My car stereo runs Android, does yours?

713yuNsMiCL._SL1001_I’ve been into high end car audio for decades.  I’ve had a number of stereo systems in multiple vehicles. I spend a LOT of time on the road and music has always been a passion of mine.

 

I’ve owned a number of head units from cheap kraco single DIN cassette players to high end double DIN touchscreen navigation units.  I’ve also been a smartphone junkie for years too (I work in IT, no big shock there).  I’ve always felt that most car stereos offer a good portion of what I’m looking for, but when it comes to really customizing them they’ve always fallen short.

 

Enter the Joying JY-UQ124U Android Head Unit.  That’s right, I said Android!  This little devil is packed to the gills with features too.  Here’s a quick overview:

  • Quad Core Cortex ARM A9 RK3188 1.6GHz CPU
  • Android KitKat v4.4.4 OS
  • 1GB onboard RAM
  • 16GB NAND Flash Memory
  • 8gb Micro SD with maps pre-loaded (2x MicroSD slots- this occupies one of them)
  • 7″ 1024*600 HD resolution capacitive multi touch screen
  • GPS receiver
  • WiFi (can also tether to cellphone)
  • 3G wireless capability (hotspot sharing available)
  • Bluetooth
  • Microphone (internal AND external MIC included)
  • 2x USB “whips” for external device inputs
  • Android mirroring compatible
  • iPhone AirPlay compatible
  • Native Steering Wheel audio control compatible with most vehicles
  • DVR capabilities (dash cam functionality)
  • OBDII connectivity and software built in
  • Back up camera compatibility

That’s a high level overview, there are a LOT of features due to the fact that this unit runs android and is basically a computer.  Because of this, I wouldn’t recommend this device for someone who’s not very technically inclined.  I think it would be a little disappointing to someone who isn’t able to really get in and tweak the settings to their liking.  It helps a lot if you’ve owned an android phone or tablet in the past as the interface is exactly the same.  I recall years ago seeing a car stereo that was built on top of Linux with a small LCD display and I thought that was the COOLEST thing!  I don’t recall how much it cost but this was back in the 90’s and it was a lot more than I could afford to spend on a car stereo at the time.  Here’s a picture of one:

262516-empeg

 

So imagine my delight when I came across an Android based car stereo!  At the time, I had a Pioneer X4600-BT head unit which I had been using for about 6 months.  After about 5 months the touchscreen started flaking out and became unresponsive until it warmed up.  I was looking at a few weeks to a month or more to wait for it to be sent in to Crutchfield for repairs.  There was no way I would be able to go that long without some kind of car stereo, so I started looking for something relatively inexpensive to bridge the gap.  When I stumbled upon the Joying unit, I thought for sure it was in the 4 digit price range.  Shockingly, it was very affordable- especially considering all the functionality and quality of screen that came with it.  I wound up paying about $270 for the JY-UQ124U and was really stoked to put it in.  Installation was a bit dicey due to the number of wires, no native wiring harness plug (although they do sell them for my vehicle), and the language barrier in the very lacking wiring and installation instructions.  I had to connect a good handful of wires by hand and clipped the rest.

 

Ok- on to the review.  I’ve had it for about 2 months now and have had enough time to experience all the nuances- good and bad.  Suffice it to say I’m very pleased with what I got for my money.  I’ll break down the pro’s and con’s and then go into detail on some of the more relevant findings:

 

Pro’s

  • Display – very responsive to touch and accurate.  Colors pop and good overall resolution.
  • Built in apps (Radio, Navigation, media player, OBDII diagnostic program, etc).
  • Response time very respectable for an ARM processor and HD screen resolution.  Comparable to iPhone performance.
  • Micro SD slot for storage expansion.
  • 2x USB headers – so far I’ve been able to use a 128GB thumb drive with no problems!  Also supports plugging in a webcam for dash-cam DVR functionality.
  • GPS receiver built in.  Extremely accurate and fast- much more so than my iPhone’s GPS radio.
  • WiFi capability (you can tether it to your cellphone, a mobile puck like the Verizon MiFi, or a regular WiFi network assuming you’re in a location for long periods of time).
  • 3G dongle capability.  Requires a 3G SIM card and dongle (sold separately) but you then have in-car internet that you can share out as it’s own hot spot if you like.
  • Back up video source available even during boot process.
  • adjustable output level (can get comparable voltage to 4-5v head units with some tuning)
  • 2x MicroSD slots (one already occupied by 8gb card with pre-loaded maps)

