Feels like a floating iPad but with Alpine Style
I’m always excited by the prospect of new technology and I really dig it when companies, like Apple, released brand new options that make our lives easier. When Apple CarPlay was announced four years ago, it was a pipedream to be realized in real life. At first, it was just an OEM option for a few select luxury car manufacturers to include as a stereo option, but now, it’s available as a third-party option with after-market stereo installs. Two years ago, I invested in a system that supported CarPlay and it’s been a fantastic addition to my truck’s ecosystem. It makes longer trips much more bearable and I love being able to connect so directly with my phone while I’m on the road.
A few months ago, while I was at CES, I learned of a brand new system that was being released from Alpine — the iLX-F309 (HALO9). I was immediately intrigued because the first aftermarket radio I ever bought for myself was an Alpine stereo. At the time, it was the height of technology. Its screen lit up along with its green buttons and it felt like such a whirlwind of awesome technology. That ancestor of the HALO9 can’t hold a candle to this brand new Alpine system. The iLX-F309 is an outstanding piece of technology that makes me enjoy driving once again.
Revealed at CES 2018, the iLX-F309 is an impressive car stereo unit with a 9-inch touchscreen. Alpine was the first to hit the market with a 9-inch system back in 2014, but it was targeted to trucks and SUVs only. The iLX-F309 is designed for many different vehicle types without needing custom installation. It earned the name “HALO9” from its signature 9-inch screen and ability to ‘hover’ in front a vehicle’s dash.
The HALO9 has a beautiful 9-inch WVGA touchscreen which only uses an adjustable mount attached to a 1-DIN chassis for installation. The default position has the screen’s sliding mount pushed out with it sitting at a 90-degree angle. The bottom of the screen is then centered with the 1-DIN chassis. The screen hovers over or in front of the dash and consumers have the option to position it 20mm deep and up to 30mm higher (or lower) than the default position. The hovering position gives the deck a clean and modern silhouette. The screen can be tilted between four pre-set angle points (45º, 20º, 0º, -20º).
The HALO9 comes equipped with Apple Car Play and Android Auto for seamless, hands-free incorporation of the most popular mobile phone technologies. The deck also has an HD Radio tuner built-in with an option for SiriusXM radio (with the addition of a separate module). Maps, music, messages, and phone calls are controlled from and displayed on the HALO9’s touchscreen.
The system is also compatible with Bluetooth technology for audio streaming and hands-free calling features. A USB port is included with the HALO9’s cable bundle for connected video or audio playback, an AUX input, and HDMI input. The HAL09 has a mech-less design, which means that there is no CD/DVD slot, but one can be added with a player that is sold separately.
In addition to the standard Apple Car Play and Android Auto apps, there are a few popular apps such as Waze, Spotify, and Amazon Music that are accessible through the Alpine Unit. You have the ability to customize the shortcuts that appear on your touchscreen so that you can have your most popular audio sources and phone settings available at a simple touch.
There are several different expansions that you can install to customize your system. Some of these modules include:
- iDatalink Maestro: Ties into your vehicle’s main computer so that you can display vehicle information on the screen. You can review information like steering wheel controls, tire pressure, and engine codes right on the Alpine’s screen.
- KAC-001 Accessory Controller: This turns your Alpine into a command center for all your vehicle accessories. There are eight individual outputs available for relay connected accessories.
- KCX-C2600B Multi-Camera Selector: The stereo has a rear camera input so if your car doesn’t come with a pre-installed backup camera, you can easily add one in by tying it into the Alpine.
