Hands-on Tesla v9.0 software update in the Model X

This weekend I had the opportunity to get behind the wheel of a Tesla Model X again. After reviewing the all electric SUV earlier in the year, it was...

This weekend I had the opportunity to get behind the wheel of a Tesla Model X again. After reviewing the all electric SUV earlier in the year, it was great to experience the car again, now armed with a recent software update to v9.0. 

While the written version is available below, we know there’s nothing quite like seeing it in action, so I’ve put together a walkthrough video from my time with the Model X, showcasing what’s included in V9.0. 

Update: Tesla does actually include Supercharger availability if you tap on the Supercharger location on the map. The reason this wasn’t immediately obvious to me is that setting the navigation to go to Tesla (with the intent of Supercharging) doesn’t alert you to the fact they are all in use. Obviously people travel to Tesla for a number of reasons, but I’d still think this is an opportunity to improve the owner experience. 

What’s included in the update

Interface overhaul
This is the biggest rethink of the Tesla UI since launch. Gone is the 50/50 split, instead replaced by a base of maps/navigation, when then get overlayed with other applications like reverse camera, music and settings.

Tesla has taken the data from real-world use and used that to inform the features drivers are using the most. This seen a change of location for most features, now available in the bottom-right corner of the screen, a much more natural location to reach, when removing your left hand from the wheel. 

Maps as well as the iconography and text throughout the UI, got a really nice overhaul, with some serious attention being placed on a cleaner design and the consistency throughout the UI provides a professional feel, matching the premium price tag of these vehicles. 

App layout and adjustability
Other than Maps for navigation, Music is the second most common application I, and most other drivers interact with, so it gets a dedicated button on the bottom nav. The size of music is now adjustable, simply drag to the size you want (note: even at the max size, you’ll still see Maps, which is smart). 

Browsing through content on Spotify, or stations on the radio is made easy, thanks to the additional screen real estate. Once your selection is underway, the Music app can be reduced to essential playback controls. With music collapsed, there’s actually room for a third app. 

From the up arrow, you get access to more apps like Calendar, Energy usage, Calls, but my favourite, the rear camera, available even when driving at speed. 

Having the ability to configure 3 apps running simultaneously, shows Tesla included the necessary processing power from the start, while many other infotainment systems can barely run what they ship with. 

Atari Games now available

Games
Elon says he wants Tesla’s to be fun and you definitely get that side of the engineers with the inclusion of things like Atari Games. Before you worry about driver distraction, this feature is only available while the vehicle is stopped. 

Included in the games list is just 4 titles, Asteroids, Lunar Lander, Missile Command and Centipede. It’s not something you’ll spend hours on, but if you’re stuch for something to do while supercharging, it’s worth a shot. Personally I think most people have far better games on their phones. 

Vehicle icons

Vehicle icons
While the big 17″ display is the focus of much of V9.0, the display in front of the driver also received an update. The way vehicles are represented around your vehicle has changed. 

As you drive in traffic, Tesla attempts to determine the vehicle type and accurately represent that on the screen. If there’s a semi truck passing you on the right, it’s handy to know that. If there’s a motorbike on your left, its handy to know that. 

While the idea is great, the execution definitely could do with some work. I noticed a few small trucks being represented as large trucks, one bike was missed all together and the placement of the vehicles, relative to your Tesla, is often not correct, almost like the sensor sample rate isn’t frequent enough, so the cars kind of jump positions, sometimes overlapping yours which is slightly concerning. I’m sure this will get better over time, but the idea is right, so I hope Tesla stick with it. 

Dashcam recording, download to USB

Dashcam
The cameras on Tesla vehicles are now all active with version 9.0. Along with the activation of the side cameras (previously disabled). Tesla have also activated a new Dashcam feature, which takes the feed from the RGB front camera and records it. 

If nothing interesting happens, it’ll override the storage, but if you have something memorable (good or bad) happen, you can download the video footage to a USB thumbdrive in either of the USB ports in the center console. 

Given people purchased this car without this feature, having it grow a feature through software is fantastic. The video footage is recorded in 1 minute segments at 1280×960 resolution, around 4Mbps bitrate and a variable, but usually around 36fps in .MP4 format. This results in files of around 30Mb in size.

By using a common format, Tesla has made the video easily viewable and shareable on social media, or in the case of an accident, with authorities and insurance agencies. 

The quality of the footage is actually ok, but the lighting isn’t great. I imagine this is a result of being behind a tinted windshield to ensure detail in the footage, like recognising speed signs, isn’t disrupted by overexposure from the sun. 

The net effect is you just got a new feature for free, so I’d be happy with that. Not the feature exists, I hope future vehicles improve on the quality/brightness of the Dashcam, getting closer to what’s on offer by dedicated cameras, saving owners hundreds of dollars.

Dashcams are all about offering piece of mind that should something happen, you have evidence that it wasn’t your fault. The footage available will and is already providing that benefit. 

Not included in the update

Video playback 
One of the stranger decisions was to add the ability to record video from the cameras, but provide no video playback app in the car. There’s a screen right there in front of you, so it’d make sense you could review clips before downloading them. 

Navigate on Autopilot
Australians miss out on one important feature in the V9.0 release. Navigate on Autopilot is the big step forward in autonomous driving, but it looks like we’ll have to wait till next year to get it. 

Australians miss out on one important feature in the V9.0 release. Navigate on Autopilot is the big step forward in autonomous driving, but it looks like we’ll have to wait till next year to get it. 

This feature enables Tesla drivers to feed the car their destination, then when taking a highway on ramp, enable autopilot and the car will then navigate down the freeway, overtaking where required and importantly, getting off the highway when your route requires. 

For regular commuters who spend large parts of their week driving, this is a massive deal, dramatically reducing the effort required by drivers. Reducing the mental energy required to drive means you’ll be more alert by the time you arrive at the office. 

While it is a shame this is US-only for now, expect it to arrive in Australia sometime next year. 

Overall

This free upgrade is a great rethink on what was already a great interface, it’s just cleaner, more capable and better. This ability to update your car over the air (via that built-in SIM card), demonstrates Tesla’s strengths, being a technology company that happens to ship a car with 4 wheels.

If you ask consumers what they want, you’ll end up with the Windows Insider’s program, if you use the telemetry data, it doesn’t lie and it doesn’t compete, there’s simply the raw numbers of what people are using the most.

Leveraging this data to power software development at Tesla is smart, ultimately improving the vehicle that owners purchased. For those who don’t yet own a Tesla, they’ll look from a far and see a vehicle that leads the EV market, get further ahead of the growing pack. 

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Creator of techAU, Jason has spent the dozen+ years covering technology in Australia and around the world. Bringing a background in multimedia and passion for technology to the job, Cartwright delivers detailed product reviews, event coverage and industry news on a daily basis.
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