When the first generation of Pioneer's AppRadio debuted, I found the first fully iPhone-dependent car stereo system to be rather "beta" and a bit lacking in functionality, but the experience was generally pleasant as an early adopter's plaything. Mostly, I was filled with hope for what I'd see in the second generation. Well, the AppRadio 2 has finally planted itself in the dashboard of our test car, now boasting a number of interface tweaks, a larger screen, and -- most importantly -- compatibility with Android phones.
AppRadio 2 hardware
The front panel of the AppRadio 2 is dominated by a massive 7-inch capacitive touch screen, so large relative to the double-DIN chassis that there's almost no bezel. Resolution is a sharp 800x480 pixels and the colors are bright and crisp.
The main menu that appears when the unit powers on features a large, digital clock with an indicator for the day of the week. Just below that is a bank of five icons for AM/FM radio, iPod, Apps, Pandora, and Phone. Swiping from right to left reveals three more icons for Settings, Mute/Off, and Display Off.
Situated on a silver lip just below the screen are five illuminated buttons for volume up and down, AppRadio home, menu, and back. The volume buttons behave as you would expect -- no surprises there. Tapping the home button calls up the AppRadio app screen on the 7-inch screen and on the connected phone. Tapping it again takes you back to the main menu. Back and menu are only used when the device is connected to an Android phone, and their functions mirror those on the connected phone.
On the back, you'll find inputs for the included wire harness for standard power, ground, and speaker connections, which are driven by the internal Mosfet 50-watt, four-channel amplifier and your car's terrestrial radio antenna. There are also connections for a microphone for hands-free calling, a GPS receiver for more accurate positioning when driving, and an iPhone cable that connects via a proprietary connection. This double-thick iPod cable features an in-line break for a USB connection, but connecting a drive full of MP3s to the AppRadio 2 triggered no response and there's no menu option for USB.
However, don't toss this cable if you're an Android user; you'll need the USB port for firmware updates. Our AppRadio 2 needed an update to firmware version 8.17 as soon as it was removed from the box.
The rear panel is also home to a number of optional connections for accessories that aren't included in the box, including inputs for a rear camera and a wired remote control and a pair of stereo preamp outputs with switchable rear channel that double as a dedicated subwoofer output. There's also an HMDI input for connecting an Android phone, which is a slightly more complicated installation than just plugging in an iPhone.
Android oddities and omissions
The AppRadio 2 is compatible with some Android phones that feature MHL or HDMI outputs. A full list can be found on Pioneer's Web site. My HTC ThunderBolt was not on that list, so I borrowed a Samsung Galaxy Nexus running Android 4.0.2 for this test.
Connecting an Android phone via HDMI or MHL requires a $119.00 CD-AH200C Android connection kit, which bumps the total price up to $718.00. It seems like all that the CD-AH200C kit is doing is converting MHL to HDMI and supplying power via USB, so when you consider that other MHL-to-HDMI adapters on the market go for about $10 to $20, I have to wonder, why is Pioneer's adapter is so expensive? It may be possible to roll your own Android connection with a third-party MHL connection and charger, but we haven't yet been able to test that hypothesis.
iPhone 4 and 4S users get a 30-pin connector in the box and don't need to make an additional purchase; they just plug it in and play. So, this feels like a bit of an Android tax.
The Android weirdness doesn't stop there. It continues into the setup process. After Bluetooth pairing with the AppRadio 2 hardware via Bluetooth, the user must download the AppRadio app for Android. This much I expected. However, upon launching this app, I was immediately prompted to download a second app, CarKeyboard, that enables the phone to receive inputs from the AppRadio's touch screen via Bluetooth. This keyboard must be set as your input method when using AppRadio 2, so users who already have a favorite custom keyboard (such as Swype or SwiftKey) will have to switch back and forth when entering or exiting the vehicle.
Getting into the AppRadio menu screen requires a cycling of the parking brake (engage, release, and engage again) to gain access to the HDMI input. Once you've done that the system seems to remember that it's displaying a car interface, not a video, while you're driving, but this brake pumping has to be done at the beginning of every trip. I found that to be tremendously annoying. It also makes it impossible to bypass the parking brake lockout by simply grounding the parking brake sensor, which is doubly annoying since the AppRadio isn't really capable of displaying video files.