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Pioneer AppRadio 2 (SPH-DA100) review: Pioneer AppRadio 2 (SPH-DA100)

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Additionally, the aforementioned lack of USB MP3 playback in this AppRadio generation seems, frankly, unnecessary. It wasn't too big a deal with the previous model, since Pioneer was courting an exclusively iPhone/iPod audience, but this model brings Android users into the picture. As one of those Android users, it would annoy me to see the connection is there, but not be able to use it. I also noticed that there's no way to stream Bluetooth A2DP audio. So, if a friend hops in my car with his Android smartphone and wants to listen to a playlist, he'll have to go through the whole song and dance of installing the AppRadio app and its companion apps. Granted, these are minor annoyances, but they bear mentioning.

The AppRadio app and the apps
Where the AppRadio shines is the apps that live on your smartphone--or, rather, a selection of approved, car-safe apps.

On both the Android and iPhone platforms, you'll start with the AppRadio app itself, which presents the user with a simplified home screen with large, easy-to-tap shortcuts for the rest of the approved apps. The AppRadio app also features built-in shortcuts to your calendar, contacts, Google Maps, and photos stored on your phone.

The AppRadio app features a list of recommended and supported apps for both the Android and iOS platforms. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

In order to access the media stored on your iOS or Android phone, you'll need to install Pioneer's CarMediaPlayer app, which gives full touch-screen control over browsing and playing back your media library. Other cross-platform audio apps include Pandora Radio and Aupeo Personal Radio.

Extra Mile is a mileage and fuel expense tracker. DashCommand works to display virtual gauges relaying details about the inner workings of your car from an optional OBD-II connection. Inrix Traffic and Waze help you to get from point A to B and Best Parking helps you find a cheap place to stow your wheels when you get there.

Android-exclusive apps include the aforementioned CarKeyboard by Pioneer that enables the use of the touch screen and Echoecho, an interesting location-based app that allows you to quickly share your location with your friends.

Livio Radio, Rdio, and StreamS HiFi Radio make appearances as iOS choices for audio playback and streaming. Escort Live allows users to report and be notified of speed traps and red light cameras, as well as interfacing with the Escort Smartradar detector. Four additional navigation choices are available to iPhone users: MotionX GPS Drive, iGo Primo North America, My GPS USA, and Navfree GPS Live. Pioneer itself has developed a pair of iOS apps: CarBrowser is a Web browser and Mixtrax creates custom, mood-based playlists on the fly. Finally, EC Touch presents an alternative, car-specific interface with access to iPod music, iPod video, contacts, maps, Web browsing ,and Facebook.

More apps are constantly being added as they become available. The user can find out what apps are available by either visiting Pioneer's Web site orchecking the Suggested Apps tab in the AppRadio app.

In sum
Since the first model, Pioneer has taken a few massive steps forward. The larger, capacitive screen is great to look and, on the Apple side of things, the switch to the CarMediaPlayer app makes browsing music quick and keeps the interface consistent with the rest of the apps -- an improvement from the previous model's clunky iPod-Out setup, which wasn't really touch-sensitive. I also like that the standard iPod connectivity still makes it possible for a passenger to hop in, plug in an iPhone or iPod, and share tunes.

For iPhone 4 and 4S lovers who find the massive list of apps in the AppRadio catalog tempting, the $599 AppRadio 2 is a sure bet and a home run -- one of the best iPhone-centric receivers that money can buy. However, for Android owners, the choice isn't so obvious.

While I generally consider the addition of Android connectivity to be a very good thing for the AppRadio family, there are a few hiccups here, mostly due to the nature of the Android OS and ecosystem. I was only moderately annoyed at having to install a custom keyboard and switch back and forth between it and my favorite custom keyboard just to use the touch screen, but I think I could learn to deal with that (or write a Tasker script to automatically switch for me) to gain the benefit of easy access to apps like Waze and Pandora.

However, the biggest hurdle for Android users is the extremely expensive adapter that Pioneer peddles to MHL-enabled users. At $119, I have to wonder what Pioneer is thinking here. Again, most MHL-to-HDMI adapters that I found with a cursory Google search averaged about $10-$20, so this is really something that should be included in the box if they want Android users to take the AppRadio 2 seriously. All in all, the AppRadio 2 and that adapter total $718. That price would have most Android users looking at ways to Velcro a Nexus 7 or Kindle Fire to their dashboard.

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