Best Android Auto head unit 2020: improve your in-car entertainment
Plug ‘n’ play: bring your ICE up to date with the best Android Auto compatible head units for older vehicles
If you think Android Auto is only reserved for those with enough cash to procure a brand new car, you’re sorely mistaken. Because there is now a busy marketplace for after market head units that can quickly and easily be installed into most vehicles, refreshing the interior and bringing serious Android compatibility into the dash.
Even those ancient vehicles with a thin sliver of a stereo system can now be finished with a large touchscreen that effortlessly connects with an Android phone to offer hands-free Google Assistant interactivity, effortless navigation and on-the-fly entertainment.
Of course, there is a price attached to such luxury and to enjoy the full Android Auto experience costs around £200/$200 for a basic model, escalating to over £500/$500 for some of the fancier systems on the market.
But that’s a small price to pay, seeing as many of these modern in-car units also come with DAB+ ratio, reversing camera compatibility and a bunch of other excellent features.
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So, if you fancy ditching that crackly FM radio and installing kit that happily chats to your Android Phone, you need to check out the best car stereos and head units that money can currently buy.
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The Pioneer SPH-EVO62DAB-UNI Car Stereo is a solid choice for those lacking space
What’s the best Android Auto head unit on sale?
It’s a tough one, because this will all depend on budget, but we sort of fell in love with the Alpine iLX-F903D, purely because this monster 9-inch screen fits into a single DIN slot – that’s the sort of space typically taken up by a slither of a CD player or, dare we say it, tape cassette unit.
This cracking head-unit boasts a crystal clear and rapid 9-inch touchscreen, DAB+ tuner built-in and three separate pre-outs for sub-woofers and other beastly in-car modifications.
Fitting a new car stereo brings the interior bang up to date
How to buy a new head unit or car stereo
As previously mentioned, there is a new car stereo or head unit to suit most budgets and to fit most vehicles. So long as you have the existing wiring for some sort of stereo device, prices range from around £200 for the most basic unit with Android Auto compatibility, while the most expensive can easily tickle the £1k mark if you opt for built-in maps and other jazzy features.
This, in our eyes, is a little bit pointless, because the whole point of this endeavour is to bring your smartphone into the car, meaning you can hook up and charge while using Google Maps, Apple Maps or Waze to deliver you to a destination – much better than the ageing sat nav rubbish found on many infotainment systems. In reality, you shouldn’t have to part with any more than £500 to get something utterly brilliant.
If you simply want a Bluetooth connection to play Spotify or listen to Podcasts, then it is very easy to shop at a much lower end of the budget (£90-£150). But true Android Auto requires a touchscreen and that means parting with more cash.
On the subject of fitting, this can be done fairly easily for those with a bit of car-related knowledge, some tools and plenty of patience (check out the numerous YouTube How-To videos if you fancy a spot of DIY), but buy from Halfords, for example, and they will offer to fit it for you.
This usually takes a couple of hours at the most and the cost around £70/$90, depending on how complicated the fitting process is.
Get hands-free Google Assistant interactivity, effortless navigation and on-the-fly entertainment.
The best Android Auto head units for 2020
Maybe your vehicle’s stereo has gone kaput, or perhaps it’s time for an upgrade. Maybe you’re just tired of humming along to a washed-out, tinny sound. Whatever the reason, an aftermarket head unit is usually the solution. Many people have Android smartphones and would also like to take advantage of Android Auto, which allows popular phone features to be projected into the vehicle’s dash. No matter the need, there are several options available, but before you run out and buy a new stereo, consider these things first:
- How much room do you have: Different vehicles have different dash configurations that make picking a head unit a bit more challenging. Some vehicles have what is known as a double-DIN stereo, which is essentially two “slots” stacked together. Others have a single-DIN stereo, which is a smaller space overall. You’ll need to know which units will fit before shopping.
- Installation: Many car audio shops will install anything purchased in their store, but if you’re buying online, you’ll need to make sure your local shop will accept the job. Installing yourself is an option, but newer vehicles’ electronics are very complex and there may be additional parts (brackets, mounts, etc) that you didn’t know you needed.
- Other vehicle systems: In some vehicles, removing the stereo will cause all sorts of problems with other systems, such as airbags, climate controls, and theft deterrent systems. It’s important to know how your vehicle will behave once the stock head unit is removed.
- Appearance: If you have an older vehicle, you may want to preserve the stock look of the dash. In these cases, a custom install or running your smartphone separately might be a good idea, because Android Auto head units take up a lot of space. They also don’t look particularly period-correct. In other cases, make sure that the head unit’s color scheme and appearance fit with the rest of your vehicle’s interior aesthetic.
Now that you know what you need to get started, let’s take a look at our picks for the best Android Auto head units:
Best Overall: Pioneer AVH-W4500NEX
The AVH-W4500NEX is our pick for the best overall Android Auto-capable head unit. It also runs Apple CarPlay, but the big story here is the screen, which is one of the sharpest available in 2020. It also offers wireless connections for both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which is a feature usually reserved for the most expensive vehicles. Behind the scenes, the Pioneer AVH-W4500NEX features a variety of input and output connections, as well as a CD/DVD drive. Current pricing ranges from $450 to $550, though discounts can be found across the internet.
The best Single-DIN Unit: Pioneer AVH-3300NEX
If your vehicle only has a single installation slot, also known as a single-DIN unit, your choices for big-screen aftermarket head units are quite limited. That makes the AVH-3300NEX even more special because it features a fold-out design that allows a full, 7.0-inch screen to tuck away into a very compact space. For drivers who want a big screen, you can’t do better than this Pioneer unit. The 3300’s interface is flexible and straightforward, and the software supports Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. There’s a CD/DVD player, too, though most users will be happy with their connected smartphone . One big downside to the fold-out design is that it can feel flimsy or unstable while the vehicle is moving. It would be best if you weren’t viewing the screen while on the road anyway — so this might not be an issue. Current pricing of Pioneer AVH-3300NEX is between $280 and $430, depending on where you shop, and discounts are widely available.
The best budget pick: Sony XAV-AX5000
If you’re on a budget and still want Android Auto or Apple CarPlay in your vehicle, the Sony XAV-AX5000 is the way to go. Its screen is slightly smaller than the other two head units on our list, landing at 6.95 inches, but it’s still bright, crisp, and colorful. The Sony also has volume buttons for easy adjustments. Its slightly lower price does mean that it’s missing some of the big-ticket features offered in the alternative head units on our list. There’s no CD/DVD player, and this option is missing an iDatalink adapter to make it work with steering wheel controls. The Sony XAV-AX5000 offers Bluetooth connectivity, though. Plus, it’s compatible with a wide selection of rear-view cameras.
For some users, not connecting to the steering wheel controls will take the Sony XAV-AX5000 out of the running for their Android Auto head. The price tag is lower than some, though, at around $400. So, the more affordable price can be worth it.
Even on vintage cars, you can install an Android Auto head that brings in modern capabilities like streaming music, utilizing Bluetooth, and making safer hands-free calls.
There are more aftermarket Android Auto head units on the market than ever before, and we've picked the three that can match the needs of almost any buyer.