Have you ever actually stopped to think about the media deck (typically called a head unit but sometimes referred to as the radio or stereo) in your car? It can, in fact, be swapped out if you find that the stock unit is wanting. It’s a task that almost anyone can carry out with a little quality time on YouTube and a few tools, but we’re not here to tell you about that. This article will focus on which offering you should invest in for your car based on the software, hardware and innate features in addition to general quirks and reported issues with each. The nine entries on this list were among the best we found, so get ready to find yours here.
Best Android Auto Head Unit 2018 Comparison
|Boss Audio BVCP9675A||6.75''||800x480||80Wx4|
|ATOTO A6Y2710SB A||7''||1024x600||45Wx4|
Best Android Auto Head Unit in 2018 Reviews
Sony XAV-AX5000 — Well-Rounded Functionality
Sony is renown for their quality hardware solutions despite their software being questionable at times. Nonetheless, they offer trusted solutions in computing, gaming and smartphone industries, and their devices are typically geared toward those who want a minimalistic yet stylish package with robust multimedia functionality inside. You typically can’t go wrong with a Sony.
At first glance, this media player features hard- and software style that’s not atypical of Sony: blue and white, simplistic and apparently cutting-edge if looks are anything to go by. Small buttons on a thin bezel are met with a 6.95-inch touchscreen that should fit neatly into your car’s center console and comes satellite-ready in addition to the usual array of Bluetooth and USB connectivity features. While they seem redundant with the touchscreen, the tactile feedback of the hardware keys is invaluable while driving since you’ll find yourself doing the touchy-feely motion to change tracks or adjust volume.
Included are two USB ports for charging and media exchange, and if Bluetooth isn’t your forte, you can always connect via cable to sync your data. You’re also getting Sirius XM support, which is a nice little touch in a day and age where Sirius is seemingly forgotten behind the draw of Hulu, Spotify, and others. You can hook up your Sirius satellite tuner to pull in commercial-free music, news, sports and more from the air around you.
There’s not much to say here. It’s a basic interface that checks all the boxes of Sony’s unique style, keeping with an almost monochrome blue and white style that sticks to basic design language. This is probably for the better since drivers need to focus more on the road, so easily recognizable icons are a plus here.
However, concerning specific and useful features, you just have the aforementioned Sirius XM software to complement the hardware components, in addition, to support for both Android and Apple devices alike. All the basic features that you expect are there and ready to be used.
Kenwood Excelon DDX9905S — Highest Quality Audio
Although not seen everywhere, Kenwood is a popular name brand that specializes in a wide range of quality electronics. As a larger company, you should expect a product that works well in nearly all situations, and that appears to be fulfilled with their car media player, which supports a wide spectrum of soft- and hardware features.
So, if you’ve had a look at the price tag on this thing, you’re probably expecting that the Excelon will be excel-lent. Unfortunately, there’s not much to go off of here for the computer-oriented types who were hoping for a glance at the CPU and RAM specs, but that’s okay: These don’t seem to be important to Kenwood.
Rather, they’ve focused on superior sound quality and exceptional audio control, which in and of themselves already require a respectable degree of hardware implementation to make the most of.
Yes, it’s not much to mention, but not every head unit actually supports HD radio, which in itself is a plus for anyone who just wants to shut off the music app and listen to whatever was picked for them on the air waves. All in all, this setup is designed for the classic audiophile on the roll, but you’ll pay a high price for that satisfaction.
There’s not much to mention on the software front. You have a basic, not-so-pretty UI to work with, but the icons are large and easy to press. The unit is Waze- and Spotify-ready, and it supports a number of other basic and expected apps such as Google Maps and Sirius. Of course, it’d be much harder to justify that price tag if they didn’t include support for both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, so the fruit company is in on this one too.
Pioneer AVH-3300NEX — Best Overall Android Auto Head Unit
Pioneer is another popular brand that’s well-known and can easily be found in major electronics stores. As such, you already know that their products can be trusted to some extent unlike some of the more nebulous brands that are floating around out there, but don’t be so quick to assume that everything they push out is top-notch. Let’s take a look at what’s inside.
