Video review: Pioneer's Android Auto-compatible head unit bridges convenience and safety

Pioneer's head unit can bring you smartphone integration capabilities without buying a new car.

In the past year, the market for smartphone-integrated head-units has matured. A head-unit upgrade can bring the increased safety and convenience found in brand new cars to an older one.

The Pioneer AVH-4100NEX after-market head unit gives car owners the latest integration of smartphones and cars. The term “head unit” is auto industry jargon for car stereo or infotainment system. This video review explains why a car owner would replace his or her car stereo with this new smartphone-friendly head unit.

The Pioneer AVH-4100NEX has evolved since it was announced a year ago. Consumers have since warmed up to the idea and the domain-specific vocabulary, so they can now articulate their desires for in-car connectivity. The Android and iOS operating system components that interact with the head unit have been updated with a few iterative releases improving overall stability (the head unit also supports Apple CarPlay, but this review focuses on Android Auto). The app ecosystem has grown and become more stable, too.

Originally listed at a $700 price point, the head unit can be found online for $100 or $200 cheaper. The device is aimed at those who want the smartphone integration features found in many new cars without going so far as buying an entirely new car. Buying one is really a decision to add smartphone safety and convenience to the car. Android Auto not only makes the smartphone’s data and apps available on the car’s head unit, it is designed to minimize the distraction that it would be to access information like contacts, music, or navigation. Smartphone UIs are designed to capture hours of consumers’ attention, whereas the Android Auto UI is designed to keep the users’ eyes on the road as much as possible.

Voice commands can launch phone calls, send, read, and reply to text messages, and play music on Google Play, Spotify, or Pandora. Navigation with Google Maps combines voice commands and voice search to either navigate to either a specific address or a named location. Voice search can answer most general search questions, like “who won the Super Bowl?” With apps like Stitcher, drivers can listen to podcasts.

Pioneer’s Android Auto head unit has a 7-inch, 800x480-pixel, clear resistive touch display. Compared to a capacitive touch display, the lower resolution of the resistive touch display is very good and more than adequate. The touch display resolution is matched to a user interface designed to intuitively limit the time the driver would spend looking at it.

The head unit is Hands-Free Profile (HFP) compliant. HFC 1.6 is the latest specification that defines how a smartphone works with a hands-free device.

The head unit has AM and FM HD radio and is Sirius satellite-radio ready. The touch display flips up with the push of a button to play music stored on CD, DVD, or SD card. The driver can detach the display to store it in the trunk to prevent theft. The 50 Watt, 4 channel audio is powerful enough to drive manufacturer-supplied speakers and most aftermarket ones.

The AVH-4100NEX supports Android Auto, Apple Car Play, and Mirrorlink, a Car Connectivity Consortium standard. 

The video demonstrates out how the driver smartphone interaction has been greatly simplified to make the driver’s smartphone usage safer and using information on the smartphone more convenient.

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