Taking Apple Car Play for a test drive

Leow Ju-Len

A new head unit from Pioneer pairs seamlessly with your iPhone

SINGAPORE — If you have a car and a mobile phone addiction, then you also have a problem. Here in Singapore it’s illegal to use your phone behind the wheel unless you mount it to a cradle, but even that is pretty questionable, safety-wise. Your eyes should be on the road, not on how many ‘Likes’ your latest post has gotten so far.

But if you’re an iPhone user, you’re in luck. Apple Car Play has hit town, and we’ve tested it out briefly with a Pioneer AVH-X8750BT, a $1,099 head unit that pretty much does everything.

And we mean everything. The Pioneer plays pretty much most audio and video formats known to man, the LCD touchscreen can double as a parking display (with guide lines for steering), it can be set up for digital TV, and it’ll even tune itself to compensate for the differences in distance between a car’s speakers and the listener.

As fancy as all that it is, it’s the Pioneer’s Car Play system that we were most eager to try out.

Basically, your phone has to be Car Play ready, which means anything from the iPhone 5 and later, with the latest version of iOS installed.

You also need a lightning cable… and that’s it.

Plug your iPhone into the Pioneer, and you’re good to go.

What happens is, your phone’s screen goes blank while the Pioneer’s screen becomes a slimmed down version of your home screen, complete with a virtual Home button. Only the compatible apps appear, which is my case meant Phone, Music, Maps, Messages and Podcast. If I were a Spotify user, that app would have shown up, too.

No Facebooking or browsing with Safari for this boy, you’ll notice, which is probably a good thing for any driver.

Having plugged, you’re ready to play. Essentially, your phone is like the brains of the pair, while the Pioneer is the hands and feet. Also, the mouth.

The head unit gives you touchscreen access to the music and podcast collections in your phone, and plays it beautifully. Since the data is funnelled through the lightning cable, it sounds much better than with a Bluetooth pairing.

Your phone turns the head unit into a satnav system, too. Assuming you think Apple Maps is any good, having the Pioneer precludes the need to buy a separate GPS unit; it displays the maps and directions well, and the spoken instructions come through loud and clear.

What’s interesting is that the Pioneer is compatible with Siri, which takes convenience to a new level, particularly when it comes to phone calls and text messages.

If you’re a heavy Siri user like me, then you’ll know how handy it (she?) can sometimes be. Pressing a button and saying, “Tell my wife I’ll be home late” is much easier than calling up the messages up, typing the message out and hitting ‘send’.

Car Play is compatible with “Hey Siri”, meaning you don’t even have to press a button to activate the system. You can thus tap into the knowledge of the Internet while keeping both hands on the wheel at all times.

“Hey Siri, how tall is Taylor Swift?” is much easier than googling the answer on your phone at the best of times, let alone when you’re busy steering 1.5 tonnes of steel down Singapore’s narrow lanes. (The answer is 5’ 10”, by the way. Tall lass.)

In Pioneer’s demo car, a Toyota Wish, using Siri worked much better at standstill. Background noise on the move meant I had to repeat myself a few times, and once or twice I felt compelled to yell at Siri to make myself understood. Now I know how some mothers feel.

Of course Siri isn’t compatible with third-party apps like Google Maps or Whatsapp, so there will be some things you still can’t do with Apple Play.

If you’re not an iPhone user to begin with, you can still pair your phone with the Pioneer through the head unit’s own apps, but the company is working on bringing the Car Play-rivalling Android Auto system to Singapore.

But for Apple fans, the Pioneer AVH-X8750BT is a great way to retrofit the latest in iPhone connectivity to any car with a double-DIN sized  socket for head units, and it’s a genuine safety enhance, not to mention a licence saver.

Trust me, saying, “Hey Siri, what bus can I take to work?” isn’t going to be much fun at all.


apple car play carplay pioneer siri

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Leow Ju-Len

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