Audio sources and hands-free calling
The XNV-770BT's main menu spells out the device's three main functions with its three main options: Navigation, AV source, and BT phone.
The BT phone section is where you handle all of the hands-free calling functions. After pairing your handset using a four-digit PIN, you have the option to sync your device's phone book. Once this is done, the address book can be searched manually using the touch-screen interface. There's also an option for browsing the phone book stored on devices that can't sync, as well as access to the most recent calls and a manual numerical dialer. Frequently accessed contacts can also be saved to one of six preset buttons on the phone menu's home screen.
Also on the main screen of the BT phone menu is a button for voice dial, which hands over commands to the paired handset's voice-dialing engine. However, we wish that this button weren't buried two levels deep in the main menu. We're not fans of having to press multiple times to access voice command, so we'd like to see easier access to this function in the next generation of the device--perhaps even a physical button on the unit's bezel.
Jumping back to the top menu and diving into the AV sources menu, you're presented with a nice bird's-eye view of the available audio and video entertainment sources. There's AM/FM radio, CD/DVD playback, auxiliary analog audio and video input, USB/iPod connectivity, and Bluetooth audio streaming.
iPod connectivity is of note because, when properly attached using the included dock connector, video can be played back on the Sony's display when the vehicle is parked. Interestingly, while we were able to coax playback out of an iPod Classic and Nano without issue, our iPhone 4 displayed a "Device not compatible" message. Despite this message, we were still able to get the XNV-770BT to read audio data from the device.
Navigation by TomTom
The navigation portion of the user interface is generated by the external TomTom GPS module and essentially mirrors that of a TomTom portable navigation device of similar vintage, for example the XL 550. The main menu features two large options for selecting destinations either by using a series of menus and searches or by browsing a map with graphic POI icons. A second row of smaller icons allows you to adjust and fine-tune options related to navigation.
Because Sony imports TomTom's navigation interface wholesale, the GPS function is completely separated from the rest of the Sony's functions. This led to a bit of awkwardness when we wanted to, for example, change radio stations while navigating or select a different iPod playlist. Getting to either of these functions required heading back out to the main menu, then down into the audio source menu. This seemed a bit clunky. An optional audio source window can be overlaid onto the navigation screen in any of the screen's four corners, but this solution is equally clunky, as the new window always seems to be in the way of some part of the map or the onscreen address entry keyboard.
We noticed during testing that it appears that TomTom's navigation interface runs at a lower resolution than the native resolution of the 7-inch Sony display. The result is still quite legible and probably wouldn't be noticeable if not for the contrast with the rest of the Sony's ultracrisp interface graphics. This is hardly a knock against the XNV-770BT, merely a quirk worth noting.
As we stated earlier, the Sony XNV-770BT is a device that plays to its strengths while outsourcing its weaknesses. The unit's display is an absolute jewel. If you like to watch in-dash video while parked, it simply doesn't get much better than this. Additionally, the massive array of inputs and outputs makes this unit a great starting point for a larger system build or for connecting, for example, a video game system.
The external TomTom GPS module adds a bit of complexity to the installation. However, it also brings with it an established interface that is both functional and familiar, while also taking advantage of TomTom technologies such as Map Share and IQ Routes, making it well worth the additional installation effort.
If we have a nit to pick about the XNV-770BT, it's that its menu structure and control scheme require too much backtracking. If, for example, while listening to music, you wanted to initiate a call, you'd have to jump back out to the main menu and enter the phone section. Likewise, if you wanted to change audio tracks while navigating, you'd have to go from the main menu to the source selection screen to the current audio source, then select your song. This is just too many button presses for a device that's meant to be used while the vehicle is in motion.
Even with this minor menu-based quibble, we still find a great deal to like about Sony's latest in-dash all-in-one. High marks in the design, features, and performance categories translate into a multimedia and navigation unit that we'd highly recommend.