Best CarPlay Head Unit 2017 – Kenwood, Pioneer, Sony and Alpine Review

Alpine iLX-107 - Best CarPlay Head Unit Review

Best CarPlay Head Unit Review 2017 – Sony, Kenwood, Pioneer and Alpine – Where to start?

Update – make sure to check out my Best CarPlay Head Unit 2018 Review here for the latest and greatest.

Shopping for an Apple CarPlay compatible head unit can be super confusing since there are so many models out there to choose from.  If you’re not sure where to start, I’ll simplify and explain all of the current CarPlay compatible models from 4 major brands – Kenwood, Pioneer, Sony and Alpine.  They all have their own unique pro’s and con’s and the best one will vary depending on your unique needs. This CarPlay head unit review will help you break down the features and find the best one for your particular application.

It’s all about the features:

Are you interested in SiriusXM, HD Radio, CD player, HDMI input, iDatalink Maestro?  No?  Then consider the Sony XAV-AX100.  The Sony XAV-AX100 is a great little Apple CarPlay compatible head unit and it’s one of the most reasonably priced out there. That’s largely because it lacks all those other features that some of us refer to as bells and whistles.

Sony CarPlay XAV-AX100
Sony CarPlay XAV-AX100 – Best CarPlay Head Unit Review

I plan on putting this in my own Jeep once we get some free time at the shop. Why would I choose this model since I work in this industry and could put any in my car? Well, I hate SiriusXM, I have no desire to listen to regular radio or CD for that matter and I have no need for an HDMI input. I can also live without iDatalink Maestro Car Portal features such as resetting a check engine light or checking vehicle battery voltage on screen. I’m also a little, um, frugal to put it nicely and if you are too, you might want to consider this model as well. Aside from Apple CarPlay, the Sony XAV-AX100 features:

  • 6.4″ touch screen
  • Volume knob (I point this out because the models with a slightly smaller screen have this feature and that is something some people like to have vs one of those little tiny volume rocker bars we see on 7″ models)
  • AM/FM Radio (no HD radio)
  • Bluetooth
  • Reverse camera input
  • Front, Rear and Subwoofer preouts (they say rated at 2 volt, but I swear sounds more like 4 volt)
  • 10 band EQ
  • Built in steering wheel control interface – compatible with mostly older Toyota, Nissan, Mazda and Subaru vehicles.

The Sony is simple – what you see is what you get. Because it lacks so many features, it’s really pretty easy to use. The home screen has a few simple icons and the settings menu is easy to navigate. This model has a few options for background display screens or you can upload your own.

Sony XAV-AX100 Home Screen
Sony XAV-AX100 Home Screen – Best CarPlay Head Unit Review

So what’s the catch with the Sony XAV-AX100?

I have two complaints about this model. Number one – you cannot connect an iPod through the USB. The USB port on this stereo is specifically for either Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, however – you can have your iPhone connected for CarPlay and also have an iPod connected to Bluetooth at the same time so if you want the option to play an iPod through this stereo, that’s really the only way to do it.  Kenwood on the other hand will allow you to connect an iPod to the USB port, however, you cannot have an iPhone and iPod connected at the same time because they use the same USB port (even on models that feature dual USB ports!). Pioneer by the way, does let you use an iPod on the secondary USB port while having CarPlay connected via USB 1.

Complaint number two – Sony’s steering wheel control mapping is bizarre, it’s just a bit redundant and seems odd how they’ve doubled up functions on buttons. Source doesn’t just change source, it will also allow you to hang up or reject a phone call. My guess is they mapped it this way for the older Japanese vehicles that only have 5 basic functions on the existing steering wheel controls. However, if you have a newer vehicle with dedicated answer/hang up and voice button, it will seem a little odd.  So for example, in my 2014 Wrangler, here is how my steering wheel controls will be mapped out using an iDatalink Maestro RR:

Sony XAV-AX100 Jeep Wrangler SWC
Sony XAV-AX100 Jeep Wrangler SWC

However, if you can get over these quirks and don’t need all the bells and whistles, the Sony XAV-AX100 may be the best CarPlay head unit for you.

So you want SiriusXM? Not ready to give up CD’s?

Consider the Kenwood DDX6703s or DDX6903s. These two models are so similar I’ve lumped them together. The DDX6703s is part of Kenwood’s regular line and the DDX6903s is part of their premier eXcelon line up. The DDX6903s has two USB ports, DDX6703s has one USB port. The DDX6903s has a 5 volt pre-amp output, the DDX6703s has a 4 volt pre-amp output. When purchased from an authorized eXcelon dealer, the DDX6903s comes with a 2 year warranty and the DDX6703s has a 1 year warranty.

Kenwood DDX6703s CarPlay Head Unit
Kenwood DDX6703s – Best CarPlay Head Unit Review

So when you step up to either the DDX6703s or DDX6903s you gain a few key features over the Sony XAV-AX100 such as:

  • SiriusXM compatibility (requires SXV300 tuner and I recommend a higher quality satellite radio antenna than the garbage SiriusXM includes with this tuner such as the Mobile Spec MSUNIVSAT)
  • HD Radio on FM/AM
  • CD/DVD player
  • Dual camera input (and it’s real easy to switch to the front camera, when in reverse just tap the screen)
  • iDatalink Maestro compatibility with Car Portal features
  • GPS antenna

The iDatalink Maestro Car Portal features are pretty cool and an absolute must for certain vehicles. For example, let’s say you have a brand new Ram pick up with the Uconnect 5.0 radio and you want to upgrade to a CarPlay head unit.

iDatalink CH3 Screen Ram
iDatalink CH3 Screen Ram – Image courtesy of iDatalink

The stock head unit has a vehicle settings menu where you can change settings for the door locks, horn, lights, dimmer, etc. Once you change the radio, you can no longer access those options. Unless of course you go with an iDatalink Maestro compatible head unit with what’s called a serial data port connection. To see what features you would be able to retain and check compatibility, try out this iDatalink Maestro RR weblink demo.

Want a bigger screen too?

Well, why not, we’re already around $550 in price range, what’s a few bucks more? The next step up from the DDX6703s and DDX6903s is the brand new DMX7704s which features a 7″ touch screen (vs 6.2″), BUT you lose the CD/DVD player. And although this model has two USB ports, only one will work for iPhone or an iPod. The secondary USB port is for flash memory and all Kenwood’s that have the dual USB feature are like this.

Let’s think about this – do you really need a CD/DVD player? If not, but you want Apple CarPlay, iDatalink Maestro support and SiriusXM then this may be the best CarPlay head unit for you.  What else do you get when you step up again within the Kenwood line up? The DDX9703s and the eXcelon DDX9903s.

Kenwood DDX9703s Home Screen
Kenwood DDX9703s Home Screen – Best CarPlay Head Unit Review

The DDX9703s and DDX9903s feature an HDMI input

To truly mirror the iPhone, you need a head unit with an HDMI input and you also need an HDMI cable and an Apple Lightning Digital A/V adapter. When I say mirror I mean it mirrors the audio and video of the phone on the screen, you still have to control everything from the phone itself.

HDMI mirroring - Best CarPlay Head Unit Review
HDMI mirroring – Best CarPlay Head Unit Review

The only thing I can see safely using this for is if you wanted to have the GPS app Waze on screen, you could launch it from your phone and mirror it into the stereo screen.

The DDX9703s and DDX9903s also feature Dual Zone

What Dual Zone allows you to do is load a DVD into the in dash CarPlay head unit and feed the audio/video out into a rear monitor (ideally one that supports wireless IR headphones) while you can listen to your iPhone, SiriusXM or HD radio on the front two speakers. This is a cool feature if you’re looking to upgrade the family vehicle.

Like the previous eXcelon models, the DDX9903s has a 5 volt pre amp output (vs 4 volt on DDX9703s) and has a 2 year warranty when purchased from an authorized dealer (vs 1 year on the DDX9703s). Additionally, the DDX9903s has dual USB ports, but again, only supports an iPod or iPhone on the main USB port, the secondary USB will read flash memory. The DDX9903s also features a glass capacitive touch screen vs a regular resistive touch screen.

Page one of sources Kenwood DDX9703s
Page one of sources Kenwood DDX9703s

From an operational standpoint, the navigation menu’s on the Kenwood models are pretty easy to use. Icons are large and easy to see. There are 3 easy to swipe through pages that allow you access to all the various sources available.

Page two of sources Kenwood DDX9703s
Page two of sources Kenwood DDX9703s

You can easily drag and drop the icons in the order you prefer putting the ones you use most often on the home page and secondary page. Additionally, there is a clear menu button on every Kenwood radio and to access the settings you simply tap menu, then settings.

Page 3 of sources Kenwood DDX9703s
Page 3 of sources Kenwood DDX9703s

One unique feature Kenwood has that no one else seems to offer is “Memory Recall”

Let’s say you or your installer spent a good amount of time setting up the audio features, perfecting the 13 band EQ settings and digital time alignment and then bam, without warning your battery goes dead and you lose all those settings. Well, if you memorized them in the head unit, all you have to do is recall them. I LOVE this feature and I seriously don’t get why Sony, Alpine and Pioneer don’t copy it (please engineers – take a hint!).

So what are the drawbacks on Kenwood?

Well, there’s a couple. For one, what’s the point of dual USB if you can only play an iPod on the same port that supports CarPlay? Number two – I’ve heard of a few people out there hearing a background hiss sound as soon as they connect their iPhone to the USB port. I’ve talked to Kenwood about it and as long as you purchased it from an authorized dealer, they’ll swap it out no questions asked. That’s in theory, in practice I had a customer buy a refurbished Kenwood model from an authorized online dealer (please stay away from refurbs!) and he experienced this issue. Unfortunately he still had the same issue after installing the replacement unit. It’s kind of like the hiss you hear on a record player and it’s only audible at near zero volume, but still, I can see how annoying it would be. Luckily, I haven’t had any issues with units we’ve sold. And lastly I’m not too keen on the blue splash screen for the Album art section. If you don’t have your iPhone or iPod connected you will see a blue splash screen and there is no way to change that.

If you can get over the Blue album art splash screen and the fact that you can only play an iPod over the main USB port, Kenwood may still be the best option for you. Especially if you want SiriusXM capability, iDatalink Maestro RR capability, HDMI input and Dual Zone. In that case, the DDX9703s or DDX9903s may be the best CarPlay head unit for you.

Want to be able to have CarPlay connected and an iPod at the same time?

This might sound like a silly feature to get hung up on, but here’s why you might want to consider having this option. Let’s say you have your iPhone connected for CarPlay and you’re listening to Pandora or Spotify and you end up driving into an area with spotty cell service. All of a sudden your music starts pausing or cutting in and out. I personally can’t stand when data streaming services get interrupted like that – really who likes listening to music cutting in and out? With the Pioneer AVH-4201NEX you could simply switch your source on the radio to USB 2 to your already connected 80 gig iPod loaded up with tunes for interruption free listening. It saves the hassle of trying to disconnect one device and connect another while you’re driving and if you want a safe and enjoyable listening experience, this is one feature to consider.

Pioneer AVH-4201NEX Best CarPlay Head Unit Review
Home Screen on Pioneer AVH-4201NEX – Best CarPlay Head Unit Review

The AVH-4201NEX is essentially the same head unit as the last year’s AVH-4200NEX (and the 2015 model AVH-4100NEX), but they added a free reverse camera to the package. There are quite a few things to like about this model, it seems to have everything you could possibly need as far as features are concerned:

  • AM/FM – HD Radio
  • Bluetooth
  • Dual Zone
  • Dual camera inputs
  • SiriusXM ready
  • Dual USB ports and both support iPod’s and iPhone’s – CarPlay only functions on USB 1
  • HDMI input
  • CD/DVD player
  • iDatalink Maestro compatible
  • Detachable Face for security purposes

The menu and user interface is also quite intuitive. From the home screen you have access to your 5 most commonly used sources, telephone shortcut, settings shortcut and CarPlay shortcut. A quick tap of the A/V icon on the bottom right brings up all available sources. Some people prefer this layout over Kenwood’s larger source icons and several pages of sources to swipe through.

