Last updated on May 18th, 2019 at 10:28 pm
Most vehicles have Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity built in nowadays; however, some lower trim levels do not offer that feature. And, some older vehicles—and not that much older—don’t have the latest technology. But you can have connectivity without buying a brand new vehicle. Just purchase an aftermarket head unit to replace the one in your car or truck.
Because many auto manufacturers want to coax you into spending more money by offering goodies like connectivity in only the higher trim levels, aftermarket manufacturers have come up with their own solution. This makes it much less expensive for you to have the newest technology.
Additionally, if a manufacturer offers Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, it may be on small screens or equipment that doesn’t do everything you would like it to do. For example, those that offer connectivity often have navigation and satellite radio as additional upgrades. Some manufacturers don’t offer navigation at all. And, some vehicle manufacturers have slow and clunky or non-user-friendly infotainment systems.
When researching the best Apple CarPlay and Android Auto head units, be sure to know how the unit connects with your phone, whether the unit has a touchscreen, the quality and size of the display and how user-friendly the unit is. You will also want to check to see what apps the unit comes with or works with, including navigation.
Be sure your phone will work with the head unit you choose. Most use Apple CarPlay and / or Android Auto. A few use MirrorShare, which is older technology that doesn’t work as well as the Android and Apple platforms. Some units may offer just the Android platform or just the Apple platform, so if it’s something you like, be sure you pick the one that will connect to your phone.
It is advisable to get a head unit that connects via both platforms, in the event that you switch the type of phone you use. Furthermore, MirrorShare only casts what is on your phone to the larger screen on the head unit. Think of it as a projector screen. With the Android or Apple platforms, you will be able to use navigation, music streaming, voice recognition and more, depending on which head unit you get.
Some head units also come with proprietary software in addition to Apple and Android connectivity. Additionally, additional software may be available so that you are able to see your vehicle’s functions, including temperature, trouble codes and more.
Screen Size and Display Quality
Don’t forget to check the DIN unit in your dash. This is the size of the head unit. If your vehicle has just one DIN unit, you’ll have to look for a head unit with a pop-out screen or it won’t fit. Or, you could buy a head unit with one DIN unit, but the screen will be half the size. Check for the quality of the screen—colors should be crisps, the screen should be easy to see from an angle and you’ll want to know if it’s a touchscreen or uses just knobs and buttons.
Ease of Use
Make sure the head unit functions are easy to use. You are buying this to help you drive safer and have access to features on your phone. If it’s difficult to find what you need, including navigation or if it’s difficult to change what is playing, that means that you’ll take your eyes off the road. A user-friendly infotainment system is one that doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out.
Best Head Units With Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
Pioneer AVIC-W6400NEX Quick Review
The Pioneer AVIC-W6400NEX features a backup camera and Wi-Fi-certified Miracast to mirror devices with the Android platform. This head unit also has wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. It’s easy to set up with your phone. Charge your phone with one of the USB ports without interrupting the connection. You need to have Android 9 or higher for this head unit to work with Android platforms.
This head unit does have a 7-inch HD touchscreen with an 800×480 resolution. The screen is as responsive as the touchscreen on your smartphone. The viewing angle is adjustable. When you open the display, you’ll see an SD card slot, disc slot and Auto EQ input.
This Pioneer model features navigation powered by Total Traffic Network. There is no need to attach your phone for navigation. Choose from internal maps, Waze or maps through Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. The Pioneer has a dedicated rearview camera input. The other video input may be used for a front facing camera if you have one, but this leaves you with just one audio-video input.
Additional features include a 13-band graphic equalizer, MP3 compatibility, dual-zone control to send video to an external monitor, GPS antenna, SiriusXM radio antenna and a built-in amplifier.
- Easy to connect a phone.
- Allows you to keep the phone unlocked or locked.
- Charges the phone without interrupting the connection.
- HD capacitive touchscreen.
- Two camera inputs.
- Two USB ports.
- Switching back to normal Bluetooth function takes a few steps.
- The display is not detachable.
- Pandora only works with Bluetooth Audio.
