Selecting the setup screen is done by pressing the picture of the wrench in the upper right hand corner of the touch screen. Alpine calls it the “band display” – which is basically the list of sources you can choose from. This year the choices are customizable, so altering the order you see them in is an option. You can’t delete them. You can’t rename them. But at least you can move the unused sources to the end of the list.
The way Alpine labeled the available sources has also improved. None of the descriptions I read seemed confusing, and the iconography is crystal clear. Like most competitors, these source lists include items like USB and AUX, which are greyed out when no source is available to activate. I’m more a fan of not offering choices that don’t exist.
The My Favorites feature is unique to Alpine – and is beyond cool - but let me preface that statement with something I find as a common thread in many products: having 80 of anything presents the user with the potential for too many choices. The point of having quick accessibility is based around user convenience, so having 80 choices may require that you take some time to make it convenient for you.
My suggestion is to segment the personalized icons by pages. Since Alpine took the time to add specific colors and pictures for each kind of shortcut (like a picture of a CD for a shortcut to the disc player), quick identification shouldn’t pose a challenge. Add the fact that you can personalize the order and titles of every icon, and it becomes that much easier to manage while driving.
Alpine systems can sense 2 Bluetooth signals and associate profiles to them. This means that the X009-U’s personalization goes to the next level, and becomes an effortless process. If both signals are present simultaneously, the system prompts you to select one or the other. In a nutshell, you have 2 sets of contacts and My Favorites to choose from. I’m a fan.
Another source made easily available is the use of a camera on the front and back of the vehicle. Most receivers of this caliber have a backup camera button, or it automatically appears when the vehicle is in reverse, but few have taken advantage of the obvious upsides of a front facing camera, and the icon should be present in every receiver that has the capacity to show a front facing image.
The simple truth is that unless you drive a bus, you can’t see your front bumper. Having a front-facing camera solves that glaring lack of visibility, especially when parking “head in” or when you have to turn into a corner with limited visibility. Alpine got this one really, really right in my estimation.
Choosing different music on the X009-U can be done by hitting the musical note button at the bottom of the radio (called the Source button by Alpine) or by selecting a source button on the top of the touch screen. Choosing sources is quite easy, and graphic selections are universally quick to use.
Playing most media was an absolute no-brainer. Once my phone was configured to the receiver, the Pandora, Bluetooth Pandora, and iPod icons lit up like a Christmas tree. One touch of the “soft” source buttons got me wherever I needed to go.
Switching sources is equally easy, and one button press got me to Pandora from the radio. When album artwork is detected, the graphics are quite good, although the picture is on the small side for my tastes. I would have loved to see a larger icon.
Selecting the iPod icon started my playlists running. The X009-U defaults to the last item played, so in this case my 90’s playlist came on. Actively searching for a different song or playlist is the same as when you search on Pandora, where a magnifying glass was an obvious icon to use. For iPod (and iPhone of course) searching you may also use the three bullet points to get to the same screen. It’s a little bigger of an icon so it may be easier to find.
Typing in a search has not changed significantly from last years model to this years. But in fairness – last years was quite good, albeit not perfect. Case in point - when typing in search mode, I found the alphabet mode most useful. Similar to the iPhone’s own search functionality, you can choose to search by artist, song, genre, etc… When I tried to search for videos I have stored on the phone I did run into a bit of an issue, as I couldn’t find the any videos except for the ones stored in my iTunes folders. This was not a problem when I searched on a USB stick, but my advice is to use a USB for video anyway given the massive storage capabilities a thumb drive can offer.
Another challenge was getting to the last point of a video, as you can’t do it if it's not a DVD. In fairness I have never seen a brand that would automatically return to a point in a movie based on a mobile device.
Access speed could be marginally faster, but given the integration of Siri, using voice commands makes a lot more sense now for address book info. For searching within my playlist, Siri was not 100% as accurate at times. Bands like “inxs” are simply too far away from proper English for Siri to get right out of the gate. While I’ve heard that the phone’s software “learns” your linguistic tendencies & accentuations, I have yet to see proof of that.
