2014 Ford Fusion car Android radio upgrade…
Having purchased my 2014 Ford Fusion , I quickly realized that the crappy stock Ford Sync (powered by Microsoft== “Microcrap“) was not going to cut it. The stock radio Ford Sync leaves a lot to be desired, overzealous use of buttons, dated voice recognition via Sync, dated confusing sync button interface, and lack of gps navigation , made me pine for a more modern car radio.
My long one-hour commit has me regularly listening podcasts and even occasionally AM talk. While I did stream the podcasts via Bluetooth to the old sync radio , It’s actually easier to hop in the car and just fire up the radio podcast app, that I can download the podcasts while I’m on WIFI. Plus a whole bunch of vehicle informatics makes this system a really nice to have radio.
Deciding on aftermarket car radio gps head units.
This is my 3rd used car during the last 7 years, and it’s the third one I decided to replace the stock radio for a more modern radio and navigation system . The reason I choose Chinese Android Navigation system is simply the best bang for the buck.
For the sake of completeness, I could have elected to upgrade my factory stock Sync system to the latest Ford MySync 3 , My Sync 3 became available with 2016 and newer models year cars , and while the Sync name is the the same, behind the cover there’s no relation to prior outdated crappy Microsoft system, its a entirely new infotainment system built from the ground up . Ford Sync 3 is actually a very capable , modern fast infotainment system (running the QNX operating system), supporting both Apply Car Play and Android Auto, of course it comes at a price, as an after-purchase factory conversion kits cost about $2100 with native navigation, less without. So for about a fifth of the price (~$400) I decided to get a very capable Android infotainment system, with virtually identical feature set.
Basically all the Chinese Android units share a common theme. They are basically an Android tablet mated to a specific radio tuner with a series of custom radio/bluetooth apps, plus all the integrated wiring to connect into you’re vehicles audio and dash systems and also understand your’re vehicles CANbus network properly.
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 vehicle diagnostics, there are no substitutes in the Android play store, since this software is directly tied to the hardware inside your unit.
This is why it’s difficult /impossible to upgrade to newer versions of Android on these radios (No Upgrade path), because the MCU firmware (that talks to the radio tuner and canbus ) is proprietary and likely not flexible or available for developers to patch and update it to match capabilities of new Android versions. Even if it were possible there may be too small of a market to get many developers interested, So buyer beware, whatever version of Android comes with these radios is likely the version that will ALWAYS be on these radios, so always try to buy the latest version of Android offered.
How to find / purchase Chinese android car radios
I purchased this radio from AutoJeta store on AliExpress, and they’re support has been pretty good on a few post-sale questions I had, I would recommend them. You can also 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, mostly with different OS or memory configurations. These types of radios are available for most types of late model vehicles. (last 10 years or so)..
Note certain car brands or model years , particularly higher end automobiles like BMW, Mercedes , Audi may not have any such radios available due to the proprietary nature of their Canbus systems or proprietary electrical wiring or connectors. This is likely by design, as these manufacturers don’t want you monkeying around with their electronics, plus I suspect they don’t expect their buyers who are paying premium prices to be wanting to do DIY types of projects. But for many mid-range automobiles you should find these radios available.
Just be sure to triple check that your particular mode/year and trim level are supported by the radio , car radios like these that are integrated with CanBus systems, require EXACT match to cars make, model, year and trim..
Android 8″ Ford Fusion (Mondeo) Nav Radio specifications.
