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      10-23-2011, 01:28 PM   #1
taibanl
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Review & DIY: BMW Station for Apple iPhone


I am proud to report I am the first (known) forum member in the US to have a fully installed working BMW Station for Apple iPhone. Paired with the new iPhone 4s and Siri, this is a great capability for those of us lacking iDrive.

Links:
BMW Connectivity Accessories Page
Groupbuy Thread (Current buying level $299.95)
Installation Instructions
BMW Link Manual
BMW Link FAQ
BMW Link Europe App (UK iTunes Store)
X1 Installation Thread, credit "ecoveon" (other questions discussion there)


Now to the review:

First and Foremost, Looks A-:
...as you can see it integrates nicely with the interior. It's still a cradle, but it displays congruity with the interior. For instance, the placement is both convenient and unobtrusive (although not as nice as in other models with a background bezel), and the design mimics the rest of the interior, with the black and silver, as in the gear selector.

The pictures don't do this thing justice, it really looks great. I didn't take my time taking them so some of them just don't look great, others due to lighting emphasize the station standing out from the car. In normal lighting it flows well with the dashboard. It just would look a little better with a bezel like e8x/f25 cars). If you are concerned about looks; this is the best thing short of iDrive

You may notice the bit of lighter coloring at the base of the bracket. This is not visible, both due to angle and lighting, in this case the lighting is from an iPhone flash.
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Last edited by taibanl; 11-02-2011 at 06:32 PM.
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      10-23-2011, 02:15 PM   #2
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Do you have any pictures with the iPhone mounted and the BMW interface coming from the phone?

After seeing this, I've been contemplating buying one.
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      10-23-2011, 03:33 PM   #3
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Bluetooth: B+

This is about as factory as a non-factory bluetooth solution gets. The only thing holding it back from an "A," is the fact that (supposedly, I don't have coding yet), the steering wheel controls will not work for dialing or spoken commands. It would be nice if they sent a simple bluetooth call to the phone to open "Siri" or the old school iPhone "Voice Control." Alas, it is not to be.

The first step is pairing, its fairly simple. With power on the car (Ignition or ACC power), dock the phone, go to your Settings-->General-->Bluetooth Menu and you should see "BMW_Station". Select the device and enter pairing code "1234." Done! Now every time when docked, the iPhone will pair with the station (as long as Bluetooth remains enabled on the phone).

With proper coding, "Aux" should be selected when the phone is docked. If not, you'll want aux selected to enable audio. Spoken commands and your voice is transmitted via Bluetooth, from the phone to the cradle. Audio out is transmitted from the phone to the Aux bus on the audio system. When in a call, audio is transmitted via Bluetooth protocol and is of lesser quality, but still excellent. No problems hearing others, or having others hear me.

There is some downside, Siri is not as accurate via the cradle mic+Bluetooth compression. When trying to say phrases (for instance asking Siri to conduct a web search or send a long text message, errors are more frequent than if the phone were to your ear). For commanding her to Dial X, or Text Y, she gets it right most of the time.
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      10-23-2011, 03:37 PM   #4
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Audio Quality: A

The audio quality on the unit is great and the best analog quality that can be had. By using the dock connector, the cradle minimizes any distortion that would otherwise be introduced at the headphone amp. I've previously tested the dock connector --> aux and found that with the proper cable, it was sonically indistinguishable from CD (the cable matters a lot!). This device (by repining the back of the OEM HU harness, taps inline into the aux bus and routes audio to the back of the HU.

Audio quality is limited only by the quality of:

Source - bit rate of audio files (lossless, MP3, etc) or streaming app (SiriusXM, Pandora, etc)
Aux Bus - analog signal so should be limited only by in-line resistance
Connections - you'll be re-pinning the radio harness as a part of this, DONT DAMAGE PINS/INSULATORS!

Again, as will be shown in the install portion, DONT DAMAGE THE PINS during the install, you will be working with small pins and damage may result in bad audio connectivity; more to follow.

