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Sony XNV-770BT review: Sony XNV-770BT

Sony XNV-770BT

Antuan Goodwin Reviews Editor / Cars
Antuan Goodwin gained his automotive knowledge the old fashioned way, by turning wrenches in a driveway and picking up speeding tickets. From drivetrain tech and electrification to car audio installs and cabin tech, if it's on wheels, Antuan is knowledgeable.
Expertise Reviewing cars and car technology since 2008 focusing on electrification, driver assistance and infotainment Credentials
  • North American Car, Truck and SUV of the Year (NACTOY) Awards Juror
Antuan Goodwin
7 min read

Despite a few forays into the world of turn-by-turn navigation and two generations of Nav-U portable GPS devices, Sony simply isn't a manufacturer that comes immediately to mind when most of us think "navigation." Instead most think of a brand like TomTom for GPS, associating Sony with nice displays or crisp PlayStation-esque graphics. Rather than fighting this brand perception, Sony embraces it with the XNV-770BT in-dash AV/GPS receiver.


Sony XNV-770BT

The Good

The Sony XNV-770BT features an extra-sharp 7-inch touch-screen display and checks all of the audio and video playback boxes we like to see with iPod, USB, and Bluetooth connectivity. An external GPS module essentially puts a TomTom navigation device inside the Sony, utilizing all of the technologies and interface design of TomTom's midtier PNDs.

The Bad

The menu structure can be a bit clunky, requiring multiple button presses to jump between the device's three modes. The navigation interface runs at a lower resolution than the screen's native resolution, causing maps to look blurry relative to the crisp menus and audio source screens.

The Bottom Line

Rather than reinvent the wheel, Sony's newest all-in-one car audio receiver pairs a brilliant 7-inch display with GPS navigation powered by TomTom. The result is almost the best of both worlds, but we'd like to see a bit more integration.

This all-in-one receiver plays to its strengths and outsources its perceived weaknesses with an external TomTom GPS module that fills its crisp 7-inch Sony video display with the full TomTom navigation experience. It's a novel approach that keeps Sony from having to reinvent the wheel with its own turn-by-turn software and provides users with a familiar interface.

Hardware and installation
The XNV-770BT sticks to the established double-DIN car audio receiver standard, its motorized front panel dominated by a large 7-inch LCD. This is an absolutely gorgeous display. At 800x480 pixels (WVGA), the XNV-770BT features a much higher resolution than we're used to seeing nestled in our test vehicle's dashboard. Menus and audio-source information screens are rendered extremely crisply. However, with only standard-definition video inputs, this ultrahigh resolution seems like a bit of overkill, but the screen resolution is almost perfect for 480p-encoded DVD video. Either way, we'd rather have too many pixels available than too few.

The 7-inch screen's 480p resolution is perfect for DVD playback.

The display features resistive touch sensitivity, requiring a firm press of the finger to register, and is responsive enough to register finger swipes. While the majority of user interactions will take place on the touch screen, the XNV-770BT does feature a few physical controls along the bottom edge of its screen's bezel for volume up and down, source selection, and the oddly labeled "Top," which takes you to the main menu.

Behind the motorized panel is the single-slot DVD/CD optical drive. Unlike many all-in-one units that we've tested, there is no SD card slot for media playback or updating the GPS maps. However, Sony has an interesting approach to supplying the latter of these functions.

An external GPS module and cradle bring TomTom navigation into the XNV-770BT's bag of tricks.

During installation, an external TomTom GPS module and cradle are installed in a user-accessible location (such as the back of the glove compartment or in the footwell). The module serves as the brain and processing unit for the Sony unit's navigation functions, displaying an interface identical to TomTom's portable navigation devices on the XNV-770BT's touch screen. The GPS module can be removed from its cradle, connected to a computer using a USB connection, and updated using TomTom's Home software. Once updates are complete, you can just pop the GPS unit back into its cradle and resume navigation. The 770BT will function without the GPS unit in place, but navigation will be unavailable until the module is connected.

Depending on the particulars of your installation, an external magnetic GPS antenna may provide enhanced positioning sensitivity, while a vehicle speed sensor connection helps in vehicle tracking when the satellite signal becomes inconsistent.

Also placed during installation is an external dashboard or sun visor-mounted microphone that allows you to make hands-free calls. This microphone connects to the 770BT's back panel, which is home to a plethora of connection points for wire harnesses and audiovisual inputs, outputs, and pigtails. All in, there are two video/audio inputs, one video output, two stereo audio outputs, a monaural subwoofer output, a single USB connection, a dedicated input for a rearview camera (not included), and a bus connection for an external satellite radio tuner (also not included). These connections can be configured in dozens of ways to support whatever equipment you may want to use. For example, an included 30-pin dock connector can bridge the USB port and one of the video inputs to allow for iPod video playback.

