[nextpage title=”Introduction”]

All cars from Honda currently sold in the USA can come with an optional GPS system nicknamed “Navi” featuring GPS navigation with voice recognition (the voice recognition system also commands the audio system and air conditioning). Thru the screen of the navigation system you can also command the car audio system, which supports MP3 files. In this review we will analyze the MP3 feature of the Honda Navi system.

Several car CD players support MP3 files these days, but the advantage of the Honda Navi system is the presence of a big LCD screen, making the selection of songs far easier than a traditional CD player. It also supports memory cards through a PC Card (a.k.a. PCMCIA) slot, feature not found on regular CD players. Even though the Navi system commands a 6-disc CD changer, MP3 support is found only on the CD slot present behind the LCD screen.

Honda Navi MP3Figure 1: Honda Navi system.

Honda Navi MP3Figure 2: CD slot behind the LCD screen. See also the PC Card slot.

[nextpage title=”Media Options”]

So you have two options to play your MP3 files. The most obvious is burning them on inexpensive CD-R media, which will cost only cents. The disadvantage of using regular CDs is the 650 MB capacity per disc and the lower life-span compared to memory cards. Depending on the quality of the media you use you will see the top of your CD peeling off after a couple of years, especially if you leave the CD inside your car. You also can’t delete or rename files on CDs, unless you use CD-RWs (the system is compatible with this kind of media). By the way, Honda’s CD player recognize multiple-session CDs, so you can add more files later if your CD isn’t full. Another disadvantage of CDs is that you need to use a program to write files to them, and the writing process delays a little bit.

The second option is to use a memory card. The advantage of using memory cards is that you will have a higher capacity (you can easily find 16 GB Compact Flash cards around) and won’t use the CD player behind the LCD screen, so you can still install a CD there even with the memory card installed on the audio system. When installed on PCs memory cards are recognized as regular disk drives, so you can easily add, rename or move files around. Another advantage is that if you have a media player that is based on a memory card, you can use the memory card from your player, not requiring you to copy all files to a new memory card.

The disadvantage of using memory cards is obviously the cost. While blank CDs cost only cents the cheapest 4 GB Compact Flash card costs around USD 15 at Newegg.com – which is a great price, by the way; you won’t find 4 GB in retail stores like Best Buy for less than USD 60. If you have a media player that uses a memory card to store files you can use it and save some money.

You will also need a PC Card (a.k.a. PCMCIA) adapter, which will allow you to install your memory card in the slot available on the car, another USD 9.00 cost. The problem of using a PC Card slot is not only the extra cost of the adapter, but the fact that laptops nowadays don’t use this kind of slot anymore (PCMCIA slots were replaced by a new kind of slot called Express Card). So it is just a matter of time for these adapters completely vanish from the market. We can’t understand why car makers simply don’t put a Compact Flash slot on their audio systems instead of putting an obsolete slot that also generates an extra cost to the consumers – this problem affects the whole industry and not only Honda.

Honda Navi MP3Figure 3: PC Card adapter and Compact Flash card.

This adapter uses by default Compact Flash memory cards and we recommend you to stick with Compact Flash. If, however, your media player uses a different kind of memory card (SD or MMC, for example), you will need to buy an adapter to convert the CF slot present on the PC Card adapter described on the above paragraph (and shown in Figure 3) to the kind of memory card you have. Another cost, unfortunately.

And you will need an adapter to install the memory card to your PC, so you can copy files to it. Some desktops and laptops have already a built-in memory card reader (see Figure 4); if this is your case no extra adapter will be necessary. This adapter also won’t be necessary if you have a laptop with PCMCIA slot. If your computer doesn’t have a memory card reader, you will need to buy an adapter to install your memory card to any available USB port. One interesting option is an internal multiple card reader or even a floppy disk drive with built-in memory card reader (portrayed in Figure 4).

Honda Navi MP3Figure 4: Desktop with multiple card reader.

We were very detailed on the above explanations because the User’s Manual doesn’t explain anything about the required adapters and how to use them.

Honda Navi system can only recognize up to 999 files. While this number seems to be high in fact it isn’t, especially with 16 GB Compact Flash cards around.

[nextpage title=”Using the MP3 Player”]

The MP3 player works just like any other MP3 or CD player, including an option to play the files randomly.

Honda Navi MP3Figure 5: Playing MP3 files.

But one big advantage of Honda’s MP3 capability over regular CD players with MP3 support is the use of the big Navi LCD screen, especially when you want to navigate and list the files present inside the CD or memory card.

