Christmas Round-Up: 2013 Alpine Double DIN Car Stereos
Today we begin a Christmas Round-Up of the double DIN car stereos that were released in 2013. Technologies evolve, our smartphone use evolve, GPS systems evolve… Which is why it's always more interesting to look at the most recent models when considering a 2-DIN car radio purchase. A recent model can also mean that its completion might have been hurried and the firmware underdeveloped. We will do our best to highlight both the positive and negative, and give you the information that you need to find the best double DIN car stereo for you.
We're starting this Christmas Round-Up with the 2013-released models from the reputable Alpine.
INE-W927HD: High-End Car Stereo in a 7" Display
The INE-W927HD is a 7” version of the INE-W928HD introduced in 2012. A lot of people couldn’t fit the 8” screen of t W928HD in their car, which is why Alpine launched a 7” version. Let’s review why the INE-W927HD might be a good 2-DIN headunit for you.
This CD/DVD receiver has a touchscreen display that provides access to your 8 most used sources. The DVD picture quality is outstanding and you’ll be able to enjoy reliable navigation by NAVTEQ with turn-by-turn directions that includes actual street names announced. The traffic data is constantly referenced when the Nav system routs the fastest path for you. This will add hours to your life, especially if you live in a busy metropolis. You can even display 3D terrain views or highlight buildings in 3D. The auto zoom-in and out at junctions might annoy some, but there is no option to turn it off. You can also have your stereo screen side-by-side with the nav screen, and pick a custom navigation icon. For extended periods however, the Nav map takes control of the whole screen, without you having a way to skip the song you’re listening to, as there are no forward/back buttons on the Nav map. Cancelling a route is not user-friendly as you have to click three to five “OKs” prompts. On the bright side, the device comes with free map updates and lifetime traffic updates, and the user interface is reasonably fast and responsive.
The receiver offers Bluetooth hands-free calling, and you can manage your contacts from the dashboard. The microphone is noise cancelling so the person you’re speaking with can hear you loud and clear. You can also play music from your mobile device on the car stereo with the Bluetooth feature. Pandora Internet radio streaming is also available for Android and Blackberry, but needs a wired connection for it to work with an iPhone. Be aware though that there is no iPhone 5 integration.
The INE-W927HD has an HD Radio tuner built-in, giving you amazing AM/FM radio sound quality and song information. It’s also compatible with a SiriusXM subscription, though with the price paid for this car receiver, we might have expected a Sat adapter to be included. The stereo also features a 24-bit digitial-to-analog converter, providing amazing sonic reproduction for all your CDs and digital media sources. Meanwhile, the Time Correction feature lets you focus the stereo image for the driver’s seat. You can also customize the sound for your car’s idiosyncrasies, including upholstery type, number of speakers and speaker locations.
Now this new Alpine 2 DIN car stereo isn’t without its inconveniences. You must stop your vehicle and set the parking brake twice to alter the stereo’s setup. You’re unable to change audio volume of the navigation except through menus and while it supports speed limit warnings, it doesn’t display your speed. There’s no physical button as well, which may prove to be an issue for some people, as you need to hit the digital keys dead on for the desired action to take place. The icon usability is not great as well, as you can’t hide main menu icons that aren’t desired or necessary. As a result, you may need some scrolling to get what you want, which isn’t very practical when driving.
The Alpine INE-W927HD is a good performer, but lacks in features compared to the similarly-priced Kenwood DNX-890HD. We do however recommend Alpine’s build quality and reliability over the more haphazard Kenwood. This headunit still has almost everything anyone could need (except app control, which is more Pioneer’s terrain).
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INE-W940: Our Mid-Range Feature-Packed Top Pick
The INE-W940 has almost all the advantages of the INE-W927HD without some of its disadvantages.
It features a 6.1” touchscreen display, but with actual decently-sized physical buttons on the left side for the most common actions (back/forward, phone, navigation, stereo).
The NAVTEQ navigation features are the same as the INE-W927HD: US, Canada and Puerto Rico maps that zoom in and out at junctions, the voice announcing the street name of your next turn, and the ability to have the map screen side-by-side with the stereo screen.
