Android-based head also known as Android Car Stereo units are becoming more common these days. To their credit, many look like high-dollar touchscreen units made by some of the world’s most famous car audio companies. But one has to wonder; am I paying several hundred dollars for a logo? How much worse, or even better, might a cheap, Android Car Stereo double-DIN touchscreen stereo work?
Probably the most remarkably different thing the Android Car Stereo units allow is unadulterated versions of Android OS. The newest head units are running Marshmallow 4.0, while the mainstream head units use various, in-house versions. Mainstream units typical on the US market restrict certain types of playback. For example, you can’t play Call of Duty Mobile on any of the mainstream Android Car Stereo units. It simply won’t work, and that’s by design. Manufacturers do not want to be on the hook for providing products that lead to fatal distracted driving accidents.
The low-cost Android Car Stereo systems are not similarly restricted. Think about it like having a tablet on your dash instead of a head unit. These units have full access to Google Play Store where you can install any app imaginable. This can be wonderful for accessing apps you need, but also allows these head units to function as entertainment systems. You can watch movies and stream TV stations, play video games, and do all of the things you would do sitting on your couch in front of your tablet, all from behind the wheel. Scary? Yes, but it’s also kind of cool. The ability to use the full suite of apps on your touchscreen might be particularly attractive to ride-share drivers who often spend hours sitting in their car waiting for a pick-up. Install Netflix and stream away! (Please don’t watch movies or TV on your Android Car Stereo while driving.)
This same open access to apps allows these Android Car Stereo units to be much more customizable. Most of them offer the ability to change the boot-up screen to display vehicle manufacturer logos, custom pictures, and other tricked out visuals. Customizability is the biggest drawback to the mainstream units using closed-source OS. The big-name brand Android Car Stereo units give you only limited customizability, and in some cases, none at all. On the up side, generally the mainstream units closed-source OS is more reliable than open source.