Just last summer I was saying to myself, “Self, the next big thing will be using your phone on an aftermarket radio without needing HDMI, a bunch of hideous cables and parts, that will be based solely on the phone’s firmware alone whether it be IOS or some weird candy Android comes out with.” Late last fall, it happened with Apple Car Play. Android quickly caught up and released their product in Spring of 2015. Then we got busier than ever before and I am finally finding a moment to write this blog. [more like a few hours in between customers] In short, I will format this blog entry in two parts instead of writing two blogs. First part will be about Apple Car Play and Android Auto and the second part will be about the radios that use them so well, specifically Pioneer and Kenwood.
WHAT IS APPLE CAR PLAY & ANDROID AUTO? To explain in words I feel most of us regular folk can understand Apple Car Play and Android Auto are products developed by Apple and Android respectfully. They designed their products and then licensed them to Pioneer and Kenwood. They will allow you to use your phone’s navigation, music, messaging and phone apps just as you would with the phone in hand, all from the screen itself. In the past, Pioneer and Kenwood attempted to compensate with HDMI inputs, long and obtrusive cables and parts, and then you could get video and mirroring of sorts but control itself was not necessarily part of the product.
CONTROL is the key to enjoyment and, in my opinion, safe driving. Before you couldn’t easily look at your screen, see your phone’s navigation app, “tell” it where to take you. Instead, you could choose a setting on your radio, wait for it to change, make sure your phone is in the landscape position instead of portrait, then for the ONE app that could be controlled which was navigation, use your finger to type in your route. However, everything else was done from the phone. Now, with your iPhone 5s or newer or your Android with 5.0 Lollipop or newer you can simply plug in your phone and the Apple/Android product takes over.
To the left you see the Apple Car Play example. You see the apps available which are PHONE, MUSIC, MAPS, MESSAGES, PODCASTS and if you use it, SPOTIFY. The other are navigational choices for taking you back to the source you are currently listening to and to get you back to the either Kenwood or Pioneer main menu screen. In the bottom left corner you see a round, white dot. This is SIRI in all her glory. She is also navigational with a quick one tap to get you back to the main Apple menu or press and hold and you will hear Siri ask you what you want to do. From there, you can say, “Call mom”, “Where’s the closest gas station”, “Send a message to Chris”. The beauty of this is that it’s not using your Bluetooth to do this. It is using Apple’s Siri. So again you’re not relying on Pioneer or Kenwood to have great Bluetooth, which they do, but you are relying on Siri the product to hear you, respond and navigate for you as if you were using the phone directly. She will even respond to “What is zero divided by zero?” if you ask.
For Android Auto, it looks very much and is designed to behave like the Google Information center that displays cards with reminders, game scores etc., but will also show missed calls, text alerts and such. You will be using Google maps instead of Apple Maps which is the only one that will work on the Apple Car Play. Google Music and Spotify are the default music apps that will currently work but Android will expand to more and will do so much quicker than Apple most likely. You will also have full phone control and messaging control. Please see the pictures to the left.
I have had one customer who was a fantastic guinea pig. We installed the Pioneer AVIC-8100NEX radio in his truck. He wanted built in navigation and he wanted to be able to use the Android Auto and Apple Car Play. His work provided one phone and his personal phone was the other. He used it for about a week and said all worked great, the Android was fussy getting it to work at first, which is sometimes the case with Android but once working it always worked. He in the end preferred Android’s product to Apple’s. He said it flowed better and he likes Google maps better as well.
In my vehicle, I have the Kenwood Excelon DDX9902S. I happen to love it. LOVE IT. I can’t say I wouldn’t like the Android Auto better but I don’t have an Android. When I did have Androids, they annoyed me. Whatever, Chevy, Ford, right? Point is, now, finally after such a long time, you can simply plug in your phone, see the most needed and used apps that are currently allowed while driving, use it practically handsfree, have a really beautiful display as well and it works just like your phone. It’s incredible.
Oh, one more thing. Apple announced during the summer that the next Apple Car Play release will allow you to use it WITHOUT plugging in your phone. WHAATT?? There were no specifics when that would happen, only hinted to some time in 2016 but I have no idea how well it will work, if it will move from app to app as quickly and seamlessly or not and I certainly don’t have a clue if this will be more expensive.
PIONEER OR KENWOOD? Specifically I am going to compare only two radios. The Pioneer AVH-4100NEX and the Kenwood Excelon DDX9902S. Here’s why. Currently, Kenwood only has one radio that has Apple Car Play and Android Auto. Actually, Kenwood has one and Kenwood Excelon has one but we only carry the Excelon because you get a bit better sound features and a 2 year warranty for only $50 more. Worth it.
