My car radio upgrade…
What can a $280 buy you? how about an Android car stereo + Navigation, and all the android apps your heart desires. My 40+ minute commute has me in the car for a while, one finds that on these long drives, some interesting audio in the car is pretty important. The stock radio from my 2005 Camry leaves a lot to be desired, no bluetooth, no aux, just a cassette and CD player. Because most of my listening involves ppodcasts or digital files or online streamed radio , I was tiring of my cassette fed headphone jack system, and decided it was time to upgrade the radio. I have more up-to-date 2016 Android Aftermarket car stereo news here.
Infotainment in the news..
Because this page gets the bulk of traffic on my site, I have added this infotainment news section, that I will updated periodically about Android (and IOS) car head units..
Update 2/15/2016: It appears a new promising aftermarket entrant is coming into the market. The folks that brought us paper maps, Rand-McNally , but recently specialized in trucking satnav’s , are offering an aftermarket car infotainment tablet called OverDryve™, which after reading the spec appears to offer a lot of features. Click the link above for a video and more details and pre-order for $399, Expected ship date Summer 2016.
- Update 1/11/2016 : CES 2016 is over an really only one new announcement, Kenwood anounced some after market models.. Read my latest positng here for details
- Update 8/3/2015: I’m was waiting to hear when the Parrot RNB6 (Android Auto/Apple Car Play) unit will be available, it was announced in January at CES 2015 and was very well received but we have not heard much since then , Sadly it appears that the Parrot RNB6 is NOT destined to be an after market Head Unit. That’s a shame, so I guess we’re stuck with these android Chinese radios for now.. or pay for an expensive Pioneer NEX System like this one with crappy performance and support. For now stick with a Chinese unit like the one discussed here
- April 2015: Slowly OFFICIAL aftermarket units supporting Android AUTO and Apple CarPlay are starting to be announced and available:
- Want a kind of , sort of experience like Android Auto (or Apple Car Play), check out Sony XSPN1BT NFC Bluetooth Smartphone Cradle CD In-dash Receiver. It’s basically a car head unit that acts as a cradle for your smartphone. So basically all the smarts come from the phone and the Car head unit basically sends out the sound to the speakers and allows voice control. For $250, maybe its something that’s worth considering. If the screen in your smartphone is large enough , so maybe if you have Samsung Note or Iphone 6 plus this may work.
- Pioneer’s new 8100 NEX receivers include Android Auto’s some of the first aftermarket systems. Sadly these units (apparently they come in a variety of configurations) are pretty expensive starting at $700. Here’s a nice review over at Android Central of the 8100 Nex unit.
- Google also announced Android Auto Application was available in the play store for Lollipop (or higher) enabled devices. But before you head over to get it , it requires a compatible Android Auto head uit (like the one mentioned above) t. The Android Auto App, is simply designed as the two way interface to the Android Auto head unit, its not a stand-alone app.
- For more infotainment news: Engadget infotainment news
Deciding on aftermarket car radio gps head units.
So considering upgrading options, I had a couple of directions to go in.
Aftermarket car audio radios (Head units ) come in a couple of standard sizes Single DIN (180×50 mm) mostly Europe, and Double DIN (180×100 mm). I knew my car supported a double DIN unit, so I knew I had enough space in my dash for a video screen.
First decision, was did I want just a radio replacement? There are a ton of car radio options, then I started considering instead of just a plain radio upgrade, if the price was right I would want a GPS too, after all if I’m going to use that center panel real-estate anyway, why not have a in-dash GPS, as well. So after a bit of research I settled on the Android head unit (Android Ouku 6.2″ Double din car radio gps unit).
If you don’t need GPS or any video capabilities from your in-dash unit, and are just an audiophile looking for quality sound and audio features, you can take a look at the units like Clarion CX501 or PIONEER AVH-X1500 DVD or JVC KWAV61BT 6.1-Inch DVD , these are excellent head units with plenty of audio rich capabilities.
Chinese Android car radios
After doing my research I narrowed it down to a few units and finally decided to give the Ouku (unbranded) Android unit I found on Ebay a shot. Various vendors refer to this brand as Ouku, but its unclear who Ouku is? its likely a generic cover name for some unknown Chinese based manufacturer.
To find these radios search Ebay for Android car radio, you will get back hundreds of units, some are identical to my unit, others have variations, while some may vary in screen size (7″ vs. 6.2) physical layouts (buttons, left or bottom) and screen type and os, most of those units are likely manufactured by one or two supply houses in China and share pretty much identical internals .
