Pioneer AppRadio car stereo (preview)

Pioneer’s car stereo concept runs apps from your iPhone

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Pioneer AppRadio
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Pros

  • It’s an almost-seamless way to use your iPhone in-car

Cons

  • There are no Australian apps yet
  • Music controls are on the wrong side

Bottom Line

The Pioneer AppRadio lets you use iPhone apps through its 6.1in touchscreen. Google Maps, music playback and handsfree calling are all easy, but we're waiting to see what other apps Pioneer Australia can come up with.

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    TBA (AUD)

True to the company’s name, the AppRadio is a pioneer in the car stereo market. It’s the first touchscreen in-car system to use a capacitive panel, meaning light taps rather than heavy presses are all that’s needed to navigate on-screen menus. But more importantly than that, it’s the first device that integrates (almost) seamlessly with an iPhone 4 to run its apps and use its processing power.

Read our previous coverage of the Pioneer AppRadio.

Down to the nitty gritty: the Pioneer AppRadio car stereo will fit into any car with a double-DIN stereo housing — that’s the one that is 100mm high and 180mm wide. It’s got a 4x50W internal amplifier to run front and rear car speakers, but there’s also a single pre-out that can take a line-level signal to an external amplifier for a subwoofer. The capacitive touchscreen that covers the face of the device is 6.1in in size and has an 800x480pixel resolution — it’s sharp and is able to display plenty of information on-screen.

We got the chance to take the Pioneer AppRadio for a test drive at Pioneer’s Australian unveiling of the device. No concrete pricing or availability could be confirmed by Pioneer, but we’ve been told to expect a sub-$1000 release before the end of the year. Considering the cheapest in-car navigation kits start at around $1500, we’re thinking the AppRadio will appear in some (appropriately oversized) Christmas stockings.

When there’s no iPhone plugged in you can use the radio and Bluetooth handsfree features of the Pioneer AppRadio, but the real fun starts when you hook one up. The AppRadio apparently only works with the iPhone 4, according to Pioneer — older iOS devices don’t have the necessary processing power. We didn’t have an iPad on hand to test whether it would work.

To use the Pioneer AppRadio with an iPhone 4, you’ll have to download the free Pioneer AppRadio app from the App Store (when it’s available). Running the app lets the AppRadio communicate with the iPhone and execute apps through the stereo’s larger touchscreen. At the moment only the iPod functionality and Google Maps work in Australia — Pioneer is reportedly working with app developers to get some more apps certified and altered to work with the AppRadio. We were told that the main impediment to the Pioneer AppRadio’s release is the company’s insistence on having a third-party navigation partner like TomTom onboard with a high quality turn-by-turn app, making the AppRadio a viable alternative to a standalone GPS or in-car navigation system.

Navigating through the AppRadio’s music interface is simple. There are seven buttons arranged around the outer edges of the AppRadio’s screen which take care of track selection, playback and skipping, but we found that the intuitive swipe and tap commands didn’t work when trying to browse through music listings — instead you’re forced to use the two up and down buttons on the left-hand side of the touchscreen. Presumably this is some kind of road safety inclusion to stop drivers swiping away while driving, but it’s counter-intuitive and the buttons are on the wrong side for the driver to access easily. We weren’t able to find out whether this is going to change before the AppRadio’s Australian release.

Similarly, hitting the phone button brings up a list of contacts. You can browse through (again, no swiping or flicking motions allowed) and select a contact, tap their phone number and the call is placed — a bundled external handsfree mic is part of the AppRadio's in-car install, so you won't have to shout at your iPhone to be heard on the other end.

Thankfully, Google Maps works just like it does on the iPhone 4’s touchscreen, and because the AppRadio has a capacitive screen it feels identical. You can pinch or tap to zoom in and out, and every feature of Maps on the iPhone — dropping pins at locations, setting destinations and browsing through navigation directions on the fly — works well. We’ve never really liked using standalone GPS units, which tend to have slow and clunky interfaces, so the iPhone’s implementation of Google Maps on the AppRadio’s larger touchscreen is a godsend to us. The AppRadio even comes with a GPS booster antenna that’ll help the iPhone find a signal.

The problem with the Pioneer AppRadio, as it currently stands, is the lack of Australian apps. The US version of the AppRadio has traffic and a few other music apps, and more are on the way, so we’re keen to see what Pioneer Australia comes up with. If there’s a ‘killer app’ available when the AppRadio becomes available in Australia, we can see it being very popular with the young, iPhone-toting, car customising crowd.

Struggling for Christmas presents this year? Check out our Christmas Gift Guide for some top tech suggestions and more.

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