 

Con’s:

  • Poor sound quality in radio app (other sources such as MP3 sound fine).
  • Sketchy sound quality at times (sort of like what a badly encoded or highly compressed MP3 sounds like).
  • Boot time.  It supports up to a 2 hour sleep function for a 2-3 second power up, however cold boot is about 45-60 seconds until full functionality.
  • Installation – radio dimensions not exactly U.S. Double DIN size but is close enough to work (can be a tight fit).
  • Volume function fails intermittently where volume up and down on the knob is non responsive (pushing the button still mutes and un-mutes).
  • Limited amount of memory to install apps
  • Can’t do a true reboot without setting sleep timeout to minimum, powering off the entire car and waiting 30 seconds.
  • Lack of low-pass/high pass control for front/rear and sub outputs.
  • iOS 9+ AirPlay does not work.
  • No CD/DVD capability.  Really- is that a big deal anymore?

 

As I said- overall I’m impressed and happy with this unit.  Probably the biggest quirks are the volume knob flakiness and the poor sound quality from time to time.  Honestly my gut tells me the sound quality is a questionable electronic connection inside the unit somewhere.  I only seem to notice it when I’m driving (bumps on the road) and it could be shaking something slightly loose.  I downloaded an app to do a reboot so I can at least recover volume knob functionality (thankfully I can still control the system volume from the settings app manually, but that’s definitely not a permanent solution).  I have a 5 channel amplifier hooked up to it and I really miss the ability to control what frequencies go to which speakers.  I think there’s some sort of built in low pass filter on the sub channel but the front and rear outputs are full range so I need to be careful to set the gain so my main speakers don’t blow up!

 

As far as the radio function, there is some room for improvement.  It could be my antenna but the reception on this unit is really bad.  I get static on a lot of stations where other cars get a clear signal.  The biggest drawback with the tuner however is that apparently it is routed through the audio circuitry in a different manner than the rest of the system.  Due to this, the equalizer or really any tonal control is lost.  The resulting sound quality is very poor due to a completely flat and non-adjustable source.  As I stated earlier, the rest of the audio sources seem fine- the 9 band EQ can do a nice job of shaping the sound you want with multiple saveable presets as well as pre-configured ones (bass, jazz, rap, pop, the usual suspects).

 

The built in OBDII app (interfaces with an OBDII scanner module either via bluetooth or wifi) does a capable job of reading codes and displaying real time telemetry from the car’s computer.  I personally prefer DashCommand which is a bit more “polished” and has a few more bells and whistles.  I picked up an OBDII wifi dongle and OBDII extension cord for about $20 for both.  Also, and not that this is a huge selling feature but for sure a big geek factor, is the ability to plug a webcam right into the USB port and record video to the MicroSD card or a USB thumb drive.  It will automatically continue to record in the background even while using other apps such as the radio or media player.

 

According to CarJoying (the company who sells this unit), it is supposed to be able to mirror android phones as well as iOS devices via AirPlay.  I haven’t tried an android device, but I’ve found that as of iOS 9 the AirPlay functionality seems to be broken in relation to this unit.  I was able to see the unit as an AirPlay target but was unable to ever get the display mirrored successfully.  Not a huge deal for me but still it would be nice if it worked.

 

I discovered that there are only a few actual manufacturers of these android based units (all based in China), and a large number of resellers.  Each of them offer a slightly customized version of what I got but under the covers, they’re pretty similar.  There is a whole community of android head unit owners over at the XDA-Developers website.  I’ve spent some time there and gotten the answer to a lot of my questions.  I’ve not messed around with the OS portion too much- eventually I’d like to configure the ability for a longer sleep time (12-16 hours) so when I get back in the car the next day it’s ready to go much quicker.  I would also like to be able to have the ability to remotely log in when I’m at home to tweak settings or just play around.  I have it configured to connect to my home WiFi automatically so program updates from the Google Play market can update automatically.

