Quick hands-on with the Pioneer SPH-C19BT car head unit

By Vignesh Giridharan | Published on 06 Sep 2018
Quick hands-on with the Pioneer SPH-C19BT car head unit

Pioneer has launched a new car audio head unit that works in conjunction with its Smart Sync mobile app. The new SPH-C19BT head unit is priced at Rs 7,150.

Pioneer launched the SPH-C19BT car audio head unit in India yesterday. Along with it, the Japanese entertainment products company showcased its Smart Sync mobile app. In the launch and product demonstration, Pioneer showed that the head unit and the Smart Sync app go hand in hand. What’s special about the SPH-C19BT head unit is that it’s aimed at the masses despite being a progressive, smartphone-dependent model. Pioneer announced during the launch that the SPH-C19BT would go on sale for Rs 7,150.

The SPH-C19BT’s detachable front face has a thin and short one-line display with buttons only to control source, volume, and track selection. It also has haptic buttons to trigger a Pioneer-engineered voice command system for making calls and sending messaging, starting navigation, viewing incoming texts, and placing phone calls. On the top, the head unit has a rotating cradle that can be pulled out to hold smartphones or tucked away when the face is detached.

The Pioneer SPH-C19BT head unit can hold a smartphone in both portrait and landscape mode

While Pioneer’s new head unit can operate independently for radio and USB audio playback functions, it will need the Smart Sync mobile app and a Bluetooth connection if the user wants to do more, like change audio settings or view the distance of objects behind the car when suitable reverse parking sensors are connected. The Smart Sync app is available on iOS and Android devices. Apart from serving as a touch-based user interface for the SPH-C19BT head unit, it has shortcuts for commonly used smartphone apps like Google Maps, Waze, Facebook Messenger, and WhatsApp. It also has shortcuts for music apps like Wynk, Saavn, Gaana, and Amazon Prime Music.

The smartphone cradle can also be tucked away

Pioneer’s vision is that users will clamp their smartphones onto the retractable cradle and use the Smart Sync app to control the SPH-C19BT head unit. The company hopes that this new head unit-plus-smartphone setup will drive (pun unintended) people away from looking into their phones while driving and enforce discipline and control. Pioneer hopes its users will use the voice command functionality to make phone calls and listen to new messages.

Quick Hands-on Experience

For a live demonstration, I was shown to a Suzuki Swift with a SPH-C19BT head unit installed on the dashboard. According to Pioneer, the SPH-C19BT will sit comfortably inside all single DIN slots. After spending a few minutes using the head unit in conjunction with a smartphone running Smart Sync, I noticed that voice recognition was not exactly spot on. Saying, ‘Navigate to Connaught Place’ opened up the Google Maps app but failed to start navigation. This, in my opinion, is only promoting distracted driving, not curbing it. I would’ve preferred Google Assistant integration here but I imagine it would have made the system more complex (read more costly).

I got the feeling Smart Sync does more talking than walking

By the end of the demo, I was left with the impression that Smart Sync was more of a glorified app launcher and less of a tool that specifically addressed distracted driving. Only a full review of the head unit will tell us how useful it is in everyday driving scenarios. Until then, I’ll stick to the Android Auto app on my smartphone for calls and navigation while driving, thanks very much.

Vignesh Giridharan

Progressively identifies more with the term ‘legacy device’ as time marches on.

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