Friday, June 22, 2012

Navi Love/Hate

No, I'm not talking about James Cameron's Avatar movie.  I'm talking about the OEM navigation/audio system in the BRZ.  There's a lot I like about it, and a lot I hate about it.  I like the looks, the sound, and all the things it can do.  I hate the ergonomics and user interface.

Let's get down to the specifics.  I do like the way the head unit looks.  It's a handsome head unit that is simple and uncluttered, and integrates nicely with the interior.  The screen is pretty bright, and has a non-glare coating.

For an factory sound system, the sound is pretty good.  Thanks in part to a small outboard amplifier that lives back by the spare tire, there's decent bass despite the lack of a subwoofer (Subaru will be offering a hatch-mounted Kicker sub in the future, but it's not available yet).  The highs sound fine to my ear, and there's good separation in the stereo channels.

The head unit does have a lot of features.  It can play just about any music source under the sun, including CD, MP3 on disc, USB memory stick, iPod, SD card, Bluetooth audio from your phone, satellite radio, and HD radio.  This is the first head unit I've had that can receive FM radio in HD, and it does sound very nice.  The head unit has a big DIVX logo, so it should also play ripped DVD video files, if a person knew how to do that.  It doesn't play DVDs, but I never really thought a car was a good place in which to watch movies anyway.

If you eject the SD card that carries the navigation maps, you can poke in a card with image files, and you can see the images on the head unit.  You can also select one to be your splash screen on startup.  I confess that seeing the Mach V logo every time I start the car gives me a little happy feeling.

Okay, so now let me grouse about what I DON'T like.  First, although there is voice control, it's awful.  I've had a couple different kind of systems like this, and I usually get along with them fine.  This system never seems to clearly understand my voice, and I keep having to yell "Cancel!  CANCEL!" before it dials random people in my phone book.  So, I've given up on that feature.

I do like having the physical volume knob, but otherwise almost every function on the head unit requires the touch screen, and usually it's a little teeny rectangular sector of the screen.  This makes me crazy.  Say there's an incoming phone call.  There's a little teeny green answer button on the screen, maybe the size of a dime.  You're supposed to hit that with your finger, while driving the car and looking at the road.  Same if you want to hang up.  Heaven forbid you want to change radio stations.  I know it doesn't have to be this way -- I've seen other touch-screen systems that were pretty easy to live with.  This isn't one.

Descriptions of functions within the device are cryptic and confusing.  SVC?  What is that?  (Open manual, find "Source Volume Control."  Oh...I still don't really know what that means.)  There's a setting for selecting who is sitting where in the car -- Ha!  Like people would ever really sit in the back, and if they did, listening to music would be the last thing on their minds...

I had a hard time with the navigation function, too.  I ended up pressing the screen the wrong way, and it got into some mode that stuck it in place, and I didn't know how to get it back to center on where I was.  Actually, in that sense it strikes me as no better or worse than most other factory-issue car nav systems, but in this day and age, I expect something a lot easier to use.   Like, say, the Google Maps app on my smart phone.

I know, I'm probably not using it right.  I confess I did not read through the (huge) manual for this thing in its entirety.  (If I had, I would have read the "NEVER eject the nav data SD card without touching Eject Card button first!" warning...before I ejected the card without doing that.  Ooops!  It still works.  Whew.)  It just doesn't seem like this device should be so complicated and hard to use.

So...I've ordered up a Pioneer head unit that I'm going to try swapping in.  This thing will have all the audio features of the OEM head unit, but the nav is going to be left to the smart phone.  I'll check back in a few weeks, and we'll see if I am happier, or if it all will just be a waste of time and money.

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