From navigation to music and more, your Android smartphone contains a wealth of features which can be useful when you’re behind the wheel. However, using your phone while driving is a dangerous distraction.
Fortunately, an Android Auto head unit lets you access the power of your smartphone without sacrificing your safety. But the ever-growing popularity of Android Auto means it’s available in a wide variety of head units, and searching through all the options can feel confusing.
Not sure which Android Auto Head Unit is best?
We’ve cranked up the tunes and tested out numerous options. Check out our top recommendations and complete user’s guide right now:
Editor’s Choice Android Auto Car Stereo
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- 1 Best Android Auto Head Unit
- 2 Pre-Purchase Considerations
- 3 Questions & Answers
- 3.1 What is an Auto Head Unit?
- 3.2 What is an Android Head Unit?
- 3.3 What is Android Auto Like to Use?
- 3.4 Does Android Auto Work with Single Din or Double Din?
- 3.5 What are the Benefits of an Android Head Unit?
- 3.6 What are the Main Features?
- 3.7 Messaging (Phone and SMS)
- 3.8 What Apps Can I Use with Android Auto?
- 3.9 Will My Car Support an Android Auto Head Unit?
- 3.10 Will My Phone Support Android Auto?
- 4 Final Thoughts
Best Android Auto Head Unit
1. Pioneer AVH-W4500NEX Android Car Stereo Receiver
The 13-band equalizer with selectable tone curves makes this head unit a great choice for anyone who loves fine-tuning every note which plays through the audio system. It has three sets of four-volt preamp outputs. The peak power output is 50 watts times four channels.
The seven-inch display has both touchscreen and push-button controls. The home screen allows you to play music, chart a destination, answer messages, and more. Connecting the unit to your smartphone is quick and simple.
- 7-inch screen size
- 4” by 9” by 14”
- Dual Rear USB
- Android Auto, CarPlay and Bluetooth compatible
2. Kenwood eXcelon DNX995S
Car audio fans already know about the quality sound found in Kenwood decks. But they’re probably also familiar with the complicated, confusing user interfaces most Kenwood devices are known for.
Fortunately, this unit reverses that unwanted trend. The UI is redesigned, simplified, and intuitive so you can navigate the system safely while driving.
Additionally, the sound quality is amazing with a 13-band equalizer and plenty of audio customization.
Dual USB dongles allow for fast device charging. It has built-in HD radio, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. The large display uses a white LED backlight to minimize glare.
If you’ve been avoiding Kenwood head units because you disliked the UI interface, get ready for a pleasant surprise.
- Manufacturer: Kenwood
- Model: DNX995S (“eXcelon”)
- 6.75-inch screen
- 7” by 11” by 11”
- Receiving frequency: 1575.42MHz
- Waze compatible
3. Atoto A6Y1021PR
Are you tired of straining to see the screen on your head unit? Atoto has the solution. The screen on this device is a large 10 inches with a 178-degree full-viewing angle. You’ll have no problem reading the display even in direct sunlight.
Although most operations are conducted via touchscreen, five touch buttons and a knob provide instant access to common features such as volume and menu control.
However, it’s probably not the best choice if you have an older Android device. It works best with Android 9.0 and above. The Android device can be connected by either USB cable or WiFi (available for Android 7.1 and lower).
Finally, the unit’s a great choice if your car is occasionally out of your control. A Screen Lock keeps the screen secure when driven by a valet or another party.
- Manufacturer: ATOTO
- Model: A6Y1021PR
- 10-inch touchscreen
- Compatible with Android 9.0 and up
- USB port
- WiFi compatible
4. Pioneer AVH-3300NEX
The most noticeable feature is the seven-inch touchscreen with LED backlight and a motorized display. It flips out from the single din deck, making this probably the best option for small vehicles with limited console space. Turning the engine off makes the screen automatically fold away behind the head unit.
It’s designed with hands-free use in mind. The unit is compatible with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and MIXTRAX. Built-in Bluetooth capability allows for easy pairing with a huge range of devices.
The unit includes a USB extension plug port. Connecting your Android or iDevice is quick and easy. Plus, the unit’s high-end processing power allows for quick response times.
- Single din
- Motorized display
- DVD player
- Extended USB cable
5. Sony XAV-AX5000
It’s a double din head unit which supports Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, Bluetooth and more. It also includes three free months of Sirius XM satellite radio.
The seven-inch display screen is vibrant and easy-to-read. The brightness is 500 cd/m2 with a contrast ratio of 600.
Accessing the menus is safe and simple, even when driving. A touch screen lets you control all advanced features while physical buttons allow you fast access to primary features.
- 10-band equalizer
- Dual USB ports
- Seven-inch display screen
- Auto-level adjustment
6. Pioneer AVIC-W8400NEX DVD Receiver
Pioneer puts you in control by offering plenty of customization options. Your Android device can be connected either wired or wirelessly. Wi-Fi Certified Miracast even lets you keep your smartphone in your pocket or purse while you drive.