Pioneer has 5, FIVE units with Apple Car Play and three of those have Android Auto. So pay attention if you really aren’t sure which Pioneer radio you want to get. They are not all equal when it comes to Android Auto. Pioneer has the AVIC-5100NEX, AVIC-6100NEX, AVIC-7100NEX and the AVIC-8100NEX. These are all units with built in navigation and Apple Car Play but only the 7100NEX and 8100NEX have Android Auto. From what I heard at Pioneer training that is because Android requires a specific type of screen to use Android Auto properly and for Pioneer they only included that screen in their top two navigation units. There are other differences with those 4 navigation radios but they are unrelated to this blog.
I did say 5 didn’t I? The fifth is the AVH-4100NEX which is Pioneer’s top DVD receiver without navigation. This is the Pioneer radio that is most like Kenwood’s DDX9902S and that is why it is used in this apples to apples comparison. Here is how they are similar. They both have:
SIMILARITIES BETWEEN PIONEER AND KENWOOD
AM/FM/CD/DVD/USB/HD radio/HDMI Input/Bluetooth streaming and hands free calling.
Apple Car Play and Android Auto
3 preouts and 4 volt
Dual Zone Audio/Video [if you run video from the radio back to a rear screen you don’t have to watch or listen to the same thing]
Rear Aux Input
iDataLink Maestro Compatible
Back up Camera ready
Siri Eyes Free
Pandora control for iPhone/Android
DIFFERENCES BETWEEN PIONEER AND KENWOOD
Kenwood DDX9702S has a 1 year warranty but the Kenwood Excelon DDX9902S has a 2 year warranty. The Pioneer has a 1 year warranty.
Pioneer has a fully detachable face, not Kenwood. However, this is a bad idea. How many times do you drop your phone? Dropping this screen will bring bigger heartache. Don’t use it. Get an alarm if you’re really worried.
Pioneer has an easier “get to the menu” interface. From the main menu you can get to just about anything. You don’t have to press MENU, Sub Menu, Scroll down, choose another option and then another. That would be Kenwood. Kenwood has a layered menu that cannot easily be navigated whereas Pioneer literally from any audio source, you tap one thing and you’re there. No guess work. That’s a plus when driving 65 mph.
If you are in a family or relationship where one person has an iPhone and the other has an Android, then Kenwood is a better choice. With either radio you will need the required usb to lightning and usb to MHL cable to be able to use either Apple or Android feature. However, Kenwood has developed their radio to make it seemless. If I’m using my iPhone and the next user is using an Android they simply plug their phone in to the correct cable and it will work. The Kenwood unit automatically recognizes what type of phone is being used. For Pioneer, you have to go into the settings menu, Smartphone Setup, choose 2 different options and then you can use your phone with the radio. It’s not difficult but it is an extra thing to do and if you’re like me and always in a hurry to leave this will be annoying tearing out of the driveway first thing in the morning. So keep that in mind.
Screen Tilt is simpler with the Pioneer. By simply pressing the CD/DVD eject button a menu appears on the screen at the bottom. It asks you to choose from left to right, CD, SD CARD, SCREEN DETATCH, TILT IN, TILT OUT. That easy. However, with Kenwood from the main menu, choose SETTINGS, DISPLAY, scroll down, choose TILT, choose which tilt setting and then you’re done; all while driving 65mph. This is not a deal breaker but something to consider if you find your radio will be the victim of glare often.
IN CLOSING Both Apple Car Play and Android Auto are great products. The Android users will need more patience in the initial set up. You have to download an app; with some phones, change a setting, then pair the phone’s Bluetooth with the radio, plug the phone up to the SPECIFIC CABLE YOU GOT WITH THE PHONE or one just like it, then most likely either turn the phone off and on and maybe even the vehicle. It’s a bit of a dance. After that, as long as you don’t unpair the phone or get a new phone you won’t have to do that again.
With iPhone users, plug the phone in, unlock it and you’re done. It’s completely ready to use the first time with ONE EXCEPTION. If you have an iPhone 5s or newer and Apple Car Play doesn’t work AND you are using an APPLE product for the usb to lightning cable and not a $3 cable bought online or at the gas station, then check your SIRI settings. Go to SETTINGS, GENERAL, 3 lines down is SIRI. Make sure that girl is on. Remember, Apple Car Play does not use Bluetooth to talk to the radio, it uses SIRI. If she is not on, Apple Car Play will not work.
FYI, typically Pioneer releases their new touchscreen products early Spring while Kenwood releases theirs around May or June. It all depends on how big of a product it is and how fast and desperate they are to release.
That’s all for now. I hope this helped you with your decision and more than anything I hope you buy one, from us.