As expected, this unit comes with a fold-out 7-inch touchscreen with physical keys to support that nice balance between safe driving while controlling your music with ease. Surprisingly, there’s a built-in CD and DVD player, which should help you throwback to the old days. If you have a box of discs laying around that are waiting to be used, this head unit will do the trick.
Interestingly, Pioneer wanted to pioneer the concept of customizing your interface, which should help with the safe driving aspect while you’re switching between apps and adjusting your music accordingly. It should be said that this isn’t the only head unit that allows for it, but among media players in general, this one promises to do it better than average. If you’re ever tired of having to constantly swipe left or right with other units to reach the apps that you’re after, well, this might be the droid you’re looking for.
Speaking of droids, you’re getting Android Auto support alongside Apple’s CarPlay, so it doesn’t matter what device you’re using; hook it up and let it rip. We’ll add that the interface for the whole thing looks rather beautiful, adhering to a glassy design language that’s simple and easy on the eyes yet utile and not a hair short of stylish.
Put another way: You won’t need to worry about what your friends think when they climb in your ride.
Alpine iLX-207 — Best Support for iPhone and iPad
All head unit shoppers rejoice, especially Apple users: Alpine has specialized solutions for you. They’re an electronics company that’s focused entirely on the in-vehicle multimedia experience, and their head units form the pillar of their existence. Their website, which is quite formal and well-made, testifies to the many products they offer to this extent. However, iPhone owners will be happy to see that Alpine’s offerings lean toward the iOS vibe with Siri and other Apple functions integrated. All in all, we think this company is in a good spot to sell you a new media deck for your car.
The first spec they mention on the iLX-207 is the compatibility with AM and FM radio with HD radio included, but without a CD player to speak of, we’re missing a crucial justifier of the high-end price point on this device. You have the usual and expected 7-inch touchscreen at VGA resolution, and Bluetooth forms the spine of your connectivity options with auxiliary and USB forming your other options for getting connected.
There’s not much else of interest to note here, which is natural of any company that adheres to the Apple way of thinking; what you get is what you get, but it seems to work well if users have any input on the matter.
Most of the offerings on our list seem to begin with Android and end with Apple. That’s not the case with the iLX-207, which clearly centers itself around the Apple design language and app support and then follows with Android Auto as “the other option“.
The specs sheet notes that Alpine’s head unit works with the iPhone 5 and later, so we’re pretty sure that whatever you’re packing will work just fine with this offering. In addition to the hardware support, there’s also a software spine for a Sirium XM radio tuner, so if you have one on hand, hook it up and enjoy ad-free radio for everything from sports to music and more.
Take note that Alpine is very serious about counterfeit head units and secondhand service ; they’re adamant that you use them and only them for anything with Alpine’s brand name on it. This is suspiciously similar to Apple’s view on third-party sale and repairs, so if you’re a long-time Apple user, you’re probably familiar and okay with this song and dance.
Joying 7 — Affordable with Well-Rounded Hardware
Joying! That’s a brand name that just makes you want to buy up all the head units in the world and keep them in a big stash where they’ll presumably bring happiness and prosperity to your home and, more importantly, vehicle. Alas, they’re not quite that magical, but they offer a fairly popular product for those who are looking for an improvement over their stock head unit. Unfortunately, we’re not too sure about their website; the closest result we could find was a site that was “not secure”, so we’re going to say that you should probably stick to third-party outlets for the time being.
Shipping in double-din dimensions, this unit comes packed with an octa-core CPU to power Android 8.0 Oreo and whatever you stash in the 4-64 GB of internal storage; the amount you get is purely up to which specific model you order. You’re also 4 GB of DDR3 RAM, which isn’t the most recent DIMM tech on the market but good enough for music playback, one supposes.
There’s also full RCA output, USB inputs, Bluetooth 4.2 and 600p resolution on a 7-inch touchscreen. At this price point, we’re not complaining.
