In This Article: We'll unbox and review Sony's XAV-AX8100 touchscreen head unit, walk you through the unboxing process with images, detail all of its key features including how to play video and multimedia on the unit, and provide our opinion and insight along the way.
- Unboxing the XAV-AX8100
- The Oversized Screen
- Single DIN Source Unit
- Connectivity (Inputs, Outputs and Multimedia)
- Adjustable Mount
- Visual Customization
- What's Missing or Could Be Improved?
In January of last year, I reviewed a new style of head unit from Sony – the XAV-AX8000. This was Sony's first touchscreen single din head unit that had a screen larger than 8 inches. Nearly a full inch larger in fact. We did a review of the XAV-AX8000 and put it into a Honda Accord if you're interested in reading up on either of those articles.
In April 2021, Sony announced the release of three new/updated head units. Among them was the XAV-AX8100. The XAV-AX8100 is the latest version of it's predecessor, the AX8000, and has a few new features that make even better than before.
In this review, I'll unbox a new XAV-AX8100 and give you a full walk around of the head unit. I'll detail all of its key features, and point out some of the key differences from its sister unit, the AX8000. By the end of this review, hopefully you'll have a good understanding of all of the features that the unit has and will have the information you need to make a decision on whether or not to purchase one!
Unboxing the XAV-AX8100
Unboxing a Sony product has always been gratifying for me. I've unboxed a few head units.. and there's a few manufacturers that almost make you question whether or not the product was B-stock or a used unit with how they package the product in the box. And since you might be dropping upwards of $600 if you purchase this head unit, it might be helpful to see what the product looks like before you pull the trigger.
So in this section I'll give you a detailed look of the AX-8100 as I open it up and detail my first impressions of the unit, what stood out, etc.
First off, the XAV-AX8100 comes shipped with:
- Single-DIN source unit/chassis
- 8.95″ Touchscreen monitor
- Wiring harness with 6.5′ parking brake wire
- 3-Wire to 3.5mm SWC adapter for steering wheel control
- 52″ USB extension cable
- 23″ USB extension cable
- Remote control (RM-X170) with battery included
- Microphone w/ visor-bracket (attached 12′ cable terminated by a right-angle mono-3.5mm connector)
- Surface bracket
- Four M5 x 6mm ISO-screws
- Four M4 x 6mm machine screws
- M3 x 8mm machine screw
- 2 Rear-panel covers
- Cable-cover (pre-installed)
- Operating Instructions
- Warranty Information
- Installation Note
Here's a look as I unboxed the unit for the first time with all of the components inside.
As always, Sony's presentation of the product is on point and they know how to package the components in the box to really make you feel good while you open it up. When you open up the box of the AX8100 for the first time, you're slammed in the face with a massive 8.95″ screen. Exactly what you want to see. All of the components are neatly packaged and sealed. You almost forget about the source unit entirely until you pull everything out.
The screen itself comes detached from the source unit so when you pull everything out and install it you'll need to assemble the two. We'll dive into more detail further in the article about the mounting mechanism for the screen.
What I like about how Sony packages everything is that it's all custom moulded and the screen is wrapped/sealed and then additionally covered with a screen protector to further protect the touchscreen. The only thing that's missing (kinda) is the owner's manual and installation instructions that you traditionally would see with these head units. That's because they have a digital version online that you can find. I guess it save's paper, right?
The Oversized Screen
These oversized head units that come packed in a single din source unit/chassis are becoming increasingly popular. It's a great option considering what the newer vehicles off the lot look like. Tesla's massive screen is what comes to mind first. Everyone wants a bigger screen that's easier to see with more functionality.
Sony takes you a few steps in the right direction towards that new ‘big screen' norm with their huge LCD resistive touchscreen. The screen measures 8.95″ diagonally, or 7.79″ x 4.39″. It's a TFT Active Matrix LCD screen with an 800 x 400 (dot) resolution, 16:9 aspect ratio and 500 contrast ratio. 800 x 400 resolution isn't exactly 1080p but proportionately, it actually looks really nice when you're playing video.
