Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Navigation System

I've found that the navigation system built into the Model S works very well. The combination of the touch screen and the dashboard provides a better overall experience than most navigation systems I've used. Here is how it works.

Starting Navigation

To start navigating you can either use a voice command like "Navigate to ..." or search for something using the search box and onscreen keyboard. Since it uses Google maps, you can search anything google supports. This includes addresses, business names, and specific points of interest like EV charging stations.  The search list either from the voice command or the search gives you a list to choose from that includes the name and the distance from your current location. Once chosen, you are presented with a box that let's you call the location or navigate to it. Choose "Navigate" to begin navigating to the destination.

Search box for the map
Choose a destination from the search results and then navigate or start a call

When navigating begins, the touchscreen map serves as your "overhead" map oriented to north-south-east-west. But on the dashboard, the navigation "oriented" map slides in. This gives you a 3D oriented map that helps to visualize upcoming turns. I've found that the combination of both of these at the same time is an nice improvement over the usual GPS where you have switch between the 2 types of views with only 1 at a time shown.  And of course, I can even "full screen" my touch screen map to see a huge map taking up the full 17" touch screen.

The 3D oriented map on the dashboard pops up when navigating

The overhead map full screen

The overhead map in normal/half screen size

Turn by Turn

It supports turn by turn voice instructions and you can control the volume or mute it. As expected, with it being fully integrated, it lowers the volume of the main sound system for you when giving you instructions.

It also shows a handy turn list on the touch screen. This is another advantage of having so much screen real estate between the dashboard and the 17" touch screen. There is plenty of space to show everything without having to hit buttons or switch views.

Another cool thing about the oriented map on the dashboard is the upcoming turns show interstate signs similar to what you'd see while driving.

As you approach an exit from an interstate, it shows the road signs that you may expect to see and shows the turn with the lanes.

Online Data

When you have 3G connectivity, the map source is Google maps. This also means that you have access to Google's satellite view, real time traffic and all of their searchable locations. This all without having to do manual updates to the GPS since its all online and live.

The Google traffic is real time since they measure traffic using a variety of sources including road sensors and data harvested from mobile phones. Traffic can be turned on and off and, when on, shows red, yellow and green overlays on the roads.

The Google satellite view can be handy too. Sometimes, I'll use it to check out what the parking may be like at my destination.

When you are out of range and don't have internet connectivity, I'm told that it falls back to onboard Garmin maps. I've never actually done this so I don't know how it works when in that situation.


Overall, I give the navigation system a thumbs up. The advantages over traditional systems are:
  • The ability to show both the oriented 3D map and overhead map simultaneously.
  • Use of the large touch screen effectively: You can full size the map and you have plenty of room for the turn by turn list on screen along with the map without having to hit buttons or switch views.
  • The use of online Google maps means it's always up to date (or as up to date as Google).
  • Being able to switch to satellite view can sometimes be helpful in understanding what your destination looks like and what the parking may be like
  • Traffic indicators based on Google's system that includes real time data they gather from mobile phones. This has worked well so far for me.
Some additional features would be nice:
  • Access to the Google street view would be cool
  • Build in some specialized functionality for locating charging stations. When the supercharger network is built out, I think shortcuts to navigating to them and building them in as via points would be a great idea. 
  • Currently the navigation is system is fairly "generic". There are no special buttons for finding points of interest for example. Why not let me program in some of my favorite restaurant chains?
  • There is no range indication integrated with the navigation system. Seems like a fairly obvious thing to have given that the Model is a pure EV.
Luckily some of those features could come in future software updates. This is still a very early version of the car and so while its very good now, it can continue to improve over the time I own the car. And that, of course, is yet another great feature: It will keep getting better.


  1. can the touch screen view be changed to direction of travel?

    1. No, the oriented map only show on the dashboard. At least in the software version as of now. They could change that in the future.

  2. Why Tesla does not ask Google to implement an offline capability at least exclusively for this car so if there is no 3G connection the car can navigate using just the GPS? I guess it could download and update on the background and after a few days have the complete State map stored into the system.

  3. how does one adjust the navigation volume?

    1. The turn by turn window that overlays the map on the left has a small speaker icon on the upper right. Tap that and you can mute or adjust volume.

  4. thank you. Do you know how to save the settings for the speaker balancing. Mine revert back after the care is off. Is there a save button somewhere?