|Cost||$413 (with extra dashcam); $368 android radio only|
|Display||8" 1024×600 (1080p) Capacitive multi-touch|
|CPU||MediaTek MT3561 Cortex A53|
|Memory||2GB / Storage Flash 16GB (11GB available)|
|Radio Tuner||45-watt x 4-channel radio receiver AM/FM ST 7786; RDS; presets; equalizer; remote control|
|Amplifier||Toshiba 7388 (output 4×45 watt)|
|GPS||Yes; internal GPS chip and antenna|
|DISC||CD/DVD /MP3/ AVI/ MP4|
|Data Connection||Bluetooth / WIFI or 4G USB Modem (via SIM card – not supplied)|
|Bluetooth||Supports Phone calls via built-in Mic; audio playback from Bluetooth device AD2P|
|MicroSD||USB and popular digital files|
|Ports||2x USB (back plate); DVR (dash camera); RCA Inputs & outputs; SIM card slot||MIC slots|
Installation of this radio was a bit more difficult than typical 2-DIN Android radio’s installation, mostly because of the proprietary layout of the 2013-2017 Ford Fusion dash. Removing the dash trim and removing the stock radio is pretty easy. However the issue is because of Ford’s proprietary dash layout, where the stock Sync display and CD unit are separated in the car’s dash, covered by the array of radio buttons and heating/ac controls. The radio touch display,only provides a frame for the environment controls so it requires a bit of careful disassembly as you will need to transplant part of the Ford’s heating/AC circuit board and buttons. That means you need to carefully remove the back cover off the stock radio/controls unit, then even more carefully remove the circuit board, knob dials and cover and re-attach it to the new radio’s frame. This means its a hassle and not just plug-and-play.
It’s definitely a bit more work compared to my past 2-DIN radio installations. But if you manage to carefully move over all the components and plug everything back in, then the rest is easy just place everything back into the radio bay.
If you’re not a DIY person I would recommend you take it to a car radio installer, but be aware some installers may be leery about transplanting the circuit board or may charge extra for doing it, for me it cost nothing, other than a little perspiration and agitation (since no installation instructions are provided, if readers are interested in having me create an installation video guide let me know).
I addition I purchased a dashcam (for this specific radio) and installed that as well. That actually was easier than I expected, it fits neatly right beneath my rear view mirror and running the cable down through the headliner down the A-pillar wasn’t too hard, plus plenty of space behind the glove box to run the cables to the back of the radio.
Ford Fusion Android radio Features and performance
What can a $400 buy you? how about an aftermarket Android 6.0 car stereo with GPS Navigation (Waze, Android Auto, Google Maps, iGO) , Bluetooth , Torque, TPMS, Dash Cam and rear view cameras,plus all the android apps your heart desires. With this unit you get complete off-line navigation system, modern Android interface, Bluetooth hands-free , a slew of infotainment options and the ability to integrate dash-cams, backup cameras, TPMS and ODBII engine monitor.
I’ll give you a brief overview of the basic functionality. The unit has a 8″ capacitive multi-touch screen (1200px x 600px resolution) 1080p compatible, and is flanked by hardware buttons below the screen. 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), Nav (Gps) , Band (Radio) and EJECT(Disc), plus Volume and Tuner knob controls.
Infotainment Interface: The unit uses a customized version of TwLauncher with three large widgets, and six smaller icons below the widgets in a series of screens (swipe left to see more). It’s a pretty basic interface , but gets the job done. Again this is android so you can opt to replace the launcher with any Android launcher or better yet choose a Car Dashboard specific app or even make Android Auto your default launcher. So you get a lot of options in customizing the default experience. But after trying a few different launchers, the stock launcher is actually my favorite, it’s fast, has good widgets for radio, bluetooth and music and is more flexible than Android auto, plus you can drag around the widgets or icons to suit your preference. But this is the beauty of these Android radios your not stuck with any interface, so I encourage you to try different launchers.
- BAND (Radio): Pressing the BAND button (or radio app), 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 car radio. In fact this is the best radio tuner I’ve used on any Android head unit, in terms of clarity and tuning speed, so kudos to the manufacturer for not skimping on the tuner components. There are your basic auto-scan (Scan) and preset buttons for the radio stations. Cycling through the band button (on-screen) that chooses between AM,FM1 and FM2 , plenty of slots available for presets (18 FM preset buttons and 12 AM preset buttons). There is also a button for an onscreen equalizer, with fader balance which also applies to your music player.
- CD/DVD: Below the buttons there’s a slot for CD/DVD discs. Works as expected when you insert a CD it launches the CD player app 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 via the supplied RCA cables, I did not test that functionality.
