Putting Android Auto in an Old Car: First Steps and Decisions


One of Android’s great strengths is its great versatility. The operating system born for digital cameras has been able to convert in its first months of life to mobile devices. From there, it became the most widely used mobile system in the world, also expanding to virtually any device aspiring to be a smart product.

[Qué es Android Automotive y cómo mejora los coches]

Beyond where it stands out the most is in smartwatches, television and increasingly in cars. While most of these devices are relatively affordable, switching cars isn’t something most of us can decide year to year, as it’s common for them to have a lifespan of between between 10 and 20 years.

What if I want to benefit from these modern systems but can’t or don’t want to change cars? Can I afford the main novelty of modern cars without spending a lot of money? In this new series of articles we are going to help you solve all the doubts that may arise.

Convert an old car into a car with Android Auto, is it possible?

Today we start from a particular story, that of a server. I recently received a Citroën C4 from 2010, a normal car which, at the time of its registration, we were experiencing a completely different technological moment.

The most iconic Android phones: Nexus One Edition

In 2010, HTC was the reference mobile company under Android, Google had just launched its first Nexus mobile, Samsung was starting to stand out with its first Galaxy S and in the world of tablets the first generation iPad had just seen the light of day. . No one imagined how far these devices could evolve, let alone end up integrated into cars.

Can a car be rejuvenated with a modern system? Well, to some extent yes, since their entertainment systems are usually modular. In a simple way, this means that the process is almost as simple as changing the radio in our car. But what should we know?

Radio with Android, Android Auto and Android Automotive, is it the same thing?

Android radios are not something entirely new and have been with us for years. It’s a device that’s essentially nothing more than a tablet designed to be built into a car, with connectivity similar to car stereos (power, speakers, radio antenna and inputs for extras such as rear cameras , USB ports, etc…) .

Android Auto in the car

Android Auto in the car

The free Android

One of the strengths of this type of device is that they are already much more autonomous. If we give them access to the Internet (either by sharing Wi-Fi with our mobile or with an antenna with mobile data), we can install the applications that we already have on our mobile and make them work as if it is It was a system already integrated into the car. Those who require an internet connection will need the Wi-Fi network or data activated, but if we download our favorite map application and offline maps, in addition to using local music or FM radio, we should not need nothing else.

What is the difference between Android Auto and these systems? In Android Auto, the screen is nothing more than a second screen of our mobile. Unlike the radio with Android (which can work even if we don’t have the mobile at hand), Android Auto requires the mobile to be connected to the car. Once connected, we will have the applications of our mobile on the car screen, with a special interface specifically adapted for use in the car. On the other hand, the operation of CarPlay would be similar to that of Android Auto, but using an iPhone instead of an Android mobile.

Android Automotive will be part of some BMW models

Android Automotive will be part of some BMW models

The free Android

Finally, Android Automotive is a new system that is beginning to be implemented in modern cars. This system combines the advantages of Android Auto, such as an interface dedicated to car use, such as the independence provided by an Android radio. This option is excluded, because today there are no external radios for cars with Android Automotive.

There is one last option, which will be the one we will opt for in this series of articles, and that is instead of having to choose between an Android radio or an Android Auto device, today there are devices that integrate both optionsworking as an Android radio if we don’t connect anything, but also allowing its use as an Android Auto and CarPlay device (ideal if some of you use Android or iPhone in your house).

Can I do it myself or do I need the help of a mechanic?

In view of my research regarding getting an Android device for my car, many doubts have arisen in order to get one of these devices for my car. Before getting my C4, I hadn’t touched anything on a car at all, so it’s possible that any doubts you may have are very similar to those I’ve had for the past few weeks.

Can I make the changes myself or do I need the help of a mechanic? Well, unless you’re really sloppy and break everything you touch, it’s a process you can do yourself without too much hassle. Changing the device is nothing more than changing the radio in your car, which is basically removing the old radio and connecting the new one. A process as easy as plugging and unplugging.

Yes, we can have a first inconvenience, it is the incompatibility of the internal cables of the car. This will happen to you not only with an Android radio, but also even if you buy the most basic radio (in my case, I discovered this surprise when installing the cheapest bluetooth radio that Amazon sells with good reviews).

Connection cable in a Citroen C4

Connection cable in a Citroen C4

This problem is caused by the fact that car brands often have their own connection cable, while standard radios have a standard ISO connection. Depending on the model of Android radio you choose, it may happen that we already include the appropriate cable, but in the worst case you will have several options to obtain the adapter cables, from Aliexpress (cheap, but with delays of longer delivery) to consignment stores physics. In my case I did not complicate my life and bought them in a local store in my city for around 10 euros. If you don’t have much idea like me, this is the option I recommend since without having to investigate they will give you the correct cables just by telling them your car model and the year.

Once we have the cables yes you will have to go through a little research process. In most cars, changing the radio is a trivial process, but the more integrated it is, the more likely you will need to follow a few steps. Just do a Google search and 99% someone before you has already changed it on YouTube. In case you want to install a rear camera, the process can be a little more complicated, as you will have to run a cable from the radio to the back of the car and make a connection with the rear lights, a process that du less In my case I will not dare to do so for the moment.

Radio options to choose from

The process of changing the radio may seem simple, but if we want we can complicate it a little, because according to our objective there is two types of radio with android and although sometimes we can choose, it will not always be an easy option.

On the one hand, we have the simplest and most compatible option, namely 1-DIN radios. These radios take up the standard space of a radio and just expand the screen from there.

1-DIN Android radio

This option stands out for its greater compatibility, although it has an important point to consider. The screen itself can block access to important buttons in our car, such as the air conditioning, or the screen is too close to the gear lever.

There is no rule as to whether or not a radio will interfere with your car, since in every model the radio is on one side or the other. Here it’s as simple as using common sense, seeing the measurements (if the manufacturer offers them) of the location of the screen and simulating this space in your car with a sheet of paper cut out to do so. an idea.

Beyond this option, there is that of having a bespoke dashboard. In addition to 1 DIN radios, there are larger models, designed to be integrated into our car. There are endless models, although when you investigate you find that most of them are the same generic model, 7, 9 or 10 inches.

Custom Android Radio

This type of custom radios do not offer us a margin of choice, since they usually come with a custom frame to be integrated into our car, giving the impression that the radio is installed as standard. We will not be able to choose the size of the screen in general, because the mold of our car is prepared for a specific type of screen (in the case of my Citroën C4, a 9 inch).

This option is more laborious and is not valid for all cars, since it requires that a mold compatible with your car is on sale. The more popular your car, the more likely you are to find a suitable model, so this is not an option for everyone.

And if my car is compatible with both types, which should I choose? In our opinion, we think the second option is always more favorable because it’s more integrated, giving a more modern, even stock-like look, making it a less tempting option to steal. This will also ensure that its use does not interfere with other parts of the car.

On the other hand, the built-in option is also a more laborious process, as you will have to extract more items and maybe move something else out of place, while the first option is to remove a radio, remove a cable, put a cable and plug in the new radio.

The next steps

Once you understand the main differences and the first steps, it’s time to choose your next radio. Although as a direct recommendation we will indicate that the better the specifications, the better the radio will perform, in the next article in this series we will go deeper with an analysis of the specifications and a short buying guide with the most interesting models.

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