At the top of Pioneer's AVIC line of navigation receivers, and indeed its entire line of car audio receivers, sits the AVIC-Z110BT. This grandest of car stereos features just about every bell, whistle, and whizbang that Pioneer has to throw at mobile audio and video. From GPS navigation that can be upgraded to receive traffic data to iPod integration with fully indexed voice command, if it's available in the world of car audio, it's available in some capacity on the Z110BT.
The AVIC-Z110BT's design is quite conventional as far as double-DIN navigation receivers go. The 7-inch color touch screen occupies the overwhelming majority of the nonremovable, motorized faceplate. The screen features a resolution of 800x480 pixels and a wide-screen 16:9 aspect ratio. Below the screen is an illuminated ribbon of buttons for (left to right) voice command, volume down and up, home, mode, skip back and forward, and eject/open. The illumination color of these buttons can be customized with one of eight default colors, a custom RGB value, or a scan mode that fades among the colors of the spectrum.
Tapping the eject button causes the motorized faceplate to slide and rotate downward, revealing the DVD/CD slot and an SD card slot. Touch-screen controls that appear when the unit is open allow for ejecting optical media, ejecting the SD card, adjusting the screen tilt, and closing the faceplate.
On its back are the connections for the standard wiring harness, an additional AV input/output wiring harness, the external GPS antenna, the external microphone, the AM/FM antenna input, and the USB/aux input harness. Other less commonly used inputs include an IP Bus input for connecting external accessories, a power connection for the ND-MDT10 MSN Direct antenna accessory (sold separately), and a port for a steering wheel control adapter (also sold separately).
Perhaps the best way to describe the Z110BT is "feature packed." However, the bulk of its functions can be organized into three categories: navigation, audio/video playback, and hands-free calling.
Starting with the GPS navigation, the Z110BT delivers turn-by-turn directions featuring text-to-speech, which enables proper street names to be read aloud. When approaching a turn on a major road, the map is replaced with a visual representation of the turn. If that road is a major interstate or highway, the visual representation also includes lane data, which further helps to avoid confusion. Multiple destinations and waypoints can be added to the same trip. Custom points-of-interest can be added using Pioneer's AVIC Feeds software.
Pioneer's voice command functions work well with the navigation portion of the feature set, allowing for POI search and address entry using natural speech.
If paired with the optional ND-MDT10 MSN Direct receiver, traffic and incident data can be shown on the map and can be avoided when calculating a route. Local POI search and fuel price search are also added to the Z110BT's capabilities with the receiver.
Pairing a Bluetooth-enabled mobile phone opens up the options for hands-free calling and Bluetooth audio streaming. Once paired, the AVIC-Z110BT will automatically download and index your phone's address book, creating a voice tag for each contact that can be accessed using the voice command system. Calls can also be initiated by speaking a phone number or with a virtual 10-key pad when the vehicle is stopped.
The last bit of the puzzle is multimedia playback. The AVIC-Z110BT is able to handle DVD video, DivX-video-encoded DVDs, MP3-encoded and Red Book audio CDs, and can read digital audio files from an SD card. Additionally, USB and analog auxiliary inputs allow the connection of portable storage devices, MP3 players, and iPods/iPhones. The deck supports MP3, WMA, and AAC audio files and WMV, MP4, and H.264 video files on USB devices or SD cards. iPod video playback is not supported out of the box, but an additional CD-IU50V iPod connectivity cable joins the USB and aux inputs with a 30-pin dock connector, enabling video playback and faster data transfer.
When connecting an iPod, MP3 player, USB storage device, or SD card, the Z110BT will scan the files and metadata to create voice tags similarly to the way that it does for your phone's contacts. Once the scan is complete, you will be able to use voice commands to play any artist, album, or song. The system had issues recognizing some of the more complex names that we tested; but the majority of the time, the AVIC-Z110BT had no problem understanding what music we were asking for.
