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Sony's new MirrorLink-enabled car head units put your smartphone in the dashboard (hands-on)

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We spent some time with Sony's new XAV-701HD and XAV-601BT MirrorLink-enabled car A/V units, which mirror your smartphone's screen from your dashboard.

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Sony's announced a number of new products this week at CES, including two car entertainment systems with MirrorLink smartphone integration. Sony's XAV-701HD and XAV-601BT feature 7-inch and 6.1-inch WVGA touchscreens, respectively, along with Bluetooth connectivity and the expected assortment of car stereo features. Where things get interesting is how they interact with your phone.

If you're not familiar, MirrorLink is an industry standard backed by various car manufacturers, as well as consumer electronics companies like Nokia, LG, and Samsung. It works with Android and Symbian phones, and aims to allow greater interoperability between mobile devices and cars — in this case actually mirroring your phone's screen on the head unit via Bluetooth. Sony was showing off several features, including the ability to control your phone's turn-by-turn navigation app, music player, and the Pandora mobile app. For the most part MirrorLink worked as advertised, though there was a noticeable delay between touching the screen and seeing it respond. Developers will also have to specifically integrate MirrorLink support, so you aren't going to be playing Angry Birds on your dashboard out of the box.

As for the demo units themselves, we found them frustrating. Their UI was laggy and over-stylized, and we accidentally launched apps when simply scrolling from one screen to the next. Take that kind of experience off the floor of CES and put it into a moving vehicle, and it sounds like a recipe for road rage. That's not to mention that the units we saw were actually connected via USB rather than Bluetooth due to preliminary software issues; we can't help but think responsiveness will be even worse when wireless. iOS is also left out of the MirrorLink party, though both units do offer some limited integration for iPhone and iPod Touch owners.

Ultimately, these were demo units; Sony isn't even expecting to receive its MirrorLink certification for several more weeks. With a spring ship date, however, the company will have plenty of time to tighten things up. The XAV-701HD and XAV-601BT will retail for $700 and $500, respectively.