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72 hours with CarPlay: Test-driving the Pioneer AVIC-8000NEX

Susie Ochs | Nov. 6, 2014
CarPlay is awesome, as long as Siri can hear you. But Pioneer's touchscreen just isn't very good.

Still, using CarPlay also reminded me that Siri can't always parse natural-language requests every time. "Take a note for me!" resulted in a note saying "Me." I could say, "Are we there yet?" for a driving time ETA, but "When will I get there?" didn't work. I was able to get weather, sports scores, and directions to the nearest Starbucks. She could tell me who had emailed me last but not read the messages. Siri has come a long way since her debut, but I kept running up against situations where she still has room for improvement.

Just getting to the point where I could ask Siri a question was frustrating too. Saying, "Hey, Siri!" reliably brought up the Siri screen on the CarPlay unit, but often without the little high-pitched chime that means she's listening. If I didn't say anything because I was waiting for the chime, the Siri screen would fade out and I'd have to call it up again. So I found myself having to say, "Hey, Siri!" and then tap the microphone button on the screen--sometimes repeatedly--until I heard the chime.

Touchy screen
In fact, on the Pioneer AVIC-8000NEX that I tested--which is Pioneer's nicest CarPlay stereo, with an MSRP of $1400--the capacative touchscreen kind of stunk. As Apple fans, we are spoiled by bright, responsive touchscreens, some of the very best on the market. This screen doesn't scroll smoothly, and taps often took more than one try to register. In all the music-playing apps, I would tap and tap and tap the Next Track button without the music advancing--then on the fourth or fifth tap it would suddenly advance two tracks. This isn't the end of the world, but for $1400 the performance of the screen is disappointing. (Pioneer has lower-priced CarPlay systems, but they have resistive touchscreens, and even then the cheapest is currently $700.)

Bottom line
CarPlay is cool, and if I was buying a car that had it, I would be stoked to use it--but I'm not going to upgrade the stereo that's in my 2006 Subaru to this aftermarket Pioneer system.

For starters, CarPlay can't do anything my iPhone doesn't do on its own, and obviously the iPhone has a lot more apps. I really missed using Waze for navigation--I could still set up a Waze route on my iPhone's screen and the directions would play over the car's speakers, but since it's not a CarPlay compatible app it can't show the map on the stereo's screen.

Add in the high aftermarket cost, and the hit-and-miss results from using Siri for everything, and CarPlay doesn't seem worthwhile just yet. But navigation and hands-free communication work well, and it's nice to have an Apple-designed interface on a car stereo. Since it's so easy to update the software and apps on your phone, CarPlay should keep improving. It's already better than other infotainment systems I've tried--and a lot safer than trying to use my phone while I drive.


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