by Harry Guinness on
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If you love the idea of having Android Auto or Carplay in your ride, you don’t have to wait until it’s time to get a new vehicle to make it happen—there are a slew of excellent aftermarket solutions available.
For those who may not be familiar, Android Auto and Carplay are Google and Apple’s respective car-based interfaces that offer simplified, more driver friendly experiences when behind the wheel. These aren’t standalone units, however—they’re both powered by your phone. Android Auto is for Android phones, and Carplay is for iPhones.
While Carplay requires a compatible head unit to use at all, you can actually try out Android Auto on your phone without the need for car compatibility—though the experience isn’t quite as good when using just your phone. Just install the Android Auto app and give it a whirl.
Before you jump into our best-of list, there’s one thing in particular you’ll need to pay attention to in regards to your car: whether it’s a double DIN or a single DIN system. (DIN is a unit of measurement used in car audio, it’s an acronym based on the German phrase “Duetch Industri Normen” and stems from their push to standardize radio sizes in 1980s era BMWs, Mercedes, etc.)
If it’s a more modern ride with a full screen display, then it’s likely a double DIN. If it’s a more traditional CD player without a large screen, then it’s probably a single DIN. A little research for your vehicle’s make and model should tell you everything you need to know.
Regardless of whether you’re an Android or iPhone user, however, AA and Carplay are both excellent systems to have in the car. Here’s a look at the best Auto and Carplay-compatible head units to get you started.
If you’re looking for the best of the best when it comes to dropping a new head unit in your car, the Kenwood DDX9905S is where it’s at. It features a 6.75-inch 1280×720 capacitive touch screen (that’s important to note because a lot of units still come with resistive touch panels) with 600 nits of brightness and 170 degree viewing angles. That’s pretty solid for a head unit that you’ll need to be able to see at a glance.
The DDX905S also supports Wireless Android Auto, so you won’t even need to plug your phone into it if you don’t want to. Otherwise, there are a slew of non-phone related features, like dash cam support, dual camera inputs (for backup camera and dash cams at the same time), two USB ports for dual phone connections, and a lot more.
To learn more about the DDX905S, you can read about it on Kenwood’s site. Otherwise, hit the link below to buy.
Let’s be honest here: $900 is a lot for a new head unit. Once you factor in professional installation, you’ll be looking at something in the ballpark of $1250, which is pretty steep. If you’re not into spending that much money, you can get a hell of a head unit for $400 in the Sony XAV-AX5000 (these product names just roll off the tongue, don’t they?).
For less than half the price of our premium pick, you get a very similar system—the AX5000 features a 6.95-inch 800×480 capacitive touch panel with 500 nits of brightness, so it’s not quite as short or bright, but should still be great for most uses. Otherwise it supports wired Android Auto and Carplay, as well as a second USB port for access to music from a thumb drive.
If you’re looking for the most affordable way to get into Android Auto or Carplay without much compromise, the AX5000 is the way to go. There’s also the slightly cheaper AX100, which is $350, though the compromises on that model seem to be quite vast for only a $50 savings.
You can learn more about the AX5000 here.
Just because your car doesn’t have a double DIN does’t mean it can’t get in on the premium head unit scene, and the Alpine iLX-F309 HALO 9 proves that. Featuring a massive 9-inch WVGA (800×480) capacitive touch panel, this is a killer tablet-sized head unit. Seriously, it’s like having an iPad on your dash.
The HALO 9 features what’s called iDatalink Maestro, which will let users retain vehicle information and features that are built into the stock head unit. There’s also a rear seat entertainment system that can be purchased separately, which is pretty great for parents who need to keep the little ones entertained on road trips.
You can find out more about the Alpine HALO 9 here, or click below to buy.
For about half the price of our premium single DIN choice, the smaller Pioneer AVH-3300NEX should still be a good fit for most people. It offers a 7-inch 800×480 panel, though it’s worth mentioning that this is the only option on our list that has a resistive touchscreen instead of capacitive. That could be a dealbreaker for some. If you’re not familiar with the terms, you’re likely familiar with the experience: resistive touch screens are the screens found on old GPS units and ATMs where you have to physically push the screen firmly to get a response; capacitive screens are the conductive screens found on modern smartphones and are much more sensitive and responsive.
If the resistive touchscreen doesn’t bother you, this is an otherwise solid little head unit. Outside of Android Auto and Carplay compatibility, the AVH-3300NEX offers USB audio playback (for USB drives), DVD playback, backup camera support, and more. To read more about everything the 3300NEX has to offer, head here.
It’s worth pointing out that there’s a newer version of this head unit available (the 3400NEX), but at $100 more it’s not a better value than the older model.
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