Pioneer AVIC-U310BT: Extended Review
The new AVIC-U310BT is a double-DIN navigation unit with a detachable screen. But it isn't a separate PND; it's more of a security feature. You can still use the map; however, the detachable unit doesn't have a GPS. Nonetheless, I do think this is a decent selling point, especially for an inexpensive unit.
The screen size is on the small side at 4.3 inches, but as long as you have a car that allows for mounting the unit at a decent height, it shouldn't be a problem. On my old Volvo S40 (with the double-DIN opening at the very bottom of the dash) it was a bit difficult accessing the virtual buttons and getting a comfortable view of the map. That being said, ameliorating the difficulty caused by placement was the AVIC-U310BT's touchscreen responsiveness, which was excellent.
The Flash-based nav/source unit has map data from TeleAtlas in 2 gigs of internal memory. You get the entire United States (including Alaska and Hawaii) and Canada. There are only about 400,000 points-of-interest (POIs) though. As-is, it was difficult to find much of anything, including the most basic places, such as common restaurants or major chain retailers. There's actually no restaurant category under POIs. But with the addition of an optional POI SD card, you can get over 12 million places. (Note: While you can add data via the SD card slot, you can't play music off an SD on the U310BT.) That might strike some users as being a little strange, but there are plenty of entertainment options for the unit so I don't think that's a major detraction.
Speaking of entertainment, a USB cable is included so that you can play music files off your thumb drive, but you will need a separate iPod cable to connect that device. Considering that there are inexpensive source units on the market that with iPod connectivity included, it's somewhat disappointing that you have to get another cable. But then again, the aforementioned inexpensive receivers don't offer navigation.
One feature that this unit does offer built-in is Bluetooth by preeminent Bluetooth manufacturer, Parrot, and is an absolute necessity. It took a little while to connect my iPhone, but once connected I was able to load my contact list in half a minute or so. And Bluetooth disconnect and reconnect are incredibly fast. There's no delay from turning on the car and being able to access the Bluetooth feature.
The AVIC-U310BT is satellite radio and HD Radio ready. In addition, the unit has a rear panel 3.5mm mini-jack input which can be used with auxiliary audio devices. Of course the disc slot accepts CDs (sorry, no DVD playback at this price point). While we're on the topic of price, the suggested retail on it is $699 but you'll find it widely available for far less. And in terms of the product as a value proposition, that makes it much more attractive if you can get it for around $400.
While the various illumination colors add to that attractiveness, the U310BT does have an ergonomic issue that tempers that cosmetic positive.The volume knob/toggle wheel is so smooth that it's frustrating adjusting volume while you're driving. Your fingers will slip around it. And it's far too easy to toggle when you're only trying to turn the knob.
Another minor issue is that the voice guidance volume must be adjusted from the settings window from the menu. You'll probably need passenger help to get to the secondary screen if you want to raise or lower the volume safely while driving. The rest of the navigation features were very good. I didn't have an issue navigating around Southern California. The map graphics are more on the utilitarian side, but they're clear and effective for conveying information.
I did wish, however, that while in nav mode, I could get more entertainment information. If you're listening to the radio, the station frequency isn't listed. If the station is in the memory bank then you can see which preset it is. But if you're trying to find a station manually while using the screen for nav, you don't get any frequency info in the bottom bar. Whether this is a major issue or not probably will depend on your personal taste. For me, it's borderline.
The coolest feature on the AVIC-U310BT is something that requires the use of another device. A great concept, AVIC FEEDS allows you to transfer info from your PC or your iPhone. You can take an address or get a location using Google Maps and transfer that to the AVIC. And, as I mentioned, the built-in POIs aren't that substantial on the U310BT. Not to worry. You can get POIs from sites on the Internet, from places like www.poifriend.com). Or you can import a location from a Geo-Tagged Photo from Flickr. AVIC FEEDS on a computer is exclusive to PCs. However, there is a FEEDS app for the iPhone. You can take a geotagged photo from the iPhone camera or get one sent to you by a friend and use it to set a destination on your nav. The info is saved in your Contact list and all you need is to have the iPhone paired via Bluetooth to the unit. For you gadget fiends, this may be considered fun and it is indeed a terrific option.