Here are a few pics using both the BMW Link Music app, as well as streaming audio apps.
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Last edited by taibanl; 10-24-2011 at 07:43 PM.
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      10-23-2011, 03:42 PM   #5
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GPS Navigation: C-

There is a problem with the GPS portion of my cradle...at least I hope it's just mine. Basically the signal is either weaker or less accurate or both.
It is either a design issue or a one-time defective cradle.
In any case the problem is that the iPhone gets a WORSE SIGNAL when using the cradle's GPS antenna. It is either accuracy or update rate related or both, but the net result is that the car appears to "jump" down the highway when viewed via the default "MAPS" application or goes between 0 MPH and vehicle speed when traveling. Very annoying as apps like Navigon try and auto zoom depending on what speed you are going.

The GPS is still usable though, and tends to be accurate enough not to miss turns.

Overall I am still recommending this product but wanted to put this out there while my research is pending.
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Last edited by taibanl; 10-28-2011 at 12:41 PM.
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      10-23-2011, 03:43 PM   #6
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Overall: B+

Overall, this is a GREAT product and I use it every time I am in my car. It works well in conjunction with Siri (iPhone 4s), though she seems to be less effective in general over ANY bluetooth connection.

Functions:
  • Charges phone while docked
  • Audio out via Dock Connector (highest quality analog possible)
  • Bluetooth Speakerphone (external mic in cradle, audio out through head unit Aux in)
  • Navigation cradle (+external GPS antenna, marginal function though)


This is a LOT of functionality for the price and integration is pretty good. It would be an A+ except

A+ -> A: in e9x cars, there is no "bezel" to make it pretty as in e8x/f25 cars);
A -> A-: no steering wheel integration (though some may be supported with 6FL/USB option), seems like this could have been included with very little additional R&D
A- -> B+: by far the most annoying problem, the GPS signal error I am having, maybe its a one-off problem

Final Grade B+
Charging: Excellent
Audio Quality: Excellent
Looks: Good to Great, best non factory integration hands down.
Bluetooth Speaker: Good, partially limited audio quality, sometimes affects voice control
GPS: Fair: Still effective but damn annoying that it is a step DOWN from iPhone Built in GPS.

Last edited by taibanl; 11-02-2011 at 06:24 PM.
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      10-23-2011, 03:50 PM   #7
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Reserved: Installation:

Instructions are excellent and easy to follow one step at a time with few exceptions.

It's supposed to take 1.5 hours.

I'm not going to say how long it took, but it took a LONG time, and by long, I mean it took me damn close to 12 hours.
  1. First: Trim, Glovebox, and Radio Removal
    I am not going to retrace the steps of those who have gone before me. I found two DIY's on trim that I like.

    The first is probably better for removing the vent trim. I think its better to remove it from the steering column side first. Then to the passenger side. The center vents will come with it, no big deal, don't take them off. However, before pulling away from your dash; PUSH YOUR HAZARD LIGHTS OUT THE BACK OF THE TRIM PIECE. This is NOT in the posted DIY. The hazard lights will pop free preventing you from having to disconnect the harness from behind and underneath it (which is very tricky).

    Dash Trim DIY

    The next is removing the glovebox. You have to remove 1) Glovebox, Cupholders, Glovebox Shell in THAT order. This will get to the area where you need to mount the control unit.

    The basic steps are:
    a) remove torx screws from passenger footwell
    b) remove glovebox hinge, glovebox can now fall free (when latch opened)
    c) remove cupholders
    d) remove more torx screws from glovebox shell; the shell also has 4 large plastic lips which fit up over a metal bar. Thus, when screws are removed, you will pull it out down and toward the passenger seat.

