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FULLY FEATURED AT LOW DOLLARS: A RECIPE FOR SUCCESS?



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Is there anything a head unit can’t do these days? The Mongoose Q260 is the brand’s current top of the line head unit, double-DIN sized, with GPS, CD and DVD playing, music, video and photos from a range of media, hands-free Bluetooth telephone operation, and expandability. All for just under a thousand dollars. Wow!

EQUIPMENT

The Mongoose Q260 is dominated by a large LCD display. A CD/DVD slot runs across the top, with a narrow column of controls and connections sitting to the left, thanks to the majority of cars in the world being left hand drive. Dominating that column is the rotary volume control – really, the only thing to have in car – which doubles as mute and power. Also on the panel are the disc eject key, the selector for the GPS system and the menu key (effectively, the home page). At the bottom is a flip-out panel which reveals a MicroSD card slot, a USB socket and a 3.5mm A/V jack. Even though this supports video, its main use is for the ad hoc plugging in of audio players.

The 6.2 inch (157mm) display is presented in a 16:9 (1.78:1) aspect ratio. Mongoose specifies the resolution as 800 by 480 pixels, which would make for a 5:3 (1.67:1) aspect ratio if the pixels were square. There doesn’t seem to be much room for the top and bottom of the screen to be masked off, so I guess the pixels aren’t square. The screen is, of course, touch sensitive so for a lot of your interaction you won’t need to stretch that far.

The four amps are rated at 41 watts each into 4-ohms, but you can ignore them if you like and make use of the pre-outs to feed separate amps.

In addition to the front inputs there are three wiring looms. A fixed one is for AM/FM antenna (you get 30 presets), microphone in (for hands-free calls), USB and reversing camera in. You supply the reversing camera, the microphone comes with the unit. An iPod/iPhone 30 pin to USB plus video adaptor cable is provided (it also works with a Lightning cable, but you’ll have to supply that). If you’re using the video connection, this should be attached to the video input on one of the other looms.

The main loom uses standard ISO 10487 connectors for loudspeakers and power (the unit requires switched power on pin 4, unswitched on pin 7, rather than the other way around). This loom also has loose wires for steering wheel controls (there’s a setup facility in the head unit to associate on wheel controls with the unit’s operations) plus reverse and brake, in case you want to wire in some operational restrictions. The final loom is all input and output: pre outs for the four channels plus subwoofer, video out for a rear display, and A/V in.

In addition to entertainment, the Q260 provides GPS navigation using the Sygic system. A separate antenna attachment point is provided, along with the receiver unit on the end of enough cable to allow effective placement.

PERFORMANCE

The unit was very intuitive in use. I do prefer rotary volume controls to push button ones, and it took only a moment to work out that a quick press on it muted the sound, while holding it in switched off the unit. The main display screen needs a positive press on control spots rather than an iPad-like brush of the finger.

It was clear and bright from any reasonable viewing angle. Sometimes I thought the ‘Home’ button at the top left of the screen was a touch too close to the body, making it a bit hard to access. But that also made it very easy to select by touch alone without looking. There are a bunch of wallpapers you can choose from, plus there are adjustments for screen brightness. Audio format support is pretty basic: MP3 and WMA, and that’s it. If you keep your music collection in FLAC or, more likely, the .m4a-tagged version of AAC that iTunes prefers, then you’ll need to duplicate it in MP3 (or WMA) if you want to use it with USB or microSD. Or just use your portable player to serve the music up to the head unit. iPod, iPhone and so on can go digital via USB, but how usable this is depends on which device you’re using. The on screen interface is not a good way to get at your music if you have more than a rather small amount. It displays five items at a time and a swipe down style operation is uncertain at best, so you’re reduced to paging down five items at a time.

With several hundred artists and albums, that makes for slow progress. If your player is iOSbased, that doesn’t matter too much because you can just do your selections from the device’s screen. But the head unit takes over iPod Classics and Nanos, so the only way to control them is via the Mongoose’s interface, or by unplugging the player to select music, then plugging it back in.