Pioneer AVH-4201NEX Best CarPlay Head Unit Review
Pioneer AVH-4201NEX Home Screen – Best CarPlay Head Unit Review

Drawbacks on the Pioneer CarPlay models

One feature Pioneer lacks is a GPS antenna, so if you plan on using the Apple Maps often in your vehicle, that is one feature to keep in mind that both Kenwood and Alpine include, but Pioneer and Sony do not.

Speaking about Pioneer – Pioneer has three new CarPlay head units being released this summer including the first ever single din CarPlay head unit.

They’re not out yet, as of this writing, but coming soon and they will be more value oriented. There are two double dins and the first ever single din flip out CarPlay receiver. The two double dins are going to be the 6.2″ touch screen AVH-1300NEX and the 7″ touch screen AVH-2300NEX.  Both will feature:

  • AM/FM Radio (No HD Radio)
  • Bluetooth
  • SiriusXM capability
  • CD/DVD
  • 4 Volt preouts, 13 band EQ, built in crossovers
  • iDatalink Maestro capabaility
  • Single USB port

These models are similar to the Sony, less bells and whistles cuts the price way down. The 6.2″ AVH-1300NEX is expected to sell for $399.95 and the 7″ AVH-2300NEX is expected to sell for $499.95 (the AVH-2300NEX will also be Android Auto compatible).

 

AVH-3300NEX - Best CarPlay Head Unit Review
Single Din CarPlay Head Unit Pioneer AVH-3300NEX – Best CarPlay Head Unit Review

For those of you wanting CarPlay, but lack the double din opening, the AVH-3300NEX is the perfect solution. This model will have pretty much everything you could possibly need for a single din CarPlay receiver:

  • 7″ Touch screen
  • SiriusXM Capable
  • Detachable panel
  • Single USB
  • Bluetooth
  • 4 Volt preouts, 13 band EQ, digital time alignment
  • Single Reverse Camera Input

What about Alpine?

Alpine will eventually be shipping the first ever wireless CarPlay receiver which is pretty cool, but you definitely pay for that coolness factor. The iLX-107 will basically be replacing the iLX-007 which was essentially an Apple designed product. The iLX-107 will retain the clean design and user interface that we saw in the iLX-007, but it will add wireless CarPlay control and iDatalink Maestro capability.  This model is expected to sell for $699.95 and it simply features:

  • AM/FM Radio
  • USB (strictly for CarPlay compatible devices)
  • GPS antenna
  • Rear AUX input
  • Reverse Camera input
  • Front, Rear and Subwoofer preouts 2 volt

As I said, coolness comes at a price.

Alpine iLX-107 - Best CarPlay Head Unit Review
Alpine iLX-107 – Best CarPlay Head Unit Review

The Alpine iLX-107 is not to be confused with the Alpine iLX-207 – but it’s easy to get them confused because they will be sold at the same price and have very different features.

Alpine iLX-207 - Best CarPlay Head Unit Review
Alpine iLX-207 – Best CarPlay Head Unit Review

When you move over to the Alpine iLX-207 you lose the wireless CarPlay feature and rear aux input, but you gain quite a bit such as:

  • HD Radio
  • USB that is not strictly for CarPlay (also plays iPods and Android Auto)
  • SiriusXM Ready
  • HDMI Input

Still, at this price point, you’re really not getting a fantastic value with Alpine. With Pioneer or Kenwood, you’re getting a lot more features for your money. And there’s one more thing to keep in mind with Alpine – none of their CarPlay models include a CD or DVD player. So if that’s important to you, forget Alpine. If however, wireless CarPlay is a feature that’s important to you, then the Alpine iLX-107 may be the best CarPlay head unit for you.

Confused yet?  Let’s recap.

Sony XAV-AX100 – Good for a nice easy to use basic CarPlay stereo.  No frills.  Features:

  • USB strictly for CarPlay or Android Auto
  • 6.4″ touch screen with small volume knob
  • Bluetooth
  • Reverse camera input

New Pioneer CarPlay Models AVH-1300NEX and AVH-2300NEX add features like:

  • CD/DVD player
  • SiriusXM capability
  • Rear AUX input
  • iDatalink Maestro compatibility

Kenwood DDX6703s and DDX6903s add features like:

  • HD Radio
  • GPS antenna
  • Memory Recall
  • Dual camera inputs

The Kenwood DMX7704s adds features like:

  • Larger 7″ screen (however lacks a CD/DVD player)
  • Dual USB ports (but only one for CarPlay and iPod, secondary for flash memory)

The Kenwood DDX9703s and DDX9903s add features like:

  • HDMI input
  • Dual Zone
  • DDX9903s features glass capacitive touch screen
  • Plus you get the CD/DVD player back on these models

The Pioneer AVH-4201NEX adds features like:

  • Detachable face
  • Free reverse camera included
  • Both USB ports support iPod playback
  • However, this model lacks a GPS antenna

The Alpine iLX-107 is the only model to include:

  • Wireless CarPlay
  • However it lacks just about everything else: CD/DVD, USB is strictly for CarPlay, no SiriusXM, no HD Radio, no HDMI input, has just one camera input.

The new Alpine iLX-207 doesn’t really fit well in the middle of the progression of these models because it has a mix of features that is not exactly priced competitively compared to Kenwood and Pioneer models (which is why I don’t plan on carrying this model).  For reference, the key features on this mechless CarPlay head unit are:

  • HD Radio
  • USB that is not strictly for CarPlay (also plays iPods and Android Auto)
  • SiriusXM capability
  • HDMI Input
  • iDatalink Maestro Support

So which model is the best CarPlay head unit for you? Simply focus on the features that are most important to you and you’ll find it a lot easier to select the best CarPlay head unit for your unique application. Enjoy!

 

 

 

Best Double Din Navigation 2016 – Kenwood DNX893s, Alpine INE-W967HD or Pioneer AVIC-8200NEX?

Best Double Din Navigation 2016

Looking for the Best Double Din Navigation for 2016?

Car Stereo Chick reviews and compares the Kenwood DNX893s, Alpine INE-W967HD and Pioneer AVIC-8200NEX

Double din touch screen navigation stereos are one of the most popular selling products in our showroom. Who wouldn’t want:

  • On board GPS Navigation (that doesn’t use your data)
  • Better sound quality
  • Bluetooth
  • USB input
  • Reverse camera capability?

There are a lot of reasons to upgrade your factory radio to a brand name aftermarket double din navigation, but who really makes the best double din navigation for 2016? Well, as I explain to my customers in my showroom, that answer all really depends on what features are most important to you and how you plan to use your new stereo. Each brand has its own strengths and weaknesses as you will see. Get ready for an in depth review on all the Kenwood DNX893s, Alpine INE-W967HD and Pioneer AVIC-8200NEX!

Attention – Please note this is first draft – revisions and additional details to come shortly. Forgive me for any grammar or spelling errors, I usually proofread and revise my posts 30 times before publishing, but I know a lot of you have been waiting a long time for this.

Pioneer AVIC-8200NEX – I’m popular

Like the Nada Surf song, the AVIC-8200NEX is a bit of a catch and when it comes to the choosing the best double din navigation, it is never last picked. The nice thing about the AVIC-8200NEX is the operating platform has been around for a couple years so it is a proven, reliable system. Alpine and Kenwood on the other hand just unveiled brand new operating systems for their units so I’m sure we will see a quirk or two reveal itself over the next coming months. I find the user interface of the Pioneer one of the easiest ones to use and personally one of the most pleasing to the eye, but hey, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Best Double Din Navigation 2016 - Pioneer AVIC-8200NEX
Best Double Din Navigation 2016 – Pioneer AVIC-8200NEX features a user friendly and intuitive interface.

From the home screen you have several easy shortcuts to:

  • Apple CarPlay or Android Auto
  • GPS navigation by Here Maps
  • Bluetooth Telephone
  • Your 3 favorite sources
  • What’s currently playing
  • Settings

The theme colors and button colors can all be personalized to match your vehicle interior and preference.  You can make it as colorful or as dull in appearance as you like.

Best Double Din Navigation 2016 - Pioneer AVIC-8200NEX Map
Best Double Din Navigation 2016 – Pioneer AVIC-8200NEX navigation map screen

Pioneer uses Here Maps for their on board GPS navigation system. Compared to Kenwood’s Garmin navigation, you might find the roads to be skinny and the icons rather small. However, you could just as easily say the icons on the Garmin are too large and take up vital real estate on the 7″ screen. I’ve had 97% positive feedback from customers regarding the navigation, however I do have two complaints I think are worth noting.

I had one customer find it maddening during a long trip from Maine to Connecticut that the system would not automatically re-route to the new route he had decided to take. He had taken the trip numerous times and knew of a couple routes/highways he could use. Although he allowed the system to pick the fastest route, he continued on another route that he knew. However, at every exit the Pioneer navigation (Here Maps) wanted him to get off the highway and get back onto the original route that had previously been calculated and selected. FYI, there is a way around this – you can select an alternative route from the navigation screen, but the navigation couldn’t figure it out on its own. I guess we’re so used to Google reading our minds all the time that we find it annoying when our electronics don’t, you know, just KNOW what we’re thinking.

I had another customer tell me how it wanted them to go the wrong way down a one way street and additionally, it also seemed to think she lived on a one way street because it always wanted her to loop around the block to get to her home address (which was not on a one way street).

One thing worth mentioning is the Pioneer features a latest maps guarantee which is a feature of Here Maps. You will notice these units come shipped with 2014 Maps, but it’s pretty easy to download the latest maps.

Overall the Pioneer AVIC-8200NEX is a full featured and well rounded GPS navigation stereo that ticks off a lot of boxes for users. Aside from on board GPS, the AVIC-8200NEX also features Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.

Best Double Din Navigation 2016 - Pioneer AVIC-8200NEX
Best Double Din Navigation 2016 – Pioneer AVIC-8200NEX features a responsive glass capacitive touch screen.

The Pioneer AVIC-8200NEX features a glass capacitive touch screen which is very bright and responsive. I get asked a lot what that means and basically, a glass capacitive touch screen is like the screen on your smart phone. They are brighter, more saturated in color and more responsive than a traditional TFT resistive touch screen (found on the other Pioneer models AVIC-5200NEX, AVIC-6200NEX and AVIC-7200NEX). The Pioneer AVIC-8200NEX also has all the standard audio features for a sweet aftermarket sound system including:

  • Three 4 volt pre-amp outputs
  • 13 band EQ
  • Digital time alignment
Best Double Din Navigation 2016 - Pioneer AVIC-8200NEX features digital time alignment, three 4 volt preouts and 13 band EQ
Best Double Din Navigation 2016 – Pioneer AVIC-8200NEX features digital time alignment, three 4 volt preouts and 13 band EQ

Overall, the Pioneer AVIC-8200NEX packs in most of the features consumers are looking for these days in a nice easy to use product at what I think is a fair price. I would say my customers think so too because they tend to gravitate towards Pioneer over Alpine or Kenwood (after seeing them in our showroom and checking them out in person).

So where is the Pioneer AVIC-8200NEX lacking?

