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 AVH-4500NEX 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, which is 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 hide away into a very compact space. The 3300’s interface is simple and flexible, and the unit supports both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. There’s a CD/DVD player as well, 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. Current pricing 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 other two head units we’ve selected. There’s no CD/DVD player, and the unit is missing an iDatalink adapter to make it work with steering wheel controls. It offers Bluetooth connectivity, though, and it’s compatible with a wide selection of rear-view cameras.
The connected smartphone will take care of the missing features in most cases, but some people will miss having a physical disc player and the lack of connectivity for steering wheel controls may be a deal-breaker. Pricing comes in at around $350.
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