Unless you start the player in ‘Song’ mode, and you happen to know the track number. I discovered that of the 4607 tracks on my old iPod Classic, number 666 was Black Sabbath’s ‘Killing Yourself to Live’. If you’re not too fussy, you can just select ‘Random’ and enjoy a sampling of your iPod’s contents.

There’s a 12-band equaliser to tweak the tonal balance of the sound to best suit your car, speakers and the kind of music playing, as well as to beat road noise. The spacing of the bands is a little haphazard, with some quite close together. At the bottom, the gap between 60 and 80Hz is only about 4/10ths of an octave, while the space between 2500 and 10,000Hz is a full two octaves. That said, you have some flexibility due to the adjustable ‘Q’ for each frequency (a smaller ‘Q’ broadens the band of operation, a larger Q narrows it).

There are two ‘Custom’ presets for this, plus five named presents (including ‘Flat’). Adjustment is a little complicated, presumably due to the adjustable ‘Q’. Rather than just dragging the sliders up and down, you select one of three groups (strangely named LPF, MPF and HPF – low pass and high pass are not at all what they do). Then you select the frequency to be adjusted within the group and raise or lower it as required by tapping on the + or – marks. Needless to say, we would suggest you don’t try this while on the move.

On the same page is the balance adjustment, with a convenient drag-able icon. You can move it around on a neat map of the four speakers. You’re generally going to nudge it more accurately using the arrows, though. There’s also a separate slider for the subwoofer output level (if you have one). Missing are facilities to time align the different channels.

The crossover frequency for the subwoofer is in the ‘Settings’ menu and you have four options for this: fl at, 160, 120 or 80 hertz. This switches off or sets the low pass filter to the subwoofer, but not a high pass filter to the other speakers. Pity, since they will generally be just wasting power that could be used for the higher frequencies.

I used the Q260 both with and without subwoofer. Even without, it sounded rather good, with plenty of volume on tap and good clean sound. Bass remained as strong as the speakers permitted and was well controlled.

In operation, the DVD player worked smoothly, with a decent enough picture quality. If wanting to get really picky, I’d note that it clearly converted the 50Hz field rate of Australian DVDs to 60 hertz, making camera pans a little jerky. But, really, if you want home theatre, go home. Since the DVD (and other video) image fills the screen, control requires a tap on the screen to bring up the on screen controls. The unit also supports MP4 and Xvid video from other media. As always, the practice depends on the precise details of the encoding. It worked with an older low resolution MP4, but not with a relatively recent full HD one from the mobile phone.

The Bluetooth connectivity was useful, although somewhat fraught with the usual uncertainties surrounding Bluetooth. You can pair several devices and just pick the one you want to use from the menu. I tried it out with an LG Android phone and an iPod Nano. The phone paired and then connected easily, and then worked as you’d expect, playing music, pausing it when a call came in, resuming after the call. The hands-free microphone attachment worked clearly, although between the mobile via the Bluetooth connection and the Telstra network to the land line, and back again, there was a latency of around a second, so it was a bit like one of those satellite phone interviews you see on TV.

When I tried connecting the iPod, the Mongoose appeared on its screen, but it wouldn’t appear on the Q260’s screen until I hit the ‘Settings’ button and then returned. It seems that it required the screen refresh.

It played music perfectly well too. Of course you can control the iPod or phone with keys for play/pause and track skipping from the Mongoose’s on-screen controls. However I had trouble handing things back to the LG phone afterwards. It connected, but the audio still came from the phone itself. Eventually I worked out that skipping a track using the control on the Mongoose put things right.

Mongoose issues? LG issues? iPod issues? Who knows. Bluetooth interoperability is a minefield when you’re using multiple devices. If you’ve got more than one, just practice a bit to see what works.

The GPS system took a couple of minutes to fire up the first time while it searched for and found a bunch of satellites, and then it did the usual miraculous task of locating itself in 3D space. The graphics were perhaps best described as utilitarian, but nonetheless effective. The usual facilities of voice guidance to your destination and such are available. You can even take calls via a Bluetooth connection while continuing to use the navigation system.

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The Q260 bearing the rigours of the test bench.

CONCLUSION

If you’re after a Double-DIN well-featured multimedia head unit at a reasonable price, you need to go check out the Mongoose Q260.

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