Being so integral to the operation of Android Auto, I was pleased to note that the voice search software allowed for remarkably conversational requests and commands. Rather than staccato barks of "Navigation, destination," I could just say "Take me to the nearest Taco Bell." I could ask "What's a good Chinese restaurant near here?" or say "Text Katherine and say 'Want to get dinner?'"
Prompts aren't just limited to commands; all of Google Voice Search was at my beck and call. I could ask almost any question, such as "Did the Braves win last night?" and Android Auto's robotic voice would reply "Yes, the Braves beat the Marlins, 3 to 2." This freedom occasionally resulted in some funky responses; when asked "What's the meaning of life?" the robot responded by reading from a complex Wikipedia summary that seemed to go on forever. A simple "42" will do, Google.
From an interface standpoint, Android Auto's bright, simple graphics and heavy reliance on voice input are almost without flaw. Almost. I have one small nitpick concerning the upper-right-corner placement of the voice input button. Google has placed probably the most commonly tapped button in this interface in the furthest corner of the driver's reach. Admittedly, this is only an issue in left-hand drive cars and is fairly easily mitigated with an adapter for steering wheel controls, and it is a very minor annoyance.
Boasting both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay makes the NEX models ideal for cross-platform households. When connected to an iPhone running iOS version 8 or better, the 8100NEX boasts features identical in scope and operation to what we saw last year on the. Being able to experience the two systems side-by-side on the same hardware, I noticed that CarPlay seemed just a hair smoother in operation than Android Auto, particularly during the pairing phase. I suspect that has more to do with the phones' operating systems than Pioneer's hardware; Apple's version of this tech just seems to be more plug and play.
Users can jump back and forth between CarPlay and Android Auto by plugging in either phone to one of the AVIC-8100NEX's two USB ports. However, the transition between the two protocols isn't exactly seamless, requiring a trip into the Options menu to toggle between "Apple CarPlay" and "Other" USB connection modes. To its credit, the 8100 is smart enough to notice that I've plugged in an Android phone when in Apple mode (and vice versa) and prompts me with a pop-up shortcut to the appropriate menu where the toggle can be made, minimizing the amount of tapping needed to get going.
Pioneer's 8100NEX can also multi-task to a degree. I was able to run Android Auto with one of its USB ports while listening to music from a paired iPhone using the iPod-mode functionality of its second USB port. Likewise, the receiver can listen to CD audio or HD Radio while running Google or Apple's navigation software. The NEX also features its own on-board navigation software that can be used while listening to audio from any source, including Android Auto or CarPlay. Factor in the ability to add rear-seat entertainment to the mix and expand the list of audio sources -- adding, for example, an external satellite radio tuner -- and the the 8100NEX starts looking like a hugely flexible all-in-one dashboard command center.
When asked, Pioneer stated that the current crop of NEX models will not be supporting the new wireless CarPlay functionality debuted in iOS version 8.3, due to their lack of the necessary Wi-Fi hardware.
I've had the AVIC-8100NEX installed in CNET's 2007 Chevrolet Aveo test car for two months now and my initial impression that the multimedia receiver is a do-it-all device hasn't faded. If anything, I've gotten more impressed with the breadth of the receiver's functionality. Actually there's maybe too much functionality for one driver and most will probably never touch every bullet point in the 8100NEX's list of features. However, for vehicle-sharing families with a variety of media preferences -- a mix of iPhones and Androids, beloved old CDs and radio stations -- the 8100NEX covers every possible entertainment base.
My only reservation is the $1,400 price tag. Shop around and it's already possible to find the 8100NEX at a significant discount. If that's still too much, the less expensive AVIC-7100NEX and AVH-4100NEX (the latter being my personal choice of the NEX series) offer slightly reduced feature sets for $1,200 and $700 MSRP, respectively.