Sometimes an excellent operating system can be made even better
- Bluetooth, good maps, excellent volume scroll wheel, music player, safety camera warnings
- Chunky and heavy, confusing map display at times, battery life
The AVIC-S2 is well equipped and despite a somewhat confusing map experience, it remains a recommended, if not outstanding purchase.
Price$ 549.00 (AUD)
Pioneer has jumped into the portable GPS market in Australia with the launch of their AVIC-S2 unit. Sporting Bluetooth connectivity for hands-free mobile phone conversations, an MP3 player and WhereIs v14 Australian maps, the AVIC-S2 has a robust feature set but its asking price is a little steep, and the interface takes some familiarisation to get used to.
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The AVIC-S2 uses WhereIs V14 Australian maps, but the navigational software is almost exactly the same as the new Mio range, in particular the DigiWalker C220. Thankfully, Pioneer has redesigned the main menu and submenus to feature clearly labelled icons, so everything is fairly straightforward. However, the map display is confusing, as most of the on-screen buttons are small, and not labelled. Functions like zooming in and out are straightforward, but others are a hit and miss affair, especially for first time users. Much like the Mio DigiWalker C220, the AVIC-S3's instruction manual is definitely a resource worth reading before using the unit.
The WhereIs mapping is loaded onto an included 512MB SD card. We would have preferred them to be loaded onto the AVIC-S2's internal memory, as you'll need an extra SD card if you want to play back music tracks on this unit. You can quickly change the AVIC-S3 map view using the cycle maps icon in the top right hand corner of the screen. The unit offers standard 2D and 3D views, with north up, track up and sky view maps as well. The latter is represented by a picture of a plane and is really only useful for a full view of your closest surrounding suburbs, rather than for actual navigation. The maps have an excellent level of detail, with street names easily readable and the current location clearly marked by an expanding circular beacon, much like an alarm or distress signal icon. An excellent feature is the 'smart zoom' feature, which hones in every time you make a turn to give you the clearest possible view. This is handy when you are at a large intersection or roundabout with many streets going through it, for example.
The AVIC-S3 is equipped with the popular SiRFstar III GPS chipset and we are pleased to report its performance is fairly speedy. During our driving tests, we found the unit took anywhere between 15 and 30 seconds to pick up a signal after being turned on.
The navigational experience is pleasing thanks to clear voice instructions, and the external speaker on the rear of the unit is loud and clear. We also really like the external volume scroll, located underneath the screen; it makes adjusting volume levels quick and easy. There are a wide range of languages to choose from including German, Italian, English, Dutch, Spanish, French and Portuguese. The voices are clear and concise and generally quite smooth, and you can choose to turn on or off the attention tone that sounds before every voice instruction.
When searching for a specific address, the AVIC-S3 doesn't filter suburbs by state, so you are presented with a list of every suburb in Australia. Although it does narrow down the search when you start typing, we'd still prefer to be able to select a state first, then a city. Once the city is selected, the street name - filtered by suburb - can be chosen. The address entry screen uses an on-screen keyboard, but the keys are fairly small, so those with large fingers will have difficulty with precise selection. Once you've selected an address, the destination will show up on the map and you can then start the route, change your starting point, or add a POI.
The usual routing options, such as avoiding tolls, unpaved roads, motorways, ferries and U-turns are all supported on the AVIC-S3. Users can also set a preference for using motorways or normal urban roads and this is taken into consideration when the unit calculates a route. Pioneer has also included up-to-date speed camera and red light camera warnings as well as a safety mode which doesn't allow you to operate the unit while in motion.
Pioneer also plans to release mapping for Western Europe and North America. This means Australian travellers can use the AVIC-S2 to navigate through USA, Canada, Alaska, Hawaii and thirty European countries by inserting the relevant SD card. The SD cards will be available through Pioneer retailers, but pricing it yet to be announced.
The AVIC-S2 includes Bluetooth, so you can wirelessly connect your phone and make and receive calls through it while driving. Pairing is simple and easy, and takes less than a minute to complete. Once paired with your phone, you can use the AVIC-S2 to dial a phone number using a large on-screen keypad, view contacts and call history, and redial previous numbers. While this feature is a handy addition, we sometimes struggled with clarity of calls, especially when driving in noisy areas. You'll have to ensure your windows are closed and noise is minimised to have a clear conversation.
Also included is a basic music player. You can store your music on an SD card, but you won't be able to use the navigational component of the unit in tandem. The 3.5mm headphone jack and touch screen operation are convenient, and the player recognises ID3 tags, supports playlist and has an equaliser with 11 preset options. Sound through the external speaker is poor for music; a decent pair of headphones is advised should you wish to use this function often.
Measuring 102mm x 89mm x 25mm and weighing 180g, the AVIC-S2 is one of the bulkier portable GPS units on the market. It has a distinctive gloss black design, and a button which protrudes from below the display. Despite being a little heavier and bigger than some other units, we quite like the design. It allows for a reasonably sized QVGA display, with a resolution of 320 x 420 pixels and 64k colours. It's one of the brighter and clearer displays on the market, but despite Pioneer quoting an "anti-glare coated" screen, its performance in sunlight isn't the best, and it also has a poor viewing angle.
The AVIC-S2 has minimal buttons, with just the volume scroll wheel, and keys for power, map and menu. An SD card slot, standard mini-USB port for charging and connecting to a PC and a standard 3.5mm headphone jack sit on the right hand side, while a reset button and on/off switch are located on the rear. Battery life is quoted at up to four hours, which is a little disappointing. We experienced closer to three and a half hours, but keep in mind that using the Bluetooth and MP3 functions will diminish this even further. Pioneer includes a window mount, USB cable, in-car charger and an AC charger in the sales package.
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