We'd say that the Z110BT does a good job of recreating the easy-to-use voice control that we've come to love in Ford and Microsoft's Sync system, but there's a weakness. The AVIC-Z110BT's indexing takes forever to complete, and devices must be reindexed if disconnected and reconnected. For a small 2GB SD card or USB key, this isn't much of an issue, but there were times when indexing a 16GB first-generation iPod Touch took well over half an hour, during which time the voice command cannot be used and access to the device is limited. That's far too long. Voice command is of limited use if it's only accessible for the last 10 minutes of your commute.
The home menu has a hidden feature. Tapping the Home key brings up the three-icon home menu, but tapping it again brings up a user menu that can hold up to 15 quick links to functions. For example, if you find that you often search for gas prices, you can add a fuel price icon to your user menu for quick access.
To add a quick link to the user menu, double-tap the home key to bring up the user menu, then hit the customize button at the bottom of the screen. You'll be presented with 15 blank spaces for icons on the left and a scrolling list of available shortcuts on the right. Simply drag and drop the icons of your choice into the spaces.
Because of a few of the advanced features available with the Z110BT, its installation is more involved than your standard car stereo and can quite tricky for the novice installer.
For example, in addition to the standard power and speaker connections that are the basis of all car stereo installs, an external microphone must be installed near the driver's head and connected to use Bluetooth calling and voice commands. The parking-brake sensor must be tapped to use the video playback functions. Also, if you're planning to install a reverse camera, the reverse light power lead must also be tapped. A magnetic GPS antenna must be mounted with a clear view of the sky if you want turn-by-turn directions.
Where things get really tricky is finding and tapping of the vehicle speed pulse sensor, which in our case required disassembly of the instrument cluster and tapping into the speedometer wire. If your vehicle's connections aren't clearly labeled and you don't have access to a wiring diagram, this could be the trickiest part of your installation. If you choose to skip this portion, the GPS navigation will still work but will occasionally give errors, and you won't benefit from the "dead reckoning" positioning when satellite lock is lost.
If you decide to add the ND-MDT10 MSN Direct Tuner (which we recommend) there's the final step of wiring the tuner in-line with the FM antenna and connecting a power harness to the Z110BT.
Aside from the long wait time for voice indexing files on an iPod, the AVIC-Z110BT performed superbly. Its menu transitions were snappy and there were no hangs or software crashes.
On the GPS side, its initial satellite location took 5 minutes in downtown San Francisco, but subsequent satellite lock times were substantially shorter.
Although we were unable to make use of the "dead reckoning" feature because of our vehicle's odd speed pulse signal, the AVIC-Z110BT did a fantastic job of holding our position as we navigated around town. However, people who spend a lot of time in tunnels or on long covered bridges will likely benefit from the increased accuracy that that this feature offers.
The Pioneer's audio quality was also good. We do most of our testing with a flat EQ curve, but there are four preset EQ curves and two seven-band custom user curves. Additionally, there are several advanced settings for crossover filters, virtual staging, and subwoofer control.
While the Z110BT's 22 watts RMS per channel (50 watts max) is good enough for most OEM speaker setups, audio enthusiasts with upgraded speakers will need to make use of the three 4-volt stereo preamp outputs to add external amplification. An interesting feature is that the rear channels can be bridged to create a 70-watt max subwoofer channel for people who just want to add a single small sub to, for example, a pickup truck that lacks rear speakers.
If there is one flaw that we can find in the AVIC-Z110BT, it's that the ND-MDT10 MSN Direct Tuner is a separate purchase. We can understand how Pioneer would think that separating the module would be a good cost saving measure. But after testing the Z110BT with the MSN Direct service, we can't understand why anyone wouldn't want to have access to the traffic and fuel price information.
Of the all-in-one in-dash solutions that we've tested, there is one device that matches the Pioneer AVIC-Z110BT almost feature for feature: the. Both of these units have GPS navigation, DVD and multimedia video, Bluetooth hands-free calling, and audio streaming. However, the difference is in the details, and the Pioneer unit is just so much easier to use.
With its user customizable menus, contact importing, and voice control of nearly every commonly accessed function, the Pioneer AVIC-Z110BT not only brings the features that we feel people want in their vehicles, but it also makes them safe and easy to use.