[By Nic Lindh on Sunday, 25 February 2007]
After years of yearning, I finally broke down and put an iPod-enabled head unit in my car. After much gnashing of teeth, I ended up going with the Alpine CDA-9857. It’s an okay unit—the iPod integration works well, and above all is fast. There’s very little lag when scrolling through lists or switching songs.
iPod integration in the car is everything I dreamed it would be. Having 15 gigs of tunage in your car is enough to make you think there might be such a thing as happiness. And being able to easily push podcasts onto the unit means that you are unshackled from the whimsies of radio and can listen to things that actually interest you while navigating the madness that is Phoenix freeways. Massive, massive win.
I have two iPods: a black four-gig Nano and a third-gen 15 gig I bought on its release date, the last day I worked at the Apple store. The 15-gigger has been gathering dust since its battery now only lasts five minutes on a good day. But since the Alpine deck charges the unit while it’s playing, battery life is not an issue, and it is now back in useful service.
It’s now named CarPod, natch.
If you have a long commute, do yourself a favor and by an iPod kit for your car. Really. It changes everything.
On the flipside, using a head unit like the Alpine really makes you appreciate the ingeniousness of the iPod interface—there’s no menu button to take you one step up so you can quickly pick another song in the current album, oh no. And there’s no memory of where you are, so if you’re listening to an album that starts with a Y and you hit the album selector, you end up at the start of the alphabet. This is surprisingly irritating.
The rest of the unit also seems to have been created by monkeys on crack. It has all kinds of features that you’ll never need, like the ability to put in your birthday so the thing can show a happy birthday message. Right. Great. Gotta have that. It will also supposedly greet you with a Merry Christmas. Fantastico. The drawback is that things like changing the bass and treble are hidden behind five layers of menus. Cause, you know, who ever adjusts those?
To add to the infuriating frigtardness of the design, there’s no one “select” button. That would apparently be way too convenient, so sometimes it’s the “play” button, and sometimes it’s the “mode” button, and sometimes it’s some other random button. Just to keep you on your toes, you know. Because apparently there’s nothing better for road safety than keeping drivers tapping on their head unit.
Nevertheless, the magic of the iPod and podcasts more than makes up for it. Best $400 I ever spent.