Kenwood DNX685S Quick Review
This Kenwood head unit features advanced navigation by Garmin and allows for a dashboard camera to be connected. It records in HD video and automatically adjusts to record at night or in bright sunlight. The DNX685S allows you to connect your smartphone via WebLink for apps such as Waze, Your Portal and YouTube. Download WebLink from Kenwood. It works with a USB connection.
You may also control the head unit with Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. You’ll be able to send and receive texts, listen to music, make phone calls, listen to your voice mail and more. An Automotive Data Solutions iDatalink Maestro RR connects to the DNX695S and allows you to use factory infotainment features including Bluetooth hands-free, satellite radio, vehicle information and more.
The Kenwood DNX695S allows you to connect two phones with Bluetooth and are able to switch between both phones. The Kenwood Remote App S allows you to operate the head unit from your smartphone.
- 6.8-inch WVGA clear resistive touch panel.
- Dual camera inputs.
- 3 preouts 5.0 V.
- High-resolution audio ready.
- 13-band graphic equalizer.
- Android Auto not always available on all devices, regions or countries.
Sony XAV-AX5000 Quick Review
The Sony XAV-AX5000 features Android Auto and Apple CarPlay with a user-friendly interface. This head unit also accepts voice commands. The XAV-AX5000 has a 7-inch flat mirror LCD display with no bezel, so you get the full 7 inches.
Access all of the content on your phone via voice or your finger. Even the stereo controls are programmed just like your phone, which makes user-friendly even friendlier. Take phone calls, listen to text messages, listen to your favorite tunes and more.
The Sony XAV-AX5000 also comes with Bluetooth so you’ll be able to access audiobooks, streaming music, podcasts and make hands-free calls. You can do it all without plugging in. This system includes a wired microphone so that your callers are able to hear you loud and clear.
This head unit also features SiriusXM radio so that you are not without music when you get into an area where your phone or the radio fades away. The Sony XAV-AX5000 includes a 10-band graphic equalizer and Dynamic Stage Organizer.
- 7-inch touchscreen with no bezel.
- Virtual speakers on the dashboard.
- Dynamic Reality Amp.
- Preamp outputs for front and rear speakers.
- Preamp output for a subwoofer.
- Keeps steering wheel controls with additional wiring.
- Needs additional wiring to keep steering wheel-mounted audio controls.
- Bluetooth is limited to your phone’s capabilities.
Pioneer AVH-2400NEX Quick Review
The Pioneer AVH-2400NEX features voice control, Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. If you connect your phone via the USB port, you’ll be able to access many apps. The AVH-2400NEX features a 7-inch touchscreen—use the controls on the screen or your voice to access the apps. The AppRadio Mode+ allows you to access Waze for navigation. Spotify and Pandora are built into this head unit.
This head unit allows you to choose different customizations including the background and colors. SiriusXM is accessible through the AVH-2400NEX. Bluetooth allows you to access your text messaging feature and stream music.
The clear restrictive touchscreen works just like the screen on your phone. It sends clear video to a screen for the rear passengers. The AVH-2400NEX also has a jack to plug in a rearview camera. This unit also features a 13-band graphic equalizer and built-in high and low-pass crossover with points and slopes that are adjustable.
- 7-inch touchscreen
- Customizable interface.
- Bluetooth hands-free calling.
- Multi-color illumination.
- Remote control.
- Must have a phone plugged in or connected via Bluetooth to access apps such as Pandora.
- iDatalink Maestro required to keep factory extras, but it’s optional.
JVC KW-V950BW Quick Review
The JVC KW-V950BW features wired and wireless access to Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. This head unit allows up to five devices to connect via its wireless connection, allowing everyone in the car to play music. Listen to music from your personal library with Apple Music or access navigation, messages and other communication apps on your smartphone. Android Auto also works with your smartphone via Google Assistant.
Miracast allows you to duplicate your Android’s screen onto the KW-V950BW display, but that only works when the vehicle is in ‘Park.’ Change the data on the screen—choose from several choices including displaying album art, the time, pictures from the phone or vehicle performance data.
The KW-V950BW features three camera inputs for front, rear and blind spot cameras. SiriusXM satellite radio is available, and this head unit also has built-in digital signal processing and high-resolution playback.
- Connect up to five devices.
