Review of CDX-GT630UI

For about a year now, the factory radio and 6-disc CD player in my car has slowly been dying. So on January 10th I finally bit the bullet and purchased a replacement system — an in-dash car MP3 player which I have been wanting, but which was never very high on my priority list until now. So this is my review of the unit in questions: the  Sony Xplode CDX-GT630UI–the good, the bad, and the not-so-particularly-optimal.

Read on for the full review.

Before purchasing, I spent some considerable time researching in-dash MP3 players and looking for a good local store that could install it for me (I didn’t really want to bother with that part). The MP3 player needed to have a nice aesthetic appearance and a good display, as well as sufficient support for multiple input devices. While don’t own an iPod, it would be nice to have a system I knew I could plug an iPod into. While most in-dash MP3 players only play MP3s off a burned CD, I wanted one that supported some kind of solid-state memory device, such as either an SD memory cards or a USB drive. My first preference was for one with SD memory cards support, as SD memory cards (like those used in cameras) are tiny and unobtrusive. But I only found a small handful of MP3 players that supported SD memory cards, and I really did not like the other features on those units or their appearance. On the other hand, there were quite a view in-dash MP3 players on the market with USB memory stick support.

Ultimately, I settled on the Sony Xplode CDX-GT630UI. The GT630UI seemed to fit most of my criteria, lacking only the mythical SD memory card support. It also supported iPods through the USB port (although it does not have a separate direct iPod connection interface like a few of the more advanced models do). I also ordered the smallest, least obtrusive USB memory stick I could find–the 8 GB PicoDrive from SuperTalent, which is quite literally an inch long. I’m sure a few years from now we will balk at memory sticks with 8 GB, but for now the 8 GB PicoDrive is sufficient for storing the majority of my music collection, and I can always buy more if I need too.

For the most part, the GT630UI operates as expected. It comes with a good manual that allowed me to set up the configuration with around 20 minutes of work (some of which was just me playing around with the settings). One thing I found interesting was that you could change not only the brightness of the back-lighting, but the color as well. However, it has only 2 colors: blue and green. It would have been nice for a wider color range, such as red, orange, yellow, purple, or gamma-ray… well, on second thought, maybe not gamma-ray. At any rate, I stuck with a blue back-light, which was the factory default.

Actually using the GT630UI is a bit of a mixed bag. The interface is not what I would call intuitive, but a review of the manual does make the operation of the controls fairly clear. Embarrassingly, I struggled to figure out how to skip forward and backward on the tracks. It turns out the “buttons” for track forward and track back do not look like buttons at all, being smoothly blended in with the contour of the far left side of the unit. The track forward button is particularly difficult to push due to its proximity to three other buttons–the off button, the “zap” button, and the input source button. Half the time I push the track forward button I end up pushing one of these other buttons as well, which is extremely frustrating. And no, I do not have fat fingers. This problem is usually due to the fact that I am trying to watch the road while driving and just end up pushing the wrong button since the smoothly blended track forward and track back buttons have absolutely no tactile feel whatsoever. All the other buttons on the unit are raised buttons, so why they would make these buttons flat and “tactilely invisible” is beyond my reckoning. I also strongly dislike the tiny size of the numbered buttons along the bottom of the unit, which also double as various sound mode, album up and down buttons, and display mode toggles, and are very difficult to find by feel while driving.

On the other hand, I do like the album and track scrolling capability. One simply needs to hit the browse button (I don’t know what the buttons is really called, but that’s what I call it) then used the large wheel to scroll up or down through the folders and songs. Pressing the wheel will select whatever folder or song you have scrolled to. If a song, it will begin playing; if an folder (aka, an album or directory of albums) it will enter that folder and display its contents (which could be other folders). I have my songs organized by Genre, then under each Genre the Artist or Band, and under the Artist or Band the individual albums. Sony’s scroll wheel for the GT630UI makes it easy for me to navigate even through this 3 level deep folder/album structure.

One small complaint that I have is that the GT630UI beeps at me whenever I shut off the car. “Beep-boop Beep-boop Beep-boop.” It drives me crazy, and there is apparently no way to shut that off. The unit does have beeping feedback whenever you press a button or click the scrollwheel, and that beep can be turned off. However, even turning that off does not make the beeping go away when I turn off the car. It also does not matter if the GT630UI is switched off at the time I shut off the car–it still beeps. I can only assume that it’s just saying goodbye in its own beep’n way.

