Kenwood DNX-7200 & KCA-BT200 review

In 2008, a 6.95-inch touchscreen in a 1997 Toyota MR-2 T-bar felt like the future..

For my own experience, I am comparing the DNX-7200’s inbuilt satnav with TomTom, CoPilot and Smart2Go (Nokia Maps’ source) as stand alone or PDA applications – specifically running TomTom and CoPilot on Windows Mobile devices and the E90’s inbuilt application, and the standalone TomTom 510. First thing to get out of the way is that Garmin’s user interface, whilst not as obstructive as CoPilot, is nowhere near as good as TomTom’s. You will not be impressed if you’ve been using a recent TomTom unit and hope to get the same quality of display and UI without the cables and mounts required. However, the software does do everything required of it, and has some nice touches.

My last experience of satnav, aside from the 510, was attempting to use a Windows Mobile based HTC Advantage with TomTom software. The GPS fix took between 5 and 10 minutes typically, and the system used power so quickly that it actually drained the battery faster than it charged. Eventually I gave up on it as a bad lot; the Nokia E90 that replaced it comes with Nokia Maps, however this costs money to use on a “regular” basis (you pay for a period of map access) and is on less than perfect hardware for driving. As such, when I first test-installed the DNX, I was delighted to see the car had obtained a GPS fix despite my fitment of the antenna in the rear window (which is not sloped) and being in a poor location. This is what having integrated satnav should be like; ready the instant you switch it on. Well, at least, once you’ve tapped the box saying that you’re not going to sue Garmin/Kenwood if you drive into a lake or crash whilst distracted by all the pretty colours.

Quick access to controls

You probably won’t be distracted, however. Once a route is programmed, the system sits in the background and works very efficiently. The map display is not as “smooth” as a TomTom device, but offers a dynamic zoom function that shows the route in the sort of scales that let you know if you’re near, or far, at a glance. Secondary information is crudely presented – partly a function of the low resolution display – but again, clearly readable. You’re not overwhelmed with information; if you want more, there’s a handy “Trip Computer” display (for business drivers, this can be very useful, allowing multiple mileages to be tracked). Day/night mode changes automatically, and EGNOS is supported – not sure if that works in Scotland, but either way, when my Nokia E90 would show four satellites, the DNX-7200 was tracking 6 or more.

Routing has a tendency to favour slightly odd roads around the Borders, assuming that a rural B-road that goes diagonally across two points on a major road might be worth using – but in cities it should prove very useful, with Text To Speech (something only provided on more expensive TomTom models) reading out street names and information as you drive along. A nice touch is the “you have arrived” speech, which if you have specified a house number will tell you if it is on your right or left. Full UK postcode entry is supported, and map updates are available, albeit at a price (but considerably less than the cost of a car manufacturer update set).

The satnav, like the bluetooth hands free option, can be set to talk through front speakers – either both, left or right – but not the rear. In most cars, this is utterly logical; in the MR2, it made it necessary to alter the volumes somewhat. Speed controlled volume is available as an option too, allowing the system to lower its voice as you slow down. There is no integration of this function within the radio, which is a shame but demonstrates the still “lots of components in one box” approach, rather than “one really powerful component” arrangement that may be possible with future developments.

Since part of this article looks at cost; the integrated satnav is probably genuinely equivalent to buying a Garmin preloaded with the full Europe map set – or about £150 of equipment – but with a faster fix and tidier installation, and a significantly larger screen than the portable devices. As a standalone device it would be hard to choose the Garmin over TomTom’s range, as an integrated device it works well – if you’ve never used TomTom, it will do everything you want and you won’t care about the slightly cruder user interface. The DNX 8200 may improve further upon this, but at the current street prices the DNX-7200 is going to represent a significant saving over any new model.

It’s worth noting that with experience the Garmin does reveal some useful customisation features and touches – whilst these are not wholly obvious within the menu structure, they are there. The Garmin’s large, clear buttons have also received random praise from users who haven’t become accustomed to a particular system, so don’t assume that my comments about how “pretty” the user interface is will translate into any drawbacks for a new user.

Naturally, people DO care about audio quality, but this review hasn’t mentioned it particularly. No doubt you’re wondering why – and the simple answer is, I have no way, beyond my own ears, of testing it. My car has ten year old Japanese OEM speakers in it and no form of amplification or additional channels. To judge the Kenwood’s audio performance this way would be downright unfair. However, in the context of “a replacement headunit” it works well – it has good, strong output with a sensible and subtle EQ system available when needed. For the audio installers, Kenwood’s extensive range of amps, speakers and accessories will allow this to be the hub of a fairly impressive setup – at a price – and with some advanced control options for certain Kenwood amplifiers and modules. Even as a radio, the DNX impresses, with a clear display, sensible handling of presets (I programmed them. I know was P1-P6 are. Therefore, I don’t need the screen to be dominated by a text list of stations – though if I want to browse for automatically-tuned stations, there is a display option that lets me do it; grouping FM1-3 presets into a handy list) and extremely good reception and stability – including the downright rare (in my experience) situation of it happily getting a couple of MW and LW stations with good, clear reproduction; this is with the GTM-10 installed too.

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