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Less is More

I've been using a crappy tape-deck-adapter-plus-cigarette-lighter-charger to listen to my iPod, and the sound quality is bad enough that I finally got fed up. Unfortunately my stock stereo has no iPod hole, so I was forced to replace it.

In order to get the one feature I wanted (better iPod sound quality) I've had to tolerate a huge slew of sad compromises in other areas: the replacement (made by Alpine) has only a single CD, not a changer; it is too bright at night and not bright enough in daylight; and it plays bass too thumpy and treble too searingly.

But all of these drawbacks are a tiny spec on the Windshield of Inconvenience compared to Usability: man oh man, is it confusing. It has less buttons than my old unit, which looks like this:

In this diagram I've labelled each of the Subaru unit's 20 buttons with all of the things that it can do in all of the possible modes of the device. Note that many of the buttons only do one thing, and are labelled as such ("TAPE" only plays the tape. That's all it does.)

Here's the same diagram for my new Alpine, which has only 15 buttons:

It's ridiculous how complicated it is. You probably think I'm being unfair, because it has a "setup" menu that overloads the function of the buttons, but really it's not just that. Every different little thing you do (listen to the radio, choose a song) remaps the buttons completely, and there's little consistency in the interaction. Even the giant wheel (which is the biggest control by a factor of 10) is only sometimes used to select items in a list. Sometimes it's the vertical arrow keys on the left, and sometimes it's the tune buttons.

On the positive side, I feel safe owning my Alpine because who on earth would steal this thing? Or even figure out how to steal it?

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