But what really urks me about the GT630UI is the way it orders the MP3s. The GT630UI, like most if not all in-dash MP3 players, does not support playlists. I have no idea why they don’t, but it would be a tremendous improvement if they did. But, since the GT630UI does not support playlists, I figured, as any reasonable person would, that the unit would simply play the song’s in alphabetical order. Thus, I prefixed the file names of the songs in my albums with the track number, such as 01, or 02, or 03, and so forth. Surely, then, it would play them in their correct order. But no. The GT630UI just seems to play the songs in whatever order it feels like, without any apparent rhyme or reason. It is not playing them randomly, however, and does consistently play the songs in the same wrong order every time. Nor is it playing them by the file’s date/time stamp (I check that too). I really have no idea what kind of song ordering scheme the GT630UI uses. If someone knows, please let me know! It’s driving me bonkers.

Ultimately, I cannot recommend the GT630UI to anyone. Most of the problems I can live with, but the weird song ordering scheme is the death-blow as far as I’m concerned. I will not get a GT630UI in my next vehicle, and I will make darn certain whatever unit I do get in the future will have a sensible and logical means of ordering songs (either by playlists or alphabetically).

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9 Responses

  1. TheRetroSpectrum says:

    What you need is a program called ‘DriveSort’. The GT630UI uses the order the files were written onto the drive as the order it plays them in. This can be easily changed, and your songs can be arranged like a playlist very, very easily using DriveSort. There are alternatives to DriveSort, such as FatSort and FolderSort, but DriveSort is by far my favorite, as I haven’t had issues in Windows 7 or Vista with it (as I have with the other two)

    Here’s a link to DriveSort – Hope this helps.

  2. Brad says:

    Regarding the ordering of songs when playing from a USB drive. This unit (like most other stereo MP3 players) plays songs in the order that they appear on disk. Unfortunately Windows doesn’t show you this ordering or let you modify it, but there are free tools you can use to accomplish this.

    See this article for details:

  3. Turrboenvy says:

    I’ve had this stereo since January, and I really like it except for the button layout. The button layout is by far the worst aspect. I can’t even change tracks while wearing gloves. “NO DON’T ZAP! DAMN IT!” Even worse is hitting source, because then you have to cycle back through to USB and wait 30 seconds for music to start playing again. It takes longer than when you turn the stereo on the first time. I’m contemplating ripping out the zap button and making the source button shorter somehow.

    The order is, as others have said, the order the files were copied. The problem is that Windows, regardless of how you sort the files copies them in some undefined order. (or is it the same, by what they were copied?) I actually wrote a little program that will sort and copy the files in the order I specified. This is a common thing. My brother-in-law’s Clarion does the same thing.

    The lack of playlists is frustrating, but again a common thing. I read some Kenwoods support playlists (set up in software), but they do so by copying the files into different folders to SIMULATE playlists. If you want playlists, the iPod USB control will let you use the playlists on your iPod. It’s too bad iPods are so expensive and then I’d have to use iTunes. Bleh.

    It’s not all bad, though! I tried out a number of USB stereos, and this one was one of the fastest to browse. I love love love the browse feature. I also love the full-device shuffle. I shuffle the whole 4gb of music until something strikes me and switch to shuffling that folder. I read that Kenwoods would only let you shuffle the current “album,” but not the whole device. I use the Green backlight because it’s not as bright as the blue — very distracting at night.

    @Peter, no that doesn’t turn it off, that only turns off beeping when you hit buttons.

  4. Peter says:

    I sent a note to Sony abut this and they say the player will play the songs in the order it reads them. That really means that it doesn’t play them in the order they are on the memory stick. Who wrote that code? Crappy. It’s my last Sony.
    P.S. the beep is to remind you to remove the faceplate and it can be turned off by going through the setup. It’s in the manual. Beep on/off. Enter Setup by pressing and holding the vol knob and then cycle through until you get to the beep setting and rotate the vol knob until it shows as “off”.

  5. J Cooper says:

    I would love to get an in dash MP3 player but I refuse to buy one until playlists are supported. I want to get in the car, insert a USB drive with 30 gig of music, pick a playlist and go. It’s just ridiculous to not have that feature.

  6. Ben says:

    I was initially very excited to find out about this unit. The feature set and price looked very good, but the little issues are holding me back. Leave it to Sony to throw in something annoying like the beep and spoil an otherwise good product. According to the manual (available at Crutchfield), “The alarm will only sound if the built-in amplifier is used.” I don’t plan on buying an amp just to avoid this; finding another deck will be cheaper.

    From looking at the manual for another MP3 capable player, it seems tracks are played in the order they are burned to the CD.

  7. ratchetcat says:

    The GT630UI, like most if not all in-dash MP3 players, does not support playlists.

    Seriously? That’s totally unacceptable. If an MP3 player can support playlists, why not a head unit? Good grief.

    If we assume they’re not insane, maybe Sony is trying to dodge the licensing of a patent by not supporting playlists. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if some patent firm owned the rights to a “automobile headunit which features the ability to play digital files in an order determined by the user” or some obvious garbage of that nature.

  8. saintneko says:

    They beep to remind you to take the face off. It’s sort of a mewling, plaintive cry to not leave it desolate and alone in your vehicle.

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