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Use your smartphone for more tasks in the car Add to ...

Pioneer’s AppRadio platform is ambitious because it aims to integrate the smartphone well beyond just Bluetooth hands-free calls and music playback. As its name suggests, the focus is on integrating apps from both iPhone and Android devices. It does what it claims, at least for the most part.

Pioneer AppRadio 2 SPH-DA100

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$499.99 plus installation costs

Available at: Future Shop, Independent car audio retailers

With a seven-inch display that offers large icons and easily navigable menu screens, Pioneer did a nice job with the look and feel of the user interface. Except it’s somewhat muddied by the incessant warning screens about how risky distracted driving is. They pop up frequently, and aren’t helped by the regular notification on your smartphone asking you to allow or ignore the free AppRadio app to interface with the unit.

This comes off as overkill, especially since the unit can’t play video while the car is moving.

Of course, the focus is on app integration, but that goes hand-in-hand with how the platform works with compatible smartphones. Pairing the phone to the head unit via Bluetooth is the first step, and the phone has to be plugged in at all times because AppRadio leverages the data connection to use some of the apps it runs. You can, however, make and take calls if the phone is unplugged, but the unit doesn’t support Bluetooth audio streaming.

In short, the iPhone is practically flawless because the included 30-pin connector does the legwork. Android, on the other hand, is a mixed bag. The number of Android devices officially supported is small, and even outdated, in some cases. The Galaxy Nexus is currently the only handset running Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich on the list.

Some Android handsets require an MHL connection that fuses micro-HDMI and microUSB together, while others are strictly micro-HDMI. Pioneer includes all the necessary cables, but the connections can still be finicky. While this can get frustrating, Android’s fragmented mess isn’t Pioneer’s fault.

On the brighter side, hands-free calling works beautifully through the stereo system, and that includes music, too. AppRadio defers to the native music apps on both iOS and Android, but other third-party music apps work perfectly fine, complete with metadata showing up onscreen.

Pioneer also touts the number of apps AppRadio supports, but the catch is that some are duplicates in different languages or for different countries. For example, there are 12 different iGo navigation apps, 22 NavFree apps, 17 NavMii apps and seven Navitel apps. Out of 80 apps, as many as 60 are just for navigation. The truth is, MotionX and Waze (both also supported) are better then all those others.

Seeing the Pandora icon on the home screen is also a constant tease because the popular music streaming service continues to be shut out of Canada. Pioneer isn’t to blame for that, either, but it could do more to get developers to work with the platform. Livio Radio is included as an Internet radio app, but not TuneIn. Radio is great on AppRadio, since it pulls down all your account’s content for easy access.

The whole premise behind AppRadio is nice, and it goes further than a lot of aftermarket manufacturers have, but it’s the little things that add up after a while. With a little more support from developers and better execution, Pioneer could make real waves with this platform.

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