 

I could go on about all the little things this head unit is capable of, but suffice it to say that I’m happy overall with it and plan on keeping it.

 

 

 

 

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10 thoughts on “My car stereo runs Android, does yours?

  1. Hey Erick, thanks for the play by play on the Android head unit. I’m about to take the plunge and your write up definitely helped me with my decision making process. while I read your writings I felt like I was reading my own story because I’m also an IT/Android guy (go XDA-Developers) that is all about everything Android and also have a strong history of sound systems in my past cars. Nevertheless, I’ve only recently discovered this head unit and I’m excited to get started on the install. Thanks again for all you have written. PS I bet you also have a G-Box, XBMC or Kodi somewhere within reach 🙂

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  2. Hey eric, did you figure out the sleep mode? I want to buy it, but do not want to wait 1 minute for boot. I also plan on using this with bluetooth to my phone for music streaming, which takes time to connect on top of the OS boot time etc… let me know thanks

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    • Adam, I wasn’t able to figure out how to increase the sleep time beyond two hours but it’s really not that big of a deal for me having used it for a couple of months now. The only time it really kicks in is if it’s been sitting for more than two hours and by the time I’m driving it’s just about done booting anyways.

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      • Well I took the plunge and had one of these units installed. So far, everything works as you would expect. The boot time isn’t an issue… my other aftermarket booted up slower than this.

        Problem is sound quality, not that great on this unit. I actually thought it was my speakers so i got an amp, and it still sort of sounds like crap.

        Not sure what i value more apps or sound quality, that sad thing is that there is no reason not to have both

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      • Yeah I have to say the sound quality wasn’t the best. I kind of expected it so it wasn’t a shock. I’ve resigned myself to live with it- I can still shake the rear view mirror pretty good with my kicker ix1000.5 running 1 ohm into 2 12″ kicker solo L7’s 🙂 I measured the output terminals on the sub channel and it was putting out about 1500-1600 watts. Sucker is rock solid too- these IX models are tanks!

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  3. I bought a pioneer double din and man is it junk. I hate how it just plays whatevers on ur phone, pandora, youtube, songs or otherwise automatically without any way to prevent it other than disabling bluetooth.

    I cant stand shellling out hundreds of dollars for a glorified mp3 player with an interface stuck in the 90’s.

    Im reconsidering the android. What i remember is that bluetooth streaming from the phone to the unit is terrible, but the audio quality on the unit itself is better.

    Im considering a pumpkin android double din that comes with a parrot blue tooth card. Should deliver clear audio via bt. Plus their “sound card” is rated at 4x50watts whereas the joying is 4x45watts which leads me to believe that they use somewhat diff hardware. I am hoping the pumpkin as an edge on audio quality.

    Everything else about these units are phenominal esp when compared to all of these garbage kenwood and pioneer headunits. The only thing they do right is soundquality but their interface makes me want to throw up.

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    • I’m right there with you on the interface issues. Knowing what is possible with today’s technology frustrates me. On the one hand, I know they are writing proprietary code for a closed platform that doesn’t lend itself to extreme customization and stability/quality at the same time. But then I think of what is possible by leveraging the android OS as a framework like the one I have has a lot of potential.

      My gut tells me that most if not all of the android units use second rate preamp subsystems (compared to the quality of dedicated units).

      Let me know how it goes if you do wind up going with an android unit. Best of luck!

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  4. Hi Eric,

    You mention that the unit had an adjustable output level (can get comparable voltage to 4-5v head units with some tuning.

    How did you achieve this and what was the outcome with your aftermarket amps etc

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    • You have to go through the factory menu- there’s a password and it’s all over google I don’t recall now what it is but I’ve not powered the unit on in over a year. I didn’t notice a whole lot of difference- the quality of the preamp makes a lot of difference and these guys don’t have a lot of it. You can jack the voltage up as much as you like but if it’s putting out shit signal over a certain setting, more voltage isn’t the answer….

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