Honda Navi MP3Figure 6: Choosing a song.

But the highlight of Honda’s Navi MP3 capability is its search feature, which we haven’t found on other cars with MP3 support we’ve seen to date (we haven’t researched all cars available on the market, so there may be cars around there with the same feature). You can search songs by title keyword, artist or album, see Figure 7.

Honda Navi MP3Figure 7: Search options.

If you select the first option, Title by keyword, a small keyboard will appear, allowing you to enter the partial name of the song you want to listen to.

Honda Navi MP3Figure 8: Searching songs by keyword.

[nextpage title=”Using the MP3 Player (Cont’d)”]

The second option is amazing. The audio system can automatically recognize artists if you save all your MP3 files using the format “artist_name – song_name.mp3.” This is an outstanding feature especially when you have literally hundreds of files inside your CD or memory card. When you click on the artist name, the system will list all songs by this artist it found in your media.

Honda Navi MP3Figure 9: Searching songs by artist.

Honda Navi MP3Figure 10: All songs by a given artist (The Cure, in this example).

The third search option, Album, allows you to list all songs that belong to the same album, similarly to what happen to the search by artist feature. This option is particularly convenient if you have several songs by the same artist on your collection.

The only thing we didn’t like on the system used by Honda is that when you are using the GPS you have an option to see the audio info instead of the current street name by touching the “Audio Info” icon on the screen. We thought the Navi system should list the name of the artist and the name of the song on the bottom of the map, but instead it lists the folder number and the song number. Conventional CDs usually have only up to 20 songs per disc and the CD changer can’t read the name of the artist and the name of the song, so this system makes sense for conventional CDs. But when playing MP3 files it doesn’t make any sense to know that we are now listening to song number 222 (only Rain Man would be able to memorize all songs he had on its CD or memory card).

Honda Navi MP3Figure 11: The system should list the name of the artist and/or of the song on the map, not generic information.

The sound quality of the Honda MP3 feature is excellent and we don’t have any complaints here. Response time between selecting a song and the system start playing is outstanding, almost immediate.

[nextpage title=”Main Specifications”]

Honda Navi System MP3 Player main features are:

  • Media Types: CD (compatible with CD-RW and multi-session) and PC Card slot (a.k.a. PCMCIA slot), supporting any kind of memory card.
  • File types: MP3 and WMA
  • Maximum number of folders: 255
  • Maximum number of tracks: 999
  • Maximum number of layers: 8 (including ROOT)
  • Sampling frequency (MPEG1): 32, 44.1 or 48 kHz
  • Sampling frequency (MPEG2): 16, 22.05 or 24 kHz
  • Sampling frequency (WMA): 32, 44.1, 48 kHz
  • Bit rate (MPEG1):  32, 40, 48, 56, 64, 80, 96, 112, 128, 160, 192, 224, 256 and 320 Kbps
  • Bit rate (MPEG2): 8, 16, 24, 32, 40, 48, 56, 64, 80, 96, 112, 128, 160 Kbps
  • Bit rate (WMA): 32, 40, 48, 64, 80, 96, 128, 160, 192 Kbps
  • Real manufacturer: Alpine

[nextpage title=”Conclusions”]

The MP3 player embedded on the Honda Navi system is simply amazing, presenting a terrific audio quality.

The highlight is its searching feature, which automatically recognizes artist names and album names, allowing you to search by artist, song or album. We haven’t seen this feature on other cars.

The support for memory cards is a nice feature to have, even though it is expensive for most users due to the cost of the memory card and the adapters needed to install the memory card on the card and to install the memory card on your computer. But it may be a handy option if you want to have hundreds of songs without the need of replacing CDs or if you already have a media player that uses a memory card to store its file and you want to use the same card on your car.

We don’t understand why car makers insist on using the obsolete PC Card (a.k.a. PCMCIA) slot instead of just putting a Compact Flash reader, forcing you to spend money on an adapter.

The unit is limited to 999 files, which isn’t hard to reach when you think that 16 GB Compact Flash cards are easily available.

Another thing that could be better is the audio info section on the bottom of the GPS map when the GPS is being used. We think it would be better to have the name of the artist or song there instead of “Folder 3 – Track 222,” for example.

In summary, MP3 capability of Honda vehicles with navigation system is above the average and will please almost all users (gadget-freaks would ask why we can’t play videos or DVDs on the LCD screen; this is a good question, by the way).