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The Apple CarPlay That Has Andriod Player

I’ve been reviewing new cars, as well as their entertainment systems, for more than 20 years. I’ve driven more than 2,000 new cars, evaluating their performance and the usability of their controls, and I’ve become addicted to the simplicity of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. I’ve learned which features make some systems easy to use, and which make me turn them off in aggravation and stew in silence on my commute home. With a fleet of older cars in my driveway, I embarked on a project a year ago to upgrade our 11- to 22-year-old family vehicles in order to incorporate the latest smartphone connectivity features, which led to my buying and installing three new stereos of various levels in different cars. As an avid Android user, I was disappointed to find that I’d jumped the gun, when affordable add-on replacement stereos that ran Android Auto started coming out over the past year. So I was eager to try them all and see which ones actually made driving with a smartphone easier and more convenient, and which ones might be worse than the stereos they’d replace.
Kenwood eXcelon DNX694S

Who this is for
This guide is for drivers who want to take advantage of the handy Apple CarPlay and Android Auto features of many recent smartphones, even if the car’s original infotainment system doesn’t support them. These increasingly popular platforms let you easily access the features of your phone that you’ll most likely need while driving, by presenting them in a simplified, driver-friendly way right on the car’s in-dash screen.

Both CarPlay and Android Auto let you stream music, podcasts, news, and other audio; navigate and see traffic info with Apple Maps or Google Maps, respectively, or alternatives like Waze (depending on the system); conduct hands-free calls; dictate and listen to text messages; and more. And they let you use voice commands to do most of those things. CarPlay systems use Siri, while Android Auto now integrates Google Assistant.

A study found that any activity that takes your eyes off the road for more than two seconds doubles your risk of crashing or having a near-miss.

Another big appeal of these systems is that you can worry less about the features becoming out of date, as can happen with cars’ built-in infotainment systems, because Apple CarPlay or Android Auto is part of your smartphone’s software, which is generally updated regularly (especially in the case of iOS). The car’s screen just becomes a secondary display, stripped down and with larger icons and cards to minimize distraction while you’re driving. (Only apps approved by Apple or Google, respectively, for in-car use are available in CarPlay and Android Auto. Facebook or your phone’s calculator, for example, won’t show up.) When you’re in a particular app, the car’s touchscreen usually displays a driver-friendly version of that app’s interface, such as large playback controls in a music app.

Even more important than the convenience of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is their value in reducing distracted driving. Being able to operate your smartphone’s apps through a driver-friendly interface on a large screen means you’re less likely to pick up and use your phone while behind the wheel. A 2006 real-time driver study (PDF) conducted by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) showed that one of the worst things you can do behind the wheel is pick up your phone and begin pressing buttons. Doing so requires you to look down at the phone to aim your fingers and manipulate the buttons. And the study found that any activity that takes your eyes off the road for more than two seconds doubles your risk of crashing or having a near-miss. Among the distracting phone-use behaviors researchers observed were texting (the most distracting), searching menus, searching for contacts, and dialing a number. Other natural driving studies confirm that it’s not the cognitive multitasking of carrying on a phone conversation that’s distracting, it’s anything that causes you to look away from the road. While even using a CarPlay or Android Auto system can distract you from the road, the large, simplified interfaces and voice-control options can significantly reduce that distraction compared with using your phone directly.

Features to consider
When you’re shopping for a replacement car stereo, you’ll encounter long lists of features. In addition to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, here are other key features to consider—and whether we think they’re worth getting.

A close up of our pick for best car stereo with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, the Sony XAV-AX100. It has a rectangular screen displaying eight apps, including phone, music, maps, messages, podcasts, audiobooks, pandora, and now playing. To the left of the screen is a large volume dial, a home button, and fast forward and rewind buttons.
A volume knob or large buttons in the bezel allow you to make adjustments more easily without taking your eyes off the road for longer than necessary. Having them located on the left side, such as on this Sony model, makes them even more convenient to reach for the driver. Photo: Rik Paul
Volume knobs and physical buttons: In addition to the virtual “buttons” on their touchscreens, most stereos include some sort of physical buttons on the front bezel around the screen; the convenience of these controls shouldn’t be underestimated. Some models have tiny slivers for buttons, which take effort and focus to find and press. That can be difficult to do while driving, and in some cases you have to press the volume buttons over and over to raise or lower the sound level. Other stereos have larger, more responsive buttons that are almost as easy to use as an old-fashioned knob. Relatively few units—and only two of the stereos we tested, one of them our top pick—have an actual knob that you can grasp and twist without having to look down at your dashboard. We’ve found using a knob to be much easier than using virtual controls or small physical buttons, as it’s generally quicker and you can often make adjustments without having to look away from the road for as long—if at all.