Resistive vs Capacitive Touchscreens
For those who might not know what a resistive or capacitive touchscreen is, here's a quick overview. Per wikipedia, a resistive touchscreen is a touch-sensitive computer display composed of two flexible sheets coated with a resistive material and separated by an air gap or microdots. So, when you touch the AX8100's screen, you can somewhat feel the flexible sheets as you push down. In comparison, when you touch your iPhone's screen is like touching a hard piece of glass.
One of the benefits of a resistive touchscreen is that any object that touches it – nails, pens, hands with gloves, etc – will trigger the touchscreen. It's the easiest, most universal type of screen between the two which makes it (in reality) more ideal for the automotive use case. The downside is that the layers of flexible sheets that enable the ‘touch' can change the way that the screen looks and the quality of the image.
On the flipside you have capacitive touchscreens. And the easiest way to describe them is to reference your iPhone or smartphone. iPhones have capacitive touchscreens, which use an electrical charge to detect touch and movement on the screen. Most folks who own an iPhone know by now that not every surface will trigger the phone's touchscreen. That's because you have to touch it with something that's conductive for it to work. Nails, pen tips, etc aren't conductive so they won't work.
What's nice about a resistive touchscreen is that it registers touch from anything. For example if it was cold out and you were still wearing gloves until your car warmed up, you'd still be able to use the head unit to it's fullest. Again, more ideal from a user-friendly perspective but capacitive will give you a higher quality image at the end of the day.
When you flip the screen upside-down, you'll see where the business side is for multimedia inputs. First, the USB is positioned on the right side behind the screen. This is covered by one of the plastic panels that comes with the unit and is meant to be wired behind the dash and then back out to wherever you want your USB to be placed in the car. You could also just connect your phone or USB directly to it and forget the wiring back through the dash too..
Then, on the left side of the screen you'll find the most valuable input of all – the HDMI input! When I heard they were adding this to their units, this was the first thing that came to mind: 🙌🏼. Yea that emoji. I'll talk more about the HDMI functionality later in the article but it's in an easily accessible location. The only thing I don't like is that if you wanted to make a clean install of it, you really can't. You just plug it into the bottom of the head unit and that's that. The wire will always be showing. But on the flip side, it's easy to remove and change the HDMI input if you were just looking to attach and detach it.
For a lot of people, anti-glare hits a soft spot for one reason or another. I can say that the screen definitely is anti-glare and will resist against glare better than screens that don't have anti-glare. But at the same time, just like there's no avoiding the sun in your eyes coming over a west-bound ridge on the road just before sunset, you're not going to get an anti-glare anything at certain times of the day. Have real expectations. It's definitely better than not having anti-glare, I'd probably say even 50% better. But it's never going to 100% prevent glare.
Single DIN Source Unit
Once you remove the screen and all the components from the box, you'll find the source unit tucked underneath. And what I like about all of the new single din, double din and oversized head units from Sony is that the source unit for everything is compiled within a single din chassis. This opens up installation capabilities to so many vehicles that would otherwise be stuck with a flip-out touchscreen or standard single din stereo.
Here's a few photos of the source unit.
Connectivity (Inputs, Outputs and Multimedia)
The XAV-AX8100 has all of the connectivity features you're going to want in a unit. The inputs and outputs make for a high performance audio system while the Bluetooth, HDMI and USB connectivity make for an incredible multimedia system. Starting with the back of the source unit (not the back of the screen), you have:
- Rear-view camera
- Sony proprietary input (for things like Sirius XM via the SiriusXM SXV300V1)
- Steering Wheel Control (SWC)
- Radio Antenna
- 5-channel preamp outputs (5-volt):
- Mono sub
- 5-channel preamp outputs (5-volt):
Now for the fun part! Why would you want a multimedia head unit that makes it hard to play multimedia formats, right? The XAV-AX8100 has both HDMI and USB inputs to really expand the use of this unit to a wide variety of multimedia inputs. HDMI and USB inputs are located on the screen itself which enable a ton of new features in addition to Bluetooth:
The XAV-AX8100 is one of the few head units on the market that now feature an HDMI input. This was really one of the key missing components when I reviewed the AX8000 unit back in January 2020. Now that it has HDMI, I can honestly say this is probably one the of the most well-rounded head units on the market for the price.