While they may be Android radios the software that talks to the radio hardware (tuner, amp) is controlled by a factory MCU firmware, that means you can only use the provided software for the tuner, bluetooth phone and ipod connection, there are no substitutes in the Android play store. This is why its difficult to upgrade to newer versions of Android on these radios, because the MCU firmware is likely not flexible or available for developers to patch and update it to match capabilities of news Android versions. So buyer beware, whatever version of Android comes with these radios is likely the version that will ALWAYS be on these radios.
Android 6.2″ double DIN car radio (Ouku) specifications.
|Display||6.2" TFT LCD resistive touch screen 800×480 (Landscape) 16:9 ratio|
|CPU:||FREESCALE I.MX535D Cortex A8 1GHz Ram: DDR3 512M|
|OS:||Android 2.3.4 JellyBean|
|Radio||45-watt x 4-channel radio receiver AM; FM; RDS; presets; equalizer; remote control|
|GPS||yes – Sygic Android GPS software pre-installed with USA maps (option to use other GPS software available on Google Play)|
|Data Connection||WIFI or 3G USB Modem|
|iPod||Yes Supports iPod; and iPhone via traditional-size connector|
|Bluetooth||Supports Phone calls via built-in Mic; audio playback from Bluetooth device|
|SD/USB/Digital||Supports MicroSD; USB and popular digital files|
|Media Supported||CD / DVD/ AVI/ MPEG4/ Mp3 / WMA / JPEG/ Mp4/ PDF|
Installation of this radio is similar to any car radio, you can install it yourself, if you’re so inclined or take it to a radio installer. If you do plan on installing it yourself, be sure to get the correct wiring harness for your car and DIN mounting dash-kit to make sure the unit fits well and doesn’t look too aftermarket, usually adds $20-50 to the cost of the radio. The radio comes with its own wires (to connect to the harness you get), rca cables, gps antenna and usb wifi/3g dongle, plus a connector for the iPod dock.
Features and performance.
I’ll give you a brief overview of the basic functionality. The unit has a 6.2″ resistive touch screen and is flanked by buttons on the two side. The buttons are pretty well laid out and control the four most important components of the radio and are easily accessible. The buttons are Home (home screen), Radio, Nav (Gps) and Phone (Bluetooth), plus tuner and volume controls.
Radio: Pressing the radio button, launches the radio App which is a digital radio dial with presets. This tuner has a 45-watt 4-channel radio and it sounds just as good if not better than my stock Toyota radio. There are your basic auto-scan (Scan) and preset buttons for the radio stations. There is a band button (on-screen) that chooses between AM,FM1 and FM2 , plenty of slots available for presets. There is also a button for an onscreen equalizer, and fader balance.
- CD/DVD: There’s a slide in slot atop the radio for CD/DVD discs. Works as expected when you insert a CD it launches the CD player and shows the tracks (generic names like TRACK 1 , 2 etc. ) and plays the music. Basic seek and skip functionality is available. It also supports DVD video playback and if you have video display units like on the back of headrest, or in in the center-ceiling like in a minivan, you can send video to those units, I did not test that functionality.
NAVIGATION: The unit comes with Sygic Android GPS , this is a full-featured stand-alone GPS with US maps loaded (no data connection needed). The GPS functions much as you would expect , you plug in an address and it navigates a route there, refer to Sygic link above for more details. If your not happy with Sygic you can use Google Maps / Nav, which works but does require a data connection as the maps and routing are not done on the device, but rather online . Also available from the play store is iGo Navigation, TomTom ($27.99 Play store) and many others. This is only head unit I know that lets you choose your GPS software.
- WIFI/3G DAta: there is a Wifi/3G cable that supports wifi (included) or 3G USB moben (extra) to support data capabilities. If you have a phone that supports tethering you can use it as your wifi data source. I myself use Freedom pop wifi puck for my data.
- MP3/ SD Slot: There’ s an SD-slot for Digital medial playback such as Mp3 files, WMA and other popular digital files. The no-frills player works as expected.
- Pandora & Google Apps: Because this is a true Android device it supports Pandora, Spotify and Google Music, and many other popular Google apps from the play store. The unit I have is resistive so I don’t recommend it for playing multi-touch games, but for typical apps you may use in your car it works well.
Bluetooth Phone & Audio: Pressing the Phone button will launch the Bluetooth Phone application. From this app you can pair it with your bluetooth phone or audio device, once paired you can do the following: Dial out and receive calls hands-free via the Mic . Mic quality was reported good, most callers will know you’re using a hands free unit but all reported acceptable call audio. Your phone contacts can be downloaded into the unit , but it lacks favorites or a decent search capability. I generally launch calls from my phone and then transfer the call to the unit for hands free phone calls. There’s also a button for Bluetooth audio with features very basic spartan controls for pause/play, back and next, sadly no track information is shown.
