There's no in-car connectivity protocol that I can think of that isn't represented here in Pioneer's new flagship, the AVIC-8100NEX. This is a receiver that takes the kitchen-sink approach to in-car multimedia and smartphone connectivity.
In addition to the big three smartphone-mirroring technologies, the 8100 also supports Bluetooth, USB/iPod-mode, and Pioneer's own AppRadio mode for legacy app connectivity to iPhone 4 and pre-Lollipop Android devices. There's CD/DVD playback, HD Radio reception, and standalone Aha Radio and Pandora Radio connectivity. The list of available features and audio sources is, frankly, staggering. And it should be. At an MSRP of $1,400 (about AU$1,840 or £950, converted directly), the AVIC-8100NEX needs to be a do-it-all device to justify its price.
But the biggest news for the NEX series is the aforementioned addition of Google's Android Auto to its deep bag of tricks. I've been a dedicated Android user since the Motorola Droid, so any sort of purpose-built in-car functionality beyond basic Bluetooth audio streaming has been a long time coming. Being the first to the market with Android Auto is a big get for Pioneer. But this is Android, so the other side of that first-gen coin is that there will be bugs.
Dropping the 8100NEX into the dashboard should be simple enough for 12-volt enthusiasts familiar with car stereo installation. The receiver uses a largely standard car audio wire harness for power and speaker connections, as well as connections for the included GPS antenna and hands-free microphone. On the back panel, the 8100 features two USB ports labeled 1 and 2. Take care when plugging into these ports; though they look universal they're also application-specific for the two connectivity protocols. Apple CarPlay devices can only use port 1, while Android Auto and MirrorLink devices can only be plugged into 2. I learned the hard way that mixing up your connections will cause the 8100NEX to fail to recognize your device and you'll have to pull the stereo out and swap the ports.
When connected via USB to an Android device running software version Lollipop Android 5.x, the receiver triggers the Android Auto software to start on the host phone. After an initial setup on the phone that installs the Android Auto app, Google Maps, Google Music and Google Voice Search if they're not already installed on the device, there's a quick walk-through on the NEX receiver's screen before the driver is presented with the Android Auto overview screen.
The overview screen should be familiar to Android Lollipop users, because it's basically a car-focused version of the Google Now interface. Here, the driver is presented with contextual shortcuts to suggested destinations (based on search history and habits) with travel time, notifications for missed calls and messages, and cards displaying information about weather and more. As you roll along, the contextual information displayed on the overview screen will change. So when I get into the car in the morning, my commute time and one-click navigation into the office will be at the top of the list. But on Friday date night, the top like could be my significant other's place. Again, this should be familiar to Android users with experience with Google Now's eerie insights into their habits.
Along the bottom of the screen are shortcuts to the overview screen, the recent hands-free call log, Google Maps navigation, audio streaming apps, and a button to return to Pioneer's onboard software. Incoming notifications for calls and texts also peek down from the top edge of the screen when received before hiding away. Tapping one of these notifications will answer the incoming call or read the text message aloud via text-to-speech software. One thing that Android Auto didn't do during my demo is allow me to view the text of the message; it's a voice only interaction and that's a very good thing.
The navigation by Google Maps is similar to the mobile experience and is primarily interacted with via voice commands. Tapping a contextual menu icon in the upper-left corner of the screen brings up suggested destinations and category browsing, but there didn't appear to be anywhere to type a destination search. Again, voice search is the way to go.
The audio button brings up a very simplified version of the Google Music app with large controls to play, pause and skip songs as well as easy-to-read song metadata. Tapping the audio icon again brings up a list of installed and supported audio streaming apps, such as Spotify, iHeart and Pocket Casts. These apps can also be interacted with via (you guessed it) voice commands. For example, it will respond to a verbal command like "Listen to the Strokes on Spotify."