Most of the stereos we looked at let you access SiriusXM satellite radio when connected to a separate tuner.

CD/DVD players: With more drivers listening to audio through their phones or portable audio players, many replacement stereos (as well as many new cars) lack a disc player. (Such stereos are typically called digital media players or “mech-less receivers.”) Some stereos are available in both versions, with and without a disc player (designated by different model numbers), but if you want a disc player, you’ll typically have to pay an extra $50 to $100 for it.

Integrated navigation: Some higher-end stereos include their own integrated navigation system, powered by a mapping service such as Garmin, Here, or iGO. We think most drivers, especially those in large metro areas, will be better off using Google Maps or Waze in Android Auto or Apple Maps in CarPlay, especially because of those services’ superior traffic info and regularly updated mapping data. (With some integrated nav systems, you have to buy map updates.) But for some people with certain needs (real estate agents come to mind) or those who have limited data plans or drive in areas with limited data connections, an integrated system can provide real advantages. For example, all of the mapping and points-of-interest data is onboard, so you don’t need a data connection to find a destination or plot a route. And if you mainly listen to terrestrial or satellite radio, or play CDs, having an integrated navigation system can provide a smoother overall experience than having to switch between CarPlay or Android Auto for navigation and the physical radio to change what you’re listening to. If you tow a trailer, you might also appreciate the truck-routing information from some integrated nav systems, which ensures that you avoid roads, bridges, or tunnels where trailers are not allowed. Currently you can’t do that with Apple Maps or Google Maps.

You can set up a replacement stereo to work with your car’s steering-wheel buttons by using a special wiring harness.

Other integrated app suites: Some car-stereo manufacturers offer their own app suites, which, when connected with a compatible phone, let you directly run apps such as Pandora, Spotify, Aha, or Stitcher from the stereo’s screen without using CarPlay or Android Auto. We tested Pioneer’s AppRadio suite on that company’s MVH-2300NEX model, and some dedicated apps on the Kenwood DNX694S, but found them more difficult to use and less integrated than the same apps in CarPlay or Android Auto. In our personal experiences with other replacement car stereos, we’ve also found that such apps aren’t always upgraded regularly, as CarPlay and Android Auto are, so they can quit working altogether without warning.

Satellite radio: Most of the stereos we looked at let you access SiriusXM satellite radio when connected to a separate tuner. SiriusXM provides a wide spectrum of music and entertainment channels that you can access wherever you go in the US, though you have to pay extra for the tuner as well as pay a subscription fee for the service.

A close up of the Siri button on a car stereo.
Siri Eyes Free provides the high-quality voice recognition that people are used to in their iPhones. Photo: Rik Paul
Siri Eyes Free: While all of the stereos we tested let you use voice commands to initiate common functions, Siri Eyes Free allows iPhone owners to access features and content on their phones—even when they’re not using CarPlay—by using the Siri voice assistant that they’re already familiar with. This means you don’t have to learn another set of commands. It works well, even allowing you to change stations, tracks, or sources, or to enter destinations, by voice.

Resistive vs. capacitive displays: Most replacement stereos use a resistive touchscreen display technology that recognizes only one touch point at a time. Some high-end models have a capacitive display (like the one on your smartphone) that allows multitouch use, which can be particularly handy for pinching to zoom on navigation maps. In theory, capacitive screens should also be more responsive than resistive screens (as we’ve observed in some new cars that use them). Of the units we tested, only the higher-priced Pioneer AVIC-8201NEX had a capacitive screen, but we were surprised to find that it felt less responsive than the resistive screen on our top pick, the more affordable Sony XAV-AX100. Moreover, we discovered that we still couldn’t pinch to zoom in Apple Maps when using CarPlay on the Pioneer, which lessened the appeal of the capacitive screen.

