Last week, some folks from Harman/Kardon stopped by our office to show off a few new products that are going on sale this spring. One builds on a successful product H/K already sells, while the other takes the brand into a new area.
We first reported on the Drive + Play iPod interface last fall, and now there's a second version. The Drive + Play 2 builds on all the things we loved about the original model, and adds more usability and some cool new features. The first thing you'll notice is the new 3.5-inch color screen, which will display album art just like your iPod. Rather than a large, awkward box that worked as central command with the D+P 1, the new model uses a small hub mounted on the cigarette lighter, making for a quick and easy, transferable install. On that hub, there's plug for a satellite radio or Bluetooth adaptor, but those add-ons aren't yet available and pricing hasn't been announced. One thing you won't notice with the new unit is many wires-the control knob and the central hub communicate with each other wirelessly, although the display screen still requires a wire.
In terms of software, one important feature differentiates the new model. A new dynamic channel creator sorts through the connected MP3 player and creates different playlists based on genre and tempo. If the mix is too broad, a command allows the user to narrow the style, or even just play one particular artist.
But, as with most things, the Drive + Play 2 has a downside. The original unit will still be sold alongside the new one, at prices between $150 and $200. The new one will cost $400, or more if you want to add Bluetooth or satellite radio. The premium doesn't quite seem worth it to us.
Harman/Kardon's second (and more appealing) product is a navigation unit called Guide + Play. For the same $400 as the Drive + Play 2, the G + P offers navigation, plus a hard drive for music and videos. The unit's four-inch touch screen is easy to use and offers a surprisingly high resolution for the price. A build-in lithium-polymer battery lasts five hours. We found that it was easy to navigate through the different menus, and the map system seemed quick and intelligent. For music and videos, a CompactFlash card of up to 4 GB can be inserted for memory. Unfortunately, you'll need a wire to listen to music through your car's stereo-there is no FM modulator built in.
We plan on getting our own copies of both of these new products, and will report back when we've spent some time with both. Stay tuned.