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The best Android Auto head units for 2021

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

Sony XAV-AX5000

If you’re looking for an Android Auto or an Apple CarPlay enabled tuner, the Sony XAV-AX500 is the most affordable option we found on the market. The 6.95-inch display isn’t the largest on our list, but it still provides a bright, crisp, crystal clear image. As a bonus, it pairs easily with several popular backup cameras.

Of course, if you opt for the Sony unit’s attractive price point, you have to forgo a few advanced features. Since this unit doesn’t include an optical drive, you won’t be able to listen to CDs or watch DVDs with the Sony XAV-AX500. With the unit’s BlueTooth capabilities, this shouldn’t pose much of a problem.

Another feature you’ll miss out on with this budget buy is the iDatalink adapter, which is necessary to link the controls on your steering wheel to the tuner unit itself. The Sony XAV-AX500 features volume controls on its face, but all steering wheel-based audio controls will be inoperable. Some users won’t even consider an Android Auto head like the XAV-AX500 that doesn’t connect to the steering controls. But this is a hard unit to beat if you’re on a tight budget. Even if your car is a dinosaur, it can benefit from modern technology add-ons like Android Auto head units. You can tune out some of those old car noises by adding one of these tuners that allow you to stream music to your favorite vehicle.

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