Having an HDMI input enables you to connect all of your favorite sources of video and gaming directly to the head unit. Yes, you can connect your Playstation, Switch, Xbox or Nintendo directly to the head unit! You can connect your phone too, which is what I did to access apps like YouTube, Netflix and AT&T TV while on the road.
To see a full demo of the HDMI capability, scroll to the top of the page to watch our video where I demo YouTube, Netflix and AT&T TV using an iPhone with an HDMI to Lightning adapter. The possibilities are really endless.
We demoed the HDMI functionality in our video at the top of this article, but in the images below I'll show you what AT&T TV, Netflix and YouTube look like while hooking into HDMI. You can also use the HDMI as a replacement to WebLink – when you hook your phone up to HDMI it'll mirror everything your phone shows in real time without any delay. With HDMI, I don't think I would use WebLink with my iPhone as much. The only pitfall to HDMI vs WebLink is that with HDMI you still have to control everything via your phone. For example AT&T TV – I opened up the app, found the channel I wanted to watch and then selected it. Only then would it play the channel I want full screen on the XAV-AX8100. The App functionality is not extended to the touchscreen whenever you use HDMI.
As far as the image quality goes, it's really good. I won't say it's 1080P or 4K worthy but it's fantastic given the size and application.
When you're playing video via HDMI or UB you can also adjust the screen settings, brightness and etc.
If you'd prefer to download your videos, audio or imagery to a USB device or hard drive, the XAV-AX8100 can handle that too. You can upload your favorite videos, music videos or music directly to a USB drive and then access it directly from the device. This is an alternate way to play video if you don't want to hook your phone or other device up via the HDMI input.
Here's a what the USB functionality looks like when you have a video uploaded to a USB drive.
Bluetooth on the AX8100 is what you'd expect it to be today. Adding a new device is easy and quick – it took me less than 30 seconds to do it from start to finish. Bluetooth functionality includes:
- Streaming music on your app of choice from your phone or Bluetooth device
- Hands free phone calls and text message responses/readouts
- Voice command
That said, streaming music and hands free calls/text messaging on an Apple device is still a little better when you plug your phone or device into the unit via USB. Bluetooth is flawless on this head unit, but streaming quality somehow always improves when you hook it directly into the USB.
Apple CarPlay & Android Auto
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto has just about become standard in new vehicles. And when you sit in a friend's or family member's new vehicle, see a new feature you like, you're going to want it in your own car. Even though I still think that CarPlay and Android Auto are in their infancy and are a significantly slimmed down version of the apps that you use on your phone, here's a few reasons why they are really helpful:
- Navigation: Even though we maintain a list of the best GPS navigation head units on the market today, the reality is that you don't need one if the head unit has CarPlay or Android Auto capability. In fact, the navigation via CarPlay and Android Auto is better – it uses Google Maps, Waze or Apple Maps which you're likely much more familiar with and is constantly being updated. I would almost go as far as saying DON'T get a GPS nav head unit if the unit has CarPlay or Android Auto.
- App Compatibility: Although the app features are ‘lite' versions of what they'd be on your phone, they're still super helpful to have on your head unit. Developers are juggling between functionality and distraction which is why they are still ‘dummed down' versions of what they'd be on your phone. But even so, it's really helpful to have even 50% of the functionality of apps like Spotify at the tip of your fingers on this 8.95″ touchscreen instead of scrolling through your phone.
- Audio Quality: Bluetooth is great but for some reason or another if you're going for audio quality the best way to achieve that is to start with a hardwired connection (aka USB). Right now, CarPlay and Android Auto still require a USB connection so the audio quality is still going to be better.