The receiver also ships with a small infrared remote control.

For those who'd prefer to interact wirelessly, the XNV-770BT ships with an IR remote.

As do-it-yourself car stereo installations go, the Sony XNV-770BT is of moderate difficulty. You will be required to drill to mount the external GPS module's cradle, route connections for the external microphone and GPS antenna, and tap the vehicle's speedometer and parking brake sensors, as well as make the standard connections for power, ground, speakers, and (if available) external amplification.

Audio sources and hands-free calling
The XNV-770BT's main menu spells out the device's three main functions with its three main options: Navigation, AV source, and BT phone.

The BT phone section is where you handle all of the hands-free calling functions. After pairing your handset using a four-digit PIN, you have the option to sync your device's phone book. Once this is done, the address book can be searched manually using the touch-screen interface. There's also an option for browsing the phone book stored on devices that can't sync, as well as access to the most recent calls and a manual numerical dialer. Frequently accessed contacts can also be saved to one of six preset buttons on the phone menu's home screen.

Also on the main screen of the BT phone menu is a button for voice dial, which hands over commands to the paired handset's voice-dialing engine. However, we wish that this button weren't buried two levels deep in the main menu. We're not fans of having to press multiple times to access voice command, so we'd like to see easier access to this function in the next generation of the device--perhaps even a physical button on the unit's bezel.

Jumping back to the top menu and diving into the AV sources menu, you're presented with a nice bird's-eye view of the available audio and video entertainment sources. There's AM/FM radio, CD/DVD playback, auxiliary analog audio and video input, USB/iPod connectivity, and Bluetooth audio streaming.

iPod connectivity and USB playback give the user access to full artist, album, and song metadata, as well as artwork where available.

iPod connectivity is of note because, when properly attached using the included dock connector, video can be played back on the Sony's display when the vehicle is parked. Interestingly, while we were able to coax playback out of an iPod Classic and Nano without issue, our iPhone 4 displayed a "Device not compatible" message. Despite this message, we were still able to get the XNV-770BT to read audio data from the device.

Navigation by TomTom
The navigation portion of the user interface is generated by the external TomTom GPS module and essentially mirrors that of a TomTom portable navigation device of similar vintage, for example the XL 550. The main menu features two large options for selecting destinations either by using a series of menus and searches or by browsing a map with graphic POI icons. A second row of smaller icons allows you to adjust and fine-tune options related to navigation.

The TomTom module is removable to allow updates over its USB connection.

Because Sony imports TomTom's navigation interface wholesale, the GPS function is completely separated from the rest of the Sony's functions. This led to a bit of awkwardness when we wanted to, for example, change radio stations while navigating or select a different iPod playlist. Getting to either of these functions required heading back out to the main menu, then down into the audio source menu. This seemed a bit clunky. An optional audio source window can be overlaid onto the navigation screen in any of the screen's four corners, but this solution is equally clunky, as the new window always seems to be in the way of some part of the map or the onscreen address entry keyboard.

We noticed during testing that it appears that TomTom's navigation interface runs at a lower resolution than the native resolution of the 7-inch Sony display. The result is still quite legible and probably wouldn't be noticeable if not for the contrast with the rest of the Sony's ultracrisp interface graphics. This is hardly a knock against the XNV-770BT, merely a quirk worth noting.

In sum
As we stated earlier, the Sony XNV-770BT is a device that plays to its strengths while outsourcing its weaknesses. The unit's display is an absolute jewel. If you like to watch in-dash video while parked, it simply doesn't get much better than this. Additionally, the massive array of inputs and outputs makes this unit a great starting point for a larger system build or for connecting, for example, a video game system.

The external TomTom GPS module adds a bit of complexity to the installation. However, it also brings with it an established interface that is both functional and familiar, while also taking advantage of TomTom technologies such as Map Share and IQ Routes, making it well worth the additional installation effort.

If we have a nit to pick about the XNV-770BT, it's that its menu structure and control scheme require too much backtracking. If, for example, while listening to music, you wanted to initiate a call, you'd have to jump back out to the main menu and enter the phone section. Likewise, if you wanted to change audio tracks while navigating, you'd have to go from the main menu to the source selection screen to the current audio source, then select your song. This is just too many button presses for a device that's meant to be used while the vehicle is in motion.

Even with this minor menu-based quibble, we still find a great deal to like about Sony's latest in-dash all-in-one. High marks in the design, features, and performance categories translate into a multimedia and navigation unit that we'd highly recommend.


Sony XNV-770BT

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 8