A close up of the inputs and outputs on the back of a car stereo.
Higher-priced stereos include more inputs and outputs for connecting external accessories such as backup cameras, dash cams, a GPS receiver, a satellite radio receiver, and other video devices. Photo: Rik Paul
Video inputs and outputs: The number of inputs and outputs a stereo has is important only if you plan to expand your audio system or connect external devices. The least-expensive stereos we tested had preamp outputs for front and rear speakers and a subwoofer, and a video input for connecting a backup camera (or for playing video on the screen, as long as you’re stopped and you have the parking brake engaged). Some higher-end units also have outputs that are designed to accommodate a rear-seat entertainment system, common in SUVs and minivans. These systems will let you play a DVD for rear-seat passengers while the front-seat passengers listen to their own entertainment. That said, many parents are finding that a tablet and a good tablet holder such as the Arkon TAB3-RSHM car headrest mount or the LilGadgets CarBuddy Universal Headrest Tablet Mount (which we recommend in our guide to the best accessories for your iPhone and iPad) is less expensive and more versatile than a built-in rear-seat entertainment system. Our upgrade pick, the Kenwood eXcelon DNX694S, has dual video inputs, so you can see feeds from both a backup camera and a dash cam, for example, or a second backup camera behind your trailer. That could come in handy.

Two different car stereo remote controls side by side on a leather car seat.
A stereo’s remote control is most useful when you’re playing music or a video while parked. But the small buttons make it tricky to use while driving, so we don’t think it’s a make-or-break feature. Photo: Rik Paul
Remote control: Several of the radios we tested came with a remote control, similar to the type for home TVs but much smaller. This item can be handy if you’re listening to the car stereo while the vehicle is parked, such as when you’re tailgating or at an outdoor get-together. But we don’t count a remote as a must-have.

Many replacement stereos (as well as many new cars) now come without a CD player.

Integrated steering-wheel and climate controls: Most of today’s vehicles have steering-wheel controls that work with the factory audio system and typically let you adjust the volume, choose an audio source, and advance to the next or previous track or radio station. You can also set up a replacement stereo to work with these buttons by using a special wiring harness such as the iDatalink Maestro—all of the units we tested work with this accessory. (Some cars also require their own dedicated wiring harness connectors.) Similarly, the infotainment systems in many modern cars integrate controls for the car’s climate-control functions—such as turning the fan up and down, turning the air conditioner on or off, or controlling where the air comes out of the dashboard—into the display. So you can’t just swap out the factory stereo without losing all of that functionality. If that’s how your car is set up, you may need a more expensive add-on stereo, along with the iDatalink Maestro wiring harness, to keep your climate-control system working correctly. Check with your installer or the stereo manufacturer to find out what’s best for your specific vehicle.

Will this fit your car, and can you install it?
Most of the stereos in our test group fit in a standard double-DIN (7-by-4-inch) dash opening, which is common to many vehicles; one fits in the smaller single-DIN (7-by-2-inch) opening, found in many older and less-expensive cars. Typically you can tell which opening your car has by simply measuring the stereo. But with many newer vehicles, the factory stereo is integrated into the dash in such a way that you can’t just pop in a new one and have it look the same.

One of the easiest ways to learn if a particular stereo will fit is to go to the Crutchfield website, where you can enter the year, make, and model of your vehicle and then find the stereo you’re interested in. In addition to telling you if the stereo will fit, the Crutchfield site shows any extra installation gear you’ll need. The site also offers tips on removing the current stereo (and replacing your speakers, if that’s something you’re also considering). Alternatively, you can call a local car-stereo installer.

All of the stereos we tested came with pretty thorough installation instructions, and some even had the wires nicely labeled. If you’re comfortable with removing your car’s interior trim pieces, running wires, and making electrical connections, you may be able to do the job yourself. Some installs can get complicated, though, especially if other functions (steering wheel controls, air-conditioning controls, and the like) are integrated into the car’s original head unit; this situation can require a secondary wiring harness. If you’re unsure about doing the installation yourself, we recommend reading over the instructions (you can typically download a stereo’s manual on the manufacturer’s website) to see how involved the process is. Many people have found Crutchfield’s customer service reps to be helpful in this area, as well. If you choose to have the stereo professionally installed, we recommend calling around to different shops to compare quotes; we’ve found they can vary a lot.

How we picked
We started out by researching 35 different replacement car stereos, from nine brands, that ran Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. We compared the specs and features of each, and we initially narrowed down the list by eliminating redundant variations of certain models (we didn’t need to test multiple Pioneer or Kenwood models, for example, that used the same operating system and chassis).