- iPod, Rear Camera, Steering Wheel controls: I did not test any of these, but it comes with a traditional style Ipod connector, which would go hang inside your glove box, and there are connectors for video and cameras should you have those in your vehicle , also a connector for steering wheel audio controls should your car support that.
A couple of drawbacks…
While you get a lot in this unit, there are a few nagging issues to be aware of…. most are not show stoppers but for some folks they may be cause for concern. The unit is not the most polished when it comes to the interface. Its pretty clear the manufacturer just slapped on an Android OS and then added the custom radio apps, very little was done to make it a polished experience, like you get in some of the higher end Alpine or Pioneer units.
- NOT instant-on, startup time: Unlike a traditional car radio, the unit it not instant-on, Like a tablet or PC there’s a startup time of about 30-40 seconds when you turn on the car, before you can use the unit. Its actually not too bad and the radio will continue where you left off when you last-turned off the vehicle.
UPDATE: See tip/Link in comments… apparently there’s a way to root these things and improve the boot time to about 20secs.
AM Frequencies off: This radio appears to have the AM station frequencies set for European ranges, For example here in the NYC area the news station 1010 WINS can’t be perfectly tuned, the tuner has the ranges from 1008…1017 so it skips 1010, I can get the station on 1008 but its not clear, the FM frequencies are all easily tunable. So if your a diehard of old-school AM double check your station.See tips and tricks section for how I fixed this…
- Volume inconsistencies: The volume setting is inconsistent between the radio and non-radio audio (like Bluetooth,MP3, CD), so for example a comfortable range if your listening to a CD may be 14 (on volume dial) but when you eject the CD it reverts back to the radio where a 14 may be ear-splitting. Same thing happens with bluetooth and mp3. I suspect it has to do with the pre-amp which only radio tuner uses not the other audio elements.
- Firmware apps no-frills: The firmware apps that come with the radio (tuner, bluetooth, mp3 player) are no frills, meaning they work , but the interface leaves a bit to be desired.
- No HD Radio, No Satellite Radio: Does not offer HD radio now popular in many areas nor satellite radio. This can be mitigated by using connected internet.
- No aux-in (only USB): The only inputs on the front are a USB plug there(for USB memory sticks) there is No AUX for headphones or speakers, also an SD slot for MicroSD is available in front..
Radio Tips and Tricks..
I discovered a hidden menu , that’s probably a diagnostic menu and after I got into it I was able to clear up few items.. Under Settings >> General >> Extra you get a prompt, for a code to enter this diagnostic/supplemental menu, just enter 123456 and like magic a larger menu appears. Among the options this menu offers are:
- Fan Control: You can control how fast/slow the fan blows. When I first installed it the fan appeared to make a bit of noise, but adjusting this setting fixed that.
- Regional Radio settings: Once of the drawbacks listed above has been fixed, the radio comes preset for the European region, but if you simply change the Region here for US/north America it fixes the AM frequency issue. yeah!
- Regional TV under settings: I’m not going to watch TV on this thing, but you can change the regional settings.
- Boot screen auto Logo: You can choose the boot graphic that appears while the radio is booting up, it comes preset with different car brand logos, you can change it to your brand and give it the appearance of a factory radio.
- Car Brake Warning: Some vehicles have the car brake wired to disable input when the vehicle is moving, you can toggle this off hear.
- Button Illumination color: You can change the illumination of the buttons when the car’s lights are on.
Yes,you can run Torque (with a little work)
Also a question that a lot of Android aficionados ask, is can this unit run Torque (Torque is an Android OBDII software ) on this unit. The quick answer is sort of. Out of the box , no you can’t because the bluetooth module only supports Phone and Audio Bluetooth profiles, so even if you were to pair your bluetooth ODBII adapter the correct profile wouldn’t be there. But being Android there is a work around. Using the front-panel USB connector get a small thumb-sized Bluetooth USB adapter. And run a minor firmware hack here, and you’ll be able to use Torque in no time. Here are the basic steps:
- buy usb bluetooth, for example: Super Mini Bluetooth 2.0 Dongle (Vista Compatible) 11866
- Connect the usb bluetooth to the USB dongle port in the front panel
- Install the playstore: Quick Bluetooth Lite (free)
- -With the program Quick Bluetooth Lite enabled. Connect with bluetooth ODB in your car.
