Pioneer AVIC-F20BT in-car navigation system

The Pioneer AVIC-F20BT combines navigation, Bluetooth mobile phone control and audio-visual entertainment into a single in-dash unit.

Pioneer AVIC-F20BT
  • Pioneer AVIC-F20BT
  • Pioneer AVIC-F20BT
  • Pioneer AVIC-F20BT
  • Expert Rating

    4.00 / 5

Pros

  • Excellent sound quality, accurate mapping/navigation, responsive touchscreen, USB port, iPod/iPhone connectivity, SD card slot, DVD and CD playback, auxiliary inputs, ease of use

Cons

  • Interface is visually inferior to many portable GPS units, no voice recognition, limited DivX support (CD and DVD only), no RDS on FM radio, expensive, annoying safety alerts

Bottom Line

Pioneer's AVIC-F20BT in-car navigation system is a jack of all trades. An easy-to-use interface combined with the wealth of features on offer makes this a nice option -- if you can afford its hefty asking price.

Would you buy this?

Pioneer's AVIC (In-Car Entertainment Communication Navigation) navigation devices combine navigation, Bluetooth mobile phone control and audio-visual entertainment in a single unit. The new top-of-the-range Pioneer AVIC-F20BT offers a full turn-by-turn navigation system with built-in maps, Bluetooth hands-free phone control, iPod or iPhone connectivity, a DVD player and a 7in slide-down touchscreen.

If you are merely looking for a navigation tool, the AVIC-F20BT is not for you; this is a fixed system that uses a standard double-DIN form factor, so it can be installed in most vehicles with two DIN slots (the standard sized compartments where in-dash CD players and radios reside in your car). Installation takes approximately two hours and, depending on the type of vehicle, should cost between $150 and $400. If your car uses steering wheel controls for its entertainment system, the AVIC-F20BT can be hooked up to them.

The Pioneer AVIC-F20BT's 7in touchscreen is used for most operations. The resistive touchscreen is accompanied by a row of buttons that protrude along the bottom of the unit, and the screen slides down to reveal an SD card slot and a slot-loading DVD/CD drive. Depending on the location of the head unit, the screen can be set to tilt forward in four steps. Although it is a resistive (pressure-sensitive) touchscreen it is generally responsive, and it responds well to both finger and fingernail presses. The physical controls' backlight can be set to any colour you like, which is handy if you want the AVIC-F20BT to match your interior lighting.

Converged in-car entertainment systems can often become cluttered and difficult to use thanks to a wealth of features. Pioneer keeps things relatively straightforward with the AVIC-F20BT; the home screen has just three labelled icons (destination, contacts and AV source). Each subsequent screen is a mix of relevant options. The contact screen is alphabetically ordered and easy to scroll through, even while driving. The first time you connect your phone via Bluetooth, up to 1000 contacts are automatically transferred to the F20BT's built-in phonebook, and you can connect up to five mobile phones (not simultaneously). The AVIC-F20BT is packaged with an external microphone that can be installed in a convenient location within a car (usually at the top of the A pillar on the drivers side).

The AV source screen is dynamic, highlighting only options that are available; for example, if there is no DVD loaded, the DVD option won't display in this menu. If you connect an iPod, the AV source screen will display the relevant album art and also provides full control over the device, including playlist support, repeat and shuffle functions. We particularly liked the touch slide control, allowing you to tap and slide to scroll through albums and songs, while you can search through iPod media using an on screen ABC rolodex.

File format support is adequate and includes MP3, WMA, WAV and AAC files as well as DivX CDs and DVDs; video playback from SD cards and USB sources is limited to MPEG-4. Despite the AVIC-F20BT using RDS (Radio Data System) for SUNA traffic updates, there is no RDS used to display of FM station names on the radio; this is a strange omission. Instead the F20BT displays only a station's frequency.

The interface's simplicity means that it isn't as visually appealing as portable in-car GPS units. The maps are very plain compared to Garmin and TomTom sat navs, and some of the menus look bland and unattractive. The interface is very straightforward and easy to use, however, and it is also very responsive; we encountered minimal load times and no obvious lag or slowdown.

The Pioneer AVIC-F20BT's navigation mode provides a better experience than most portable GPS devices. Integrated points of interest (POIs) are available to aid navigation, and it offers fixed red light and speed camera information. The AVIC-F20BT is compatible with the SUNA traffic channel (at no extra cost), and also has 3D landmarks, speed limit information, static lane guidance and the ability to create your own POIs. It also makes use of gyro and speed sensors, so you will still receive turn-by-turn instructions in tunnels.

The device has text-to-speech capabilities with an Australian voice, but its pronunciation leaves a little to be desired. Turn-by-turn voice guidance is well integrated, with the unit lowering the volume of your music every time it gives a direction; the degree to which it softens the music can be adjusted, and there is an option to mute any music altogether. Somewhat more annoying is the safety alerts — the loud, high pitched sound can't be changed, and there are minimal notifications on the display aside from a rather small icon.

The Pioneer AVIC-F20BT will choose the most efficient routes it knows, but it automatically learns routes you use on a regular basis, such as shortcuts through side-streets or routes you take to avoid traffic and traffic lights. We found this fairly accurate — on a common route we took a shortcut twice and on the third time the F20BT advised us to follow the same shortcut.

The large on-screen QWERTY keyboard makes address entry a fairly painless experience, though you can't enter a street address without a house number. One feature present on overseas versions of the AVIC-F20BT but lacking in the Australian model is voice control. Pioneer says it doesn't intend to release this feature due to its high cost. The company says that you still need to press a button to initiate voice control, and that many factors, like road noise and passengers talking, make it unreliable and often inaccurate.

The Pioneer AVIC-F20BT's integrated amplifier supports four channels at 50 Watts each, and this is supplemented by the unit's three RCA pre-outs for connection to external amplifiers. USB and auxiliary connectivity are also included, and, unlike previous AVIC models, you can connect an iPod and a USB device simultaneously. Other features include an eco-friendly driver management setting, an optional reverse camera ($399 from Pioneer) and dual zone, which allows for front passengers to listen to audio and rear passengers to watch a movie (or vice versa) on optional rear screens.

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Read more on these topics: GPS, Pioneer, in-car entertainment
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