Sony XAV-AX100 is the company’s first aftermarket receiver that works with Apple CarPlay. Priced competitively at $499, XAV-AX100 features a 6.4-inch resistive touch display that rivals larger capacitive touch screens in quality. Sony has also integrated CarPlay in better ways than other aftermarket receivers available so far. Read on for our full review…

Sony XAV-AX100 is in my opinion the most tasteful aftermarket CarPlay receiver on the market. It uses a physical knob for controlling volume, its non-CarPlay UI looks similar to iOS, and Sony doesn’t even force a brand app icon on the CarPlay Home screen.

Having a physical volume knob is a win for ergonomics. Rotating the knob to adjust the volume is much easier when driving versus feeling for notches on flat buttons that feel similar to seek buttons. XAV-AX100’s volume knob also doubles as a physical button that activates Siri when held down as an alternative to CarPlay’s virtual Home button.

Press the volume knob just once and a slide over window flies in on top of CarPlay with options to change the sound source from CarPlay, the AM/FM tuner, or no sound. This lets you manually set the audio source even if audio is playing from the connected iPhone.

Another option here lets you choose between one of two bass enhancement audio profiles, set the audio equalization, or turn the display off without affecting audio playback.

XAV-AX100 also features dedicated hardware buttons for skipping (click) or seeking (click and hold) tracks which can be found below the volume knob, and a button labeled HOME switches between CarPlay and the stock Sony user interface. You can hold this button down anytime to power XAV-AX100 on or off during use.

You won’t see CarPlay UI when controlling the tuner or using a connected backup camera, and there’s a full settings menu that lets you customize the Sony home screen wallpaper and much more.

Sony’s stock UI doesn’t feel like using a totally different product from another era like other CarPlay receivers. The iconography and style all look like a mix between iOS and modern Android (XAV-AX100 also works with Google’s Android Auto) which isn’t common in car infotainment system UI.

Even the volume level UI is as unobtrusive as you could image with a minimal black and white slider popover at the top of the display (CarPlay doesn’t include its own volume level indicator).

Sony’s integration with CarPlay is top-notch especially for an aftermarket receiver. For example, pressing the phone icon from Sony’s home screen will launch the CarPlay Phone app when CarPlay is connected. Sony’s now playing icon will similarly launch Apple’s Now Playing app when the last played audio source comes from the connected iPhone.

You can clearly tell which modes are CarPlay and which screens are part of the Sony experience, but the difference flows well and isn’t visually offensive like interfaces on competing aftermarket receivers.

My favorite subtle difference is that Sony doesn’t include a brand app icon on the CarPlay Home screen for switching between modes. That function is instead mapped solely to the buttoned labeled HOME. It’s a small thing, but it makes the whole experience feel better integrated to me, especially when the Sony UI looks as modern as it does.

Other CarPlay receivers have brand app icons that can’t be removed without rearranging to a second Home screen, and hardware buttons usually match the functionality.

My only real issue with XAV-AX100 is its screen size and type. XAV-AX100 features a 6.4-inch display, but you can find 7-inch and larger displays that are more legible at a distance.

XAV-AX100 is also resistive touch which is the less preferred option compared to capacitive touch screens. Resistive touch screens are generally less responsive, feel flimsy under your finger, easily dirty and perform poorly in bright lighting. Sony used a very good version of resistive touch, however, as you could almost be convinced its capacitive … almost.

XAV-AX100 feels super responsive to the touch, the receiver itself is very speedy which helps, and the color is very rich (if not a bit too saturated). It does become smudgy over time, but regular cleaning prevents fingerprints from making XAV-AX100 illegible in sunlight.

With that said, I would gladly pay a couple hundred dollars more for a larger capacitive touch version with the same hardware buttons and software design.

There’s also the issue of wireless CarPlay. XAV-AX100 is a wired CarPlay receiver so you need to connect your iPhone over Lightning each time you get in the car. Alpine’s upcoming iLX-107 aftermarket receiver will include wireless CarPlay and a 7-inch capacitive touch screen for $899 when it hits the market sometime this month.

Sony made a decision to create a budget-friendly aftermarket receiver for its first CarPlay option, but I’m personally hoping for a larger, capacitive touch version with wireless CarPlay for the next version. Alpine’s version is priced almost twice as much, but $900 is still competitive for the specs compared to other solutions on the market today.