There are only a few things that annoy me about this model. When it comes to Bluetooth, you cannot have more than one device connected at a time. You can have multiple devices paired, but only one connected at a time. Not ideal if you have a work phone and personal phone, but I would say this probably only effects a small percentage of people.

The only other drawback is sound quality. When it comes to building a high fidelity car audio system, for the true audiophile, the sound quality could be better.  It’s by no means, bad, but where Pioneer lacks, Kenwood prevails.

Kenwood DNX893s – The overachiever

Traditionally, Kenwood’s Excelon series head units have always been known for their superior sound quality and thankfully the DNX893s remains true to the Kenwood Excelon sound quality legacy.

Best Double Din Navigation 2016 - Kenwood DNX893s features superior sound quality and sound control
Best Double Din Navigation 2016 – Kenwood DNX893s features superior sound quality and sound control

Featuring a 5 volt pre-amp output, the Kenwood DNX893s sounds smoother, more detailed and slightly more natural in tone when compared to Pioneer and Alpine (with everything set flat). Certain tones and frequencies are simply less harsh and more pleasing to the ears. I also have to give some serious bonus points to Kenwood for this additional feature:

Best Double Din Navigation 2016 - Kenwood DNX893s settings memory recall!
Best Double Din Navigation 2016 – Kenwood DNX893s settings memory recall!

Memory Recall – I LOVE this feature of the Kenwood DNX893s

This might seem like such a minor detail, but it can save you time, hassle and a headache. Imagine spending an hour sitting in your car and setting the equalizer for each individual audio source, painstakingly taking the time to measure and set the time correction settings only to find all your hard work has been lost after bringing your car in for routine mechanical service.

If the battery is disconnected, even for a short period of time, both Alpine and Pioneer will lose all audio settings. Kenwood has always had this recall feature for as long as I can remember. You can memorize all your hard work and save it and if you ever need to recall it, you simply hit the recall button. I absolutely LOVE this feature. If you go with Alpine or Pioneer, do yourself a favor and take a couple pictures of your audio settings so you can redo them if you ever lose them. Or just buy the Kenwood DNX893s and hit the recall button.

Bigger Must be Better

The user interface of Kenwood is all about big icons. I think the engineers at Kenwood got tired of hearing me and other dealers complain about the small icons, small clock and difficult user interface. They decided to shut us all up with huge icons, huge text and an intuitive user interface. Cool.

Best Double Din Navigation 2016 - Kenwood DNX893s home screen features big easy to see icons and text
Best Double Din Navigation 2016 – Kenwood DNX893s home screen features big easy to see icons and text

As you can see from the home screen on the Kenwood you have easy shortcuts to:

  • Navigation
  • What’s now playing
  • Two favorite sources (easily selectable)
  • Telephone
  • Settings (quick tap of the menu button brings up settings)

The icon on the top right is selectable as well – you could either display GPS directional info, bouncy EQ or the clock.

What’s not cool about this screen? Well, if you don’t have anything playing with album art information, the top left icon will show a silly blue splash screen and I don’t think there’s a way to change it. Not that I’ve figured out anyways.

Garmin GPS Navigation – I think it’s better than Here Maps

Best Double Din Navigation 2016 - Kenwood DNX893S Garmin Navigation
Best Double Din Navigation 2016 – Kenwood DNX893S features Garmin GPS Navigation

Everyone has heard of Garmin. They debuted their first automotive GPS system, the Street Pilot, back in 1998 and they have become a household name in the years since. Some find the map layout to be a bit cartoonish, but for those of us that are past that age of, let’s call it having youthful eyesight, the larger icons are well received.

Remember the client I mentioned with the Pioneer navigation that was telling her to loop around her block every time she wanted to go home? I eventually installed this unit instead and she has told the me the GPS has worked flawlessly for her. She found the maps a lot easier to see (she has a Jeep Wrangler by the way, so a convertible) and she found the actual navigation was more accurate. I will mention the unit comes shipped with 2015 maps and I did check to see if there was a free map update, but there isn’t.

Speaking of convertibles and glare – have you ever heard of reverse tilt?

Best Double Din Navigation 2016 - Reverse Tilt Kenwood DNX893s
Best Double Din Navigation 2016 – Reverse Tilt Kenwood DNX893s

Most 7″ touch screen navigation stereos have a motorized face that will allow you to tilt or angle the screen back. Kenwood is the only one I am aware of that offers reverse tilt. This is such an awesome feature. So many vehicle dashes these days have an angle to them that really places the vehicle stereo screen in just the worst angle for sun glare. The reverse tilt feature really helps to cut down on that tremendously. I think because of that feature alone, this would be the navigation radio I would encourage all my Jeep Wrangler customers to purchase.

DNX893s – Bonus Features and Pet Peeves

There are a few other really stand out features of this unit worth mentioning. All of these units are iDatalink Maestro compatible, however the DNX893s features some advanced integration such as the soon to be released K40 radar detector integration on screen.

Kenwood DNX893S K40 Radar Integration
Kenwood DNX893S K40 Radar Integration – Feature coming soon from K40 and iDatalink

Additionally, I was blown away by how good the FM/AM reception is on this head unit. When installing it on my sound board I noticed a ferrite bead on the antenna connection cable. I don’t know if they did anything other than that to improve it, but seriously, I have been blown away by the stations this thing pulls in in cars that don’t usually have great reception to begin with (Jeep Wrangler for one and Mercury Mountaineer for another example).

Okay, now for the surprising and the irritating – no remote control included. Oh and no paper owner’s manual. I was pretty shocked, I really thought the units I got shipped were missing parts. I mean for a $1300 stereo, you would think it would include a remote control or at least a paper manual.

And as for the dual USB inputs, I think the second one is kind of worthless.

Best Double Din Navigation 2016 - Kenwood DNX893S Dual USB inputs
Best Double Din Navigation 2016 – Kenwood DNX893S Dual USB inputs

Notice one is labeled iPod/iPhone? That’s your main USB input. Aside from an iPod or iPhone, you would also connect Android Auto to that USB port. So what can you do with USB 2? Well, you can’t connect an iPod to it, that’s for sure. You’ll get an error on the screen. When I think back on the Kenwood training, I’m pretty sure they said that second USB input would be for like a memory stick with music on it. So that’s kind of annoying if you’re the kind of person that likes to be able to use their cell phone (either Apple CarPlay or Android Auto) and also have an iPod connected to a secondary USB as a back up music source. My husband John and I do this in our Jeep because we often go into areas of Connecticut without cell service on our Sunday drives and it’s just nice to be able to switch your source on the stereo rather than having to try and disconnect your phone while you’re driving and connect your iPod instead. Just sayin, they could have made it play an iPod.

 Alpine INE-W967HD – The underperformer

Best Double DIn Navigation 2016 - Alpine INE-W967HD
Best Double DIn Navigation 2016 – Alpine INE-W967HD featuring Here Maps

Oh, Alpine – why do we have such a love hate relationship? I love Alpine’s ease of use and their sleek OEM appearance. I love that you can eliminate redundant or unused sources from your source screen. Sometimes all you want to see is all that is available!

Best Double Din Navigation 2016 - Alpine INE-W967HD
Best Double Din Navigation 2016 – Alpine INE-W967HD customized uncluttered source screen

I even love the easy to use swiping menus which you can view in this quick video I made for a customer of an X109-WRA in a Jeep Wrangler.

Alpine, where’s the value?

I hate that it feels like you’re really not getting a lot for your money. For a $1500 navigation Bluetooth radio, you would think it would at least come with a CD/DVD player or maybe Apple CarPlay or Android Auto (no, it doesn’t). But wait, there’s more.

Check out this craziness – I sold and installed one of these in a 2008 Porsche Boxster and it looked beautiful. And I meant to take pictures on the install, but after seeing this model came equipped with 2014 maps, I did what I always do for my customers I started to work on downloading the latest maps – thanks to the Here Maps latest maps guarantee. However, 3 hours later, after 3 different attempts, using 3 different computers and 3 different USB drives, I started to lose it. Half way through each attempted download I kept getting the error “There is not enough memory on your device”. I thought maybe that was not enough memory on my computer or not enough memory on my USB drive. Finally I called Alpine tech support to see what was up (yeah, I’m stubborn, I prefer to try and figure things out on my own before calling someone for help). So get this – it wasn’t me or my computer or my USB drives – Alpine didn’t put enough memory in the stereo! Alpine’s solution? Uncheck the update box for Canada. Really, who goes there anyways? Just joking Canada 🙂

If you can get past the high price, the lack of Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, CD/DVD Player and updated Canadian Maps you might really enjoy some of the cooler aspects of the Alpine INE-W967HD.

One thing I found pretty neat is the built in microphone for the Bluetooth. It actually works quite well and that’s one less thing you have to worry about wiring and mounting. Another feature, pointed out to me by one of my well informed customers (Thanks Ryan!), is the parametric EQ. While Kenwood and Pioneer feature a graphic equalizer, Alpine has a parametric EQ which allows you to adjust the center point of the frequency you’re adjusting and the width of the frequency (also known as Q factor).

Best Double Din Navigation 2016 - Alpine INE-W967HD Parametric EQ
Best Double Din Navigation 2016 – Alpine INE-W967HD Parametric EQ

Additionally, you still have basic audio adjustments like bass and treble under Tone Adjustment which is accessible with a quick swipe down on the top of the screen.

Best Double Din Navigation 2016 - Alpine INE-W967HD easy bass and treble adjustment.
Best Double Din Navigation 2016 – Alpine INE-W967HD easy bass and treble adjustment.

The screen itself is very responsive and intuitive. Kudos to Alpine on that. They call it a capacitive touch screen, but it does not have a glass finish like Pioneer or Kenwood does. In fact, that may be better in high glare situations. I haven’t installed enough to really see the difference in bright sunlight, but I imagine there would be less reflection.

Best Double Din Navigation 2016 - Alpine INE-W967HD preset EQ options
Best Double Din Navigation 2016 – Alpine INE-W967HD preset EQ options

I find the overall appearance and graphics to be less flashy than Pioneer and Kenwood and more OEM which really makes it look like it belongs in a vehicle, rather than appearing like an aftermarket product.

Alpine INE-W967HD Sound Quality

When it comes to sound quality, we have found that the built in Alpine amplifiers tend to sound bright and harsh when compared to Pioneer or Kenwood. However, when using an external amplifier, most of that tininess and harshness disappears. Interestingly enough, Alpine also happens to make what we think are some of the best sounding amps out there – their PDX series is our favorite. Yet even with an external amp, it is worth noting the Kenwood DNX893s has a more natural, smoother tone to it.

So who wins Best Double Din Navigation 2016?

I would have to declare Kenwood’s DNX893s the winner based on sound quality, GPS performance and bonus features like reverse tilt, memory recall and improved FM/AM reception. It’s a great balance of features at what I think is a fair price. However, determining which navigation system is right for you depends on what features are most important to you and what kind of user interface is most attractive to you. For a minimalistic, OEM appearance, you may have to cough up a few bucks and give up a few features and go with the Alpine INE-W967HD. If you prefer a less cartoonish navigation than Garmin, but you still want Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, then you should consider the Pioneer AVIC-8200NEX. They all have their pros and cons and I hope this in depth review has helped you select the right one for your particular tastes and needs. Thanks for reading!

This week in the shop – Custom Jeep Wrangler Subwoofer and Pioneer AVH-4100NEX

Pioneer AVH-4100NEX Jeep Wrangler

2014 Jeep Wrangler – Another Full Audio System Upgrade

This week in the shop we had another Jeep Wrangler here for an audio upgrade. For this Jeep system, the customer opted for the new Pioneer AVH-4100NEX and a stealth custom Jeep Wrangler subwoofer upgrade.