- -Enter torque and it will connect automatically
For more details check out this thread on xda-developers.com Some newer radios (typically Android 4.4 or higher) already come with Torque capability built in via a the proper Bluetooth profile, check the Ebay add for mentions of torque.
Parrot radio vs. Ouku android stereo
Perhaps the radio that my 6.2″ ouku is most similar to is the Parrot Asteroid smart. The Parrot asteroid smart is also a 6.2′ double DIN Android GPS car radio. It’s made by Parrot (folks best known for their quad-copters), and it has pretty much the same feature set as the ouku. But I chose the Ouku for the following reasons:
- Parrot radio supports apps only via the Parrot App store, not the Google Play store so your application eco system is limited.
- Stock Parrot GPS is not as feature rich as the Sygic that comes with the Ouku and you can’t change the GPS software, only upgrade it.
- There are no physical keys, the Parrot, is 100% touch screen, this is a challenge because you want to limit peeking down at the screen while driving. The Ouku does a nice job with buttons for the most common operations.
- It’s almost double the price of this Ouku. Retails for $499+
- Update January 2015: Parrot just announced an upcoming successor named Parrot RNB6 (supporting both Android and Ios integration) .
That said the Parrot does have some unique features, like pre-start vibration-detection,capacitive touch, more polished radio and music apps, and possibly better technical support,since your dealing with a known manufacturer. Overall the Parrot Asteroid smart received a cold-shoulder from tech community as discussed here on Engadget.
Needless to say the Ouku has no support, there’s not even a manufacturers site, so you’re at the mercy of your seller and online support community.
Other “smart” radio head units (this section is a bit dated)
Besides the Parrot Asteroid smart, there are a few other popular double DIN units that offer an interesting array of features. Checkout the units that offer MirrorLink, that links up your phone’s (Android) display and has it appear on the radio face from where you can control it. Here are some other popular smart radio’s:
- Pioneer SPH-DA210 AppRadio Car Stereo : ($365)
- Compatible with iPhone 4/4S (cable included), iPod Touch 4th Gen (cable included), and select Android devices (CD-AH200C interface cable required)
- 7 WVGA capacitive touchscreen with a resolution of 800 pixels x 480 pixels and multi-touch operation.
- FM/AM radio tuner with RDS
- Direct control for iPod/iPhone (cable included)
- Built-In Bluetooth for hands-free calling with phone book access, dial pad, and included microphone
- Alpine ICS-X7HD 7″ LCD : ($542)
- Full-color 7″ LCD touchscreen display
- Bluetooth technology allows wireless music streaming and hands-free phone calls
- Built-in HD Radio Tuner allows the reception of high quality HD Radio signals for clean and clear reception with no subscription fee or additional tuner purchase required
- MirrorLink system allows control over applications and data saved on your Android
- Sony XAV701 7-Inch: ($700)
- Double DIN 7-inch WVGA Touch Screen Display
- MirrorLink enabled smartphone connectivity
- Pandora internet radio control
- JVC KWNSX700 DVD-CD-USB: ($457)
- 7-inch WVGA Monitor
- Touch Panel
- MOS-FET 50W x 4 (20W RMS x 4)
- Mirror Link Compatible for Android/Symbian 2
Overall thoughts and future devices
I’ve had the radio for about a month now and overall , I would give it a thumbs up. Its not perfect, and you can see that it lacks the polish of higher-end US “made” units,but for the price of $280 , you do get a lot, a 45-watt radio receiver, GPS , bluetooth phone and audio, Android app eco-system , video, mp3, DVD, CD etc.. So if you’re looking for an upgrade and like Android and aren’t put-off by some of the drawbacks above I say its worth it.
I’m thinking that the car audio/electronics aftermarket is ripe for some real innovation and would like to see big name players, like Google, Motorola, HTC enter it and produce some fantastic devices , I predict we’ll see more name brand Android and alternate OS car audio and navigation devices soon.
Update November 2014 infotainment initiatives…
Just an update , if your in no hurry to buy a radio and are just browsing listen for car infotainment announcements. Rumor has it there will be a lot of car radio announcements from big name after market manufacturers (Pioneer, Clarion , Sony etc.) in the coming months . Since the announcement from Apple (Apple Car Play ) and Google (Android Auto) regarding their car infotainment initiatives. Right now most of the Android/Apple infotainment systems are geared towards stock dash-units for new car models.. but this is expected to change, in the coming months. The radio manufacturers leverage the capabilities of Androis OS and Apple Os to support for Voice commands (google Voice // Siri) ,auto integration, better interfaces, and better compatibility with your phone. Its not going to be radically different than the radio above, its simply going to be a richer more polished experience.