Bluetooth hands-free calling and connectivity is the same in both receivers, as you can take control of your phone with the dashboard unit, while being able to receive and place a call with the noise-cancelling microphone. You can also play Pandora Internet radio flawlessly with your Android, Blackberry or iPhone device. We should mention that it’s compatible with the iPhone 5, except for its video features. SiriusXM compatibility, excellent sound reproduction, Time Correction feature and advanced sound customization to your vehicle’s interior are also present.
The INE-W340 costs $348 less than the INE-W927HD, and the only difference is that the latter features a bigger screen and HD Radio. The former has physical button though, which makes it more practical for the situations in which you’re actually going to use the car stereo: driving. While the GPS needs improvement for both receivers, we feel the INE-W940 is a better deal, unless you specifically want a bigger screen and HD Radio.
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ICS-X7HD: The App Control Precursor… Not Quite Ready for Prime Time?
The final new release of 2013 from Alpine complements the other two well. The new ICS line introduces app control technology and the ICS-X7HD is one of the first to be tested on the market. Let’s say that it has potential and that we’re curious to see how Alpine will be able to improve on the technology in the coming years.
The mechless ICS-X7HD headunit features Bluetooth hands-free calling and audio streaming, and limited app control from the dashboard screen, making it a good choice for people who don’t want to fumble for their smartphone on the passenger’s seat. For instance, although the receiver doesn’t have built-in navigation, you can use the MirrorLink app for Android phones, which shows an image of your smartphone’s display on the Alpine, allowing you to see your phone’s GPS on the headunit’s screen. Now, you will not hear Apple’s navigation directions if you’re listening to any other audio source at the same time (you must have the audio connected to “iPod”). Conversely, you will not be able to listen to other sources, such as Sirius Sat radio if you’re using MirrorLink. Disappointingly, MirrorLink doesn’t support a lot of apps (only music, Pandora, navigation and calls) and only works with a few phone models, which is something Alpine will need to upgrade in the next ICS headunits. Since MirrorLink is highly dependent on Samsung’s Drivelink app, it remains to be seen how much Alpine can do about this…
Another new feature of the ICS line is the voice command; Siri integration proves to work quite well with the ICS-X7HD as you can place calls, send emails & texts and search music by speaking to the receiver! Otherwise, there is no video support for the iPhone 5.
The 7” touchscreen has solid buttons at the bottom. The main screen displays 8 icons. The cool thing is that you can store your favorite menus on there, so you don’t fumble around trying to find them; they’re just there, at your fingertip. The ICS-X7HD comes with international AVI input, so you can enjoy plenty of movies on its quality screen.
A built-in HD Radio tuner is included, letting you enjoy improved sound from participating AM and FM stations. Time Correction feature is present, but customizing the sound to your car’s interior is not like the other two receivers reviewed. The sound is great however, thanks to Alpine’s “Media Expander” which breathes new life even in your low-quality digital music files.
Most double din headunits carry their small share of flaws however. The graphics are quite dull, unsmooth, and you can’t change the background. But the big let-down is the absence of a CD player. Not everyone is going to play music from his phone or iPod; some of us still use CDs! You can play DVDs if you have them transferred on a USB though. Another disappointment is the general sluggishness of the interface, as it takes some time to react to your touches. Since it’s a resistive touchscreen (rather than a capacitive touchscreen for the majority of Double DIN AV units), you need to press harder for an action to take place. For a car radio costing more than an iPad, we would expect better technology and more processing power!
The ICS-X7HD is a decent choice for people who have a completely digital music library. For other people, it may not be such a good choice. This receiver is totally dependent on your phone (navigation, music) so you better hope that nothing bad happens to it while you’re on the road. It should also be noted that Alpine hadn’t release app 2-DIN radios before that, so this first unit isn’t perfect as they’re “trying it out”. If you’re looking for an effective and efficient double din car stereo that does app control, there are better and cheaper ones out there. This one needs a firmware update.
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