The iLX-007 is essentially two decks in one. There’s the Apple Car Play side of the equation, built to support Apples mobile OS and Siri, then there’s the Alpine Operation System with Alpine’s unique features. When you want to change the sound quality (to use the EQ or the increasingly popular TuneIt App for example) or use Pandora, the Alpine side of the deck comes into play.
The Home screen is exceedingly simple, for now. As with most completely new products, Apple and Alpine will both doubtless add features and functions, especially from an app standpoint. As it sits, the iLX-007 has 14 possible icons.
It occurs to me that this is a case of asking not how many apps can by shoved on one screen – but what icons do I truly want when driving…
Alpines Top Menu? Only when I want the radio or to change the sound quality.
Music? Of course.
After some experimentation and taking the time to think about it, the list of what I want at direct access is limited to what I find useful, and the reality is that most of what I need I will ask Siri to do for me. I don’t need a button – but I do want one, and not all of them are available. At least not yet.
I was hopeful that the “Hey Siri” function would work. As long as the phone is connected to power (and you’ve allowed it in the setup menu), you simply say the magic words and the phone awaits your commands as if you’ve pressed the Siri button on the radio. No such luck. In fact using the feature does come up with the standard Siri screen, but somehow the commands themselves don’t work.
Using the Navigation function is as much a process of evaluating Apple Maps as it is using the iLX-007. The program as improved markedly from iOS 7 to 8 out of the gate, and is completely integrated with Siri. The latest generation of Apple Maps is good, albeit a bit more basic than some of its aftermarket competitors. The program offers turn-by-turn directions, traffic conditions and estimated time of arrival.
It lacks the ability to add waypoints (multiple destinations along one route), but as with the rest of this system, it does advise you about traffic conditions. It didn’t offer to re-route me as more expensive navigation systems routinely do, but at least I knew where the trouble spots were.
Navigating to a contact’s address (as you can do on the phone’s version of navigation) is possible if you know that the contact actually has an address attached to it in your phone, but there is no way to confirm that on the iLX-007.
I knew that a friend of mine had his address in my phone, so I pressed the Siri button and commanded it to calculate a route to the friend, which it did without an issue.
One the navigation has been calculated, the screen zooms in to your current location, which it assumes is you're starting point. There is very little in the way of flexibility on-screen. You can only zoon in & out, and cannot drag the screen in different directions once you’ve set a destination.
Unless you cancel the route, scrolling to one direction or the other is impossible. A set of arrows in “Map” mode allows you to scroll, but I would have thought the capacitive screen would let you zoom in and out, scroll where you want to, set a destination - do anything short of breakdance.
This is a very basic navigation system at its heart. Siri does add a great deal of ease to the searching process, as there is no other system that allows you to search simply by asking something like “where’s the nearest movie theater?” but it is not yet something I would classify as “elegant” but all in all, not bad for software no more expensive than the price of the phone itself.
My very favorite thing was not having to endure the address entry process nearly every other navigation-enabled aftermarket radio forces you to endure.
“Give me directions to the nearest movie theater.” I said to Siri. A few seconds later, it’s done. The directions were laid out on the receiver. The process was completely painless, and as close to perfect as I could have asked for. It just worked, and it did so without my having to get anywhere near an alphanumeric keyboard while driving.
Touching the Alpine Top Menu icon revealed the AM/FM Radio. I wasn’t sure why the radio was hidden in a submenu when every other source was in the home page, but using the radio was plenty easy. Press seek. Find a station. Press a preset for a few seconds to memorize it and you’re done. I still wish someone would come up with a keypad to directly input a number, but no luck just yet.
Using the Phone function was essentially the same as using it on my iPhone 6, as was using the Siri function to both make a call and place one. Messaging was equally easy both from the menu screen and using voice activation.
You won’t see the info on the screen, as Apple worked with Alpine to make the iLX-007 dictate the information to you. The goal here is not to distract you with too many features. Why? So you can keep your eyes on the road without an overage of information plying your attention away from the turnpike.
As is seemingly Apple’s standard method of operation, they believe that the purpose of this deck should all be about communication, navigation, Siri and audio. They have constructed the software to support those functions with ease.
I was taken aback by the fact that there is absolutely none of Apples phone functionality discussed in the instruction book. This includes the details of using navigation or how to place a call. Nor is there any discussion on messaging. All of which left me surprised to say the least. In retrospect, it does make some sense. Alpine is undoubtedly assuming that you already know how to perform tasks that basic, but I still consider it an oversight.
While I have railed against instruction books in general as the manufacturer’s last attempt to educate a user on something that should have made sense to begin with, it still doesn’t excuse not discussing a feature set at all. I would say to any manufacturer: “It’s your gear – explain it. All of it.”
I’m a Pandora listener, so I found I hard to swallow the fact that Spotify, iHeartRadio and a few select others are the only extra programs currently allowed on the Car Play platform.
The only way around that is employing the AUX channel, but that seems an inconvenience for what should be a very simple (and completely integrated) task. In a nutshell: I shouldn’t have to jump through hoops to make one of the more common apps work on my stereo.
Will the software improve? Probably. If you consider Apple’s history, they are far from narrow-minded. There will doubtless be upgrades, fixes and changes – and the firmware will evolve into something that becomes much cooler over time.
Better yet, those changes will likely not cost you a dime if Apple holds true to form. Having owned more Apple iPods, iPhones, iPads and Macbooks than most people I know, I can’t remember the last time an upgrade cost me much more than some time to download it. It’s just how they roll.