We focused on models that offered the best value for people who were just looking to bring the latest smartphone connectivity into their cars. We regarded features such as a CD player, satellite radio, a capacitive (pinch-to-zoom) display, higher-end audio or video connections, and built-in navigation as nice to have but not necessary. (After all, with CarPlay and Android Auto, you can easily stream music and get turn-by-turn directions from smartphone apps.) This step left us with mostly lower-priced models from the major brands, although we also included a couple of higher-end models that could appeal to people seeking those features.

All of the nine models in our test group give you Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Bluetooth, a 6.5- to 7-inch display with a resolution of 800×480, voice control, and an adequate 50 to 55 watts of power. All but one are designed to fit in a standard double-DIN (7-by-4-inch) dashboard opening, which is the most common size among newer vehicles. We also included the only currently available model—the Pioneer AVH-3300NEX—that runs CarPlay and Android Auto and fits into a single-DIN (7-by-2-inch) opening, which is common among many older and lower-priced vehicles. We also added a model from Alpine, the iLX-107, which is currently the only unit that offers wireless CarPlay (although it can’t run Android Auto). A few CarPlay and Android Auto stereos are available with larger, 8-inch screens, but they require custom installations and fit in only a few vehicles, so we didn’t include them.

We focused on models that offered the best value for people who were just looking to bring the latest smartphone connectivity into their cars.

Interestingly, the stereos with the most-responsive displays in our testing were lower-priced models. According to industry representatives we talked to, that’s partly because car-audio companies have recently shifted their focus from building high-end replacement stereos for audiophiles to producing more basic stereos that emphasize smartphone connectivity for everyday drivers. The latest units available, including those that run Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, are simpler, with faster operating systems but fewer bells and whistles than many older, more expensive models offer. Now is a great time to be shopping.

How we tested
We bench-tested the nine models by following the installation instructions for each and connecting them to a portable 12-volt power supply, speakers, and a GPS antenna if needed.

We focused mainly on each stereo’s features, ease of use, and ergonomics. We didn’t attempt to compare audio quality, as that depends so much on the number and quality of the speakers, how they’re installed, and the design and materials of the vehicle interior they’re used in. With the right speakers and installation, we’re confident that any of the models we tested will deliver audio quality that will satisfy or even impress most drivers.

We connected to each stereo with both an iPhone 8 Plus and a Google Pixel phone, and we put them through their paces in Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, respectively. We also carefully checked each of the unit’s core functions, from operating the radio (changing stations, setting presets, and adjusting the volume) to using the hands-free phone features (checking and dialing contacts and receiving calls).

We focused mainly on each’s stereo’s features, ease of use, and ergonomics. We didn’t attempt to compare audio quality, as that depends so much on how they’re set up and installed.

We switched between functions to see how quickly and easily we could get to what we wanted. We pinched, zoomed, swiped, and recentered every map. We adjusted the volume up and down for each function, since, when you’re driving, it always seems like you can’t hear what you need to (turn-by-turn nav instructions or a critical moment in an audiobook). We scrolled through the settings menus of every unit, looking for shortcuts to make things easier, and pressed every button we could find.

Most important, we were sure to run multiple functions at once on each unit, since one of the reasons for using CarPlay or Android Auto is to make it safer and easier to multitask while driving: For both CarPlay and Android Auto, we made and received phone calls while playing audio from the phone and running navigation systems, as well as natively on the stereo’s operating system when we could. We streamed music and listened to the radio while navigating. In each case, we did our best to mimic all the situations we’ve experienced while driving, to see how easy each model made it for us. In the end, we found that no contender made life in our simulated car any easier than our top pick did.

Our pick: Sony XAV-AX100
A close up of our pick for best car stereo with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, the Sony XAV-AX100. It has a rectangular screen displaying eight apps, including phone, music, maps, messages, podcasts, audiobooks, pandora, and now playing. To the left of the screen is a large volume dial, a home button, and fast forward and rewind buttons.
Photo: Rik Paul
Our pick
Sony XAV-AX100
Sony XAV-AX100
Affordable and easy to use
The best value of any model we tested, with a low price, easy-to-use controls, and a responsive screen.

$400 from Best Buy
We think the Sony XAV-AX100 is the best replacement car stereo for most people who want Apple CarPlay or Android Auto because it’s the easiest to use, it’s equipped with the most responsive touchscreen of all the models we tested, and it’s one of the most affordable. Both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto worked seamlessly with our test phones. The XAV-AX100 also gives you a clear 6.4-inch LCD screen, reliable Bluetooth connectivity, and plenty of station presets (30), without making you pay for extras you may not want. This combo makes it the best overall value we’ve seen.

