New for 2010, the Pioneer AVIC-X920BT slots in just below our current favorite all-in-one receiver and Pioneer's flagship model, the AVIC-Z110BT. This model keeps intact a good number of it's big brother's features that we loved--and a few that we didn't--while bringing a couple of new tricks to the dashboard, such as PandoraLink that takes control of the Pandora Internet radio app on a paired iPhone, giving you controls for skipping tracks, choosing stations, and rating songs from the AVIC's touch screen.
At the center of the X920BT's interface is a large 6.1-inch WXGA color touch screen. Most of your interactions with the navigation, phone, and multimedia systems will take place on the touch screen. Above the screen are a DVD slot and a microSD card slot. To the left of the screen, and closest to the driver, is a bank of buttons. Starting from the top of the deck, there's a volume rocker, a Home button, a Mode button, a track skip rocker, and a voice command button. The volume, skip, and voice command buttons behave exactly as you'd expect them to.
Pressing the Home button calls up a main menu with the AVIC-X920BT's three major functions: destination entry, hands-free calling, and choosing an AV source. Pressing the Home button a second time brings up a customizable Home screen that can hold up to 15 shortcuts to commonly accessed features, such as navigating to the nearest gas station or the user's favorite restaurant. The mode button switches between controlling the navigation system and monitoring the system's audiovisual playback.
Despite Pioneer plastering the box with "Made for iPod" and "Works with iPhone" logos, the AVIC-X920BT didn't appear to be "iPod ready" out of the box. When we connected our iPod, the unit would scan and parse the iPod's library, but it wouldn't play audio when it connected to the X920BT's USB port. After checking the instructions, we found that an optional cable for iPod and iPhone is required to enable audio playback; a cable that we didn't have access to during our testing.
With the proper iPod cable, the AVIC-X920BT should function similarly to the AVIC-Z110BT deck we tested last year. The system first scans the connected player and creates a voice command index of its media. You can then use voice commands to call up a particular artist, album, song, or genre. Of course, touch-screen browsing of the iPod's taxonomy is also still available.
The AVIC-X920BT has a very cool iPhone-based trick up its sleeve when it is paired with the Pandora Internet radio service. You can download the Pioneer Pandora Link app to their iPhone and, when paired using the proper cable, take control of the Pandora Internet radio app on the iPhone when using the X920BT's touch screen. You can view album artwork and metadata, select Pandora radio stations, skip tracks, and rate songs with a thumb up or down. There is also the option to bookmark a song or artist for later retrieval and purchase on Pandora's Web site.
Another iPod-based feature is the unit's MusicSphere technology. MusicSphere is essentially an iTunes plug-in that analyses your iTunes library and creates a collection of 40 custom playlists based on BPM, mood, rhythm pattern, and year of release. These playlists can then be synced to an iPod or iPhone and is accessed using the X920BT's MusicSphere interface--an animated 3D spherical graphic that the user browses by swiping up and down, left and right. The MusicSphere software can also create a 100-song nonstop music mix that can be played back with transition effects, such as cross fading between songs. The MusicSphere plug-in is PC-only for now, with a Mac version due later this year.
In addition to iPod integration, the X920BT boasts a large selection of available audio sources. A USB pigtail lets you flash memory devices and media players that support USB mass storage mode. There's also a 1/8-inch auxiliary analog audio input pigtail. Its Bluetooth system supports A2DP audio streaming from music phones or Bluetooth audio adapters.
Just above the unit's 6.1-inch WXGA touch screen is a DVD slot that lets you playback DVDs, DivX video encoded discs, and CD audio discs. The X920BT supports Dolby Digital audio decoding, but it only has a four-channel internal amplifier, which is rated at 50W x 4 max, 14W x 4 RMS.
You can upgrade the receiver to support other audio sources, such as HD Radio and Sirius XM satellite radio by purchasing and connecting add-on modules.
As part of the X920's installation, you can install an external GPS antenna and can optionally tap their vehicle's speed pulse sensor. The unit also has a three-way electronic gyroscope. A learning algorithm gathers information from this sets of sensors and theoretically will let the navigation system become more sensitive to what the vehicle is actually doing; for example, did you make that slight left or not? A screen in the settings menu displays the status of the system's learning as a series of bar graphs. The AVIC's maps include 3D landmark and building data for major cities; however, it doesn't have any terrain data as far as we can tell. The onscreen controls for zooming and overlaying points-of-interest icons on the map are a bit small and difficult to hit. However, once tapped, they expand to reveal larger buttons and submenus. You can navigate the map but touching and dragging, but there is no pinch and zoom support on the AVIC's resistive touch panel.
Pioneer preloads the X920BT with a POI database that can be searched by name or category. You also have the option of using the unit's voice command system to enter an address. Once underway, the system issues clear turn-by-turn directions with text-to-speech street names and graphic lane guidance and detailed turn information.
Oddly, Pioneer still devotes a large portion of the destination menu to an MSN Direct shortcut, even though Microsoft plans to shut off the service at the end of 2011. Out of the box, the icon is dim, indicating it is inactive until the MSN Direct add-on module is installed. With the MSN Direct service, the X920BT gains access to traffic monitoring and data services including fuel price updates, weather forecasts, and local events and movie show times.
The navigation system also has an ECO drive graph that monitors how economically you are driving on surface roads, on highways, and as an average of both. The ECO calculations take into account information gathered from the GPS antenna, speed sensor, and accelerometer when scoring your habits. Placing a microSD card into the slot on the unit's bezel enables the unit's ECO logging functions that tracks and stores the vehicle's speed and travel data on the memory card for later analysis in using Pioneer's AVIC Feeds software.
You can also able to download Pioneer's free AVIC Feeds app for iPhone and Blackberry that lets you search for and manage Points of Interest and destinations away from the vehicle using the iPhone's touch screen. You can also pull addresses from the Internet or from a geotagged photo. These POIs can then be sent to the AVIC-X920BT from the handset via Bluetooth, saved, and set as destinations for turn-by-turn navigation.
The X920BT is features Bluetooth wireless connectivity powered by Parrot. We've already discussed the audio streaming aspect, but there is also hands-free calling. During installation, you install a small microphone--preferably near the driver's head--that helps with call clarity in the noisy environ that is a moving vehicle. When paired with a phone that supports Bluetooth Phone Book Access Profile, the X920BT can import and index the address book, giving you voice control over the calls.
The Pioneer AVIC-X920BT does it all and then some. We like that, in addition to being a fully featured navigation receiver that handles multimedia playback from a variety of digital sources and hands-free calling, the X920BT has multiple software and hardware upgrade options. In addition to the add-on modules for HD Radio and satellite radio that we're used to seeing for receivers such as this, Pioneer has also made available apps for the iPhone, Blackberry, and Windows PCs that enhance your music, add audio sources, help to save fuel, and assist the user in getting from point A to B.
Consider also the AVIC-X920BT's fantastic handling of voice command for destination entry, hands-free calling, and song selection and you have a seriously cohesive package that can boost a vehicle's cabin tech with a single box. Just make sure you pick up that iPod connection cable before you leave the store.