The AVIC U310BT is the entry-level product in the AVIC line and as such it has some issues, but value-wise it's certainly worth consideration if you're in the market for in-dash nav. Given the economy, I imagine a lot of consumers will want to look at an inexpensive option like this. If you can get it at a lower price, it's a lot for what you could be paying.
- 4.3" touchscreen
- Built-in Bluetooth for hands-free calling
- AVIC FEEDS (for PC and as an app for iPhone)
- Internal amp (14 watts RMS CEA-2006/50 peak x 4 channels)
- Outputs: 4-channel preamp outputs (front, rear/subwoofer)
- Map coverage of US, Canada, Alaska, and Hawaii
- 24-bit digital-to-analog converter, and a 3-band parametric EQ
- Voice-activated control for iPod audio (with optional adapter) and Bluetooth
- MP3/WMA/AAC playback
- high- and low-pass filters
- 3-band parametric equalizer with 6 preset EQ curves
- Advanced Sound Retriever (ASR) restores missing high-frequency information to compressed music files
- Bass boost
- Ready for satellite radio and Pioneer HD Radio tuner
- Inputs: USB input, SD(tm) card slot, rear auxiliary input
- Compatible with most factory steering wheel audio controls (adapter required)
- Fuel Manager
The single-DIN Eclipse CD5030 has 5-volt preamp outputs, built-in Bluetooth for hands-free calling and easy iPod connectivity. And you can add an HD Radio tuner for yet another music option. If you listen to an HD Radio station with your iPod attached, you can "tag" the songs so you can purchase them easily from iTunes later. The CD5030 is also satellite radio ready.
The re-Q and re-Q5 solve the problem created by factory head units that limit low frequency output at higher volume levels. Add the re-Q5 and aftermarket audio gear and interface with your factory source with no limits. Plus, the re-Q5 offers an auxiliary input that can send any audio signal from the 3.5mm jack to the amplifiers. This allows the use of iPods, MP3 Players, DVD players, and even external Bluetooth adapters for playing stored music from a cell phone through the stereo system.
If you're into sound and great source unit features, then you have to get an aftermarket radio. But if you really don't want to mess with your factory system and still want to get iPod playback in your car, take a look at the new DPR-RDS1 from Alpine. It charges and plays audio from your music player and displays song, album and artist information on radios that can display FM station information.
Orion Cobalt Loaded Enclosures
Integrating your subwoofer into the car is always cool but some of us don't have the time or desire to make that happen. An inexpensive and easy way to implement a subwoofer solution for your vehicle is now available from Orion. Their Cobalt series subwoofer enclosures are a great entry-level products.
MSRP: Single 10" from just $179; $399 for the dual 12" (shown)
JVC Mobile El Kameleon KD-AVX77
If you want to spend a little more for a source unit, take a look at the El Kameleon. The single-din receiver's 5.4" ultra wide monitor is constructed with a high-resolution 192,000 pixel TFT panel that can display multimedia video and AV input content at the same time in split screen mode. A great new feature is full touchscreen capability, which allows the entire TFT panel to dual-task as the receiver's control panel. The KD-AVX77 receiver also offers Dual Zone and Dolby Digital 5.1-Channel surround decoder.
The Class-D MRP-M2000 V-Power Mono Amplifier features a digital processor with intelligent temperature monitoring for non-stop output and stable, reliable performance. Speaker-level inputs allow for a direct connection to a factory radio. High-level speaker inputs and flush mount controls make for easy integration with a wide variety of subwoofer configurations. It's expensive, but the amp offers great dollar-per-watt value and you can power multiple subwoofers with it.
If your whole life is in your iPhone, like it is for a lot of people, you need serious coverage. The OtterBox Defender is a tank with three layers that guard against mishap. It almost completely encases your phone while still providing easy access to all your functions. The outer layers comprised of a polycarbonate shell and silicone skin to provide the bulk of the protection.