seems our 2013 Toyota Highlander Hybrid is encouraging me to just hurry up and ditch my old-school LG Dingleberry for an Android-powered smartphone.

When our Toyota Highlander Hybrid was delivered, I commenced my usual routine: I moved over the few personal items I had stored in the vehicle I drove the previous week, adjusted the driver’s seat and mirrors, plugged in my trustworthy test USB stick loaded with music, and quickly familiarized myself with the controls on the steering column and center console. Then I tried to sync my phone, an LG501C serviced by Tracfone– yes, really– to the Highlander’s infotainment system.

The pairing process itself was easy to perform, and the Highlander “found” my phone quickly. The PIN numbers displayed on the Highlander’s color touchscreen and my phone’s display matched, so I went ahead and hit “connect” expecting a flawless connection, as I’ve experienced in every other Toyota product I’ve tested to-date.

That didn’t happen, however. The infotainment screen in the dash would show a spinning image and indicated the car was connecting to my phone, but the connection would never come. I left it alone and started my drive home, getting nearly halfway there before I canceled the process. Something wasn’t allowing the Toyota’s infotainment system to communicate with my phone correctly, or vice-versa.

Not happy with my first effort, after I spent a couple days familiarizing myself with the Highlander Hybrid, I decided to give another try to connecting my phone. And in so doing, I tried everything. I deleted my other vehicles from the “paired devices” list. I manually set my phone to “discoverable” mode time and time again. Still, nothing.

Now comes the weird part: During the test week, there were two instances where the phone rang and came through the Bluetooth system. One, a business call, rang into the system, but when I hit the answer button, it didn’t transfer the call itself to the car’s speakers– a fact I realized when I glanced at my phone and saw the call timer counting as I heard my boss saying “hello?” out of the phone’s earpiece. A second time, it worked flawlessly, and I talked with my wife for several minutes on the drive home.

A third bizarre instance saw the system interrupt my USB playlist as if a phone call were coming in, but no number was displayed, and no matter how many times I hit the answer or reject buttons, the ring wouldn’t go away. It was like a ghost caller. I was pulling into my driveway at about the time this happened, and once stopped, pulled my phone out of my pocket to see if a call was really coming in. The screen on my phone did not indicate I was receiving a call. Freaky-deaky stuff. I finally got the ring to stop by turning the audio off with a press of the volume knob. When I turned it back on, all was back to normal, and my playlist resumed where it had left off.

While it was a pain for me not being able to sync up my phone with our Highlander Hybrid test vehicle, I realize I’m among the minority nowadays in my stubborn insistence of holding on to a “dumb” phone in the era of ever-cheaper, ever-more-capable smartphones, and this inconvenience will increasingly be the cross I’ll have to bear as in-car technology picks up and leaves my phone behind.

I’ve been eyeing a few mildly priced Android smartphones, and this experience with our Highlander Hybrid tester– as well as a glance at all the cool apps I could have used via an Android phone– just about has me convinced I should set a personal goal of getting into an Android smartphone by the time 2013 draws to a close. At that point, I will have had my faithful LG501C nearly two years, anyway, which is a good run for any phone in my rough employ.

Next in the Saga: We’ll take a hard look at our week-long fuel economy averages.

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

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