Pioneer AVH-4100NEX Jeep Wrangler
Pioneer AVH-4100NEX Jeep Wrangler

The AVH-4100NEX is a great option for Wrangler owners for a variety of reasons:

  • Apple CarPlay Compatible
  • Android Auto Compatible
  • Anti-theft Detachable Face!
  • 4 Volt preouts for Front, Rear and Subwoofer
  • 13 Band EQ
  • Digital Time Alignment

For anyone looking for great cell phone integration, anti-theft detachable face and a great head unit to build an audio system with – the AVH-4100NEX really fits the bill.  You can read more about this model in this post here. Additional equipment in this build included Morel Virtus component speakers for the front, Morel Tempo coaxes for the rear sound bar, an Alpine PDX-V9 5 channel amplifier and a good amount of Dynamat.

Jeep Wrangler Custom Stealth Subwoofer
Jeep Wrangler Custom Stealth Subwoofer

Since theft is always a concern in Jeep Wranglers, we chose to go for a custom built Jeep Wrangler subwoofer enclosure molded into the rear quarter panel. Although JL Audio offers a few different Jeep Wrangler subwoofer boxes, none of them would really work well for this customer’s application.

Jeep Wrangler Stereo Upgrade - JK-Unlimited-Subwoofer
JL Audio offers a Stealth Jeep Wrangler Subwoofer Enclosure for 2007 and up Jeep Wrangler Unlimited

The 13″ TW5 is a bit oversized and it’s really the first generation of JL Audio’s slim line subwoofers – meaning JL Audio has had time to perfect their flat line subs and in our experience, the newest TW1’s have the best sound quality out of all their flat line subwoofers. The 13″ TW5 is not bad, but the TW1’s are definitely tighter, cleaner and more natural in tone.

JL Audio 10TW1 Jeep Stealth Sub Boxes
JL Audio 10TW1 Jeep Wrangler Subwoofer Sub Boxes

JL has had made some new Jeep Wrangler subwoofer enclosures using the 10″ TW1, but the enclosures are placed in a somewhat awkward position. Additionally, there are different methods for mounting the TW1 enclosure depending on whether you have the hard top or soft top. Well, in New England, we usually have both. So that wasn’t really going to work for us.

We decided to remove the stock Jeep Wrangler subwoofer panel in this 2014 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited and replace it with the plain panel from Jeep and build an enclosure to fit in the factory location using the JL Audio 12″ TW1. The enclosure was made with some fiberglass and some wood and was build exactly to manufacturer recommendations for the 12″ TW1 (.65 cubic feet – sealed).

Preparing for Custom Jeep Subwoofer Enclosure
Preparing for Custom Jeep Subwoofer Enclosure

First John removed the OEM panel and began prepping the area to begin fiber-glassing.

Marrying Wood and Plastic Panel to Make Custom Jeep Subwoofer Enclosure
Marrying Wood and Plastic Panel to Make Custom Jeep Subwoofer Enclosure

The enclosure needed to be attached to the new plain Jeep panel and worked together to create an aesthetically pleasing appearance that was also functional.

Fabricating Custom Subwoofer Enclosure for Jeep Wrangler Unlimited
Fabricating a Custom Subwoofer Enclosure for Jeep Wrangler Unlimited

He continued to blend the two panels together.

Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Custom Subwoofer Enclosure
Starting to look like a finished product.

Once the material was dry, he smoothed it all out so it could be carpeted to match and blend into the vehicle.

Custom Jeep Subwoofer Enclosure
Custom Jeep Wrangler Subwoofer Enclosure – Blends in nicely.

The finished product sounded amazing and is blended into the vehicle in a clean and unobtrusive manner. The customer still had access to the lower storage compartment as well.

Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Custom Subwoofer
Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Custom Subwoofer – Storage still accessible.

The end result was a well integrated Jeep Wrangler audio upgrade that provided crystal clear, punchy, warm and smooth sound even at extremely loud volume levels – perfect for those warm summer drives with the top off. If you’re a Jeep Wrangler owner in need of an audio upgrade in CT or NY, please contact our shop Sounds Incredible Mobile (proudly serving customers from Brookfield, Danbury, New Milford, Newtown, New Fairfield, Ridgefield, Brewster, Mahopac, Carmel and more).

 

Porsche Cayenne Navigation Upgrade – Double Din Pioneer AVIC-8100NEX Navigation Installed

Porsche Cayenne Navigation Upgrade - Apple CarPlay

This week in the shop – 2005 Porsche Cayenne, Pioneer AVIC-8100NEX and Murphy’s Law.

Well, it was more like 2 weeks ago in the shop I had the pleasure of doing an installation for a reader who graciously made the 2 1/2 hour trek from Boston to our shop in Brookfield, CT.  Raj has experience in the tech and infotainment industry and he was just as excited about seeing Android Auto in action as I was.

Porsche Cayenne Navigation Upgrade - Android Auto
Porsche Cayenne Navigation Upgrade – Android Auto

He was seeking an upgrade for his 2005 Porsche Cayenne navigation radio and was leaning towards the Pioneer AVIC-8100NEX.  This model appealed to him because of its Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility. Additionally, it features on board navigation and a capacitive touch screen, much like the capacitive touch screen used on many smartphones.

Porsche Cayenne Navigation Upgrade - Apple CarPlay
Porsche Cayenne Navigation Upgrade – Apple CarPlay

I had some reservations about doing an install for a client driving all the way down from Boston. Only a few weeks prior, we had another customer down from the Boston area with a BMW E46 and we ran into some minor issues that were made much more difficult due to the logistics involved. It was late Friday afternoon. The vehicle was in the garage and the installation was in progress when we realized the dash kit company shipped us a 5 series double din kit in a 3 series E46 double din package.  Hello Murphy! We were left with few options and very little time to remedy the situation. So, my husband John did what he could – pulled an all nighter and fabricated his own kit.

So, needless to say, I was a little hesitant about another Boston client coming down on a Friday for an installation. I thought to myself, “What could go wrong this time that would be difficult to remedy based on the customer’s place of residency?” John reassured me it was a lot more straightforward than the 3 series and there was a lot less that could go wrong. It was essentially a head unit install with some cables routed to the center console. Plus, he reminded me we would be using tried and tested Nav TV parts. I convinced myself everything would be fine with this Porsche Cayenne navigation upgrade, but in the back of my mind I was still paranoid about what could go wrong when a client travels such a long distance for the purchase and installation of car electronics.

I’ve been alive long enough to know that Murphy is always lurking around, but let’s forget my paranoia for a moment. The Pioneer AVIC-8100NEX really was the perfect solution for bringing this 10 year old vehicle’s navigation system up to date. The goal was to replace the old outdated Porsche navigation radio with a capacitive touch screen navigation radio that supported both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Even though the Porsche Cayenne was equipped with the fiber optic MOST Bose audio system, with the right parts, it was going to be a relatively straight forward job.  Nav TV makes a pretty cool interface that allows you to retain the stock fiber optic Bose amp called the MOST HUR-955.

Porsche Cayenne Navigation Upgrade - MOST HUR 955
Porsche Cayenne Navigation Upgrade – MOST HUR 955 – And, yes, that’s my red swingline stapler in the background.

Having sold and installed several of these kits before, I wasn’t too worried about that part of the install. Besides the interface, there are several different dash kits available for this vehicle. Metra makes one and so does Nav TV. We used Metra’s ASWC-1 steering wheel control interface and Nav TV dash kit.  Although the Nav TV Porsche dash kit is more expensive than the Metra version, it is made in Germany and has the same exact appearance, quality, texture and finish as the factory radio.

Shortly after Raj first inquired about the 2005 Porsche Cayenne navigation upgrade, we touched base on the phone to go over details. I quickly typed up an estimate that he agreed to. With an install date set, I started ordering in parts.

This is when Murphy made his first appearance in our 2005 Porsche Cayenne navigation upgrade.  After taking a deposit and ordering up parts I realized I made a pretty big mistake.  Although I told him about the Nav TV MOST HUR-955 – I explained to him what it was and how it worked – I umm, sort of somehow forgot to put it on the estimate and subsequent invoice. Yikes! Talk about an expensive error. Unable to absorb that additional cost, I made the phone call to explain the error I made in my estimate.

I didn’t know what to expect. I would be pretty peeved if someone sprung an additional $600 part onto my estimate, but Raj was quite understanding and still wanted to move forward with the job. Sweet! I was excited. This was going to be our first install with a customer who actually had a compatible Android Auto device, the Google Nexus 6.

The Pioneer AVIC-8100NEX comes with two USB ports.  USB 1 for Apple CarPlay and USB 2 for Android Auto.  Additional inputs include HDMI and AUX.  We planned to route all 4 into the center console for the 2005 Porsche Cayenne.

Porsche Cayenne Navigation Upgrade - USB's Center Console
Porsche Cayenne Navigation Upgrade – USB’s Center Console

Everything with the installation was going as planned until about 4:00 in the afternoon, right about when John would have been wrapping things up.  Uh-oh – here comes Murphy again! With the radio powered up and the interface wired in we had no audio. John removed the Nav TV interface and tried to do a software update. It was not recognized by our computer.

John spent over an hour testing and checking while on the phone with Nav TV tech support. Meanwhile, I had a major meltdown realizing we had been shipped a bum part. After explaining the situation to Nav TV (“You know, the customer is not from our area and can’t just pop back in Monday after you ship us a new part”) they managed to ship a replacement part out next day Saturday delivery which I’m sure cost them a pretty penny. We explained the situation to Raj and I drove him over to Enterprise to pick up a rental so he could drive home while we waited for the replacement part to arrive.

Raj was extremely understanding about the situation and he attributed this to being in the tech industry and having been in similar situations. On the way over to Enterprise he asked me, “So what was the part that was defective?”  I responded, “It was that $650 part that I forgot to put on your receipt.” He burst out laughing. I’m glad he thought it was funny, he handled the news much better than I had.

The next day UPS arrived at 9 AM with the replacement interface and it worked like a charm. I have had such a low defective rate with this manufacturer that I was really surprised to have a defective part. Nav TV makes nearly all of their parts right here in the USA and quality control tests each and every one before shipping. Thankfully they stand by their product and they were quick to make it right.

Porsche Cayenne Navigation Upgrade - Google Play Music
Porsche Cayenne Navigation Upgrade – Google Play Music

At the end of the (next) day we had a very happy customer with a pretty sweet 2005 Porsche Cayenne navigation upgrade.  Raj, I hope you’re enjoying it!

Best Double Din Head Unit 2015

Apple CarPlay Pioneer AVH-4100NEX

Meet the Pioneer AVH-4100NEX – Forget best double din 2015, this model is quite possibly the best double din head unit EVER.

Pioneer really hit a home run this year.  I think it’s pretty safe to say the Pioneer AVH-4100NEX is the best double din head unit of 2015.  Lately, it’s all I sell at the shop. Customers are initially attracted to this model based largely on the great cell phone integration features.  This unit is flexible in that it supports both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. As of this writing, no other brand offers a model that does both.

Pioneer set it up in a pretty smart way.  For two phone families (or the person who has an iPhone for personal use and Android for work), you can change a simple setting in the menu to switch between modes.  Both devices can be connected at the same time as Apple users will connect to USB 1 and Android users will connect to USB 2.  This unit is so jam packed with great, functional features.  The only reason you’d want to move up in head unit is if you needed something with on board GPS.

