The Kenwood DDX8019, the latest entrant in the growing in-car, audio/video market, comes with an impressive spec sheet. It can play digital audio discs as well as DVD and DivX video, and offers a standard USB digital audio interface. In practice, however, the device's clumsy menus make playing music or video more challenging than it should be. On the bright side, with the addition of Kenwood's GNA-G510 module, the system can be transformed into a very useful GPS navigation system.
The Kenwood DDX8019 features a standard double-DIN-sized touch screen. Like the Panasonic Strada CN-NDVD905U and the Eclipse AVN 5510, the system is built with a single line of hard buttons along the base of the faceplate, with most submenus accessible via soft buttons on the 7-inch touch screen display. Aside from the volume buttons, the Kenwood DDX8019 has three hard buttons for navigating audio or video sources and screens: Function, Video Select, and Source.
Unfortunately, we discovered many irrelevant screens as well as non-intuitive steps when navigating with these buttons. For example, the Function button cycles through three screens: the main source screen, a blank screen, and a "picture and easy control panel" screen. This latter screen is of extremely limited use. When playing music, it allows you to skip tracks and folders yet doesn't show any tag information. Seeing as it is possible to skip tracks and folders and see tag information using the main source menu, we couldn't figure out the reason for this extra screen.
The Video Select button is more useful for swapping between on-screen sources, but we still found redundancies. For example, when toggling between visual sources, you're forced to navigate through options even if a certain device isn't connected--leading to a succession of blank screens or messages, such as "iPod disconnected." We would have preferred a "smarter" Video Select button that recognized only available sources. The audio Source button shares similar problems, as you have to navigate through all sources (unconnected or otherwise) to get to your chosen output.
The clunky design continues with the DDX8019's touch screen menus. Pressing any part of the touch screen displays a crosshair image at the touched point--irrespective of whether you've pushed a button. These images, which linger for a second or so, are an unnecessary distraction and make the screen resemble an old arcade-style shooter game.
Top-level menu screens feature a bar made up of four grainy, jagged icons that run down the right-hand side of the screen. These buttons control source selection, source control, audio control, and setup. Pressing the source select button displays information on available media, and reveals a significant design omission: despite the graphically elaborate menu, there is no option for CDs--you have to select DVD if and when you want to play any disc-based audio.
When playing MP3-encoded discs (the system also supports WMA and AAC formats), the screen can be set to display ID3 tag information according to preference. You can configure the information to show artist, album, folder, file, or track title by pressing each of the three soft buttons.
In the 2-line configuration, the MP3 playback screen limits ID3 tag information to just one line of text while displaying larger buttons. However, rather than facilitating audio control, this configuration scatters the play, pause, and folder skip buttons across the screen haphazardly. We found that this configuration made it more difficult to navigate music selections.
USB and video
One of the DDX8019's more attractive audio features is its standard USB audio playback capability. Once a USB mass-storage device is connected, the DDX8019 can find and play digital audio files and display artist, album and song title (and even album art, where available) on the screen. You can then use the touch screen to skip between tracks and folders. With the addition of an add-on connector, the system can also be used as a dedicated iPod interface; for those who forgo this option, iPods can be connected as standard USB storage devices using the iPod proprietary USB cable.
With the addition of Kenwood's GNA-G510 module--which relies on Garmin navigation technology--the Kenwood DDX8019 can be turned into a GPS navigation system. In contrast to the complex and clunky media menus, the navigation graphics interface is a breeze to use. The main menu page offers two major options: "Where To?" and "View Map."
Pressing "Where To?" brings up a list of programming options. The navigation menus are not only attractively rendered and colored, but also are extremely user-friendly. A Back button lets you return to a previous choice, while simple, well-designed icons signal submenu options.
When entering a destination by address, the system requests first the name of a state (defaulting to the state in which the system is operating), followed by a request for a city name, address number, then finally street name. When entering a street name, the DDX8019 displays a large, white-on-blue colored keypad, making it extremely easy for drivers to punch in a new location while on the road. Once the destination is entered, the system reads aloud the destination name, plots the route, and offers turn-by-turn voice guidance, reading out loud names of streets along the route.
You can preview a route using the system's turn-list feature, which offers text and map details for each turn on a proposed route. While under GPS guidance, the DDX8019 defaults to a birds' eye view of the car's immediate vicinity, yet you can switch to a 2D overhead view by pressing the screen. While maps don't display icons for landmarks in major cities, they do offer many points of interest. We also liked the one-touch scrolling and zoom options.
Maps are updated via an SD card that lives behind a hinged door in the GNA-G510 module. This module can also be connected to yet another add-on device to add XM live traffic, weather, and stock price information to the system.
For standard media playback, the Kenwood DDX8019 has a significant number of usability issues resulting from its poor design. With practice, you might be able to get used to the arcane menus to take advantage of the system's wide selection of media sources, but the GUI for digital media selection and playback remains unattractive and unintuitive. For those looking to use this system primarily for navigation via the add-on GNA-G510 module, however, the benefits are clear. An intuitive interface combined with good-looking maps and menus makes it one of the most user-friendly, in-dash navigation systems we've seen.