NAVIGATION: The unit comes with iGo Navigation software (Barasoft branded) with the entire continental US map pre-loaded. iGo is a pretty decent off-line (no network required) navigation app, and provides traffic info (if you have connected data). Because this is Android 6.0 , you of course can use network-enabled Navigation like Waze (crowd sourced nav) or Google Maps (which can work partially off-line with cached maps), or any of the other GPS Nav systems found in the Google Play store.Navigation works as expected, it loads the app, acquires the GPS satellite signal and you can navigate your route. I won’t describe the each software feature in detail, but you are essentially getting the latest in GPS navigation aids. GPS antenna provided has a long cable and can be easily placed away from any dash metal, and it acquired the signal quite quickly (less that 2 seconds on average).
- 4G Data | WIFI: there is a 4G adapter included and a WIFI antenna, to use the 4G you need to supply the SIM chip and subscribe to the appropriate data service(extra) to support data capabilities.Most folks will likely just tether their smartphone as a WIFI hotspot. If you have a phone that supports tethering you can use it as your wifi data source.
MP3/ SD Slot: There’ s an micro SD-slot for Digital medial playback such as Mp3 files, WMA and other popular digital files. This is located in the center of the radio between the buttons (says GPS/CARD). Additionally during installation the back of the radio has several open USB slots where you can plug in a small usb card/stick.
- Pandora, Spotify & 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. All the apps area available from the launcher screen by pressing the app drawer icon like any Android system. All these apps run directly on the radio so no phone is necessary, however you still need a data connection for apps that do are streaming, like Pandora , Youtube etc… Note that if you want to store large amounts of music, it’s recommend you get an SD Card for additional storage, as the meager 16GB on radio storage is not enough.
Bluetooth Phone & Audio: Pressing the Bluetooth /Phone app or widget , will launch the Bluetooth Phone application. From this app you can pair it with multiple Bluetooth phones or audio device, once paired you can do the following:
- Dial out and receive calls hands-free via the Mic . I generally launch calls from my phone (since it as better UI for phone ddialer ialler) then the call just appears on 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.
- Dash cam: (optional). The radio also has the necessary connectors for a dash cam compatible system (you’re given the option of adding dash camera when you purchase the radio), This dash cam (which I installed) functions much like most dashcams and records to its own SD card the view from the camera while the vehicle is in operation. Then you can use the dash cam APP , called DVR in this system, to view the recorded footage. Additionally tied to the dash camera there’s an add-on (must be purchased) app specifically for this radio that will do live image recognition of the dash cam footage and provide you with lane-keeping and simple collision avoidance alerts, I have not tried this.
Backup Rear View Camera: (optional) There’s an option to purchase a backup camera that can be used to display backup video from the vehicle. I did not install one , but all the required connectors where available.
- Torque ODBII: (optional) If you have a Bluetooth enabled ODBII diagnostic connector (you can find these on on Ebay or Amazon for as little as $10), you can pair it up with the ODBII app in the radio and then run any of many ODBII apps such as Torque (pre-installed) to monitor vehicle status in real-time, check engine fault-codes, chart and graph any available engine metric provided by you’re vehicle’s ECU.
- TPMS: (optional) Tire Pressure monitoring system (tpms) sensors are also available , if you elect to purchase a a set of 4 electronic tire-valve caps that monitor and report wireless (typically via bluetooth) to the radio the current tire-pressure for each of your tires.
Steering Wheel controls: Steering wheel controls worked perfectly out of the box with this radio , all of them where mapped to the basic radio features and worked as expected. You can of course re-map certain controls using the Steering wheel control app found in the settings menu.
- Ford Sync Menu still there: One surprising APP, I didn’t expect was what happened when you pressed the Ford voice sync voice button on my steering wheel. It brings up a representation of my old Ford Sync interface. It looks like the designers crafted an app to approximate what the original Ford Sync radio controller did (bluetooth, external USB etc.) , but I wasn’t able to figure out how it works, the best I was able to do was to use this to read a USB from the center arm rest USB port… Maybe someone can explain it to me…
Android Radio Cons..
While you get a lot in this unit, it’s not perfect… there are a few nagging issues to be aware of…. most are not show stoppers but for some folks they may be cause some mild frustration. I’ll point out the ones that irked me below.