Unlike Alpine’s head unit, this one is constructed around Android thematic design, featuring hard edges and a clean-cut, utilitarian language that sticks to dark colors and delivers well on a punch of sophistication. It looks nicely designed and easy to learn, but more importantly, you won’t get tired of looking at it after having it around for a few weeks. As stated before, there’s the recent Android 8.0 Oreo on board, which means you’ll have some of the most up-to-date functionality and security updates on board although we highly doubt that anyone will hack the head unit in your car for any reason.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem that there’s any kind of Apple CarPlay support here, so this one’s for Android fans. That was probably a given anyhow based on the user interface; it is Android behind that screen after all.
Pumpkin Android 8.0 — Quickest Responsiveness
It’s fitting that we should write this article as we approach Halloween what with Pumpkin being the manufacturer behind this head unit. As another Android-centric company, Pumpkin stuck to the open-source goods with plenty of hardware to accompany the latest in Android functionality and much more.
Now, they do have their own website, and it’s a nice little development with a terse bit of backstory — hint, they have years of experience selling Android head units — their English runs on the poor side if site content is anything to go by. We’re not making any assumptions, but they either couldn’t afford a decent writer or are run by people who might struggle to communicate with you.
So, the numbers are looking pretty good from the outset: an octa-core CPU paired with 4 GB of RAM, 32 GB of inbuilt storage and support for 128 GB microSD with 7 inches of 600p touchscreen goodness in front of it all. We should note that it’s possible this unit supports more than 128 GB since the ability to handle more than 32 GB entails that a 64-bit computing environment is at play — and why not. It’s Android 8.0 after all — but the logic board could also have an unfortunate hard limit on microSD cards that provide more room for content, so we make no promises that Pumpkin allows for your nifty 512 GB card to work to its fullest here.
There’s not much information provided here other than the fact that Android 8.0 Oreo is keeping the lights on with a dark user interface that’s highlighted with teal elements. We think it looks cool if a little too small for a driver to safely read and interact with on the road, but it’s certainly not bad.
As we’ve said with all other head units that are running Android’s Oreo OS, you’re seeing some of the newest features from Google’s mobile platform , so get ready to play videos, share apps, use GPS and more on this little beast. It’s rather nice for the price tag too.
It turns out that this head unit may have some critical flaws:
- For starters, some users get the feeling that Android 8.0 isn’t actually running on this device, which makes sense from a UI perspective where something like Jelly Bean might be running with skeuomorphic design elements.
- Secondly, the back-up camera function is said to be unreliable, working “sometimes”.
- Thirdly, the buttons like to break or stop clicking.
Somehow, none of this seems too surprising for a company that has difficulty articulating its mission on its own website, and if we made no assumptions of our own, clients will surely be discouraged from giving Pumpkin a shot on all these points combined.
Boss Audio BVCP9675A — Best Inexpensive Head Unit
Who’s the boss? Boss Audio Systems brings a dedicated solution straight to your vehicle that brings your system up-to-date on Android Auto and Apple CarPlay options for Android and iPhone devices alike.
Make no mistake: You may have never heard of them, but Boss has been around for over 30 years with a large base for its operations. With functional and durable head units that pack serious aesthetic punch, our first impressions have been solid. Most of their units will conform to the double-din standard, so make sure your socket is able to accommodate this.
From the start, we have to remind you again that this is a double-din head unit, which makes it a little unusual that they wouldn’t include a CD and DVD deck in addition to the main player. However, that shouldn’t bother most folks since you have the majority of what anyone would want from such a device: a nearly 7-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth, an AM and FM receiver for radio reception, USB and aux inputs and added interactions for rear cameras and the steering wheel keys.
Aside from the obvious point of having Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, there’s also a touch of what we call practicality in the user interface, which is much appreciated in a setting where the user needs to focus most of their attention on driving.
The icons are large, easy to locate and tap, and the black background prevents light pollution that could disorient your eyes from the asphalt and cars ahead. An array of preset audio adjustment sliders are also on board, allowing you to shift the bass, treble and other aspects as you would with all head units today.
ATOTO A6Y2710SB A — Affordable Unit
So, there’s this company called Atoto, which sounds cute, right? It’s so cute, in fact, that we can’t even find a dedicated website for the manufacturer, so we figure, okay. They have the sweetest deal price-wise on this list, and it looks like a pretty well-rounded offering, so what could possibly go wrong? That’s a great question, and we’re really not sure. Let’s just dive into this sucker and see what we get.
