Selecting a source involves touching an icon in the upper part 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 even to uninitiated. Add the fact that you can personalize the order and titles of every icon, and it becomes that much easier to manage while driving.
There’s also a little “star with a plus next to it” you’ll see on the left side of the screen. Meant to quickly add new items to the My Favorites list, the overall ability to quickly access what a user cares about becomes downright impressive.
Alpine systems can sense 2 Bluetooth signals and associate profiles to them. This means that the X009-GM’s personalization has evolved to the next level, allowing each user to make several acoustic changes in addition to the My Favorites settings. 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, My Favorites and audio settings to choose from. I’m a fan of any convenience that works so effortlessly.
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 function - the screen automatically appearing when the vehicle is in reverse. Few have taken advantage of the obvious upsides of a front facing camera, and those that have done so have made little effort to highlight it as an option. The consequence is that it goes largely unnoticed by most consumers.
I feel the icon should be present in every receiver that has the capacity to show a front facing image. Pressing a big icon for the front camera (the rear view camera turns on automatically as soon as you go into reverse). You can also press the soft camera buttons on the bottom of the screen anytime to “force” a video source to turn on. Do I really need 3 ways of getting to the camera? Nah. But hey - I like options.
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. The only issue I have is akin the to band display quirk: I don’t want to see an option I cant utilize, and Alpine has merely greyed out the icon when a camera isn’t detected.
Choosing different music on the Alpine X009-GM can be done by hitting the musical note button, or selecting a source from the band display. Choosing sources is quite easy, and graphic selections are universally quick to use. You can also choose to use the My Favorites functionality to put the most common sources and channels on to one screen…labeled as you wish. This works very well, especially for radio presets.
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 (with or without the presets) is equally easy, and one button press got me to Pandora from the radio. Connecting the receiver to your phone via a cable (there are a few to choose from depending on the type of phone you have) allows album artwork when detected. The graphics are good, and on this 9” screen the larger icons are a welcomed sight.
Selecting the iPod icon started my playlists running, which can be done either via Bluetooth or hardwire. The X009-GM 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.
The i-Personalize function is also present in the mix, and is geared towards crafting the sound to the speaker system your vehicle has. Everything from the types of speakers to the shape of the vehicle – even the seat composition (cloth, leather, etc…) is taken into account. The choices are in a well thought out order that leaves little to chance, and makes a significant difference in performance.
If you're a Facebook user, want to improve your in-car sound on the fly and don’t mind a new app – try Alpines TuneIt. When connected to the receiver, the app allows the user to set equalizer curves, time delay and crossover settings. Frankly, it was fun and more importantly it allowed me to change some basic settings without getting hip-deep into the radios functions while driving. It’s a bit on the basic side functionality-wise, meant for a quick, unintimidating fix – and it does exactly that.
Typing in a search for music has not changed significantly from last years’ models to this years’ (which was quite good to begin with, 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.
Access speed could be marginally faster when looking for a song, but given the integration of Siri and Siri Eyes Free, using voice commands makes a lot more sense now for audio and address book info alike. 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, but having the phone button on the driver’s side of the radio would have been preferable. If you have an iPhone 4s or above, you’ll find 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 a 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 and during normal functions like Pandora and CD playback.
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-GM 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.
If you're getting a receiver strictly for it’s video playback quality, there are better units out there. 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 the high gloss screen they use.
When choosing the proper icons on the DVD’s top menu, it required I touch small areas which in the past resulted in a few mistakes on my part while driving. The “key” button, is available but it's a bit cryptic as to it's exact use unless you read the manual – so using the keypad is something I try to avoid. Plus, for the life of me I don’t know a single person who actually knows the chapter number of any DVD.
Another challenge was getting back to where you left off on a video that was something other than a DVD. If you turn off the vehicle with a DVD playing, the system will simply pick up where it left off when you power it back on. Not so for other video formats. In fairness I have never seen a brand that would automatically return to a point in a movie based on a mobile device.
Media Expander does a surprisingly good job in improving 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 2.0 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. Playing with it is both fun and easy to do while in the car, plus you can explore several sound options (including using the bass optimization software) for specific kinds of music.
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.
With new receivers I find most often I have to have the instruction book nearby – something I feel should almost never be necessary. As much as I usually hate to read the literature, it’s warranted in this case. The instruction book is easy for anyone from a novice to an experienced operator to grasp.
Considering this receiver has a metric ton of features and 2 separate sets of instructions for audio and navigation, it’s easy to simply use a minimalist’s approach and not really explore the literature. Avoid that thought. Read a bit and you’ll find features you never knew existed – especially with the advent of idatalink being added to the mix. You’ll be glad you did.