It also includes a map database from HERE which covers Canada and the U.S. including Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico. Updates to the mapping system are available for free during the first 45 days of use. Of course, you can skip the on-board map system entirely in favor of Google Maps.
Finally, another major feature is the WVGA multipoint touchscreen. If you’ve been frustrated by non-responsive screens, you’ll love the elegant interactivity found here.
- Model: AVIC-W8400NEX
- 12 x 8 x 12 inches
- WVGA motorized touchscreen
- 9 million Points of Interest
- Wired and wireless connectivity
7. Kenwood Excelon DDX9905S
It features a maximum output power of 50 watts by four with three five-volt pre-outs. A 13-band graphic equalizer plus digital time alignment and a bass boost create the quality sound you’d expect from Kenwood.
Are you still rocking out to your CD collection? The unit includes playback for CD, CD-R, MP3, DVD, WAV, DSD, and most other popular audio and video formats.
Finally, it’s easy to set up and use. The unit has two USB interfaces so you can connect your smartphone and another device simultaneously. It also supports Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, Bluetooth, iDataLink, and more. Designed for use while driving, it can be operated by voice, touchscreen, and button controls.
- Manufacturer: Kenwood
- Model: DDX9905S
- 8” by 12” by 12”
- Display type: LCD
Android auto head units are increasingly factory-installed on many modern autos. But they’re still far from the norm. The chances are good you need to install an aftermarket unit. Here are the main features to watch for when shopping:
Let’s start with the part you’ll look at the most – the screen. The ideal size will depend on your vehicle. If you have an SUV, truck, or van with an expansive dashboard, a large screen will fit without a problem. But you’ll have limited room in a passenger car.
Generally, the screen should be at least six or seven inches. Otherwise, it can be difficult to read and use. Screens six inches and larger improve overall safety because you can read the display in a glance.
CD Accessibility :
CDs are at a weird point in time. They’ve effectively been replaced by digital music. However, many people still have large CD collections which they like to play in their car.
Like CDs themselves, CD players used to be a popular feature found in many car sound systems. But they’re not very common in today’s auto head units. If you still own lots of CDs, decide how important a CD player is to you, because it does limit your options when shopping.
Backup Camera Accessibility :
Do you have a backup camera or dashcam, or are you planning to add one? Make sure it’s compatible with your auto head unit. The large screen is perfect for displaying real-time video from the front or rear of your car.
Most cameras are easy to connect to standard units. They’ll display the rearview feed automatically when the vehicle is put into reverse.
Steering Wheel Control Support :
Many newer vehicles will have buttons on the steering wheel which allow you to adjust aspects of your audio system such as input source and volume. In many cases, you can still use those buttons with your upgraded audio head.
iPhone Compatibility :
Just because it’s an Android Auto Head doesn’t mean you need to shut out Apple devices completely. iOS compatibility is useful if the car is shared by iPhone-owners. Also, any passengers with an iPhone can easily share their music when they’re in your car.
Most popular Android Auto Heads also support Apple devices. However, in some cases, iOS functions will be more limited than what you can do with an Android device.
Features vary by model. However, many features are standard across most popular auto heads. You’ll probably want the following:
- Bluetooth connectivity
- USB input
- AUX input (at least one)
- HD radio
- Wi-Fi hotspot
A touchscreen is also a popular feature. It’s especially useful when navigating maps. However, many music-related functions are actually easier to control from steering-wheel buttons if available.
Most popular decks generally include all of the features listed above, with additional features also available. However, if you want any specific feature, check the specs carefully to make sure it’s available in the head you plan to buy.
Questions & Answers
What is an Auto Head Unit?
Let’s start with the basics.
The head unit is the main control and hardware interface for your car’s stereo system. It’s also referred to as the deck or receiver. (Quick tip: If you use the word “receiver” online or in an auto parts store, people will think you’re super old.)
The head unit can be either single or double din. The difference between single and double mainly refers to each unit’s size and some of its features. Double din units are seven by four inches, while single dins are seven by two.
Double dins generally have a variety of features, most of which are screen-based such as:
- HD display for DVDs and digital media
- Touchscreen operation
- Rearview camera display
- Smartphone integration
- And other features
That’s not to say single din heads can’t have some of those features as well. For example, many single dins have Bluetooth smartphone integration.
Plus, single din head units can also have a flip-out touchscreen. It allows you most, if not all, of the features of a double din touchscreen in a slightly more compact display.
Want a more in-depth refresher on single and double din stereos? Check out Single Din vs. Double Din – What are the Differences?.
What is an Android Head Unit?
An Android head unit is an aftermarket deck designed to pair with – you guess it – an Android device, usually a smartphone. The feature is called Android Auto.