One of the best things about the Sony XAV-AX100 is its responsive screen, which reacted promptly to our lightest taps.

Like most car stereos that provide CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, the Sony fits in a standard double-DIN (7-by-4-inch) dashboard opening, which lets you easily upgrade most vehicles with a large in-dash display.

A close up of the Sony car stereo with a time of 7:06pm largely displayed over a black and blue background. Several app icons are available along the bottom of the screen.
The Sony’s knob and large, convenient buttons on the left side made this stereo the easiest to use of all the models we tested. Pressing the home button in the upper-left corner brings up the unit’s home screen (shown above), which lets you access various functions. Photo: Rik Paul
One of the best things about the Sony XAV-AX100 is its responsive screen, which reacted promptly to our lightest taps. While other units left us jamming our finger at the screen, trying to get them to do what we wanted, the Sony executed every command without balking. Just as important, the screen wasn’t overly sensitive when it registered a tap—some other models jumped two or three times after a touch.

To accommodate the volume knob, the Sony has a 6.4-inch screen, which is a little smaller than those on the other models we tested.

Unlike most of the other stereos we tested, the Sony offers a traditional knob for adjusting volume and accessing other functions, instead of making you press the touchscreen or small buttons, which are more difficult to use while driving. We found it easy to adjust the volume as much or as little as we liked, with one touch and without looking. In addition, pressing the knob brings up a menu of sound-control options, and holding it in activates the voice-command system. The Sony also has an easy-to-reach home button in the upper-left corner of the bezel that lets you quickly access various functions, including the AM/FM radio, your phone, your backup camera, CarPlay, or Android Auto. Below the knob are two buttons that let you jump forward or back a track in your audio selection.

A close up of a person holding the USB connector that extends from the rear of the Sony car stereo.
To operate Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, you have to plug your phone into the USB connector that extends from the rear. Be sure that this is mounted in a convenient location during installation. Photo: Rik Paul
To accommodate that volume knob, the Sony has a 6.4-inch LCD screen, which meets Google’s minimum requirement for Android Auto but is a little smaller than the 6.8- to 7-inch displays in the other models we tested. We never missed having a bigger screen, though, since all of the models we tested had the same resolution, 800×480.

The Sony’s bezel is also a little thicker than most. While its matte-black plastic finish looked somewhat cheap to us at first blush, it may be a better match for most car interiors than glossy units are.

A close up of the rear audio outputs on the Sony car stereo.
On the rear are audio outputs for front and rear speakers and a subwoofer, as well as an input that you can use with a backup camera. Photo: Rik Paul
The XAV-AX100 has a hardwired USB cable in the rear, which an installer will have to run to a convenient location, such as your glovebox or console, for you to plug in your smartphone to use CarPlay or Android Auto. If you need to charge a second phone at the same time, we recommend using a USB car charger, which plugs into a car’s 12-volt accessory outlet (aka cigarette lighter).

The Sony also gives you a generous 30 station presets (18 FM and 12 AM), a 10-band graphic equalizer for tailoring the sound to your preferences (all of the models we tested included EQ, with a varying number of bands), and, for iPhone owners, Siri Eyes Free. You can pair two smartphones simultaneously via Bluetooth for streaming music, conducting hands-free calls, and handling other functions without CarPlay or Android Auto. Three pre-outs in the rear let you expand your audio system, and a rear input lets you connect a backup camera. Otherwise, the XAV-AX100 is fairly basic, which reflects its affordable price. It doesn’t have satellite radio or a CD/DVD player, but if you need those features, for another $100 Sony’s XAV-AX200 offers them and is otherwise nearly identical.

A close up of a person holding the Sony car stereo remote control.
The Sony’s remote control is handy when you’re using the stereo while parked, but the small, crowded buttons make it hard to use while driving. Photo: Rik Paul
As with the other stereos we tested, by using the optional iDatalink Maestro, you can integrate the Sony XAV-AX100 with a car’s computer system for climate control, vehicle information, parking-sensor info, and gauges.

Flaws but not dealbreakers
All of the stereos we tested, including the Sony XAV-AX100, let you pair two phones via Bluetooth for conducting hands-free calls, streaming music, and the like. But a minor gripe we have with all such systems is that when you begin using one phone for Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, the second one no longer routes audio through the stereo, even if a call comes in on the second phone. In addition, you can’t play music from one phone while another is paired for phone calls if either of them is connected to CarPlay or Android Auto. So far, this inconvenience is just something you have to live with when using these systems.

