The Alpine INA-W900 is an all-in-one in-dash receiver that rolls navigation, DVD playback, and digital audio integration into one easy-to-install 7-inch-screened box. However, there's a piece missing from the all-in-one puzzle that we're used to seeing: Bluetooth hands-free. Are the Alpine's navigation and audio/visual functions good enough to make up the lack of this pillar of car technology?
The INA-W900, like most double-DIN car audio receivers, is designed around its large LCD display. In this case, the display is a 7-inch TFT resistive touch display with a resolution of 800 by 600 pixels. Graphics are surprisingly crisp compared with other in-dash receivers that we've tested, but only when in the unit's AV mode while displaying audio source or video playback. However, the navigation mode graphics are notably fuzzier--we'll discuss this further later in the review.
Just below the screen is a bank of eight physical buttons and an IR receiver. The bank includes buttons for eject, volume up and down, mute, source select, audio mode, map screen, and navigation menu. Many of these buttons have dual functions; for example, the eject button doubles as a screen tilt button, the mute button also brings up phone functions when an optional Bluetooth module is installed, and double-tapping the audio button overlays a picture-in-picture view of navigation directions over the audio source screen. There is also a tiny reset button that requires the use of a pointed instrument (such as a pen) to actuate. The IR sensor is for use with an optional remote controller (not included in the box).
The screen is motorized and can be tilted to five different viewing angles or rotated downward to expose the CD/DVD and the SD memory card slots.
Audio/video sources and playback
The interface for the audio mode features a dark background with crisp blue and black graphics. Text is sharp and our touch inputs were registered quickly and consistently.
Tapping the source button brings up a large four-icon menu where users can select from the INA-W900's available audio sources: radio, disk, iPod/USB, and auxiliary input. When more than four options are available, for example if satellite radio is added to the mix with an optional module, a small arrow appears to the right allowing users to scroll the source list.
Along the bottom of the main menu are two smaller grayed-out buttons with images of a phone and a camera. These correspond to the hands-free calling and rear-view camera options that can be added to the INA-W900 with the purchase and installation of additional equipment and modules.
When playing audio, the INA-W900 displays track as text. For connected USB devices and iPods, this means full artist, album, and track data is displayed alongside, if available, album artwork.
The Alpine INA-W900's touch screen doesn't blast through large media libraries nearly as quickly as its smaller knob-based sibling the IDA-X305, but it does support a full-speed data connection that will allow scrolling through long lists of artists or albums nearly as quickly as its screen will render them. The W900 also breaks out podcast, audiobook, and video media stored on a connected iPod into their own categories when browsing for quick retrieval.
The INA-W900 supports video playback from a properly connected iPod video, DVD disc, or its auxiliary video input. However, there's a bit of fancy footwork required to enable this playback. The INA-W900 features the parking brake sensor lead that is connected during installation and is standard on nearly every in-car AV receiver that we've tested, but this unit also requires that a second sensor lead be connected to the rear brake lights. Before the unit will play back any video or give the user access to advanced menu functions, the user must first depress the foot brake, then, with the pedal still depressed, engage the parking brake. Once the parking brake is set, the foot brake can be released and the video will begin playing. It's not as complex as it sounds in writing, but it is an extra hoop that must be jumped through to unlock the full potential of this receiver and an extra step in an already complex installation.
Once the safety hurdle is cleared, however, the user is rewarded with crisp, full-screen video playback and responsive onscreen controls.