We have to admit that we’re impressed by the specs sheet so far. Just look at this: compatibility with up to 256 GB microSD cards, up to 16 GB of inbuilt storage, dual Bluetooth, tethering for said Bluetooth in addition to Wi-Fi and more? As we investigated into this head unit more, we found that there are several models of the same kind, some with a much higher price point that offer more inbuilt space in addition to other features.
We don’t think that most users will be bothered by exactly how much inbuilt space there is in such a device, but it’s nice to know that you have the option if you want to make use of it. Also included is compatibility with back-up cameras, USB and aux inputs, and a decent amplifier to handle the volume control.
Of course, this all takes place on a roughly 7-inch touchscreen display that’s tucked inside a double-din package. Radio tuners aren’t out of style yet as you still have AM and FM reception here, but there’s no mention of HD radio that we can see, which isn’t really a shocker since the price is so good. All in all, we see nothing to complain about here, but we’re still in awe that tethering is a feature on a head unit like this.
Well, here’s an interesting point: The operating environment isn’t Android 8.0 Oreo like every other Android-driven head unit on this list; rather, they’re using 6.0 Marshmallow . This isn’t really a bad thing since Marshmallow is still fairly recent and has most of the features that make Oreo great, so we see no reason to complain about this point. Naturally, any head unit that’s running Android will have Android Auto built into it, but there doesn’t seem to be any sign of Apple CarPlay although we’re not terribly surprised by this considering the price point of the unit.
In parity with the hardware support for backup cameras, you should find that the software is equally compliant to this effect alongside steering wheel keys. The user interface itself is rather nice, sticking to a black background by default with bright and colorful icons that should be easy to interact with. You also have the ability to add widgets to the home screen here. What’s weird, though, is that an Android Auto head unit running Android without Apple CarPlay has an ironically Apple-like flair to its UI design elements.
We don’t really know what to make of this, but at an affordable price like this, most tech-savvy folks would question whether the unit has been bootlegged, especially as Atoto doesn’t seem to have their own web page to showcase their content.
With that said, we certainly don’t see any problems here, but we have to admit suspicion. Hey, at least they’re open about the features that are included on their device, which also amounts to a 2-second boot — we suspect gimmicky shenanigans here, but whatever — constant firmware updates and dash camera inputs. Lastly, we’ll finish this off on the humorous note that their specs catalog showcases the Internet Explorer icon to represent the internet tethering feature on this head unit.
COREHAN — Low Expense Meets High Performance
A lesser-known name in the electronics scene, COREHAN’s website is totally dedicated to the purchase and setup of their head unit for your vehicle. This includes a tutorial for setting it up as well as any questions or issues you might have along the way. They seem to be quite customer-oriented on the surface, which should inspire some confidence if you’re looking into their offerings.
From the outside, this appears to be a solid offering from COREHAN. Bringing a 6.95-inch touchscreen display with DVD support and comparatively potent computing power, you shouldn’t find this device wanting. Bluetooth and Wi-Fi are integral parts of this product’s identity alongside the reasonably fast double-quad CPU architecture and 4 GB of RAM. You’re also getting 32 GB of storage space (ROM) on top, meaning you can save some of your media onto the device in case you don’t want to tether or link up your device every time you enter the car.
The most interesting aspect of this media player is the CD and DVD support, which these days is consider a relic of days past and bygone best left gone by. We’re totally in support of adding more to these players, however, which is why we’re going to tell you now that your CD stacks and even DVD movies don’t necessarily need to be stowed away in boxes with the fancy Blu-ray and streaming media services that we have now. With a complete shift away from physical media everywhere, it seems that some companies acknowledge that there’s still a market with a rack full of older media that’s waiting to be revived, and we respect that.
We should also mention that a GPS radio is built in, so this media player can act in lieu of your smart device for navigation.
