Technology

Here’s how to add Android Auto to any car

Android Auto has become a standard part of brand new cars, but it’s something older vehicles lack. Adding them can be complicated and cost hundreds of dollars. But did you know that 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 now, and support for both Android Auto and CarPlay has become commonplace for just about every option you buy today. In general, these head units can be quite affordable, but they can also get very pricey, and if you don’t have the experience, they may also require the help of expensive professionals to install in some vehicles.

For some time now, I’ve wanted to add Android Auto to my wife’s car, as her Hyundai Elantra is from those awkward days where touchscreens and Android Auto weren’t particularly common, but Bluetooth and AUX connections were standard. However, my latest attempt at adding an aftermarket head unit has not worked out super well. While spending some time with Spotify Car Thing earlier this year, I thought how great it would be to have a similar device, but with Android Auto.

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It turns out those devices exist! And they are actually quite easy to use.

For the past few months, my wife has been using a 7-inch external Android Auto unit in her car that mounts to the dashboard and supports the wireless form of Android Auto. It plugs into its AUX jack to route audio through the car, and draws power from a normal car outlet.

It also took literally seconds to install. The included windshield mount turned out to be perfect on my wife’s car, but you can also use it as a dash mount or get creative with some DIY placement and other mounting options. This is basically just a small tablet running Android Auto.

Admittedly, this isn’t the prettiest setup out there. The ‘IYING’ device I bought 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 cables that hang down slightly add to the not-so-great look, but they’re no worse than a charging cable you’d use to charge a smartphone while running Google Maps on a dashboard mount.

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How is it performing? Very admirable, in general.

The device turns on automatically when she starts the car. The stock software isn’t exactly great. It feels very generic and forgettable, but it does have some useful features. You can mirror your phone’s screen or use this device as a traditional Bluetooth head unit to add wireless audio support to a car that does not have this feature. The device also supports adding a backup camera, but we chose not to try that out as it obviously complicates the setup/installation process.

The built-in 7-inch display is up to the challenge of being used in the car as well. I can’t describe it as super bright, but it’s bright enough to use on a sunny day with no problem reading what’s displayed. It’s only a 1024×600 panel, though, so it’s not particularly sharp in any way. The one quirk I quickly noticed was that the top portion of the panel cuts off some parts of the user interface, but that doesn’t hinder usability at all.

Meanwhile, when used wirelessly with its Pixel 5, Android Auto generally seems to boot within 40-60 seconds of turning the vehicle on. That’s a little slower than what’s built into my Subaru Crosstrek when paired with an Android Auto wireless adapter, but not too shabby! The only downside is that you have to manually press a button to get Android Auto on the screen, and that popup can sometimes time out.

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Android Auto runs with no noticeable lag, and on her daily commute, she tells me it’s generally very reliable.

The main point of contention with this device was making phone calls. It may just be her car in particular, but incoming calls seem to ignore the AUX connection and try over Bluetooth instead. As a result, she cannot hear the call and has to either switch the output to the speaker or earpiece of the phone or restart the call from her end. I couldn’t figure out exactly why this happened, but reviews of this device seem to confirm that we are not alone in this experience. Unfortunately I haven’t really found an acceptable solution for this. The only thing that has worked so far is using the built-in FM transmitter, resulting in drastically worse sound quality compared to AUX.

Is that a deal breaker? For its limited use, not really. But maybe it’s for you.

But for the roughly $250 we spent on this device, it was a worthwhile investment. She likes having Maps easily in view while not having to leave her phone in the heat all the time while driving, and it was certainly easier to install than a more permanent option.

Plus, months after we bought this device, more options have appeared and prices have come down. The IYING device we purchased is now available for purchase for just over $200.

We have yet to try others, but quite a few are now available for purchase on Amazon. 9to5Mac had a great experience with the Intellidash Pro on the CarPlay side of things, and there is also an Android Auto model. “Carpuride” has a larger unit that looks pretty slick, and there are even options that cost around $100 or less. Personally, this is one form factor I’m intrigued by – would you buy one?

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