It’s made by Google and compatible with most, but not necessarily all, models of Android phones. CarPlay is the iPhone equivalent of Android Auto.
Note that Google makes the compatibility software, not the head unit. You’ll find Android Auto in a huge range of head units, including those from most major manufacturers such as Pioneer, Alpine, Boss and more.
USB vs. HDMI
Let’s take a step back and establish what Android Auto isn’t. It’s not a mirrored display between the head unit and the phone.
You can use an HDMI cable to connect your smartphone to the display of a double-din head unit. But there’s no true interactivity. You’ll still need to touch the phone to operate any Android features.
Android Auto uses a USB cable to connect your phone with your vehicle’s heat unit. This type of connection allows for true interactivity. You can use the safe, easy controls of your vehicle’s head unit to harness the power of your Android device.
Android Auto enhances the driving experience in several ways. It adds a variety of music and entertainment options. Plus, it significantly increases your safety behind the wheel.
What is Android Auto Like to Use?
Android Auto isn’t a direct copy of your smartphone screen. Instead, once connected, the head unit will display a simplified, streamlined version of the Google app.
Three general areas are emphasized:
- Communications (Calls and Messages)
As you probably expect, everything in Android Auto was designed from the ground up with driver safety in mind. Hands-free operation is available whenever possible, along with simple, intuitive touchscreen (or push button) operation. The Google Assistant also plays a useful role by reading messages and other information aloud.
Does Android Auto Work with Single Din or Double Din?
Android Auto is almost exclusively found in double din head units. That’s probably not a surprise, considering its emphasis on maps and touchscreen (or push button) operations.
Traditional single din head units don’t have a display screen, which limits Android Auto features. However, you can use Bluetooth to connect your smartphone and single din head unit to make hands-free calls.
Notice how we said Android Auto is “almost exclusively” found in double din head units. The “almost” refers to flip out touchscreens, an option which gives single dins some degree of double din functionality.
They use a motor to unfold a larger touchscreen from behind the single din head unit. It’s not quite as big as a double din screen, but it’s usually close.
Most flip out (or fold-out) touchscreens allow you to connect to Android or CarPlay. It’s a great option for smaller vehicles where console space is cramped.
On the downside, flip out touchscreens can be expensive. Plus, the motorized display can be somewhat fragile.
What are the Benefits of an Android Head Unit?
Android Auto lets you use the power of Google mapping and navigation, while also restricting many features which can interfere with safe driving. Here’s a closer look:
Not even 30 years ago, many car mapping systems were CD-ROMs. You needed to load different discs to update maps. It was a step above paper maps, but not by much.
GPS navigation changed the game, starting in the late 80s and early 90s. But many early Sat-Nav systems were not so hot. Stuck to the window with a suction cup, but usually not for long, systems like TomTom and Garmin were often a hassle to use.
Problems with Smartphone Mapping
Smartphone mapping, especially Google Maps, quickly became the superior navigation choice. However, smartphones have limitations when used in a vehicle. Plenty of smartphone mounts are available which will hold your phone by the center A/C vents.
But smartphones aren’t made to be used in a car. When trying to navigate a map, you can be interrupted by calls, notifications, and other e-distractions. Plus, reading a smartphone while driving requires you to take your eyes off the road far too frequently.
Introducing Full-Featured Google Assistant
Google Assistant wasn’t always a part of the driver system. Android Auto was originally announced in 2014. From that initial introduction through 2018, Android Auto used Google’s Voice Search platform. It sounded like the Home Assistant but lacked quite a few features. However, the full-featured Google Assistant now powers Android Auto.
At any point, you can tap Google Assistant to access a variety of voice-activated features. You can ask for directions, make a phone call, dictate an SMS, and more. It’s as capable as any Google Home system.
How Android Auto Helps Keep You Safe
Aside from Google Assistant, Android Auto does quite a few driver-specific things, too. It automatically suggests directions based on your driving history and recent searches.
Plus, it minimizes distractions when you drive. Incoming calls and messages can be answered by voice, so you don’t have to take your eyes off the road.
The home screen provides a wealth of information which is easy to read with a glance. You can view the weather, missed call alerts, current music information, the time, battery strength, and signal strength. The screen resembles the Android lock screen.
Overall, Android Auto’s UI (user interface) resembles the former Google Now and current Google App design. It uses a card-based menu system with the intuitive predictability you’d expect from Google’s unified design language.
What are the Main Features?
A 2018 study from internet marketing firm The Manifest found some interesting insights about technology and navigation:
- 77% of smartphone owners use apps for navigation
- 67% of those who navigation users prefer Google Maps
Google Maps is almost six times as popular as the second most-preferred navigation app, which is Waze at 12%.
The built-in Google Maps functionality is a major selling point for Android Auto. Most drivers prefer it to any existing factory-installed nav system.