    Gotcha: make sure you don't zip tie the control unit in the wrong spot on the bar, the zip ties go on the same bar that the lip fits onto, thus if the zip tie is sitting where the lip needs to go, you won't be able to reinstall glovebox shell

    Glovebox (and a different vent trim) DIY

    Radio Removal DIY - Note: this is manual climate control, concept is the same. Just make sure you are pulling the whole control off in one piece, instead of pulling the plastic face away from the controls.

  2. Then, Preparing (cutting and drilling) your dash.
    Follow the instructions extremely carefully! They tell you to cut your dash 80mm from the passenger side and 100mm from the driver's side edge of the lip. You can actually cut less, measure 100mm from passenger's side and 120mm from driver's side and the bracket will fit perfectly in the cutout. ONLY CUT FROM THE BASE OF THE LIP (top side) out to the appropriate width and DOWN, do not cup anything higher up than the topside base of the lip.

    Before cutting, the reach your fingers up behind the vent hole, confirm you feel a little ridge. This ridge should align with the center of your bracket cutout.

    Once you have removed enough of the padded section of the dash (don't cut the hard backing, this is what the station mounts to); you should have exposed only the hard backing. Momentarily affix the mounting bracket to the cutout section, the metal wraps on either side of the hard part of the dash. A helper for this might be good. Push it up AS HIGH AS YOU CAN...hard with one hand, and mark the three holes (2 screw and 1 cable) with the other.

    When you are satisfied that the holes are in the correct spot, check again, then check one more time for sanity sake. You have to drill 4mm for the screws and 8mm for the cables. IIRC this should be 5/16" and 5/32" if you don't have metric drill bits.

  3. Install Mounting Bracket - Ok, it get's a little easier (for now)
    With the holes pre-drilled now, feed the cable through the various mounting hardware (see instructions) ENSURING THAT YOU HAVE THE VARIOUS HARDWARE PIECES LINED UP IN THE CORRECT ORDER. You will have to very carefully feed the ends of the harness through the 8mm hole a few leads at a time, being careful not to kink any of the tiny wires. Once they are all through you can pull them out through the radio portion down below.

    Note that the second picture shows the mounting bracket by itself, before installation, this was just a test fit to ensure it was centered. When you actually bolt it to the dash, it should be fully assembled.

    Before you do bolt it to the dash though, remove the phillips head screw from the back of the cradle if you wish to rotate it from portrait to landscape.
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Last edited by taibanl; 11-02-2011 at 08:51 PM.
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      10-23-2011, 06:33 PM   #8
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tai,
nice work! it came out great!
please post photos of the installation if you can.
im curious how its wired in? what kind of coding do you need? the BMW app thats on the screen how does all that work? is it just a suit of BMW stuff on an iphone app?

it looks fantastic, well done, looking forward to your updates
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      10-23-2011, 07:06 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by B-737 View Post
tai,
nice work! it came out great!
please post photos of the installation if you can.
im curious how its wired in? what kind of coding do you need? the BMW app thats on the screen how does all that work? is it just a suit of BMW stuff on an iphone app?

it looks fantastic, well done, looking forward to your updates
Good to hear from ya,

Install pics are coming, there aren't many as the longer I took, the less motivated I was.

Its wired in behind the glove box, from there you have
1 lead with about 14 pins to the cradle
1 lead, one wire under the steering column
4 leads (grouped into 3 pins, two connectors, and another two pins) behind the OEM HU.

Coding is not strictly required as I am working fine without it

BMW app is essentially a method to access Phone and Music using large fonts (for driving) plus CoPilot UK (useless), plus BMW Connected (novel but ultimately useless)
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      10-24-2011, 04:32 PM   #10
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Hey great photos, looks smashing!! Should get mine later this week.

I have factory bluetooth can I continue to use that with the station?
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      10-24-2011, 07:33 PM   #11
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DanGer, I need you to get in touch with me to test the GPS portion of the cradle BEFORE INSTALL. Make a few more posts so you can PM.
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      10-28-2011, 12:42 PM   #12
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Updated GPS section. I'll try and get a video of the GPS behavior but I have to borrow another iPhone to do so.
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      10-28-2011, 02:14 PM   #13
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sweet! can't wait to see some MacGyver-ed results for an iPad!!