One of the things that shocks us as reviewers is witnessing how Android versions never seem to be up to date in NASes and other secondhand computing devices while car stereos are on top of the hard- and software aspects. The most recent version of Android — 9.0 Pie — is a fresh release that has yet to reach many of the mainstream smartphones or tablets out there, so we can’t complain that 8.0 Oreo is still running on this head unit.
Even better is the fact that you’re not getting some pared down version of Oreo; it’s the fully functional operating environment with app support and the whole nine, at least from an automotive standpoint. This means that while your older Android phones might encounter some issues synching up, you can expect much newer devices — Galaxy S7 and above — to work beautifully in all respects.
Of course, you’re also getting Apple’s CarPlay included, so iPhone users can rejoice in the same hardware and receive many of the same roadside features with their smart devices.
Best Android Auto Head Unit Buyer’s Guide
This is the media deck — the actual screen, sometimes touch-capable, with the physical adjustment keys and dials around it — that fits in the center console and functions to connect your smartphone, tablet or MP3 player via Bluetooth, auxiliary or USB. It forms the central hub where music and apps are communicated and exchanged so the screen can display GPS navigation, music and more.
Every vehicle comes with a head unit by default, but fancier ones can be purchased and installed on your own to allow for CD and DVD playback, Bluetooth connection and other features that may be absent on stock units.
This is the dashboard that sits between the passenger and driver with controls for the ventilation and media playback. The head unit sits here and can be replaced with other head units in the console.
This is Google’s platform to simplify connecting Android phones to head units and conveying apps, music and more between the two devices with greater functionality and compatibility. In the way that Android makes a smartphone what it is, Android Auto has a similar effect on head units.
This is Apple’s version of Android Auto, serving to allow for seamless connectivity of iPhones and iPads to head units. It’s often found side-by-side with Android Auto in head units.
This describes a measurement of the head unit, which is needed to ensure that it can fit in your vehicle’s center console.
- Single-din units are measured 7 inches wide by 2 inches tall.
- Double-dins are 4 inches tall instead.
Digital-to-Analog (DAC) Converter
This is the computer chip in every digital audio output device that takes the digital representation of audio data and converts it into analog format, which is what can be heard and understood by humans. A better DAC means more fine-grained conversion, which means higher-quality music.
Amps work hand-in-hand with DACs to, well, amplify your audio output and make it louder. A poor DAC and amp combination can result in blurring, blotching, and distortion when you turn the volume up on music although low-bit-rate audio files can also account for this.
Bluetooth and Auxiliary
These determine the means of connecting your media device to the head unit to play music and share apps. Always remember that auxiliary cables convey the cleanest audio signal and are superior to Bluetooth in terms of audio quality. Also, remember that auxiliary and USB cables aren’t the same thing.
Trivial fact: Bluetooth is so-named because of King Harald Bluetooth of Denmark from the 10th century, so yes, Bluetooth should be capitalized.
CPU, RAM, and ROM
These are technologies that are commonly associated with complex computing devices that are multifunctional in nature and allow for a wide spectrum of user inputs to produce results much like an actual PC or smartphone.
Most head units come with dual- or quad-core CPUs, 2 GB of RAM and no ROM (storage); more powerful varieties will incorporate octa-cores, 4 GB of RAM, around 32 GB of ROM and sometimes support for SD or microSD cards.
Best Android Auto Head Unit FAQ
What devices are supported with Android Auto multimedia decks?
This will vary by media deck. As a general rule, iPhones and any Android devices running 5.0 Lollipop and higher are supported, which means that whatever you’re currently using is more than likely compatible. However, if you’re stuck using a cheaper or older device, you might run into some unexpected complications while trying to link up, sync apps or work with radio receivers. Tablets are also generally supported.
It’s Android Auto, so for competitive reasons, couldn’t there be issues with synching Apple devices?
That’s a very good question. Usually, something called “Apple CarPlay” is included to allow your iPhone or iPad to work seamlessly with the head unit, and yes: Apple created this software specifically for this purpose. This is said to work out nicely, and to be truthful, there are more complaints about Android devices not playing nice with Android Auto than Apple’s handsets not panning out with Apple CarPlay.
