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Kenwood DNX7100 review: Kenwood DNX7100

Kenwood joins the ranks of Pioneer, Eclipse, and Panasonic with the release of its DNX7100 all-in-one media receiver and GPS navigation device. A double-DIN-size in-dash system with a 7-inch touch screen display, the DNX7100 is an integrated version of the Kenwood Excelon DDX8019 with external navigation module that we saw last month. It comes with a built-in hard-drive-based navigation system, which is a joy to use. The DNX7100 also satisfies in its range of supported audio and video playback options, but, like the DDX8019, it sorely disappoints when it comes to its media-selection interface, and it will frustrate drivers with its poorly designed menu structure.

6.6

Kenwood DNX7100

The Good

The Kenwood DNX7100 has an attractive design and an excellent as-standard navigation system. It can support a wide range of media formats, and we particularly like its USB capability and crisp video playback.

The Bad

Like other Kenwood systems we've seen, the DNX7100 suffers from woefully ham-fisted media-selection interface, beginning with its dire source menu.

The Bottom Line

With a built-in navigation system and a decent range of media playback options, the Kenwood DNX7100 cannot be faulted for its breadth of features, but the system is let down by its counterintuitive media-selection interface.

Navigation
Unlike the DDX8019, which required an add-on module to be turned into a navigation device, the Kenwood DNX7100 comes equipped with a built-in hard-drive-based Garmin-sourced navigation system with 2GB of dedicated memory. The DNX7100's nav system has to be one of the best systems we've seen in an aftermarket device. From the simplicity of its home page--on which users are faced with just two buttons for "Where to" and "Map"--to the clarity of its maps, the whole navigation experience is designed with the driver in mind.

When entering destinations, the driver is presented with a full-screen keypad with large, touch screen buttons. The DNX7100 also exhibits some other user-friendly features when entering destinations: instead of asking each time which state you would like to navigate to, the system defaults (quite sensibly) to the state that the car is currently in; also, the system remembers the last city that you entered a destination for, assuming (again, quite reasonably) that your next destination might be in the same vicinity as your last. This may sound straightforward, but it is surprising that so few devices offer this.


The Kenwood DNX7100's Navteq-sourced navigation interface is a joy to use.

When underway, the DNX7100's maps (provided by Navteq) are very clear, bright, and crisply rendered. We particularly like the color-coded roads--with the suggested route shown in bright green--and the system's zoomed-in bird's-eye view that is displayed when approaching a turn. For voice guidance (which plays through the car's front-left speaker) the DNX7100 provides generic turn-by-turn prompts with distance to and direction of each turn, but it does not have the text-to-speech ability to call out individual road names. As a consolation, road names do appear in text form on the right-hand side of the split navigation screen when approaching a turn.

Being a hard-drive-based navigation system, DNX7100's route calculation times are lightning-fast, and the system is equally as quick to refresh menu screens and to recalibrate routes when the driver goes astray. We found that the system was able to recalculate and suggest and alternative route to us within the space of one city block when driving at full speed, telling us in enough time to take the next turn. This is a rare ability in slower, DVD-based aftermarket nav systems we have seen.

Another couple of nice-to-have features on the DNX7100 are its detour function, which enables drivers to circumvent trouble spots with the choice of how far out of their way they are willing to go; and its trip computer, which provides information on average journey speed, maximum speed, and total journey time.

Digital audio
As a media player, the DNX7100 can support an impressive range of audio and video formats. As well as AM/ FM radio, it can play CDs; MP3, WMA and AAC discs; and DVD video via the single-disc slot located behind its roll-down faceplate. The DNX7100 comes with a USB 2.0 port as standard, giving drivers the ability to play digital-audio files from flash drives. For those wanting to play music from iPods, the system comes with two separate inputs (one for video iPods, one for audio-only), but drivers will have to buy add-on connectors to get an "intelligent" iPod connection. The system can also be used to play HD and satellite radio, which also require additional tuners.

In contrast to the navigation function's bright, clear, and easy-to-operate menus, the menus for the main media interface on the Kenwood DNX7100 are sketchy, ill-defined, and confusing. This is best highlighted by the main touch-screen source menu, which doesn't have a CD option, meaning that users have to press the DVD button to play disc-based audio. In a similar design flaw, the Navigation soft button cannot be used to get to the navigation system, which is only accessible via the Nav hard button on the faceplate bezel. Those wanting to play DVDs will not be able to get to the movie screen by simply pressing the DVD button in the source menu (an action that only overlays the DVD playback buttons on the screen); instead they have to use the View Select hard button to cycle through all available sources until the video screen shows up.


The DNX7100 comes with an as-standard USB port for playing digital-audio files.

With an MP3/ WMA disc inserted, the situation does not get much better. To get any ID3 tag information for track or artist to show up, we found ourselves navigating a wasteland of menus, blank screens, and cluttered screens showing nothing but buttons. With the relevant screen selected, the situation gets a little better: For compressed digital-audio discs, the DNX7100's display can be set to a 2-line or 4-line configuration, the former showing one line of ID3 tag information text and a scattered collection of onscreen buttons for media playback; and the latter showing three lines of ID3 tag information. We are at a loss to understand why the 4-line configuration screen (which is actually quite user-friendly) is not the default screen that shows up automatically with the insertion of an MP3 or WMA-encoded disc. Adding to our list of gripes is that there appears to be no way to preview multiple tracks on a digital-audio disc, as with other comparable systems we've reviewed recently (such as the Panasonic Strada and the Pioneer Avic-D3).

To its credit, the DNX7100 offers a good deal of music customization options. In addition to its preconfigured EQ settings (such as jazz, natural, and pops), the system offers detailed tweaking for bass, mid-range, and treble, and also has controls for an external subwoofer. Audio sources play via the system's built-in amp, which kicks out 22 watts per channel RMS, via a 24-bit digital-to-analog converter. The system also has a couple of advanced features for honing the focus of in-cabin acoustics: one that makes use of a graphical interface on the touch screen to enable the driver to use balance and fader levels set the "sweet spot"; and another that enables the car to be split into two zones with separate sources--connected via the system's 2-volt preamp outputs--playing through the rear speakers.

DVD video

The story with the DNX7100's video playback is similar to its music interface: a decent end product is let down by a clumsy media-selection interface. While users can only play music CDs by pressing the DVD Media button on the source menu, that same button cannot be used to select DVD video. Instead, users must use the View select button to get their video to show up after inserting a DVD.


DVD videos play with crisp clarity on the DNX7100's 7-inch screen.

With a movie playing, the DNX7100's wide screen provides a crisp, bright, well-rendered picture. Pressing the Function button when watching a DVD brings up a series of touch screen buttons, which serves as a surprisingly user-friendly means of navigating the video, enabling viewers to select video by chapter and to change the configurations of the screen settings.

In sum
The Kenwood DNX7100 is a tale of two interfaces: its touch screen navigation system is one of the most intuitive and user-friendly on the market, while its media-selection interface is one of the worst. Those looking for an all-in-one in-dash system primarily for its navigation interface should seriously consider the Kenwood DNX7100, which, in addition to its helpful interface, features crisply rendered maps and a lightning-quick processor. For audio and video sources, the DNX7100 plays good-sounding audio and good-looking video, but the awful interface for accessing media sources will have drivers pulling their hair out.

6.6

Kenwood DNX7100

Score Breakdown

Design 5Features 8Performance 7