I won't get too deep into Apple CarPlay or Android Auto because it's all but the same no matter what head unit you're using it on but you can read up more about why you need Apple CarPlay or check out our best Apple CarPlay and Android Auto Head Units.
The one thing I wish this head unit did have was wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. This tech is still in its infancy today but not having to connect your device via USB to access CarPlay and Android Auto would be another game changer.
All of the new Sony multimedia units come with WebLink compatibility. For those of you who aren't familiar with WebLink, it's basically another way to share your phone's screen and functionality on the head unit's screen. It also has a number of pre-set applications similar to what you'd see in Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.
In order to access WebLink, you need to download the WebLink app and then plug your phone into the USB input. On the second page of the homescreen you'll see the WebLink icon. Once you click on that icon (and if you have the app installed) it'll open WebLink up and you'll have access to all of the WebLink apps. Apps vary but on my screen there were a couple notable ones:
You could also ‘cast' your screen from your phone to the head unit as well. This essentially copies what's on your screen to the head unit's screen. I find this feature now more than ever less useful. Especially with the addition of an HDMI input that does exactly what this is trying to, but with no delay or limitations. For example, if you use the WebLink cast to try to play video from Netflix it'll block it from appearing on the head unit screen. You can hear audio but the screen is black.
WebLink is a nice connectivity add, but at this point I think that for the average user of this head unit it's really just a redundant feature with HDMI and CarPlay/Android Auto.
Since the XAV-AX8100's screen is an oversized screen that won't fit in most dashes, Sony engineered a mounting mechanism that allows you to control three key positions. In the photo above you see three different controls of the mounting mechanism:
- Tilt: depending on your dash angle, you can tilt the unit + or – 10 degrees.
- Depth: depending on how deep the head unit mounts in your dash you can control how far the screen protrudes from your dash – between 1.57″ and 2.36″
- Height: your dash might have buttons below or above the head unit. The height control will allow you to adjust for the position of all of the other buttons and features on your dash so that you don't have to reach behind the screen to push the hazard lights button (just as an example)
Here's a few more photos of the mounting mechanism.
Audio Features – Setup, Output and Tuning
The XAV-AX8100 is set up for both your non-amplified and amplified setups. For those who are looking to upgrade their existing stereo and use the head unit for power, the AX8100 will pump out 55W x 4 channels of peak power and 20W x 4 channels of RMS power. This is a good amount of power for a head unit. Only a few units crest the 20W RMS mark and most sit between 15-18W so 20W x 4 is above average power.
For the people looking to amplify their setup, you can leverage the 5v RCA front, rear and mono subwoofer outputs on the back of the unit to signal your amplifiers. 5V is the new standard for high-quality signal output so this is a good thing to see.
Like it's sister model, the AX8000, the AX8100 has a 10-band equalizer to give you a great range of control over the sound output whether you're amplifying or not. In the Settings > Sound > EQ10/Subwoofer section, you'll find your 10-band eq with a variety of presets. These presets are predefined by Sony to align with certain genres of music to make it easy for you to choose and flip through depending on what you're in the mood to listen to. This includes, Pop, Hip-Hop, Rock, Jazz, Electronic and more.
If you're an installer or more tuning and audio savvy, you can also customize each of the equalizer's 10-bands yourself. I'd only recommend this for people who are a little more experienced with tuning because, even though it may be pretty unlikely, you could potentially damage your system if this is done incorrectly.
To customize the EQ, you simply tap and drag each band to where you want it to go. And on the right hand side of the EQ, you can adjust the Subwoofer gain if you have one installed.
Dynamic Stage Organizer (DSO)
One of the unique features to Sony head units is their Dynamic Stage Organizer, or DSO. This feature was designed for speakers that are built into door panels, that vary in their distance away from your ears, or are generally mounted lower/further from where you're seated – anything that might alter the way that the speaker sounds as a result of where they're installed. With DSO, the frequency output of your speakers is altered to make the speakers and sound more natural given their placement. It's meant to make the sound appear as if it was coming from your dashboard rather than your feet. Sony calls this “virtual speakers in your dashboard”. There are four adjustments – low, medium, high and off.
