Forget those built-in DVD players so many SUVs and minivans have now. As more auto makers incorporate Internet access into their vehicles, going on a road trip will soon mean that you don’t have to lug a bunch of DVDs around in addition to everything else you have to fit into your car. Instead, you can stream movies from Netflix, or watch videos on YouTube. Not only that, you’ll be able to keep your friends posted on your trip via Facebook and Twitter, get directions and look up maps without being subscribed to a GPS navigation service, and find hotels and restaurants on the go. Sure, these are all things you can do now with a smartphone, but it might be kind of nice to be able to do it on a bigger screen, and reserve your phone’s battery. The Subaru Outback is just the latest vehicle to incorporate wireless connectivity. Now, before anyone starts getting all upset about how this is just another distraction for drivers, let’s use some common sense and realize that this incorporated service is meant for passengers. It’s bad enough that texting while driving is such an issue. Drivers could use it, of course, when the vehicle is not in motion. But when you’re driving, leave the map checking and Twitter updates to the passengers, ok? If you’re driving alone, pull over before you log on. Common sense should also tell you that this service isn’t free. The Internet access is provided by Autonet Mobile, which made its debut a few years ago in rental cars, and is now also available in some Chrysler and Cadillac models. Autonet provides a 3G connection, can accommodate up to ten users, and has a range of about 150 feet. So if you go camping, or are even just sitting outdoors at a restaurant, you could conceivably use your car as a Wi-Fi hotspot. Of course, the car would have to be on, so there’s an issue of gas waste there. Which brings us to cost. To start with, the service is an option in the Subaru, available for $499. Then there’s a $35 activation fee, and then the service is offered via monthly subscription, which costs $29 per month. In addition, much like wireless service, there is a subscription minimum of one year, although Subaru plans to offer the first three months for free. All of this sounds pretty reasonable at the outset, but then take into account what you’re already paying for your wireless phone service. You may also already have satellite radio service. You could probably get rid of that and stream Internet radio via Autonet, but you’d miss out on satellite exclusives such as Howard Stern and Oprah. What do you think? Is in-car Internet access worth it?
Subaru Outback is a Wi-Fi hotspot
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