Google Maps Android Auto on Pioneer AVH-4100NEX
Google Maps using Android Auto on Pioneer AVH-4100NEX

With Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, you can effectively turn this head unit into a GPS unit – assuming you have cell service.  That’s the only downside to these features.  If you drive into areas that lack cell service, you lose these Android Auto and Apple CarPlay features because they rely on a cellular data connection from your phone. Depending on where you live and drive, this may not be a concern.

In our area, it’s not much of a concern for most.  For the customers who really rely on GPS and drive into areas without cell service, they prefer to have on board GPS which works regardless of cell service.  These folks usually step up to the AVIC-7100NEX or AVIC-8100NEX both of which have on board navigation in addition to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Apple CarPlay Pioneer AVH-4100NEX
Apple CarPlay displayed on Pioneer AVH-4100NEX

Most people are sold on this stereo once I plug their phone in and they see the awesome integration ability of Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.  However, aside from these two very popular and convenient interfaces, the AVH-4100NEX actually has a lot more to offer.

Disclaimer: Android Auto is supposed to work on all Android devices with Lollipop 5.0 and up, however I’ve had a few customers with Lollipop 5.0 where it was not yet functional including the Nexus 6 – I’m sure this will be resolved soon, but to really test functionality I recommend you try connecting your own phone in a showroom with a functional, up to date model. Apple CarPlay will only work with iPhone 5 and up.  UPDATE 5/11/15 – Just tried with a customer’s Google Nexus 6 with Lollipop 5.1, worked no problem.

That’s a resistive touch screen?  Really?

Yes, I’ve had tech savvy customers ask this upon first meeting the AVH-4100NEX because they can’t get over how bright and responsive the screen is.  Although this is a resistive touch screen, it’s the best quality resistive touch screen I’ve seen (also used on all other 2015 NEX models except for the 8100 which uses a capacitive touch screen).  It’s very bright, rich and responsive.  It’s a huge improvement over last years models – not that they were bad, they’re just that much better. In fact, these new resistive touch screens are more responsive than the App Radio 4 which was released just last fall and features a capacitive touch screen.

Sound quality and audio control features galore!

So a few years ago I’d tell you Pioneer sounded like garbage and to never build a high fidelity audio system using a Pioneer double din.  They were usually good with features, but they typically sounded muddy and lacked warmth, clarity, richness and detail.  Thankfully, Pioneer really stepped up their game in the sound quality arena, most recently with their App Radio 4 and these sound quality features carry through to all the 2015 NEX models.  I can’t say for sure that this unit sounds better than my Sony XAV-701HD.  I have a feeling using an iPod or CD as a source, the Sony will still have the slight advantage.  However, I’m sure the Pioneer will sound better playing FLAC audio files because – oh, yeah, it can play FLAC audio and guess what, my Sony can’t.

Best Double Din Head Unit 2015 - Pioneer AVH-4100NEX EQ
Best Double Din Head Unit 2015 – Pioneer AVH-4100NEX EQ

The best double din head unit of 2015 includes a lot of convenient audio control features including a 13 band EQ.

Best Double Din Head Unit 2015 - Pioneer AVH-4100NEX Digital Time Alignment
Best Double Din Head Unit 2015 – Pioneer AVH-4100NEX Digital Time Alignment

Digital time alignment – both a basic version and advanced.

Best Double DIn 2015 - Pioneer AVH-4100NEX Listening Position
Best Double DIn 2015 – Pioneer AVH-4100NEX Listening Position

Listening position is time alignment for the less tech savvy.

Best Double DIn Head Unit 2015 - Pioneer AVH-4100NEX Crossover Adjustments
Best Double DIn Head Unit 2015 – Pioneer AVH-4100NEX Crossover Adjustments

Built in crossovers for front, rear and subwoofer with slope adjustment. 

With all of these audio control tools along with a 4 volt pre-amp output and FLAC audio playback ability, the AVH-4100NEX can easily serve as the source in a high fidelity audio system.

Convenience features up the wazoo – CD/DVD, Bluetooth, SiriusXM Ready, Pandora, Reverse Camera, HDMI and Detachable Face

I think most consumers expect these features, but they are surprised to find out similar head units such as the App Radio 4 or Alpine iLX-007 lack some of these options.  If you want Apple CarPlay and SiriusXM this is where it starts.  Both Pioneer’s App Radio 4 and Alpine’s iLX-007 are not SiriusXM ready.  Although I don’t care for SiriusXM, some people have to have it.  The aforementioned models also lack a CD player.  Not a deal breaker for most, but sometimes you want to keep your options open.  And that’s really what this head unit does.  I can’t think of anything it lacks other than on board GPS and if you need on board GPS, check out the AVIC-7100NEX or AVIC-8100NEX.

It’s one of the very few quality double din heads I’ve come across that has a detachable face.  I think this thing belongs in my Jeep because of that feature alone.  It’s all these little features that add up to make this such a great head unit.  Unlike Alpine’s iLX-007, if you don’t feel like connecting your cell phone through the USB port, this model does have Bluetooth for both handsfree calling and audio streaming.  You just can’t use Apple CarPlay or Android Auto unless you’re connected.

Pioneer AVH-4100NEX Review
Pioneer AVH-4100NEX – Best Double Din 2015

Although Pandora is supported with both iPhone and Android Auto I will tell you it’s a bit quirky to switch to this source for Android users.  Because Pandora communicates through Bluetooth with Android devices, Android users must change their Smartphone settings when they wish to use Pandora.  Oddly enough, in the Smartphone Menu it appears as though Pandora is an optional source when Smartphone settings are set up for Android Auto:

Best Double Din 2015 - Setting up Android Auto on AVH-4100NEX
Best Double Din 2015 – Setting up Android Auto on AVH-4100NEX

However, Android users will not be able to select Pandora when connected through USB 2 in this mode.  I believe this is due to the Android Auto software interfering with Pandora.  Once Android Auto is launched it locks the phone out so you must control everything from the stereo. The idea behind this is to get you to stop playing with your phone while you’re driving and rely more on voice control.  Well, that’s great, except Pandora isn’t an Android Auto compatible app so it leaves you no way to launch the app.

Depending on what Android device you have, you may simply have to disconnect your phone from USB 2 in order to launch Pandora OR you may have to go back into the Smartphone Setup and switch Android Auto to Off or switch the Connection type to Bluetooth.  A bit of a pain in the arse right now, but something I think Pioneer, Pandora and Android Auto are working out.  This is only an issue for Android users, Pandora doesn’t have any hiccups for iPhone and Apple CarPlay users.

Best Double Din Head Unit 2015 - Apple CarPlay Smartphone Settings
Best Double Din Head Unit 2015 – Apple CarPlay Smartphone Settings

Thankfully it’s easy enough to switch between Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Bluetooth for Android users wishing to access Pandora.  The settings menu of this head unit is laid out in a very functional and logical way.  For anyone who will be accessing this menu often (multi-phone users), you can simply create a shortcut and make the Smartphone menu a favorite.  Favorites are accessed by tapping the star on the upper left tab.  Below you will see a few favorite menu pages I selected based on use in our store demonstrating this model:

Best Double Din 2015 - AVH-4100NEX Favorites Menu
Best Double Din 2015 – AVH-4100NEX Favorites Menu

It’s the little things that matter

Although this may seem like a frivolous feature to some, the ability to customize and personalize the display is important – to me and to a lot of consumers.  Matching the display to your vehicle’s interior is a perk that makes this double din head unit even more desirable.  The Pioneer AVH-4100NEX has a very flexible and customizable display menu.

Best Double Din 2015 - Pioneer AVH-4100NEX Display Features
Best Double Din 2015 – Pioneer AVH-4100NEX Display Features

Users can select from several illumination options or go into the custom color menu to fine tune a button color. Additionally, they can select from several different color themes for the main menu as well as select from several different background images (or upload your own).

Best Double Din 2015 - Pioneer AVH-4100NEX Display Features
Best Double Din 2015 – Pioneer AVH-4100NEX Display Features

You can also populate the home page with your favorite and most commonly used sources.  It’s really easy to do.  Drag and drop to the top bar and you’re done.

Best Double Din 2015 - Pioneer AVH-4100NEX Display Features
Best Double Din 2015 – Pioneer AVH-4100NEX Display Features

Pioneer AVH-4100NEX – Best double din head unit 2015

As previously mentioned, I can’t think of any features this head unit is missing.  It even has an HDMI input – not that I think you should be using it for anything, but it has it. The attraction begins with the Pioneer AVH-4100NEX when you see the Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality, but it really reels you in with all the other features:

  • 4V RCA Preouts
  • 13 Band EQ
  • Digital Time Alignment
  • Built in Crossovers with Slope Adjustment for Front, Rear and Sub
  • Source Level Adjustment
  • Detachable Face
  • Bluetooth
  • Dual USB
  • Rear A/V in
  • Reverse Camera Ready
  • SiriusXM Ready
  • HD Radio
  • Pandora
  • Apple CarPlay
  • Android Auto
  • Flexible and Customizable Display
  • Bright and Responsive 7″ Resistive Touch Screen Display
  • CD/DVD Drive
  • FLAC Audio Playback (via SD card)
  • SD card slot (behind motorized face which by the way you can also tilt/angle)
  • iDatalink Maestro/Steering Wheel Control Ready

Unless you need on board navigation, you should visit a shop that carries it and take the Pioneer AVH-4100NEX out for a spin. It’s something you really should see in person and try with your own phone so you can get a feel for how it works. Until Kenwood releases their long awaited Apple CarPlay/Android Auto DDX9902s and DDX9702s or Parrots releases their RNB6, I think it’s safe to say the Pioneer AVH-4100NEX has the lead for best double din head unit 2015.

Recommended install accessories and tips for the DIYer

If you’re going to buy the AVH-4100NEX and install it yourself, there’s a few accessories you may want to pick up to make your install clean and functional:

  • PAC TR7Read this install tip from PAC Audio.  The tech tip is required if you plan on using the HDMI input, A/V input or DVD function.  TR7 is required either way.
  • USB-CBL – Flush Mount USB Port – the head unit only comes with one USB extension cable so it’s a good idea to grab one or two of these for flush mounting and routing USB1 and USB2.
  • HDMI and USB Flush Mount Port – Convenient if planning of accessing video content from a phone.  Will need phone specific adapter.
  • IS335 – in case you want to use the rear auxiliary input, allows you to flush mount an AUX port.

 

Pioneer Double Din AVH-X2700BS

Pioneer Double Din AVH-X2700BS displays Yelp ratings.

The Pioneer double din AVH-X2700BS is by far the best value double din touch screen head unit I’ve seen so far for 2015

In terms of double din touch screen head units, it’s quite common for manufacturers to try and pack as many possible features and attractive logos on the box in an attempt to entice as many customers as possible.  Marketing gurus think “Who cares how well the feature works?  Just get the label on the product!”.

Pioneer Double Din AVH-X2700BS displays Apple Maps.
Pioneer Double Din AVH-X2700BS displays Apple Maps.

In the case of the Pioneer double din AVH-X2700BS, the long list of features and functions are not only impressive, they’re actually quite useful and functional!  What a refreshing surprise.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been disappointed by a label or logo on a product box or advertisement only to find out when the product arrives you need a very specific application, device and accessory to make it work and even when you do all that, it works miserably. Thankfully, you can forget all that with the Pioneer double din AVH-X2700BS.