GREAT write up!!!
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      10-28-2011, 02:24 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jasonn View Post
sweet! can't wait to see some MacGyver-ed results for an iPad!!

Ha! I have one but I am NOT going there!
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      11-02-2011, 06:25 PM   #15
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Updated final review; installation pics (not many though) to follow.
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Last edited by taibanl; 11-02-2011 at 07:28 PM.
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      11-02-2011, 09:03 PM   #16
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Updated, DIY 50% complete
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      11-18-2011, 01:32 PM   #17
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Looking at solutions for iPhone integration for my new E90 LCI and found your project. I have a 3GS and might upgrade later to the 4S.

I'm a little confused on the Bluetooth functionality. I already paired my iPhone and can place calls through the steering wheel interface. Does the BMW station change this functionality?

I just want to dock my iPhone so I can run Navigon. My 3GS sometimes has a tough time getting a good GPS signal so I wonder if the BMW cradle will improve it?

Finally I have the 6FL connections in my console and have the Y cable on order so I haven't been able to select music from the iPhone yet. Does the BMW station bypass the radio controls for music? Do you instead use the app directly on the iPhone to play tunes?

Does this setup effectively eliminate steering wheel control for both Phone and Music streaming?
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      11-18-2011, 06:01 PM   #18
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1) Bluetooth: All this is, is ANOTHER option to connect your phone via bluetooth, If I were you I would simply just not pair it to the BMW Station, leave it paired with the car, no problems
2) Cradle SHOULD improve GPS but I haven't got anyone else to test theirs yet, mine is actually making my GPS fix worse.
3) According the the xbimmers thread (see first post w/ links) you can retain steering wheel controls while hooked up to the dock. Bottom line, you aren't LOSING any functionality

That being said, if you have 6FL and BT, this product serves only one purpose for you, a nice dock. For that functionality, it may be overpriced. It's targeted more toward guys like me who didn't have those options, but either way, it won't break them.
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      11-18-2011, 06:21 PM   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by taibanl View Post
1) Bluetooth: All this is, is ANOTHER option to connect your phone via bluetooth, If I were you I would simply just not pair it to the BMW Station, leave it paired with the car, no problems
2) Cradle SHOULD improve GPS but I haven't got anyone else to test theirs yet, mine is actually making my GPS fix worse.
3) According the the xbimmers thread (see first post w/ links) you can retain steering wheel controls while hooked up to the dock. Bottom line, you aren't LOSING any functionality

That being said, if you have 6FL and BT, this product serves only one purpose for you, a nice dock. For that functionality, it may be overpriced. It's targeted more toward guys like me who didn't have those options, but either way, it won't break them.
Appreciate the response.

Since I do have those options I may consider a dock extension cable and a Pro Clips mount. But those will add up to $150 and won't look as integrated as what you have done
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      11-18-2011, 06:22 PM   #20
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Wow, $150 for THAT?

Go look at the xbimmers thread

since you have 6FL you can probably get the cradle without the control unit and have it work like magic, including controls. Meanwhile saving money. The part number for the cradle by itself is posted in the thread.

Edit: it may be time to make the decision on whether to upgrade from iPhone 3x to 4x as the cradles are different.
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      11-18-2011, 07:11 PM   #21
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I've been reading the xbimmers thread. Definitely intrigued with getting just the cradle and wiring the 6FL stuff directly to it. The concern is it appears the cradle requires any protective case to be removed prior to inserting the device. I prefer the ProClips cradle because it accommodates the case.
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      11-18-2011, 09:52 PM   #22
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Ok fair enough. You definitely have to remove cases though. Even tried apples bumpers

Edit, just saw my sister had a case that covered the sides and corners but left top and bottom open. Seems that might work.

Last edited by taibanl; 11-25-2011 at 01:17 PM.
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