(CNET) -- Eclipse delivers an evolutionary, rather than revolutionary, upgrade to its all-in-one in-car navigation and multimedia lineup with the AVN6620.
The double-DIN system features a similar design to that of the AVN5510, with a combination of easy-to-use hard buttons on the bezel and a broadly intuitive touch-screen menu structure for control of its built-in GPS navigation and audio and video sources.
The former now comes with an expanded points-of-interest (POI) database, building outlines for major urban centers, and optional real-time traffic information.
For multimedia, the AVN6620 packs in all that Eclipse has to offer, including support for compressed digital-audio format discs, and add-on support for iPods, Sirius Satellite Radio, HD Radio, and a Parrot Bluetooth hands-free calling interface. The result is a stylish, feature-rich system that performs each of its many functions well.
Squeezing the maximum possible real estate out of a double-DIN system, the AVN6620 features a 7-inch wide-screen, touch-screen display. Along the bottom of the screen, a number of simple backlit hard buttons provide easy access to most of the system's top-line feature menus, including dedicated buttons for navigation and AV menus, as well as a very useful generic Menu button, which gives drivers one-touch access to destination entry, media source, and system settings.
One niggle we have with these hard buttons, however, is the relative obscurity of the volume controls, which can be difficult to locate while driving along with one eye on the road.
A major part of the success of the design of the AVN6620 is the way it splits up the programming interface between the hard, bezel-mounted buttons and the "soft" touch-screen buttons. As we observed in our reviews of the AVN6600 and the AVN5510, Eclipse does a good job of making its onscreen menus intuitive and easy for drivers to use while driving along: large, bright, crisply rendered touch-screen buttons make it easy to see options at a glance, while an intelligent menu structure helps users enter destination or select audio tracks without getting lost.
Like its predecessor, the AVN6620 features two disc slots behind its drop-down faceplate, giving users the chance to listen to audio discs--or play DVD video through the rear-seat entertainment system--at the same time as using the GPS navigation system.
In contrast to the elegantly designed in-dash system, the AVN6620 requires an add-on module to connect iPods: many smaller and cheaper stereos manage to pack in iPod compatibility without the need for a clunky external box, and we would like to have seen a similar thing on Eclipse's systems.
Features and performance
The AVN6610 comes with built-in DVD ROM-based GPS navigation as standard. Maps are provided by Navteq and include building outlines for major urban centers in the United States, as well an updated POI database with 8.3 million entries.
On first connecting the device and installing the GPS antenna, we found that the navigation system took longer than expected to find its bearings--around 20 minutes of driving around. Once it did get its satellite fix, the system proved itself to be quite accurate, but not pinpoint-precise, often giving us our current location to within the nearest quarter block.
Destination entry for addresses is extremely straightforward, requiring users simply to key in the street number, street name, and city name via the onscreen keypad. Before entering a destination, users have to configure the map to focus on a specific area of the country, a feature we like as the system is then able to provide a more refined and relevant list of destination options by graying out letters for non-applicable address (on the other side of the country, for example) during the address entry.
We also like the five programmable shortcut buttons along the bottom of the destination-entry screen for calling up common locations, as well as the one-touch Home button.
One thing we did find puzzling is the apparent inability of the system to accept points-of-interest categories in the destination entry screen: while drivers can input the specific name of a point of interest (such as "San Francisco Opera House" or "Home Depot"), it is not possible to select enter a POI category (such as "entertainment" or "hardware store") to begin with.
In mitigation, the system does allow drivers to search the current map screen for POI categories by pressing the Map button, which gives drivers the option to "Show POI icons" in a chosen category--potentially a more effective way of searching for a POI in the current vicinity than by entering the category name first. Also to our liking is the way that some POI icons for major retail and service chains (such as Chevron, Shell, Home Depot, and Target) show up on the map with specific brand logos.
With a destination entered, the system presents three route options depending on whether you want the shortest or the quickest option (not always the same thing). When under route guidance, the current-location icon kicks its way along in a somewhat jagged motion. Unlike many of the latest factory-fitted navigation systems we have reviewed, the AVN6620 does not feature text-to-speech technology for reading out the names of upcoming roads.
Instead, the system relies on a split-screen device, showing a zoomed-in version of the map on the right-hand side of the display, which lists the name of upcoming roads. In practice, we found the navigation system to be usable, but somewhat annoying at times due to its tendency to give premature or oversimplified spoken directions.
For example, if we needed to take a right turn followed by a third right turn, the system would simply tell us to expect a "right turn followed by a right turn," more than once causing us to make the second turn too early.
While under route guidance, there are a number of useful display options, including one-touch zoom in and zoom out buttons (with a zoom range of 150 feet to 250 miles), a setting to change between north up and current direction up, and a mark button to save the current location for future reference.
When not in use for the navigation system, the AVN6620's touch screen serves as an interface to control the system's multiple media sources. As well as its built-in AM/FM tuner, the system has the ability to play CDs and MP3, WMA, and DVD video discs. Our test unit also came with Eclipse's optional IPC-106 iPod adapter, giving us the ability to browse and select songs from our connected iPod via the touch screen itself.
With an iPod connected, the screen displays an Apple-inspired category menu with buttons for Artists, Albums, Songs, Playlists, and Genres. With one of these selections made, the screen then displays up to eight listings in each category at a time, with subsequent pages of eight options available using a scroll bar down the right side of the screen.
Unfortunately, there is no one-touch scrolling available to skip through lists quickly, but the large number of entries on each screen means that even large iPod menus are navigable without too much hassle.
The interface for navigating compressed disc-based digital audio files (such as MP3 files) is similar to that for browsing iPod categories. Drivers are first presented with a main screen that lists all of the folders on a disc, and from there they can then drill down to get through to the individual files on the folders.
File and folder information for each track is shown on the top of the display at all times, and more detailed information on album, title, and artist can be accessed by pressing the Title button. There are also options for repeat and random playback as well as a scan function.
With the parking brake engaged, the AVN6620 can be used to play DVD video via a multipurpose CD/ DVD slot located behind the faceplate. Like the AVN5510, the system does not touch-enable the individual DVD movie menus, requiring users to touch onscreen directional arrows to navigate menus or to invest in an optional remote control.
Without the latter, it can be a laborious process to get a video started (press the screen to get the menu > press the Next button > press the Menu button > use the up and down arrows to select the required onscreen option > press the enter button to make a selection).
With a video playing, playback controls such as play, search, and pause are available at a touch of the screen. The 7-inch screen delivers rich video reproduction, especially in the wide-screen display configuration.
The AVN6620 has a wide range of options for making its decent-sounding audio output even better. Drivers with a specific genre of music in mind can choose one of six digital signal processing (DSP) presets to activate predefined acoustic settings, and those who require a greater level of tweakability have access to a full seven-band equalizer.
For enhanced low-end output, the system features SRS Circle Sound II, which creates a phantom multichannel output for deeper and localized bass sound. With a separate woofer connected, the system offers advanced control options, including output level, settings for stereo, mono, and phase-control, and options for refining the acoustic field by adjusting cutoff frequency and acoustic slope.
The result is one of the most sophisticated and customizable in-car audio devices we've seen. A 5-volt preout gives even more options to those who want to expand the device with the addition of an external amp.
With an MRSP of around $1,200, and online prices as of the time of writing as low as $900, the AVN6620 provides some stiff competition for Pioneer's AVIC Z1 and Z-2 devices.
While its navigation system may leave a bit to be desired in terms of programmability and accuracy, the AVN6620 differentiates itself from the competition with its elegant design, intuitive controls, great iPod interface, and wealth of audio-tweaking options. E-mail to a friend
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