Each track takes about one minute to record to the hard drive, then it can be played back at any time. One small frustration we found with the unit set to Autorecord was the delay that precedes playback of the disc as the reader prepares itself. In addition to Auto mode, the record function can be set to Single and Manual modes, which respectively record the first track of a disc and allow users to choose recording on a track-by-track basis. Using the touch screen to control audio--either directly playing from discs or an iPod, or from the library--is relatively straightforward, with dedicated buttons for random playback, repeat, and search. For homemade digital audio discs (such as MP3s and WMAs), a search button enables navigation of music by folder, track, and artist.
Voice recognition avoids putting the brake on
While its music capabilities are plentiful, Pioneer markets the AVIC Z-1 primarily as an in-dash navigation system. Destinations can be entered via the touch-screen keypad or by voice command using the included microphone, which is activated by a voice icon on the screen. Destinations can be entered by address, by phone number, by manually selecting a point on the map, or by searching a database of more than 11 million points of interest. We found the voice-recognition capabilities to be flawless, despite a few initial misgivings about the basic appearance of the mic. Unlike some factory-installed units that we've reviewed, the AVIC Z-1 does not require users to push the voice-command button for each stage of the destination-entry process, opting for a more user-friendly succession of beeps. The system does, however, make users push an onscreen button for final confirmation of a destination. Another quirk of the navigation system is that the parking brake has to be engaged for many of the features to be operable. While this is admirable in its safety-consciousness, it means that users of the system will be unable to reprogram a route while stopped in traffic unless they crank on the parking brake to activate the screen--a practice that will soon become frustrating. Some functions, including Address Book, are enabled without parking-brake engagement, presumably because searching a database is deemed less distracting than inputting new information: a case of differing shades of gray in our opinion.
When on the road, the AVIC-Z1 has text-to-speech voice guidance, letting it tell you the names of roads you need to look for. Trip routing is also adaptive so that if you consistently choose a different route than that suggested, the nav system will set your preferred route as the default. Maps are clear and bright and can be configured in a variety of views. One feature of the AVIC Z-1 that we especially like is the option of integrated live traffic data from XM Satellite Radio. This function, which requires the addition of the GEX P10XMT module, as well as an active subscription to XM's NavTraffic service, works by acquiring traffic information up to 100 miles in diameter from the vehicle's current location. As well as giving information on the location and nature of potential traffic disruptions, NavTraffic provides a clear indication of affected areas by color-coding roads according to the severity of congestion: red denoting an average speed of 5 to 15mph, yellow denoting 20 to 40mph, and green showing roads with an average speed of 45mph and over. A list of icons also serves to inform drivers of the nature of a traffic disruption.
The final major function of the AVIC Z-1 is its voice-activated Bluetooth hands-free calling function. Pairing our phone to the system was not as easy as we have found with some factory-installed systems, due to an extra step of phone registration. Users are given the option of pairing a phone using their handset or the head unit itself. We found it easier to let oursearch for the head unit, which it discovered quickly. When paired, calls can be made in variety of ways: by using the same effective voice-recognition system as with the navigation (say, "Call, number," then punch in the digits), by using a numeric keypad on the touch screen (although, as with the navigation, the parking brake must be on for this to work), by dialing favorites (no parking brake required), or by selecting point-of-interest icons on the map that have registered a phone number. Incoming calls to the phone can also be answered using the AVIC Z-1: a single ring and a cartoon graphic on the screen notify users of inbound calls, which can be answered by pressing a green phone button. Sound quality through the front speakers was good, if a little tinny, and we were assured that we were coming through clearly on the other end of the line.
The AVIC Z-1 has come down significantly in price since its release in May. Including $200 for both the ND-BT1 Bluetooth adapter and the CD-IB100 iPod adapter, and another $200 for Pioneer's GEX-P10XMT for XM NavTraffic, the unit with all its main features can now be had for less than $2,500. At that price point, the AVIC Z-1 looks very competitive when set against factory-installed options with a similar number of features.