Aftermarket head units have been available for decades at this point, and support for both Android Auto and CarPlay has become commonplace for nearly every option bought today. Typically, these head units can be quite affordable, but they can also get very expensive, and if you don’t have the experience, they can even require the help of expensive professionals to install into some vehicles.
For some time I wanted to add Android Auto to my wife’s car, as her Hyundai Elantra is from that awkward time when touchscreens and Android Auto weren’t particularly common, but Bluetooth and AUX connections were standard. However, my last attempt to add an aftermarket head unit didn’t work very well. It was when I spent some time with Spotify Car Thing earlier this year that I thought about how cool it would be to have a similar device, but with Android Auto.
Apparently, those devices exist! And they’re actually quite easy to use.
For the past few months, my wife has been using an external 7-inch Android Auto unit in her car that mounts to the dashboard and supports the wireless form of Android Auto. It connects to its AUX connection to route audio through the car and takes power from a regular car power outlet.
It took literally seconds to even install it. The included windshield mount proved perfect in my wife’s car, but you can also use it as a dashboard mount or get creative with some DIY placements and other mounting options. This is actually just a small tablet running Android Auto.
Of course, this isn’t the prettiest setup out there. The “IYING” device I got for her was one of the few options available earlier this year and doesn’t exactly have the best design. It’s very simple, but it works. The two cables that hang slightly add to the unexceptional look, but they’re no worse than a charging cable you’d use to keep a smartphone on while running Google Maps on a dashboard mount.
How does it behave? Quite admirable, on the whole.
The device turns on automatically when starting the car. Stock software isn’t exactly great. It looks very generic and forgettable, but it has some useful features. You can mirror your phone screen or use this device as a traditional Bluetooth head unit to add wireless audio support to a car that doesn’t have the feature. The unit also supports adding a backup camera, but we didn’t decide to give it a try, as it obviously complicates the setup / installation process a bit.
The integrated 7-inch display is up to the challenge of being used in the car as well. I can’t describe it as super bright, but it’s bright enough that you can use it on a sunny day without a problem reading what’s shown. However, it’s simply a 1024×600 panel, so it’s not particularly sharp in any way. The only quirk I quickly noticed is that the top of the panel cuts out some parts of the UI, but that doesn’t actually hinder usability at all.
Meanwhile, Android Auto, when used wirelessly with its Pixel 5, generally appears to start up within 40-60 seconds of turning on the vehicle. It’s a bit slower than what’s built into my Subaru Crosstrek paired with a wireless Android Auto adapter but not too shabby! The only problem is that you will have to manually press a button to bring up Android Auto on the screen, and the pop-up can sometimes expire.
Android Auto works without any noticeable lag and on its daily commute to work, it tells me that it generally works very reliably.
The main point of contention with this device was the phone calls. It might just be his car in particular, but incoming phone calls seem to ignore the AUX connection and instead try to run over Bluetooth. As a result, he cannot hear the call and has to switch the output to the speaker or earpiece of the phone or restart the call from his boss. I couldn’t completely narrow down why this was happening, but reviews of this device seem to confirm we’re not alone in this experience. Unfortunately I haven’t really found an acceptable solution for this. The only thing that has worked so far has been using the built-in FM transmitter which results in drastically worse audio quality than the AUX.
Is it a puzzle? For its limited use, not really. But it could be for you.
But for the roughly $ 250 we spent on this device, it was a worthwhile investment. She likes to have the maps easily in view without having to leave her phone in the heat the whole time she’s driving, and it was certainly easier to install than a more permanent option.
Also, months after buying this device, more options appeared and the prices went down. The IYING device we purchased can now be purchased for just over $ 200.
We have yet to try others, but there are some ready to buy on Amazon. 9to5Mac had a great experience with Intellidash Pro on the CarPlay side and there is also an Android Auto model. “Carpuride” has a larger device that looks pretty smooth and there are also options that cost around $ 100 or less. Personally, this is a form factor that intrigues me – would you buy one?
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