- Duplicate your Android’s screen on the display.
- Customizable display.
- Three camera inputs.
- Can only duplicate the Android’s screen while you are in ‘Park.’
Alpine ILX-207 Quick Review
The Alpine ILX-207 has tons of functionality and is user-friendly. It comes with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Additional features include HD radio, SiriusXM connectivity and a tuner. It also has built-in Bluetooth and an HDMI input.
The ILX-207 allows you to access the apps you want without distracting you from driving. Control the unit with your finger on the 7-inch capacitive touchscreen or with voice control. An external microphone is included. The app icons are large so you are able to see them at a glance. The text on the screen is large and easy to read. Your voice controls tune selection, making calls and the navigation.
Add the iDatalink Maestro to the ILX-207 to see what is going on with your vehicle. You’ll be able to customize the climate control gauges and vehicle info and get a parking graphic on the screen. This head unit also features HD radio, USB inputs and auxiliary inputs. SiriusXM is available and you can also enjoy Pandora, iHeartRadio and Spotify.
For navigation, just press the voice button and ask for directions. The display has a pinch-to-zoom function for maps. Additionally, with accessories, you’ll be able to customize your truck, add cameras, add another HDMI input, and add a disc player.
- 7-inch touchscreen.
- Highly customizable.
- Pinch-to-zoom map function.
- Voice activated.
- To access many of the features you need third-party apps or accessories.
- Need to buy iDatalink Maestro to keep the factory extras.
- Need an adapter to keep the steering wheel controls.
Removal and Installation
If you are installing a head unit yourself, pay attention to how you remove the old unit. You’ll have to do everything in reverse to install the new unit. Always remove the negative battery cable before you start.
If the old stereo is held in with spring clips, you’ll need DIN tools. Insert them in the holes on the sides of the unit until you hear a click. Spread the tools apart and you’ll be able to pull the stereo out of the dash.
If the stereo is bolted in, you may have to remove one or more of the trim panels on your vehicle’s dashboard. Remove the screws holding the stereo in once you have access to them. Pull the stereo out of the dash. If the stereo is held in with a rail system, remove the bolts or spring clips, then pull the stereo out. If the new head unit doesn’t fit with the rails in place, remove the rails. Unplug the stereo plug from the wiring harness. Unplug the antenna.
Generally, you will be able to find a vehicle-specific wiring harness for your new head unit. It doesn’t come with the head unit—it’s something you must purchase separately. The new pigtail has a color-coded wiring diagram. The wiring diagram is also located in the head unit’s owner’s manual.
If a pigtail isn’t available, you’ll have to hard wire the stereo. Make sure you use electrical connectors, not just tape. Tape eventually dries out and you’ll have to remove the head unit and fix the wiring. If the head unit has a video monitor or touchscreen, you will need to tap into the parking brake wire. This turns the video monitor on when the parking brake is on.
You may need a mounting kit to install the new head unit if the original stereo was bolted in. You may also have to remove the mounting brackets from the vehicle and attach them to the head unit. Hold the head unit near the opening and connect the wiring adapter to the wiring harness. Plug the antenna cable in. If the head unit has ports in the rear of the unit, plug those in. They may include a Bluetooth microphone, steering wheel control adapter, USB cable and other cables.
Slide the head unit into the slot. Reattach the negative battery cable. Test the head unit to make sure everything works properly. If it does, bolt everything into place and replace any dash trim you had to remove.
Head Unit: The new stereo system. The head unit has the stereo and allows you to plug in phones, cameras, video monitors and more.
Pigtail: A plug that fits onto the plug at the back of the head unit and on the vehicle’s wiring harness. This keeps you from having to splice wires. Pigtails are vehicle specific and do not come with the head unit. When purchasing a separate pigtail, have the model number of the head unit and year, make and model of your vehicle ready.
Auto EQ: If the head unit features an auto EQ, it measures your vehicle to set the equalizer for the best sound. Must be used with a microphone.
DIN Unit: The size of the head unit. Most older stereos were single DIN units. The newer stereos with the larger screens are usually double DIN units.
DSO: Dynamic Stage Organizer. This creates virtual speakers on the vehicle’s dash and gives you better sound staging.