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The AVN726e, Eclipse's newest double-DIN DVD/navigation receiver, was making a name for itself even before it was released to the public, as it was named Best of Innovations at CES 2009 in the In-Vehicle Navigation/Telematics/ITS product category. We were too busy being wowed by its sibling, the Eclipse AVN4430, to take notice.
However, after spending time with the AVN726e, we find there's a lot to love about this navigation receiver, including its bright LCD, snappy response times, and beautiful 3D navigation maps.
It's no wonder we almost overlooked the AVN726e. Its physical appearance is remarkably similar to just about every other double-DIN touch-screen unit on the market today. When installed in the vehicle's dash, all that is visible to the user are the 7-inch WQVGA (480x272 pixel) color touch screen and 10 illuminated buttons along the bottom bezel.
The screen features crisp visuals for GPS maps and DVD playback, with bright, saturated colors that don't wash out badly in direct sunlight. The viewing angle is quite wide, for clear viewing from the driver's or passenger's seat. Touch controls are responsive, with only the slightest lag between touch and execution.
Physical buttons on the faceplate include buttons for telephone mode, AV mode, navigation mode, and the main menu. There's also a skip rocker, a volume rocker, a mute button, and an eject button. Hitting the eject button brings up an onscreen menu from which users can adjust the screen's tilt or slide down the motorized faceplate to expose the DVD slot and SD card slot for navigation data.
Navigation map data is stored on 2GB of internal flash memory and can be updated via an SD card. Because the data is flash-based, as opposed to hard-drive-based or DVD-based, maps are rendered quite quickly and with a surprising amount of detail. Graphics are smooth and easy to read at a glance. Maps can be displayed in either 2D with heading up, 2D with North up, or a 3D map view with three selectable angles.
The 3D view displays basic elevation changes for roads. For example, highway overpasses are raised and pass over other roads on the map, which is helpful for visualizing the road ahead. In certain major cities, the AVN726e displays 3D-rendered buildings and landmarks.
An external GPS antenna aids in quick satellite acquisition, and a memory function stores the vehicle's last-known location for quick reacquisition on start-up. Custom points of interest, favorite destinations, and routes can be saved to the AVN726e's flash memory for easy retrieval. As a bonus, the flash memory keeps your presets safe, even if your vehicle's battery dies.
Street names are read aloud using a text-to-speech function. Traffic data is provided via Sirius Satellite Radio and requires a Sirius add-on module and subscription.
A built-in Bluetooth wireless transmitter allows for hands-free calling and adds A2DP audio streaming to the list of audio sources. An external microphone is placed near the driver's head during installation and provides clean audio for hands-free calls. Sound quality will ultimately depend on your vehicle's speaker. In our test car, calls made at highway speed with the windows up were quite clear.
Available audio/visual sources include the single-disc CD/DVD slot with non-DRM MP3/WMA/DivX playback capability, a USB pigtail with mass storage and iPod connectivity, AM/FM radio, Bluetooth audio, and an analog AV input (oddly labeled Video Tape Recorder) with pass-through for rear-seat entertainment.
The AVN726e supports add-on modules for Sirius (with traffic) and XM satellite radio, HD Radio (with iTunes tagging), rearview camera with reverse lead, and a full-speed iPod connection cable that enables faster browsing of music and playback of video content.
Installation of the Eclipse AVN726e included routing and mounting the microphone for hands-free calling, securing the external GPS receiver and tapping the parking brake for video playback, in addition to the standard power and speaker connections that all head units require. The first boot sequence takes about 2 minutes, while the GPS software is loaded into the system's memory. Subsequent starts are nearly instantaneous.
We were able to quickly search for points of interest and input addresses, thanks the AVN726e's large onscreen keyboard and intuitive autocomplete system that predicts the next possible characters in a string, deactivating the keys that make no sense with the previous letters.
With a destination set, we were pleased with how quickly the Eclipse unit chose our route. A few intentionally missed turns proved that the unit rerouted us back to the right path with the same speed at which it chose our initial route. The robotic male and female voices for the text-to-speech system were a little annoying and, at times, difficult to understand. Clearer voices are available, but to choose them you lose the TTS' capability to read street and POI names aloud.
Peak power is output for the internal amplifier at 50 watts x 4 channels, while average output is about 14 watts to 15 watts. Those needing more power can use the three sets (front, rear, and subwoofer) of 5-volt stereo preamp outputs to supply a clean signal to an external amplifier.
The internal amp sounds good and a loudness function really adds to the punch of smaller OEM speakers, but the ultraclean signal provided by the 5-volt preamp outputs makes this Eclipse receiver an even better starting point for building high-power systems with high-quality components.
Scrolling through large digital media libraries, such as those on our iPod, was a bit tedious, requiring dozens of button presses to get to the end of long lists of artists.
Navigating DVDs is a bit clunky, with onscreen controls that amount to a bank of virtual buttons piled at the bottom of the screen. However, the screen's quality made watching a movie from our parked car a pleasant experience. The unit supports Dolby Digital 5.1 surround, although without a dedicated center channel output, you'll have to do with a virtual center fill.
While the Eclipse AVN726e is priced slightly higher than the competition, we feel that the quality of the components and the outstanding feature list make it worth every penny.
The 3D maps with buildings, landmarks, and elevation changes are better than any other aftermarket GPS unit that we've tested. The design is clean and the menus (with the exception of the DVD controls) are very intuitive. We would like to see a detachable faceplate, which is a rarity in double-DIN units, but--as JVC has proven--isn't unheard of.
We're mostly happy with the AVN726e's feature set, which packs navigation, AV capabilities, and hands-free calling into a single, simple-to-install package. However, we had to ding it a point for requiring a separate add-on module to add traffic data.