Using Google Maps through Android Auto includes a few features to help keep you orientated. For example, if you exit the Google Maps app while on your way to a specific destination, a navigation card is automatically placed on the home screen. You can stay on course even if you need to make a call or perform another activity.
Additionally, Android Auto excels at predicting your destination and advising you on the best route based on current traffic and weather conditions. As Google learns your driving patterns, you’ll spend less time entering destinations – because the system can predict where you’re going.
If you’re familiar with Google Maps, you’ll be right at home with the Android Auto interface. You can pinch-to-zoom, drag, and otherwise control everything in the way you’re used to. Plus, you can access more advanced menu options by head unit buttons or voice commands.
Of course, we’re all about the music here at Car Audio Logic. While Google Maps is probably the feature most widely touted, Android Auto also has lots to offer musically.
As you probably expected, Google Play is featured prominently. But Android Auto is surprisingly welcoming to other music services, too, especially compared to other auto head unit systems (looking at you, CarPlay). You can easily play music from any of the following:
- Amazon Music
- Many major sports networks
Controlling the music is as intuitive as everything else. You can tap the screen or use voice commands. Music is searchable by artist, album or playlist. When a song plays, you can even see the album cover in the background.
However, keep in mind you’re streaming data through your smartphone. Your standard data limits still apply. If you listen to lots of music when you drive, make sure you’re prepared for what could be a big increase in data usage. As a rough estimate, streaming Google Maps and Google Play music uses about 10 GB monthly.
Because the smartphone uses a USB cable to connect to the head unit, sound quality is excellent. It’s far superior to Bluetooth audio streaming.
Messaging (Phone and SMS)
An average of nine people each day are killed on the road due to distracted driving, which commonly takes the form of either texting or using the phone. Android Auto includes a variety of features to help you stay safe while still staying in touch.
Voice activation allows for hands-free phone use. Plus, the contact list is large and quick to scroll through. Calls use Bluetooth.
Status bar notifications allow you to manage incoming communications easily. You can answer calls, mute ringing immediately, listen to voicemails, and more.
Texts are equally easy to receive and compose when driving. Incoming messages trigger an on-screen notification. Tap the notification, and Google Assistant will read it out loud. You can then dictate your reply.
As with its support for multiple music services, Google allows all manner of popular messaging apps, too. WhatsApp, Kik, Skype, and most other major platforms are easily supported.
Most units allow you to easily connect any vehicles cameras such as packing cameras and dashcams. Usually, setup is as simple as plugging unplugging a cord from your existing display and inserting it into the new deck.
Keep in mind backup cameras do override the display automatically when you put the vehicle into reverse. Additionally, certain types of parking cameras will automatically record footage if a collision is detected. While these features usually aren’t a problem, they are one of only a few situations where you lose control over the display.
What Apps Can I Use with Android Auto?
If you’re like most people, your phone is probably packed with apps. But those apps can’t necessarily be used from the head unit.
Android Auto supports a relatively small number of apps. It’s a safety feature to keep the main screen free from distractions. After all, many notifications on your smartphone can be handled after you’ve parked. Compared to apps for use on the phone, new apps specifically made for the Android App are rarely developed.
Most supported third-party apps relate directly to navigation, hands-free communication, or driving. For example, you can set up streaming through a third-party music service, connect a rearview camera, and do much more. Of course, the specifics vary based on the capabilities of the app and the audio head.
Will My Car Support an Android Auto Head Unit?
Almost certainly. It’s supported by over 400 models spanning most major automobile manufacturers. Usually, it’s easier to list the few manufacturers who don’t provide full Android Auto support. They are:
- Jaguar Land Rover
However, support is slowly increasing among those brands.
Interestingly, older cars are often easier to upgrade than newer ones. Vehicles manufactured before the year 2000 typically have stereos made in a standard size. They’re easy to replace with most standard double din decks. However, newer vehicles often have dashboards with more unique contours. Finding a head unit which fits can be more complicated (although it’s far from impossible).
Will My Phone Support Android Auto?
Android Auto works with any Android device running version 5.0 Lollipop or higher. Considering that’s a fairly old version of the operating software, most modern Android smartphones should work without a problem. However, certain high-end decks require version 9.0 and higher.
Generally, newer phones perform better than older ones. That’s because Android Auto is powered by your phone’s processor. The more powerful your phone is, the faster you’ll be able to access maps, music and other information.
If Android Auto menus and other features move sluggishly, the most likely cause is a lack of phone processing power rather than an issue related to the vehicle itself.
An Android Auto head unit allows you to unlock the power of your smartphone while driving – while significantly minimizing most safety hazards. You can access a world of streaming music, state-of-the-art mapping, and the ever-helpful Google Assistant.
An Android Auto head unit doesn’t just give you the best car audio performance; it also takes your entire driving experience to a whole new level.