Android Auto has become a standard part of brand new cars, but it’s something older vehicles lack. Adding can be complicated and cost hundreds of dollars. But did you know you can add an Android Auto unit to any car in seconds at an affordable price? Here’s how.
Aftermarket head units have been available for decades at this point, and Android Auto and CarPlay support has become the norm for just about every option you buy today. In general, these head units can be fairly affordable, but they can also get very expensive, and if you don’t have the experience, they can also require the help of costly professionals to install in some vehicles.
I’ve wanted to add Android Auto to my wife’s car for quite some time, as her Hyundai Elantra is from that awkward era when touchscreens and Android Auto weren’t particularly common, but Bluetooth and AUX connectivity were standard. However, my last attempt at adding an aftermarket head unit didn’t work out very well. It was when I spent some time on Spotify Car Thing Earlier this year I thought how great it would be to have a similar device but with Android Auto.
As it turns out, these devices exist! And they’re actually pretty easy to use.
In the past few months my wife has been with a 7 inch external Android Auto unit in their car, which mounts on the dashboard and supports the wireless form of Android Auto. It plugs into your AUX port to route audio through the car and is powered from a regular car outlet.
Installation also took literally seconds. The included windshield mount proved perfect for my wife’s car, but you could use it as a dash mount or get creative with some DIY placement and other mounting options. This is effectively just a small tablet running Android Auto.
Granted, this isn’t the best looking setup out there. That “IYING” device I pick up for her was one of the few options available earlier this year, and it doesn’t exactly have the best design. It’s very simple, but it works. The two dangling cables add to the not-so-great looks, but they’re no worse than a charging cable that’ll power a smartphone while running Google Maps on a dash mount.
How does it work? Overall admirable.
The device turns on automatically when she starts the car. The stock software isn’t great. It feels very generic and forgotten but has some useful features. You can mirror your phone’s screen or use this unit as a traditional Bluetooth head unit to add wireless audio support to a car that lacks this feature. The device also supports adding a rear camera, but we didn’t choose to try that as it obviously complicates the setup/installation process quite a bit.
The built-in 7-inch display can also be used in the car. I can’t describe it as super bright, but it’s bright enough to be used on a sunny day without problems reading what’s on display. It’s only a 1024×600 panel, though, so it’s by no means particularly sharp. The only quirk I quickly noticed was that the top part of the panel cuts off some parts of the UI, but that doesn’t hinder usability at all.
Meanwhile, when used wirelessly with their Pixel 5, Android Auto seems to generally boot up within 40 to 60 seconds of turning on the vehicle. That’s a little slower than what’s built into my Subaru Crosstrek paired with a wireless Android Auto adapter, but not too shabby! The only catch is that you have to manually press a button to get Android Auto on screen and this popup can sometimes expire.
Android Auto runs without any noticeable lag, and during her daily commute, she tells me that it’s generally very reliable.
The main point of contention with this device was making calls. It might just be her car in particular, but incoming phone calls seem to ignore the AUX connection, instead trying to go through Bluetooth instead. As a result, she cannot hear the call and must either switch the output to the phone speaker or earpiece, or restart the call from her side. I couldn’t pinpoint exactly why this was happening, but reviews of this device seem to confirm that we’re not alone in this experience. Unfortunately, I haven’t found a really acceptable workaround for this. The only thing that worked so far was using the built in FM transmitter, resulting in drastically worse audio quality compared to AUX.
Is that a deal breaker? Not really for their limited use. But it could be for you.
But for the roughly $250 we spent on this device, it was a worthwhile investment. She enjoys having Maps easily in view without leaving her phone sitting in the heat while driving, and it was certainly easier to install than a more permanent option.
Plus, months after purchasing this device, more options have popped up and prices have dropped. The IYING device we bought is now available for just over $200.
We’ve yet to try others, but there are a few available on Amazon now. 9to5Mac had a great experience with the Intellidash Pro on the CarPlay side and There is an Android Auto model also. “Carpuride” has a larger device this looks pretty fancy, and there are even options that cost around $100 or less. I’m personally intrigued by this form factor – would you buy one?
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