Making a call with the receiver occurs without a hitch. Siri shines here, and even when I didn’t use it, I went straight to the alpha search and found who I wanted to call in about 3 seconds. Whether or not you have an iPhone, making a call from an address book is an easy process.
If you want to save yourself some effort, you can pre-program callers in the My Favorites section, plus there’s a separate set of 4 shortcuts on the phone screen itself. Between those 84 possible shortcuts, most people would be hard pressed to find fault with the system.
Calling while I was driving, the microphone quality was a little noisy, having a slight echo to it according to the person I called. Alpine suggests the microphone placement to be directly facing the driver, on the sun visor. Taking their advice, the call was acceptably clean. You can also adjust the mic volume as well as the caller volume from 1 to 11. Kudos for what I am assuming is Spinal Tap homage. Everything should go to 11 as far as I’m concerned.
As has been the theme, Alpine integrated Siri Eyes Free for all of their higher end navigation units. Functions like hearing a text and dictating one back from Facebook, voice dialing, and quite a bit more now simply involves holding the phone button down for a moment on the radio or on your factory steering wheel (if it’s been linked to the receiver).
The picture is bright, legible and detailed, and truly shines while using navigation. In playing a DVD, I find animation and action are the toughest tasks, so I played a Disney film to see how well the X009-U performed. The test translated into good video quality, but not in the category of “incredible.” I noted a lack of smoothness in fine detail, and the receiver had some issues with subtle color differences.
The video quality is good overall, but there are better units out there in that department. The Pioneer AppRadio 3’s video quality for example is superb, but the Pioneer suffers glare issues in direct sunlight – a price they are apparently willing to pay for a high gloss screen.
Choosing the proper icons on the DVD’s top menu required I touch small areas in the past, resulting in a few mistakes on my part while driving. The “key” button is available but it's a bit cryptic as to its exact use unless you read the manual – so using the keypad is something I try to avoid.
Media Expander does a surprisingly good job to improve the quality of compressed audio (MP3’s, Internet radio and iTunes are all examples). It restores some of the lost data according to Alpine, and now I’ve heard evidence to support that contention. I experienced additional clarity, especially to vocals. Level 2 (of 3) was my favorite, and Alpine makes setting recommendations based on media type.
If you are one of the billion or so Facebook users, you can opt to have notifications dictated (called “text-to-speech”) to you while driving. You can also select a thumbs up to a given text on the fly. Another Facebook advantage is Alpine’s Tune-It app. Download it to your phone and you get a free, easy to use graphic equalizer, time alignment and audio presets available on Android, Blackberry and Apple phones.
The touchscreen itself is quite accurate. It could be my imagination but the screen seems to be more sensitive than in the past. This is a double-edged sword, requiring what I consider to be a less than reasonable amount of pressure to activate certain functions on the screen. A light touch is great when you're at a dead stop, but the majority of the time you're in motion. It's an admittedly subjective standard, as everyone’s going to use the screen with a slightly different amount of pressure.
The setup and menu system is often the weakest link in the chain. Too many controls and option upon option can feel intimidating, which is only slightly worse than having settings that are oddly described and less useful. This is where I find most often I have to have the instruction book nearby – something I feel should almost never be necessary. For the record, the instruction book is easy for anyone from a novice to an experienced operator to use. Don’t be afraid to browse through it.
The setup process on the X009-U is by and large a simple, un-intimidating process. As proof of concept, I let my wife loose on the setup screen. As my unofficial name in our home is “tech support”, I was curious to see how this potentially confusing (and possibly infuriating) system translated to someone who wasn’t familiar with gear like this. She made sense of it with greater ease than I anticipated, setting the source bar preferences, syncing her phone and changing some of the audio settings with relative ease.
She hasn’t let me live that little test down, and I couldn’t be happier with the X009-U’s setup system’s ease of use. Maybe now she’ll try to reset our router every so often, but I’m not holding my breath.