Given the luxuriant screen space—48 inches across!—available in the new 2021 Byton M-Byte electric crossover, it might have been tempting to jam ten instrument clusters’ worth of content up there to delight the biggest data geeks. Instead, Byton’s digital product experience director Dré Nitze-Nelson has strived to “declutter” his enormous dash as much as possible while fashioning its controls in the image of modern household remote controls. Indeed, after just 20 minutes of futzing with it during the 2020 CES, the system was already becoming intuitive and we seemed to have a firm grasp of how it works. Here are a few usage tips and surprises we learned in our personal tutoring session with “doctor Dré:”
The driver controls the M-Byte’s screen from a simple trackpad touchscreen mounted on the steering wheel. Don’t worry, that interface remains upright at all times, remaining stationary as the wheel around it turns. A physical (i.e. off-screen) “home” button at the upper left corner calls up icons for the eight most frequently used functions, and from the factory they’re arranged with the most commonly used ones within a thumb’s span from the wheel rim: Audio, Maps, Comfort, and Vehicle. Swiping to the left reveals a second menu screen with additional, less frequently used items, including most of the infotainment options that work when the car is parked—like movie streaming and gaming. Want to get back the last screen you were looking at? Simply swipe down.
Screens for All
A similar touchpad, oriented vertically (portrait-style) on the center console between the front seats provides the passenger access to most of the same features and functions, and in vehicles equipped with rear screens, members of the back-seat club can weigh in on song selection. But, the driver retains the option to lock out the other screens if needs be. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, the whole system uses Android protocol over a QNX operating system.
Yes, Virginia, There Is a Real Volume Knob!
. . . though only the driver can reach it. Immediately below the home button on the left side of the screen is a horizontal volume roller knob, just above the station seek up and seek down buttons. This is a big deal to us, given how, as screens and touch inputs have proliferated in modern vehicles, attempts have been made to replace the tried-and-true volume knob with fiddly on-screen controls. None of those ever really work well or feel satisfying. So, color us happy that the screentastic M-Byte sees our truth on the subject.
Mirroring those audio controls to the right of the screen are the cruise control buttons. At the top is the cancel button, below it a horizontal knob to set or increase/decrease set speeds (tapping the end of it resumes), and the two buttons below adjust the following distance. The system can also be programmed to follow changing speed limits, with an adjustable offset (say, 5 or 10 mph over).
Pressing many of the buttons on the driver’s control pad brings up a menu on the huge main screen, up near the top and just to the right of the main display, just off the driver’s line of sight so that your eyes remain near the road. Six seconds after you’ve clicked your selection on the pop-up menu, it disappears or minimizes to declutter the screen. Audio selections can be depicted in larger format at the center or right of the screen along with album art, or this can be minimized to a “mini-player” view listing artist and title. Similarly, the big navigation map can be minimized to just show next-direction up in the driver’s field of view.
Front and center in the driver’s field of view is the speed, flanked on the left by a graphic representation of current consumption and on the right by battery state of charge and a numerical remaining-range estimate. Below that is a large representation of what the car senses around it, including all the road lanes and all cars and trucks/buses occupying these lanes. This display looks a bit like what you see in a Tesla, only larger.
Need to zen out while parked and charging? There’s a Meditation mode screen for that, complete with wake-up alarm, soothing lighting, and music. Rather play a video game with your passengers? There is a Space Invader–type game in which the passenger navigates a ship through asteroids and other dangers, while one rear passenger fires guns and the other controls the defensive screens. The driver is the commander (of course!). Office mode permits full video conferencing, complete with screen sharing. In Browser mode, unlimited Googling is only allowed when parked, unlike on Tesla’s big screen. And, of course, movies can be purchased or downloaded via Access from Byton partner ViacomCBS.
The 48-inch LCD jumbotron (which is basically 4K resolution in width, but one-third as tall as a TV of this width) is flanked by two RGB cameras, and two more point at the rear occupants enabling “Selfie mode.” Infrared cameras above the center air vents on the dash monitor driver attention and eye gaze, while an additional IR camera above the center console tracks hand gestures. That eye-gaze tracking means the car knows what you’re looking at and uses this info for context, allowing you to call up a phone contact on the screen, look at it, and simply say “call mobile,” or “navigate there.”
Invisible Dash Mode
When turning right and looking right, the right side of the dash can depict a view gathered from the 360-degree cameras of what you would see if looking through the dash and hood were possible. It would come in handy for maneuvering in tighter spaces, but there are no ghost images of the front tire, as with Land Rover’s similar invisible hood feature.
In order to achieve the M-Byte’s low dash, big screen, and broad, flat floor for maximum legroom, the entire HVAC system was pushed forward into the space other EVs use for front-end storage. Oh well, at least the cargo area is plenty big.
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