The Alpine INA-W900 is an all-in-one in-dash receiver that rolls navigation, DVD playback, and digital audio integration into one easy-to-install 7-inch-screened box. However, there's a piece missing from the all-in-one puzzle that we're used to seeing: Bluetooth hands-free. Are the Alpine's navigation and audio/visual functions good enough to make up the lack of this pillar of car technology?
The INA-W900, like most double-DIN car audio receivers, is designed around its large LCD display. In this case, the display is a 7-inch TFT resistive touch display with a resolution of 800 by 600 pixels. Graphics are surprisingly crisp compared with other in-dash receivers that we've tested, but only when in the unit's AV mode while displaying audio source or video playback. However, the navigation mode graphics are notably fuzzier--we'll discuss this further later in the review.
Just below the screen is a bank of eight physical buttons and an IR receiver. The bank includes buttons for eject, volume up and down, mute, source select, audio mode, map screen, and navigation menu. Many of these buttons have dual functions; for example, the eject button doubles as a screen tilt button, the mute button also brings up phone functions when an optional Bluetooth module is installed, and double-tapping the audio button overlays a picture-in-picture view of navigation directions over the audio source screen. There is also a tiny reset button that requires the use of a pointed instrument (such as a pen) to actuate. The IR sensor is for use with an optional remote controller (not included in the box).
The screen is motorized and can be tilted to five different viewing angles or rotated downward to expose the CD/DVD and the SD memory card slots.
Audio/video sources and playback
The interface for the audio mode features a dark background with crisp blue and black graphics. Text is sharp and our touch inputs were registered quickly and consistently.
Tapping the source button brings up a large four-icon menu where users can select from the INA-W900's available audio sources: radio, disk, iPod/USB, and auxiliary input. When more than four options are available, for example if satellite radio is added to the mix with an optional module, a small arrow appears to the right allowing users to scroll the source list.
Along the bottom of the main menu are two smaller grayed-out buttons with images of a phone and a camera. These correspond to the hands-free calling and rear-view camera options that can be added to the INA-W900 with the purchase and installation of additional equipment and modules.
When playing audio, the INA-W900 displays track as text. For connected USB devices and iPods, this means full artist, album, and track data is displayed alongside, if available, album artwork.
The Alpine INA-W900's touch screen doesn't blast through large media libraries nearly as quickly as its smaller knob-based sibling the IDA-X305, but it does support a full-speed data connection that will allow scrolling through long lists of artists or albums nearly as quickly as its screen will render them. The W900 also breaks out podcast, audiobook, and video media stored on a connected iPod into their own categories when browsing for quick retrieval.
The INA-W900 supports video playback from a properly connected iPod video, DVD disc, or its auxiliary video input. However, there's a bit of fancy footwork required to enable this playback. The INA-W900 features the parking brake sensor lead that is connected during installation and is standard on nearly every in-car AV receiver that we've tested, but this unit also requires that a second sensor lead be connected to the rear brake lights. Before the unit will play back any video or give the user access to advanced menu functions, the user must first depress the foot brake, then, with the pedal still depressed, engage the parking brake. Once the parking brake is set, the foot brake can be released and the video will begin playing. It's not as complex as it sounds in writing, but it is an extra hoop that must be jumped through to unlock the full potential of this receiver and an extra step in an already complex installation.
Once the safety hurdle is cleared, however, the user is rewarded with crisp, full-screen video playback and responsive onscreen controls.
Aesthetically, navigation mode contrasts pretty sharply with the audio/video mode. The graphics of the nav screens are noticeably less crisp and of a lower resolution than those of the music selection screens. The text of the navigation portion is quite readable, but when viewed side by side with the AV screens, things begin to look pretty low-quality.
The navigation main menu consists of three large icons for Info, Go to, and Home. There is also a smaller button that leads to the map screen that is always present regardless of what menu screen is displayed.
Tapping the Info button brings up a selection of buttons for Dashboard, GPS, Route, and System. Under the Dashboard option, one will find a digital speedometer along with historic average speed data and an assortment of trip timers. The GPS button brings up information about the vehicle's current latitude, longitude, and satellite signal strength. Touching Route or System uncovers information about the current route or system and map version data, respectively.
Heading back to the main menu, the Go to button is where users can select a destination for turn-by-turn guidance. The INA-W900 can accept an address or intersection, search its database of points of interest by name or category, browse the user's address book of saved destinations, or even process latitude and longitude coordinates. Previously selected destinations are also stored here for easy retrieval.
Once selected, the INA-W900 displays a map preview of the destination with a pair of virtual buttons. The first is Go, which starts route guidance. The second is Options, under which you will find options for finding POIs near the destination, saving the destination to the address book or as Home for later retrieval, setting the destination as a waypoint in a larger trip, or adjusting the routing options. You are given the choice between taking the shortest route or the fastest route, with suboptions for avoiding highways, toll roads, time-restricted roads, and ferries.
Once under way, the user is taken to the map screen. The map is brightly colored and easy to read at a glance, but there is no 3D building or landmark data--which isn't necessarily a bad thing for its legibility. POI icons for restaurants, gas stations, and the like can be overlaid onto the map, but selecting too many categories can result in crowding.
At the top of the map is a green status bar that displays the current street. In the upper left corner is a pair of boxes showing the next turn (complete with a distance meter) and the distance and estimated time to the destination. Along the right edge of the screen is a pair of large buttons for zooming in and out and in the upper right corner is a virtual button for returning to the main menu (which is a bit redundant considering there is a physical Nav Menu button on the screen's bezel).
In addition to the standard 3D and 2D maps, users can also eschew the map altogether in favor of an icon-based navigation interface that displays the upcoming turns as a cascading sequence of green icons and arrows. This view eliminates much of the motion of the live map for distraction-free navigation. Coincidentally, this is also the view that is present when the navigation picture-in-picture view is selected while in the AV menu.
While under way, the INA-W900 also gives spoken turn prompts with a text-to-speech engine that allows it to speak street and destination names aloud. There is also a version of graphic lane guidance that lets the driver know what lanes of major multilane highways are valid for the chosen route.
The Alpine INA-W900 is a solid choice for most users' in-car entertainment and navigation needs. The touch screen is one of the most crisp in-dash displays we've tested and it is quite responsive. The navigation system features good accuracy and easy destination entry.
However, there are a few areas where the receiver still has room for improvement. For starters, while $1,200 is a perfectly reasonable price for an all-in-one navigation receiver, for that amount of cash, we expect Bluetooth wireless to be built in--asking people to pony up an additional $180 to use their phones with this thing just isn't cutting it. Also, we'd like to see the resolution of the navigation half of the interface increased to match that of the audio/visual half; as it stands, the jump in graphic quality is a bit disconcerting.
For these reasons, the Alpine INA-W900 receives a relatively high score, but still falls shy of replacing our current favorite, the Pioneer AVIC-Z110BT, at the top of the car audio totem pole.