Check out this long list of features and functions that actually work QUITE well:

  • 6.1″ Resistive Touch Screen
  • Bluetooth audio streaming with Pandora control for iPhone and Android
  • Bluetooth handsfree has clear call quality, phone book access, call history, number pad and includes Voice Activation button that works with Siri and Google Voice on select Android devices (Note: This is not a feature Pioneer advertises or guarantees because it does not work with all Android devices and they are unable to test and verify compatibility on all Android devices.  You may have to disable S Voice on certain Samsung Devices – try it on a store display model with you’re own phone if this is a must have feature) 
  • SiriusXM Ready – requires SXV300 or SXV200 tuner
  • Standard steering wheel control input – requires Metra ASWC-1 or PAC Audio SWI-CP5
  • iDatalink Maestro ready (advanced steering wheel control integration for select vehicles – see idatalink.maestro.com for details and vehicle compatibility)
  • 4 Volt Preouts for Front, Rear and Subwoofer
  • Built in crossovers for Front, Rear (HPF) and Subwoofer (LPF) with selectable frequency (50 – 200 Hz) and slope adjustment (- 6 dB to -24 dB).
  • 13 Band EQ
  • Digital time alignment
  • Multicolor display with advanced customization options (multiple themes to choose from, upload your own background image or keep it simple and clean with no background at all – 5 display colors, 112 key colors, 13 background/splash images to choose from)
  • App Radio One integration – this is cool – offers easy integration of iPhone or Android via USB connection.  Allows access to Maps, Music, Weather and Notifications – Oh, and you don’t need any special adapters!  Just a free software update and a free app.
  • Reverse camera input
  • Rear A/V in
  • Rear USB port

App Radio One

Okay – the name sucks and Pioneer has gotta know it’s hella confusing.  First we had the stereo model called App Radio (1st edition) and it required the App Radio App.  Then there was the subsequent App Radio 2 and then the App Radio 3 and now there’s an App Radio 4.

Pioneer Double Din AVH-X2700BS displays App Radio Live interface.
Pioneer Double Din AVH-X2700BS displays App Radio Live interface.

After pissing everyone off with compatibility issues and inherent quirkiness on their previous App Radio models and modes, Pioneer now has a whole new line of double din DVD stereos that feature a NEW App Mode and it requires the use of two apps and a free software update:

However, it’s really nothing like the old App Radio Mode.  Once you get past the name you’ll find It’s responsive, accurate and aesthetically pleasing.  It has a totally different layout and user interface than App Radio Mode.  It’s what App Radio Mode should have been.  So they’re calling this new app feature App Radio One. Confused yet?

The “One” is referring to the simple connection.  One cable.  No ugly adapters and HDMI connections.  iPhone users simply connect their USB to 30 pin or USB to lightning to the USB input on the stereo (Even though Pioneer doesn’t list the iPhone 4 as compatible, I did try and test it and it works).  Select Android users can connect using a USB to micro cable like the CD-MU200 – please check the compatibility chart for your phone and software.

What App Radio One Does Do

App Radio One allows you a really clean way to access Media, Maps, Events and Calendar all from one screen. If we tap the navigation icon on upper left quadrant from the App Radio Live home screen, we will be shown our current position with a space on top enter an address or point of interest.  Let’s see how it fares trying to find me the Cheesecake Factory (not really a fan of the food, but I am a fan of Big Bang Theory).

Pioneer Double Din AVH-X2700BS displays Apple Maps in App Radio One mode.
Pioneer Double Din AVH-X2700BS displays Apple Maps in App Radio One mode.

Initially it tried to search for Cheesecake road until I tapped the POI icon on the bottom right of the screen.  After selecting POI, it brought up a list of restaurants nearby with *GASP* Yelp ratings. How COOL is that?!

Pioneer Double Din AVH-X2700BS displays Yelp ratings.
Pioneer Double Din AVH-X2700BS displays Yelp ratings.

Interestingly enough, when you select a restaurant you do see the option to “Read Reviews”, however it doesn’t appear to work.  It launches the browser on screen and you see the request from Yelp recommending you use their app, but nothing works when you tap anywhere on the browser screen.  Maybe eventually?  Not that you should really be reading Yelp reviews and driving at the same time ANYHOW, but that’s besides the point.

Pioneer Double Din AVH-X2700BS shows you the weather in App Radio One mode.
Pioneer Double Din AVH-X2700BS shows you the weather in App Radio One mode.

Here in Connecticut, I never know when we’re going to get hit with a freak snow storm or arctic blast so I think it’s pretty handy that I can pull up the latest forecast.  Not that the forecast is ever that accurate anyways.  I took this picture Thursday.  Yeah, it didn’t even get CLOSE to 25 on Saturday.

While driving around in single digit weather, I like to crank up the heat and crank up the tunes and forget how frighteningly cold it really is outside.  I try to let my mind escape into the music.

Pioneer Double Din AVH-X2700BS genre search in App Radio One mode.
Pioneer Double Din AVH-X2700BS genre search in App Radio One mode.

Not sure what you’re in the mood for?  Do a Genre search.  Have something particular in mind?  Try an Artist search.

Pioneer Double Din AVH-X2700BS displays Artist list with album art.
Pioneer Double Din AVH-X2700BS displays Artist list with album art.

Once you’ve put on some soul soothing Adele, you can enjoy the album art displayed by the Pioneer double din AVH-X2700BS.

Pioneer Double Din AVH-X2700BS now playing screen in App Radio One mode.
Pioneer Double Din AVH-X2700BS now playing screen in App Radio One mode.

Can’t remember if you have an important meeting or concert to attend?  Take a quick peek at the events tab to see what’s coming up.

Pioneer Double Din AVH-X2700BS displays upcoming events from your calendar.
Pioneer Double Din AVH-X2700BS displays upcoming events from your calendar.

What App Radio One Does Not Do

  • App Radio One will NOT do video from your phone.  

The lack of HDMI means no streaming YouTube videos from your phone (do you really need that feature anyways?).

  • App Radio One will NOT provide turn by turn voice guidance.

Hey, they can’t give it all away for free.  Pioneer may add this feature at a later date at an additional cost.  My guess is they will charge a monthly fee for a premium version of the app.

Did I mention I love the customizable display?

This might seem trivial to some, but for me, this is one of the things that makes this stereo a great option for everyone. You can customize the look to your own taste.

Pioneer Double Din AVH-X2700BS has multiple splash screens to choose from.
Pioneer Double Din AVH-X2700BS has multiple splash screens to choose from.

There are multiple background images to select from and you can even upload your own image if desired – Or leave it completely blank with a plain, black background.

Pioneer Double Din AVH-X2700BS display customized in plain, non flashy manner.
Pioneer Double Din AVH-X2700BS display customized in plain, non flashy manner.

There are 112 key colors to choose from and 5 background illumination options to choose from. You can keep the look plain jane with no background and white lighting like you see above.

Pioneer Double Din AVH-X2700BS has a highly customizable display.
Pioneer Double Din AVH-X2700BS has a highly customizable display.

Or you can add some color and zest to your life with blinky backgrounds and vibrant navigation themes.

Pioneer Double Din AVH-X2700BS display customized in a colorful and flashy way.
Pioneer Double Din AVH-X2700BS display customized in a colorful and flashy way.

What doesn’t it do?

There are a few reasons to step up from this Pioneer double din model.  If you want voice recognition and access to multiple apps (think Siri and you own an iPhone 5 & up) then you should consider the Apple CarPlay compatible App Radio 4 or Alpine iLX-007.  These models will allow you to use Siri to tell the stereo what music to play: “Hey Siri, play artist Death Cab for Cutie”. They also allow access to other CarPlay compatible apps – scroll to bottom of this link to see latest apps.

If you want Android Auto integration you’ll want to check out the new 2015 models that feature Android Auto integration from Pioneer, Parrot or Kenwood.  These models integrate with Google Voice for more than just handsfree functions: “Hey Google, play artist Death Cab for Cutie using Spotify”.

So if you’re looking for more advanced cell phone integration like more voice control and the ability to have your text messages read to you and allow you to dictate a response back – then you want to save up a few more bucks and go for an Apple CarPlay or Android Auto compatible model.

For those of you interested in using your cell phone for GPS you will also have to consider how and where you will be using this feature.  When you’re relying on your cell phone, you’re relying on good cell service and data usage.  If you travel into areas with spotty cell service or no cell service and you need consistently reliable GPS, then you may want to consider a double din with built in GPS.

If you are an audiophile and appreciate subtle nuances, details, depth, clarity and you can differentiate between the quality of one head unit’s digital to analog convertor and another – you will want to step up to something like the App Radio 4 or Sony’s XAV712HD.  You won’t get the same App Radio One integration with either model, but you will get great sound quality and excellent audio control tools.

At the end of the day, unless you design and build your own double din stereo, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to find one that has EVERY feature you’re looking for.  However, chances are pretty good the Pioneer double din AVH-X2700BS will have most of the features you’re after.

 

Pioneer Android Auto models revealed at CES 2015 – Video, Pictures and Details

Pioneer Android Auto CES 2015

Pioneer Android Auto models revealed at CES 2015 – AVIC-8100NEX, AVIC-7100NEX and AVIC-4100NEX

Android Auto was definitely the most exciting new feature I saw at CES 2015.  Pioneer was definitely pushing their Android compatibility at their booth and I had to wait in line to see the demo (they had one demo vehicle, Kenwood was the same way, Parrot had multiple demo models).  With a quick glance at these new Pioneer Android Auto compatible radios at CES 2015 I could tell they’re pretty much the same thing as the previous NEX versions we saw last year, the AVIC-8000NEX, AVIX-7000NEX and AVIC-4000NEX.  The only additional feature I could find is the ability to use Android Auto.

Pioneer Android Auto CES 2015
Pioneer Android Auto CES 2015

Like last year’s versions, they’re all 7″ touch screen and only the AVIC-8100NEX has the high gloss capacitive tough screen.  The AVIC-8100NEX and AVIC-7100NEX both have built in navigation.  I think this is a great option for the people who want to use Android Auto, but are concerned about getting lost in dead zones.  For those who want to strictly use either Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, consider the AVIC-4100NEX.  By the way – these models will do either Apple CarPlay or Android Auto – not at the same time, but it’s easy enough to switch Smart Phone settings in the menu and you can have both phones connected at the same time.  Android still connects to USB 2 and Apple connects to USB 1.

Pioneer Android Auto AVIC-8100NEX CES 2015
Pioneer Android Auto AVIC-8100NEX CES 2015

I do have concerns about charging.  I found it *interesting* that both Kenwood and Pioneer were using Nexus phones rather than the largely popular Samsung variety.  I can’t say the last time I had a customer come into my shop with a Nexus phone.  My Android customers are S4, S5 and Galaxy Note users.  The connection for Android Auto is USB to micro USB.  I believe many Samsung users will still require the special tip adapter to make it work, but that’s not verified at the moment.

Pioneer Android Auto AVIC-4100NEX CES 2015
Pioneer Android Auto AVIC-4100NEX CES 2015

Below is a video demonstration in the Pioneer demo car at CES 2015 so you can see how Android Auto works in the new Pioneer models.  The model shown in this car is the AVIC-8100NEX and it is connected to a Nexus phone operating Lollipop 5 (required for Android Auto).

Keep in mind while viewing the video this is a PROTOTYPE.  Models shown at CES are no where close to being finalized products, their will be glitches that need to be worked out and I’m sure they will be addressed before the finalized products go into production and begin shipping.  I mention this because I notice (and I’m sure you’ll notice) the volume gets tweaked every time he uses Google Voice.  I’m sure this is something that will be worked out before the product goes into production and begins to start shipping.

Will there be an update to add Android Auto to existing models?