- NOT instant-on, startup delay: This is a common gripe not just with this unit, but with most car Chinese Android radio’s . Unlike a traditional car radio, the unit it not instant-on, just like a tablet or PC there’s a startup time of for this unit of about 45.5 seconds while the device boots from a cold start. In practice it’s actually not too bad and the radio/music player will continue where you left off when you last-turned off the vehicle. Still at times it will be annoying, especially if you start driving and just want to access the GPS quickly and it’s still booting while you’re on the road. There’s a partial solution built-in, you can mitigate this a bit by adjusting the standby timer setting, which keeps the radio powered for a set amount of time (draws power to the radio with vehicle powered off) , so next time you start the vehicle within the standby interval the radio is already powered on. Frankly it’s really only useful if say your’re running errands and are making a few short stops.Beware I experienced warning light side effects: Be careful setting Standby Time too long , I experienced engine warning light issues with the engine’s ECU , when I set it for more than 20 minutes , this caused the ECU to report faults and show the check engine light,my guess it’s most likely because some CANbus circuitry that the radio kept powered on confused the car’s internal computer, which thought the engine was turned on while it wasn’t running, thus triggering the false faults.
- Poor Microphone Quality: Out of the box this radio’s built-in MIC is pretty useless, unfortunately the radio does not make use the stock Ford noise-cancelling microphones that come with the vehicle’s sync system (no connectors to this mic), those factory noise-cancelling microphone’s are actually quite good. So you’re left with using the radio’s face-plate microphone which is miserable, and very poor quality, or purchasing a separate mic (which is what I did) and plugging it into the back of the radio and running the cable up through the headliner and positioning the mic near the rear view mirror. So this added a bit more work, otherwise the stock microphone located in the slot marked mic is very bad. But even with the external mic, calls are just not as clear as the factory microphones. I recommend you use the sound recorder app (comes pre-installed) to hear what the radio microphone audio quality sounds like, then decide if you need to add your own external mic. Another side effect of a poor microphone is it limits how well Android Voice Recognition works.
- 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 internet connected Sirius app or purchasing a separate HD / satellite tuner.
- No aux-in: Because of this models flat enclosed radio dash, There are no inputs on the front or back of this radio (besides SD slot). When you install the radio you do have a spare cable for a USB (this is what I did to add storage to the pitiful 32GB storage) . , but that requires you set them up before putting everything back into the dash. Potentially you could snake a usb cable into your Glove box or center arm rest, but this car’s glovebox is pretty closed off , i did not go that route. Possibly you can also re-wire the center storage compartment USB plug left over from the original ford sync , but i have not tried this .
Radio Tips and Tricks..
Once you install the radio there are a couple of settings menus that you will need to access to customize the bootup logo, AM/FM world frequency bands and a few other settings. There’s a large widget called settings , which is a shortcut to specific INFOTAINMENT section of the radio’s Android settings. While most of the settings like display brightness (2 one for day and one for night) , backup camera setup, there’s also a supplemental menu, just enter 3711 and like magic a larger menu appears. Among the options this menu offers are:
- 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.
- Check Regional Radio settings: Because this radio is sold world wide. Be sure to check that your radio comes preset for the North American region, simply change the Region here for US/north America it fixes and tuner frequency issues.
- Regional TV under settings: I’m not going to watch TV on this thing, but you can change the regional settings.
- Audio Levels : There’s also a menu to adjust various audio levels.
- Many more options, there are still many more options that allow you to play with configuration of this radio.
So there you have it, likely in a few years these types of systems will be stock in most new vehicles regardless of trim or class level, but until then you can spend a little money expand make you’re vehicles audio and navigation experience .
Its not a perfect solution (as noted above) , but overall it’s welcome upgrade that you will value every time you take a long car ride and want the convenience of off-line navigation and a modern digital cockpit, plus a slew of car informatics (tire pressure, dash cam, odbII) are at your finger tips, and for the price it’s a no-brainer.. So go ahead and buy it , have it installed by a trusted installer and enjoy that new car infotainment experience.