For each setting, there is a noticeable difference in the sound and where the sound “appears” to come from. The higher the setting, the ‘higher' the sound appeared to come from. Literally. Your setting will be dependent on where your car's speakers are positioned and how far they are away from you.
Other Audio Features
Although these are pretty standard on every head unit, here's a few snapshots of some of the other features like fading/balance and crossover control.
The crossover control on this head unit is really straight forward and simple. It gives you a decent level of control of the output to your speakers. I will say that this head unit is incredibly strong in its connectivity and multimedia functionality, but doesn't break out the audio/tuning control as well as a head unit that might be designed for competitive or high performance audio. In the crossover section you can basically control a high pass, low pass and subwoofer phase depending on how you installed your subwoofer. On some head units, this section alone would break out into three or four different tabs of control, with control of each channel output (e.g. rear, front, sub, etc). This head unit'll do everything you're going to want it to do for 90% of all the stereos out there. But, if you're building a competitive or super-high performance system you may need to add a separate DSP that you can really control each channel output. Rare use-case but worth noting.
How the screen looks in your dash and how you can customize it to your liking is another important factor to head units like this. The home screen in particular is the most prominent and important screen on the unit and likely the one you're going to see most often.
Sony allows you to customize the the wallpapers now by uploading any photo you'd like via a USB drive. It's pretty simple too. You navigate to the Settings > Visual > Wallpaper then click on the ‘+' on the selection on the bottom right. From there, you'll be taken to the USB drive that you connected to select and upload the photo. Done! Here's a few snapshots of me uploading and selecting a wallpaper.
The one thing I'd still love to see from these Sony head units is RGB buttons. The control buttons on the bottom of the screen are permanently white, which look good in pretty much all vehicles but it would be great to be able to make those buttons match the interior button colors of your car.
Steering Wheel Control Customization
Another cool feature worth noting is Sony's SWC feature. Sony provides you with a wire harness that will attach to your vehicles existing steering wheel control wiring, which can then be interpreted and custom set for each control. This type of wiring may require an expert installer to identify and tap into your vehicle's appropriate steering wheel control. But it makes it much more universal and allows you to get SWC without an added adapter if your vehicle is compatible.
What's Missing or Could Be Improved?
When I did the review of the AX8000 only a year ago, my top two complaints about the older unit were video streaming and wallpaper control. Sony actually addressed these two biggest complaints of mine in the AX8100 this year!
That said, I think there's a couple things remaining that would make this thing even more amazing:
- Wireless CarPlay/Android Auto – Some manufacturers are doing this now. Connecting your phone to USB to access CarPlay is a drag. I'd love to have all the features wireless so that I don't need to pull my phone out of my pocket when I get into my car.
- Audio control – In my review I mentioned this unit might not be the ideal choice for a competitive or super high performance system without adding separate DSP control. Why not bake some more of that functionality into the unit to make it more rounded?
- Button Colors – The white is classy but for folks that might have a german red-orange or other color interior it'd be nice to match these button colors to make it look OEM at night time.
- Video Outputs – Now that the unit has HDMI capability, it'd be nice to see the unit have some outputs that can be used to extend the video to things like headrest monitors or flipdown monitors.
I still have the XAV-AX8000 from when I installed it in my Honda Accord commuter car last year. From a functionality perspective I love it. The AX8100 is just an upgraded version of the unit I already love. Sony really bumped up the appealability by adding in HDMI though. All things held constant I'd re-buy this head unit just to get that functionality in my car.
Pound for pound, I think that the AX8100 is one of the best bang for your buck on the market right now with things like the oversized screen, multimedia functionality, CarPlay/Android Auto, etc. I highly recommend this unit if you're seeking an oversized screen in your car with all the latest tech.