Unfortunately, no.  There will be no software update available to add this new feature to existing NEX models or the App Radio 4.  The hardware simply was not built into those models so it cannot be added.  Existing Pioneer customers will have to upgrade to a new model to add the new feature.  Pioneer says we can expect their new Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatible radios to begin shipping in March 2015.

Pioneer AppRadio 4 Review – SPH-DA120

Gently Unboxing AppRadio 4

Pioneer AppRadio 4 Hands On Review – SPH-DA120 – I present to you the good, the bad and the quirky

When the UPS man arrived today I felt like a little kid on Christmas morning.  Pioneer’s AppRadio 4 arrived at our shop today.

AppRadio4 Arrives
AppRadio4 Arrives

I have to say, this is one of the greatest perks about owning and operating a car stereo store.  Every time a new product comes out, I get to tear open the box and check out the new goodies (okay – really, it’s gently and carefully open the box – every new stereo that goes on display inevitably reaches its day when it becomes an open box demo sale and I want that box in perfect condition).

Gently Unboxing AppRadio 4
Gently unboxing Pioneer AppRadio 4

I’ve been really excited about Pioneer’s AppRadio 4 and I have to say it’s pretty much exactly what I expected it to be.  In this AppRadio 4 review, I’m going to break it down for you between the good, the bad and the down right quirky.

Pioneer AppRadio 4 Review – The Good

  • Beautiful and Vibrant Screen
  • Quite Responsive (not really any lag time between pressing a button and seeing the appropriate response)
  • 13 Band EQ
  • Digital Time Alignment
  • Highly Adjustable Built in Crossovers
  • Dual USB Ports
  • HDMI Input
  • Easy to Use
  • CarPlay Compatible (and CarPlay works pretty well!)
  • Can easily and quickly switch between NEX mode and CarPlay mode or NEX mode and AppRadio Mode depending on which set up you are using
  • GPS antenna included for continued and reliable navigation even when your cell service drops out

Pioneer AppRadio 4 Review – The Bad

  • Trouble finding compatible navigation apps with IOS8 in AppRadio Mode
  • Weird tablet like rounded corners may leave gaps in many installation applications
  • Bulky cables still required for AppRadio Mode for iPhone 5 and up
  • Can’t easily switch between CarPlay and AppRadio Mode in iPhone 5 and up
  • Still not sure Capacitive is the way to go in a car due to glare – you can see me and my showroom reflected in many pictures on this post

Pioneer AppRadio 4 Review – The Quirky

  • Pandora will not play in CarPlay Mode unless you trick it in to doing so
  • Pandora will not play when in AppRadio Mode (Pioneer tech was unaware of this issue until I called them – sounds like something that might be resolved)
  • Keyboard a little quirky in CarPlay Mode
  • Issues with listed compatible navigation app crashing in AppRadio Mode
  • If timing not perfect when launching AppRadio Mode, you may have to close the AppRadio App on the phone, then re-open it in order to effectively launch AppRadio Mode
  • Still a lot of interacting with my phone to get interface working for either CarPlay or AppRadio Mode

In Depth Pioneer AppRadio 4 Review – The good

Sound quality and audio control has improved greatly in AppRadio 4 over previous AppRadio models

Pioneer has really stepped it up this year in their whole line of NEX style units and the AppRadio 4 is no exception.  Built on the same NEX platform as their double din navigation models, AppRadio 4 users can expect to find a familiar user friendly layout, ultra responsive touch screen and customizable display along with a variety of equalization features.

AppRadio 4 Review - NEX side
AppRadio 4 Review – NEX side

The equalization features and 4 volt pre amp in the AppRadio 4 are features I welcome with open arms.  These audio tools are features that greatly influenced my opinion of this stereo.  In the past, all previous AppRadio stereos were not the kind of stereos you’d want to build a car audio system with.  They all had a basic 2 volt pre-amp, flat/tinny DAC with basic equalization features.  You couldn’t build a high fidelity audio system with previous versions of the AppRadio.  With the new AppRadio 4, we finally have a chance!  You no longer have to sacrifice sound quality for App integration features.

AppRadio 4 Review - Adjusting Crossovers
AppRadio 4 Review – Adjusting Crossovers

Equalization tools include a 13 band EQ, Digital time alignment and highly adjustable crossovers – which I might add are all easily accessible from the audio menu and just as easy to adjust.  If these precision audio tools are beyond your scope of expertise, Pioneer still has their built in EQ with preset equalization options as well as preset listening positions for basic time alignment.

AppRadio 4 Review - Adjusting 13 Band EQ
AppRadio 4 Review – Adjusting 13 Band EQ

Awesome picture quality

The capacitive touch screen is sharp, vibrant and down right eye catching.  The colors are piercing compared to your typical resistive touch screen, yet I still have reservations and concern over possible glare issues in the vehicle.

You may notice the background glare from my showroom displays behind me in several of the pics in this post – or, if the lighting is right, you may simply be distracted by the stunning vibrancy and sharpness of the AppRadio 4 screen.  Check it out — that’s just a You Tube video.

AppRadio 4 Review - Vibrant Display
AppRadio 4 Review – Vibrant Display – from a You Tube video

Using a lightning to digital adapter and USB to lightning cable I can connect my iPhone 6 and select HDMI input as my source.  This allows me to view and hear any audio and video from my iPhone on the AppRadio 4 screen.

CarPlay works great with the AppRadio 4

AppRadio 4 Review - CarPlay - Siri in Action
AppRadio 4 Review – CarPlay – Siri in Action

Let’s talk about CarPlay.  CarPlay is pretty impressive technology and it works quite well in the AppRadio 4.  Using the navigation app, Siri will ask me where I want to go.  I don’t have to talk to Siri if I don’t want to.  There is a keyboard in the upper left hand corner, but Siri seems to understand me pretty well and quickly finds my desired destination.

AppRadio 4 Review - CarPlay - Navigation in Action
AppRadio 4 Review – CarPlay – Navigation in Action

I honestly don’t know what people have against the Apple navigation app.  Granted, I would prefer to use Waze, but Waze doesn’t really work at the moment.  In all my attempts to use the Apple Maps app, it worked quite well!  Maybe Siri just understands my voice better than others?  Or maybe I haven’t given it a difficult destination (whatever that is).  I’m not sure why people seem to dislike this app so much, but they do.  However with the AppRadio 4, running CarPlay, it seems to work quite well.

AppRadio 4 Review - CarPlay - Navigation Map
AppRadio 4 Review – CarPlay – Navigation Map

Despite only having 2 bars of service in my location at our showroom, the navigation app picked up our location accurately.

AppRadio 4 Review - CarPlay - Text Message
AppRadio 4 Review – CarPlay – Text Message

Apple CarPlay let me know I had a text message from my better half, whom I lovingly refer to as Wooshie.  Check it out, it even shows the little thumbnail picture of my Wooshie!

AppRadio 4 Review - CarPlay - Responding to Text Message
AppRadio 4 Review – CarPlay – Responding to Text Message

Siri then gave me the opportunity to reply.  She listened first and then steadfastly dictated my message back.  She had it correct on the first try – Send.  Success!  Too bad it isn’t all success and glory for the AppRadio 4.

In Depth Pioneer AppRadio 4 Review – The bad

I love Waze and I always loved that Waze worked with AppRadio Mode.  Too bad it doesn’t work with IOS8 and AppRadio 4.

AppRadio4 Review - IOS8 Quirks Waze
AppRadio4 Review – IOS8 Quirks Waze

Yeah, the phone is in the right orientation too.  It just doesn’t work right and Pioneer admits right on their website  there are a whole host of apps with issues since IOS8 has been released.

I decided to try one of the apps that was not on the list of known incompatibility since release of IOS8, Navfree GPS LIve, but it crashes as soon as the keyboard tries to load.  And I didn’t feel like plunking down $25 to try iGo GPS at the moment, but I may give it a shot and see how it behaves.  As of this writing, the only functioning GPS app I could use was through CarPlay – nothing through AppRadio Mode which I think it the main reason people want to buy the AppRadio 4 in the first place.

Update – 10/30/14 – I talked to Pioneer tech support and they unfortunately have no ETA on a fix as it seems to be an issue with IOS8 and keyboard interfacing.  Problems seem to occur with any app in app radio mode when using the in-app keyboard with iPhone.  Unfortunately the newest update from Apple (IOS8.1) did not have any improvement or effect on this issue.

You can’t have it all – it’s AppRadio Mode or CarPlay

The other thing to note is there is no easy/simple way to switch between AppRadio Mode and CarPlay.  When I show this radio to customers, I am going to encourage them to use one mode and stick to it.  To use AppRadio Mode you need a CD-IH202, an Apple Lightning to Digital Adapter and a Lightning to USB Cable.

AppRadio4 - iPhone 5/6
AppRadio4 – iPhone 5/6

The Lightning to USB Cable plugs into USB 1 and then to the Lightning to Digital adapter.  You also connect an HDMI cable from the back of the radio to the Lightning to Digital adapter.  To use AppRadio Mode, you are really connecting your phone to the pigtail of the Lightning to Digital Adapter.  You also need to tell the radio what kind of SmartPhone set up you are using.  When you use Lightning to Digital A/V for AppRadio Mode, you cannot use CarPlay.

To quickly switch over to CarPlay you have to disconnect the lighting to USB cable on the Lightning Digital A/V adapter, connect that USB to lightning directly to your phone, then go into the menu and turn on CarPlay and change your smart phone settings.

It’s doable, but not doable when you’re driving.  I should say it’s not safe to try and do while you’re driving.  Please don’t try that while you’re driving.

The other major drawback I see about this unit is it’s slightly rounded corners.  Granted this design helps give the impression there’s truly a tablet in your car dash, it’s simply not practical.  The rest of the chassis is standard double din and should mount no problem in most standard double din installation kits.  The issue is the slight and tiny gap you will see at each of the rounded corners.  This will take a bit of creativity to make it less noticeable and this extra installation step is somewhat irritating to me.

Pioneer AppRadio 4 Review – In depth – The quirky

Pandora doesn’t work in AppRadio Mode – although it looks like it should

There is a quirk with Pandora and I decided to call Pioneer tech support to see if it was me, a known issue or something else altogether.  Apparently I was the first person to bring this to their attention.

AppRadio 4 Review - Pandora Quirk
AppRadio 4 Review – Pandora Quirk

I had been playing Pandora on the NEX side of the head unit and decided to switch over to the AppRadio Mode.  I noticed the audio from Pandora dropped out as soon as I switched over to the AppRadio Mode.  Interestingly, there is a lower tab on the AppRadio Mode screen which displays what I was listening to on Pandora before switching over to AppRadio Mode.  Yet there is no audio on Pandora unless I switch back over to the NEX side.

It appears the mere act of switching over to AppRadio Mode disables or pauses Pandora.  Tech support was surprised to hear of the issue and slightly concerned.  They advised me they were going to call me back in a few hours after they had an AppRadio 4 set up in their department.  Sure enough several hours later I received a call from tech support confirming they had the same issue and they were unaware of the problem.  They informed me they would be contacting Pioneer’s engineers in Japan to see what they can do.

That would be a bummer if you couldn’t use Pandora and use a functioning/compatible GPS app at the same time in AppRadio Mode.  It appears Pandora is a separate source at the moment which can only be operated from the NEX side of things.

AppRadio 4 Review - Pandora works on NEX side
AppRadio 4 Review – Pandora works on NEX side

I like Pandora, I use it all the time.  I was able to get Pandora to work in CarPlay, but only by tricking it.  If I started off with Pandora as my source and switched over to CarPlay, Pandora actually continued to play while in CarPlay mode.

