Alpine ILX-700 / ILX-007 CarPlay Receiver Review
The ILX-700 (also known as the ILX-007 in the USA) is Alpine’s first aftermarket in-car stereo receiver that features Apple’s CarPlay platform. Currently retailing at £439 in the UK ($559 US) it maybe their first, but fresh out the gates they have managed to tick many boxes for the CarPlay enthusiast.
Out of the box, the shallow depth form factor of the ILX-700 becomes immediately apparent. Without a physical media DVD/CD drive, the unit is extremely short in its depth when compared to most other headunits available today. Without the optical drive it is also fairly light weight, but if depth is a primary concern in your vehicle, the ILX-700 maybe your best option for you right now.
At the front end of the ILX-700, we have a 7″ (800×480) capacitive touch screen display, one of the very few capacitive display systems on the market today that can run Apple’s CarPlay. The display comes with an anti-glare coating on what appears to be a glass screen. It’s bright enough for both day and night use and this can be dimmed via the system’s settings menu. It also has a handy auto-dimming function that will adjust the screen’s brightness automatically to your car’s current interior lighting.
Running along the bottom of the display are two physical buttons, one being a dedicated button for Apple’s voice activated assistant – Siri (which is very handy!) and one larger ‘home’ function button to switch back to the system’s own menu screen; where you can choose between CarPlay, AUX and Radio modes. Sandwiching either side of these two buttons are two pairs of capacitive touch buttons, one pair for volume up/down and another pair to skip forward/back.
Around the back the ILX-700 has slightly fewer ports than most other CarPlay receivers, due to its reduced connectivity and functions. Included inputs are: AUX and reverse back-up camera, steering wheel and microphone inputs, front/rear/subwoofer output connectors, an ISO connector and USB port to connect to your Apple device. All cables, mounting brackets and cable connectors are supplied in the box, including a USB extender cable that will allow you to place the USB female port to an accessible location inside your vehicle – should you wish to do any future firmware upgrades or customisations to the ILX-700.
Installing the receiver into your vehicle can be tackled either by yourself (if you’re up for the task!) or by a qualified audio expert. I chose the latter and had local experts, Huets in-car technicians, who did an excellent job of installing the Alpine ILX-700 into my 2011 Audi TT, with the help of some additional parts from Celsus ICE car audio accessories. So with the receiver installed, let me tell you how the Alpine functions…
Switching on the vehicle, the ILX-700 powers up and displays its Alpine-branded launch screen. This launch screen can be customised, should you wish to have a more personal or alternative launch screen when the receiver powers up. You can read up on how to do this in my customising your Alpine ILX-700 launch screen article.
Once in the system’s main menu screen, you’re presented with a clean and clear Apple-like menu interface that looks in harmony with Apple’s own iOS devices. This is because Alpine has worked with Apple to bring us this Apple-like interface. This menu keeps things simple and easy to navigate over the more complex, and quite clumsy, menus found in other aftermarket brands.
The main menu contains the main functions of the Alpine, be it either to start the FM/MW/LW Radio, connect to CarPlay (if an iOS device is connected) or enter AUX mode (if available, and it can be renamed), whilst switching into reverse will launch the back-up camera functionality (if installed). If some of these options are not available they are either dimmed automatically or you can hide them via the system’s settings menu. Without an AUX connection I had just two options on my display – Radio and CarPlay.
The radio is pretty straight forward. There are options to save and store up to 30 FM/MW/LW preset channels, with 6 channels per band, each lining the bottom of the radio’s user interface. A swipe to the left gives you additional radio commands to toggle Traffic and News Alerts, alongside other radio functions you’ve come to expect in modern digital radios. Manually navigating frequency or presets can be done with a tap of the left and right side of the touchscreen display (or via the steering-wheel buttons), whist station information is clearly displayed in and around the middle of the screen.