- 9-inch WVGA capacitive touchscreen
- Audio, video and Bluetooth® feature set
- Works with Apple CarPlay®
- Android Auto™ now with the Google Assistant
- HD Radio™ tuner built-in
- Made for iPod® and iPhone®
- SiriusXM-Ready™ (SXV300 Connect Vehicle Tuner Kit sold separately, SiriusXM subscription required)
- Pandora control from iPhone® and Android™ smartphones
- FLAC/MP3/WMA/AAC/HE-AAC music playback via USB
- Alpine TuneIt® App integration
- BT Plus Bluetooth® wireless technology with audio streaming
- My Favorites feature provides custom shortcuts to favorite audio sources, places and phone numbers
- Touch screen control of electrical accessories via KAC-001 External Accessory Control Module (sold separately)
- 4-way swipe action graphical interface control
- Touch screen control of multiple camera systems via KCX-C2600B Multi-Camera Selector Interface (sold separately
- One HDMI input
The iLX-F309 arrived in a fairly standard box. The box was blue and white with an image of the device posted on the front. Basic information about the product was showcased on the box as well. It’s a very large box but it houses not only the stereo, but also the manuals, cable bundles, and hardware needed for the installation. When you first open the box, you will be greeted with manuals and a small box that contains the radio’s body. Below that is a special bubble wrap that is very firm. This was included and designed to provide a protective layer for the screen, which was in another box and wrapped in a nice cloth to protect the screen from any surface scratches.
After the unit arrived, I had about a week to wait before my installation appointment. I worked with a company called Z Tech Audio+. The installers and management were great to work with and even they were excited about working with the HALO9. One thing I want to point out here is that – yes, you can complete the install without a professional installer. That said, I would recommend against that unless it’s something you are very familiar with doing. I’m no stranger to mechanical work but after seeing the amount of wiring sent along with the unit, I felt overwhelmed. Even the installers at Z Tech said that the install would be a bit much for someone who new to this type of stereo.
Z Tech’s mission was to remove the old Pioneer deck I had and replace it with the new Alpine HALO9. I also requested that they hard wire in a Lightning cable for easy connection to CarPlay, install a rear camera (using the KCX-C2600B Multi-Camera Selector mentioned above), and add in a dash camera. The Lightning cable and dash camera were small utility items that I requested because I wanted to have the wires hidden. While this doesn’t really affect the installation or function of the HALO9, I wanted to mention this because you should plan this process out with the end in mind since you might want to hide wires like I did.
After the installation was completed — because of the extras I requested, it took around 7 hours — the experience of the HALO9 is all about playing with the features of this radio. Being an Apple user, I was planning to make good use of the CarPlay function. The Pioneer deck I had before had CarPlay as a feature but it was a bit on the slow side. I found myself getting frustrated with it more often than not and as a result, I didn’t really care to use it. When I got into my truck for the first time after the HALO9 was installed, I was shocked at how responsive the touchscreen was and how well CarPlay actually worked. This was what CarPlay should have been the entire time.
In addition to how responsive the Alpine is, I found that the menu structure is much better than what I had used before. They are user-friendly and navigating from radio to CarPlay to Bluetooth when needed is easy and seamless. I had a full experience with CarPlay but wasn’t able to test out Android Auto. The reason for that is because there is only one USB port on the unit and I had it dedicated to the Lightning cable for my iPhone X. Most people would likely route the cable extension that is included with the bundle out so that they could use it with any USB cable type.
My phone connected easily through Bluetooth and I didn’t have any issues with it reconnecting when I would get in and out of the truck. The only issue I really had was with the Bluetooth Pandora option. Even though my phone was connected through Bluetooth, for some reason I continued to get the “no Bluetooth device connected” when I tried to access Bluetooth Pandora.
With a product like this, it’s difficult, if not impossible to complete any benchmarking tests but I can tell you that it sounds remarkable. This unit is built for streaming and it does a great job with it. I’m hard of hearing so pristine audio quality is essential for me to be able to enjoy it. I’ve listened to everything from spoken-word podcasts to heavy rock ‘n’ roll and everything sound phenomenal. Alpine actually includes numerous ways to adjust your sound output so that you can have the sound exactly how you like it.
The HALO9 is quite an upgrade for me and I don’t feel that you can go wrong with it. Based on its versatility, it will fit in almost any car or truck and the screen is so responsive, you will swear that you are using an iPad. I was a bit let down that there was only on USB output port on the unit as I would have liked the flexibility to hide my Lightning cable as I did as well as be able to have a second USB connection that is flexible. I was also a little let down by the fact that the iDatalink Maestro turned out to not be compatible with my truck. I was looking forward to being able to monitor my truck’s systems from the HALO9 screen. Other than just a couple of hiccups, I’ve been absolutely amazed by this system and still find it amazing. If I ever decide to sell my truck, the HALO9 will be coming with me to the next vehicle I buy.