AppRadio 4 Review - Tricking Pandora to Work on CarPlay
AppRadio 4 Review – Tricking Pandora to Work on CarPlay

Update – 10/30/14 – I spoke with Pioneer tech support and there is a work around for this glitch.  If you start Pandora up on the NEX side, then switch to App Radio Mode, then skip a track forward, Pandora will resume playing in App Radio Mode.  They are working on a fix for this issue.  Note – this only appears to be an issue with iPhone.  Worked fine with a Samsung Galaxy S4.

Don’t be afraid to close the app and relaunch if it doesn’t work the 1st time

AppRadio Mode is not perfect and on several occasions the Pioneer AppRadio 4 would ask me to launch the AppRadio App from my phone, even though it was already launched.  This resulted in me having to close the app and relaunch it to get the two to sync up.  Again, not the safest thing to be playing around with while you’re driving.

CarPlay has it’s own quirks too – just not as quirky as AppRadio Mode

Ultimately I think the CarPlay integration is working far better than AppRadio Mode.  Even still, there is a slight quirk in the keyboard in CarPlay.

AppRadio 4 Review - CarPlay Keyboard Quirk
Why not make it full size to begin with?

For whatever reason, when first launched, the keyboard comes up all tiny like this.  You have to press the arrow on the lower left corner to enlarge it.  That’s weird, why not just default to the larger keyboard?

AppRadio 4 Review - CarPlay Keyboard
AppRadio 4 Review – CarPlay Keyboard

AppRadio 4 Review – Conclusion

Quirks and all, I do like this latest AppRadio 4 the best out of all of Pioneer’s AppRadio models.  The SPH-DA120 has flexibility in its application, ease of use, CarPlay integration, high voltage preouts, quality equalization tools and a striking screen touch screen display.

I do think the AppRadio 4 has more promise as a CarPlay stereo, than an AppRadio stereo.  If these IOS8 incompatibility issues and other quirks are worked out anytime soon, I may change my opinion, but as of right now, I think this is an awesome double din head unit for anyone interested in adding Apple CarPlay to their vehicle.

I have yet to test this radio with a compatible Android phone.  It seems every customer interested in this model has a newer Samsung (like a Samsung Galaxy Note 3) with the latest firmware version 4.4.2 (understandable) – Yet AppRadio mode is only listed as being compatible with most Samsung phones running software version 4.2.2.  I’ve actually tried AppRadio Mode with the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 in an AVIC-7000NEX running Android 4.4.2 and it worked, but not on most apps.  Anything other than the contacts app ran with lots of glitches and picture cutting in and out.

I am sending an email over to Pioneer tech support this weekend to follow up on the Pandora issue and to see if they have any word on Waze compatibility with iPhone IOS8 as well as Waze compatibility with Android 4.4.2 in a Note 3.  I will update this post as more information becomes available. Hopefully I’ll hear back early next week.

UPDATE – 10/30/14 – I did have a chance to test this with a Samsung Galaxy S4 and confirmed compatibility with a Samsung Note 3, both running 4.4.2.  Pioneer advised me to change a setting in the Developer Options on the phone.  In that Developer Options menu, I had to check the box to “Turn off Hardware Overlays”.  To my delight, it loaded up the app on the first try!

Pioneer AppRadio 4 Review Samsung Galaxy S4
Pioneer AppRadio 4 Review Samsung Galaxy S4

Additionally, I found that the AppRadio 4 did not have any glitches running Pandora with the Samsung Galaxy S4.  I could start Pandora in the NEX side, switch over to App Radio Mode and Pandora would momentarily pause then start right back up without me having to touch anything.  

Pioneer AppRadio 4 Review Waze Samsung Galaxy S4
Pioneer AppRadio 4 Review Waze Samsung Galaxy S4

Although Pandora remained playing even after I launched Waze, there was no information regarding what was playing on the lower bar of the screen.  With the iPhone running App Radio Mode and Waze, I did at least have this information (although Waze didn’t work properly – you can’t have it all with AppRadio 4).

AppRadio 4 Review Samsung S4 iHeart Radio
AppRadio 4 Review Samsung S4 iHeart Radio

I was also happy to see iHeartRadio working pretty seamlessly with the Samsung S4.  This is a great app for people that enjoy listening to local and national radio stations, static free.  Very cool stuff.

With all the software limitations running 3rd party apps through AppRadio Mode there is no guarantee – even if you have a phone that is compatible and working that at the moment – that it won’t become incompatible through software updates.  That’s the frustrating part about AppRadio Mode and that’s why see I the AppRadio 4 more as a CarPlay stereo than an AppRadio stereo.

If you have an iPhone 5 and up and plan on using this stereo for its CarPlay integration features, but also like the idea of being able to mirror video from time to time through HDMI – then this is probably a good option for you.  If you really wanted to take advantage of apps like Waze, you may be disappointed with this stereo due to software limitations and various compatibility issues from phone to phone and operating system to operating system.

In conclusion, I think the AppRadio 4 offers a lot of features for iPhone users interested in CarPlay integration.  For Android users, it really depends on which Android device you have and what software you are running.  If you can confirm compatibility with your device, AppRadio 4 may be a great option for Android users.  Overall, dollar for dollar, I think the AppRadio 4 is a better value over Alpine’s iLX-007.

What do the readers think?

 

 

 

 

Video Post – Best Double Din Navigation 2014

Easy Source Select AVIC-5000NEX

Car Stereo Chick Hands on Review – Best Double Din Navigation for 2014

I write some pretty long posts.  Not everyone feels like reading them.  Don’t worry.  I started making videos again.

Here is my video reviewing the best double din navigation systems for 2014.  This is a hands on review of the Kenwood DNX691HD, Kenwood DNN991HD, Alpine INE-W940, Alpine INE-W957HD, Pioneer AVIC-5000NEX and Pioneer AVIC-7000NEX.  Enjoy!

AppRadio 4 vs AVH-4000NEX

Pioneer App Radio 4 features CarPlay, three 4 volt preouts, 13 band EQ and more.

Pioneer – AppRadio 4 vs AVH-4000NEX

Estimated read time: 2 minutes 30 seconds.  Want to read later?

Pioneer now has two double din head units that are CarPlay compatible and feature AppRadio Mode.  Both are very similarly priced and have very similar features….So what’s the difference?

App Radio 4 SPH-DA120
Pioneer AppRadio 4 SPH-DA120

I decided to make a helpful feature comparison chart to really see what the main differences are between Pioneer’s new AppRadio 4 and their AVH-4000NEX.  Scroll to the bottom of the post to check out the chart.

AVH-4000NEX
Pioneer AVH-4000NEX

Here is a summary of the main differences between AppRadio 4 and AVH-4000NEX:

Screen differences – AppRadio 4 vs AVH-4000NEX

  • Capacitive vs Resistive
  • 6.2″ vs 7″
  • Fixed screen vs motorized and detachable

Capacitive vs Resistive

The Pioneer AppRadio 4 features a capacitive 6.2″ touch screen while the AVH-4000NEX features a 7″ resistive touch screen.

Capacitive is technically supposed to be brighter and more responsive, especially to lighter touches.  Although the AppRadio 4 features a capacitive touch screen, which would imply it’s just as sensitive and responsive as your new iPhone, I doubt Pioneer is using the same type of quality capacitive touch screen as what’s in your iPhone.

When comparing Pioneer’s AVIC-7000NEX to it’s capacitive sister, the AVIC-8000NEX, most of my customers and staff did not find the capacitive version to be that much more responsive to warrant the additional cost.  Additionally, both myself and consumers have been concerned about glare issues in practical applications.

Take a look at two examples of capacitive touch screens installed in vehicles below.

Alpine iLX-007 installed in dash
Check out the glare reflecting off this capacitive touch screen from Alpine, the iLX-007.

I had recently had a customer exchange his Kenwood DNN991HD (capacitive touch screen) for a Pioneer AVIC-7000NEX.  He was thoroughly annoyed at the glare he encountered and the difficulty he experienced just trying to see the screen.

Kenwood connected to iDatalink Maestro RR in Jeep
Dome light reflecting off Kenwood’s DNN991HD capacitive touch screen in a Jeep Wrangler.

Aside from the style of screen and size, the Pioneer AVH-4000NEX has a motorized screen so you can adjust the angle and how it sits in your dash.  Additionally, it also features the added security benefit of a detachable face.

Feature differences – AppRadio 4 vs AVH-4000NEX

When comparing the AppRadio 4 vs AVH-4000NEX, it quickly becomes apparent the AVH-4000NEX has a few more features over the AppRadio 4 including the following:

  • CD/DVD Drive
  • SD Card
  • HD Radio
  • SiriusXM Ready (requires SXV200)
  • Navigation Ready (requires AVIC-U260)
  • Dual Zone

Dual zone is a pretty cool feature largely for parents.  It allows you to load a DVD in the front player and have the audio and video of that DVD fed to a rear monitor.  Kids can stay entertained while they listen and watch using headphones while Mom and Dad can listen to another source on their front two speakers.  Pretty cool, right?

Conclusion

Based on features alone, the AVH-4000NEX seems to be a better value.  What do you think?  Take a look at the feature comparison chart below and feel free to weigh in with your own comments and thoughts on the topic.

AppRadio 4 vs AVH-4000NEX feature comparison chart

 
Pioneer AppRadio 4
Pioneer AVH-4000NEX
Pioneer AppRadio 4 SPH-DA120
Pioneer AppRadio 4 SPH-DA120
AppRadio4 vs AVH-4000NEX
Pioneer AVH-4000NEX
Display
Screen Size6.2"7"
Type of Touch ScreenCapacitiveResistive
Anti Glare Screen CoatingNoYes
Adjustable AngleNoYes
ResolutionWVGA (800 x 480)WVGA (800 x 480)
Customizable5 Display Colors, 112-Key Colors, 13-Background, Splash Screen5 Display Colors, 112-Key Colors, 13-Background, Splash Screen
Detachable Face for SecurityNoYes
Audio Section
RCA Preouts3 pre outs (4V)3 pre outs (4V)
EQ13 Band13 Band
CrossoverYes - HPF & LPF
Adjustable from 50 Hz- 200 Hz
Slope adjustment -6 dB/oct to -18 dB/oct.
Yes - HPF & LPF
Adjustable from 50 Hz- 200 Hz
Slope adjustment -6 dB/oct to -18 dB/oct.
Time AlignmentYesYes
Source & Expansion Options
Navigation ReadyNoYes - Requires AVIC-U260
SD CardNoYes
BluetoothYesYes
USBDual Rear USB PortsDual Rear USB Ports
Rear Aux inYesYes
Satellite RadioNo - N/AYes - Requires SXV200
Dual ZoneNoYes - Awesome feature for parents.
Allows audio and video of a DVD from front source to be routed to rear monitor. Kids can listen on headphones while parents can listen to another source on front speakers.
HDMI inputYesYes
CD/DVDNo - MechlessYes
HD RadioNoYes
AM/FM Tuner with RDSYesYes
Steering Wheel Control ReadyYesYes
Reverse Camera InputYesYes
Phone App Integration
CarPlay CompatibleYes - iPhone 5 & upYes - iPhone 5 & up
AppRadio Mode for iPhone 4/4sYes - Requires CD-IU201SYes - Requires CD-IU201S
AppRadio Mode for iPhone 5 & upYes - Requires CD-IH202, Apple Lightning to Digital AV Adapter & Apple Lightning to USB CableYes - Requires CD-IH202, Apple Lightning to Digital AV Adapter & Apple Lightning to USB Cable
AppRadio Mode for AndroidYes - Requires CD-AH200, compatible with select Android Devices.Yes - Requires CD-AH200, compatible with select Android Devices.