Something to know about competing software brands:
Neither the auto-makers nor probably the state governments would be happy if Google alienated Apple users with their car software. This could be argued as a monopoly over the software aspect of the automotive industry, and furthermore, Google’s not in the game of burning bridges with their competition. We know, we know — they just took their “don’t be evil” motto out from their terms and conditions, but that doesn’t mean Google wants to discourage people from using their product.
Likewise, Apple isn’t trying to interfere with Android devices working on Android Auto units. The fragmentation of Android devices and the simple lack of seamless transition in Android devices compared to Apple’s ecosystem is the reason for any issues you’ll have when attempting to connect your Android to the head unit.
How do I pair my device?
You can use USB or Bluetooth, and both are intuitive.
Straight from Google themselves, a USB connection involves simply hooking up your phone or tablet as if to charge it from the car’s ports, and both the head unit and phone should acknowledge that you’re trying to connect your device. The phone may ask if you approve of the USB connection, which you should allow.
If you’re using Bluetooth, you may need to scan for the Android Auto unit and connect the two with a verification code. The actual setup varies across different models, but generally speaking, either connection will lead you to a page where you agree to the safety implications and terms of service.
I don’t have an Android Auto-compatible head unit in my car right now. Is it possible to replace it? If I can, how?
You can replace the media deck yourself with instructions in the car’s included manufacturer guide book or a DIY YouTube video. Not all vehicles have the same din specification for their head units, so make sure that your next head unit fits neatly in the socket that was occupied by the old one .
Generally speaking, the Android Auto units themselves are fairly uniform and shouldn’t be too difficult to figure out if you’re familiar with their wiring, but if you’re not too sure of what you’re doing, that’s okay: Consider getting a mechanically inclined friend or electronics store to handle that one for you. It’s quite inexpensive to hire someone for it and shouldn’t take very long; the most expensive and concerning part of the entire foray is the head unit itself.
Are there any safety implications I need to look out for? Will installing a feature-packed media deck affect my insurance or the outcome of an accident?
Safety implications are all a matter of common sense, and having such a deck isn’t factored into insurance or accident reports. In truth, nearly all vehicles today are shipping with these feature-packed decks pre-installed, so you’re not exactly unique in this manner.
Well, this is it, folks. We’re at the end of this article, and we hope that you’ve learned a thing or two about the best Android Auto head units. They can run pretty high on the price tag, but installing them is a cinch, and if you elect to let someone else do it, it’s quick and cheap to knock out. The hardest part is deciding whether you want the one with the RGB built in or that gorgeous HD touchscreen that you probably shouldn’t be playing with while you’re on the road. Either way, far be it from us to tell you how to live your life; we’re just here to make the crossroads easier to, well, cross.
As always, we’d like a word with you on the future of automotive head units. If you keep up with smartphone and computer tech in general, you probably know that virtual reality (VR) is one of the latest mainstream concepts to hit the market, and some are thinking about taking its augmented reality (AR) brethren to heart with assistive display elements projected on or from the windshield. We’re here to tell you that while this would probably make driving safer, we’re not seeing any indication of this tech becoming available to the average consumer in the next decade, so the best we can do is wait with bated breath.
This development will no doubt unfold out of necessity as Android Auto and similar software become more widely utilized in vehicles. There will likely be more accidents because of people who were distracted with their eyes on the console, which could take just enough of your vision off the road to wind up hitting something or running a light. The idea of projecting elements to the windshield would mean that you can see content such as your speed, RPM and fuel in addition to music, messages, and calls in a heads-up display (HUD) format that keeps most of your vision trained on the road while interacting with this data. Of course, the HUD concept is one that gamers will surely rejoice in, but that’s beside the point.
At the end of the day, the most difficult balance for engineers to strike with these feature-rich decks is the line between safety and utility. The two are considered mutually exclusive, which means that drivers are actually trusted to not abuse these features in a way that results in damage or dismemberment. With automotive accidents forming one of the top causes of death in this country, we agree that safety will be one of the primary cruxes that soft- and hardware developers alike will be trained on going forward.
For now, just be safe and don’t hit anyone, okay?