It is worth highlighting the benefit of replacing your stock in-car system with an aftermarket receiver. It can greatly enhance your in-car experience over your default stereo system. The Alpine really delivers in the audio department, more so than my Audi Audio Navigation Plus system with stock BOSE speakers. With a variety of audio options and presets, the Alpine is able to reach low into the bass range and kick a richer and warmer listening experience than my Audi system could ever achieve. Without a CD drive, the Bass Engine SQ and Media Xpander’s variety of options on the Alpine helps to bring added life to any digitally compressed or streamed tracks from your connected device as well as live radio.
The real reason you’re here though is CarPlay isn’t it? So let me tell you all about that…
It is worth highlighting that CarPlay is an evolving software platform that lives on your Apple iOS device, not in the receiver itself. So whichever aftermarket receiver you choose to install in your vehicle, the OS experience will be the same throughout – Don’t let any dealer tell you otherwise!
We will see over many days, months and years, Apple’s CarPlay experience continually evolving via regular iOS updates. The same can be said with CarPlay compatible applications on your iOS device, these too will have intermittent updates from its developers that will usher new features, improvements and functionality to their CarPlay experience.
I will not report on CarPlay itself on the Alpine because, what is written today can change or could be improved upon next month with software updates, so be sure to read our other articles for opinions on Apple CarPlay OS, its app updates and changes to Apple’s CarPlay platform with each new iOS update.
The CarPlay experience on the Alpine ILX-700 is great though. The capacitive touch screen gives you an almost near sense of using your iOS device in your vehicle, although its responsiveness to touches could be improved upon. Alpine has also chosen to not use inertial scrolling in its content lists, which could be seen as a nod to safety in the car. An option to turn this ability on/off for users (to decide for ourselves) would be useful here, because you come to expect a similar iOS device feel when scrolling, so it can take some little getting used to at first.
As someone that doesn’t have AUX input or a rear camera installed in my vehicle, I can’t really comment on the performance of those two features on the Alpine. However, going by the options in the Alpine’s settings menu for these features, there are plenty of options to customise and fine-tune your experience with both of these modes; be it brightness, contrast and colour for AUX and Rear Camera modes, to setting up parking indication marks for the reverse camera. It would have been nice to see contrast as a global setting option though, because the Apple Maps app can appear a little washed out in its colours during daytime driving and I would have liked to brighten things up a little.
The Wireless CarPlay Myth
There has been talk that the iLX-700 has a hidden Bluetooth/Wi-Fi chip for Apple’s wireless CarPlay functionality, but seeing as we’ve not had any new updates for this system since launch, to turn this feature on, I feel the technology Apple requires has evolved since wireless CarPlay was announced. Which is odd, considering Alpine worked closely beside Apple on this partuiclar system.
If this piece of tech does exist, then we should have had Bluetooth enabled already in this receiver, because without it, for some people, the lack of this option might have sent prospective buyers looking else where.
But do we need wireless CarPlay? Having used CarPlay for a few weeks now, I feel that wireless CarPlay will be more of a convenience than a necessity. Once the disconnected appeal washes away, you’ll eventually want to have your iPhone plugged in. Why? Well, with the iPhone connected you’ll always have it charging, and considering that all CarPlay apps running on the headhunt screen is coming from your phone, you’ll be running out of battery pretty sharpish on long journeys with some moderate to heavy use (such as running maps whilst streaming music). It would be great to see an update for the ILX-700 come to unlock these features, but I won’t be counting on it, or even be too disappointed if it didn’t arrive!
Let’s Wrap Up
Climate control, AUX and Rear Camera functionality aside, and without an optical drive or bluetooth, the Alpine ILX-700 is mainly a dedicated CarPlay unit, and yes it does CarPlay very well. So if you’ll be using this receiver mainly for CarPlay, like I am, then you can’t go wrong for the price.
Yes there are a couple of slightly cheaper aftermarket receivers out there that also give you bluetooth audio streaming, CD/DVD playback, DAB radio and some other bells and whistles, but if it’s CarPlay you want, for me, Alpine has delivered a more than capable receiver.
With a large, glare-free, capacitive touch display, a vastly improved sound stage over my ‘professional’ stock Audi headunit and an iOS like native interface, the Alpine ILX-700 has the edge over other currently available CarPlay compatible systems in the same price range.