Runner-up: JVC KW-M730BT
Our runner-up pick for best car stereo with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, the JVC KW-M730BT. It is displaying a time of 4:06 AM, alongside icons for the Tuner, Phone, BT Audio, and Apps.
Photo: Rik Paul
For a bigger screen and satellite radio
This model offers a little larger display, satellite radio, and a flush face for about the same price as our top pick.

$300 from Jet
$338 from Amazon
The JVC KW-M730BT is another great choice that tends to be priced similarly to our top pick. Unlike the Sony, the JVC gives you the capability to listen to satellite radio and HD Radio, and it has a bright, clear screen that’s a little larger (6.8 inches) than our top pick’s. However, the JVC’s screen isn’t quite as responsive as the Sony’s, its three buttons are tiny, and it lacks a physical volume knob. We didn’t find it as easy to use overall as our top pick, and it lacks Siri Eyes Free.

JVC is a corporate cousin of Kenwood, but we like the inexpensive KW-M730BT better than either of the more-expensive Kenwood models we tested, because despite having fewer features, the JVC was easier to use, with large icons in the corners of the home screen that were easy to read and easy to hit. The JVC also felt more responsive than either of the Kenwood stereos, and almost as quick as our top pick.

As with our top pick, operating either Apple CarPlay or Android Auto on the JVC was an easy, seamless experience for us. And this model has a modern, flush-to-the-dash look that many people prefer. Three tiny buttons—to adjust the volume up and down and to access the main menu—sit along the top of the bezel, though they’re not obvious at first. They’re not as easy to access on the fly as the Sony model’s larger buttons, and the JVC stereo’s home button on the far right is a longer reach from the driver’s seat. But as tiny as they are, the buttons are far enough apart that a driver could quickly locate them without looking over for too long. The menu button brings up a useful array of icons that allow you to switch between functions without having to go through the home screen. You can press and hold the volume-down button to quickly silence the radio; pressing and holding the volume-up button lets you quickly increase the volume level, but only up to a point (level 15 of 40). After that, you have to tediously press the volume-up button again and again, once for every volume increment. That’s certainly not as easy as twisting the Sony’s volume knob.

The KW-M730BT has 20 station presets (15 FM, five AM), as well as dedicated Pandora and Spotify apps that let you stream music from a smartphone that’s paired via Bluetooth. But it lacks Siri Eyes Free voice control. You can pair two phones simultaneously via Bluetooth, and the unit has two rear USB ports for connecting to CarPlay or Android Auto, as well as, say, charging a second phone.

Upgrade pick: Kenwood eXcelon DNX694S
Our upgrade pick for best car stereo with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, the Kenwood DNX694S. It is all black with a column of small buttons to the left of the rectangular screen, which is displaying a number of apps including Phone, Music, Maps, Messages, Now Playing, Podcasts, Audiobooks, and Pandora.
Photo: Rik Paul
Upgrade pick
Kenwood eXcelon DNX694S
Kenwood eXcelon DNX694S
If you need built-in navigation
The integrated Garmin navigation is easy to use, and the split screen can keep you better informed.

Buy from Amazon
*At the time of publishing, the price was $800.

If you’re looking for more features than the Sony and JVC offer, and you’re willing to pay more, we recommend the Kenwood eXcelon DNX694S. In addition to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, it comes with built-in Garmin navigation, a CD/DVD player, HD Radio, satellite radio compatibility, variable color adjustments for customizing the controls’ backlighting to match your car’s controls, and dual video inputs for connecting multiple cameras. Like most of our picks, it’s a double-DIN stereo with a 6.8-inch LCD screen. The Kenwood works well overall, although we didn’t find the screen quite as responsive as on the Sony and JVC models. And with all those features, the menu options can be pretty complicated and cumbersome to navigate when you’re driving, even with practice.

The Kenwood offers a choice of split-screen views that can show both navigation and audio or phone info simultaneously.

If you don’t want to rely solely on your smartphone’s navigation app for turn-by-turn directions (which can leave you high and dry in areas with poor data reception), one of the biggest advantages of the DNX694S is its built-in Garmin nav system. In our car GPS testing, we’ve found Garmin’s navigation system to be the easiest to use, with the most intuitive interface, reliable and responsive routing, and helpful lane guidance at highway interchanges. The Garmin nav system even offers truck routing, in case you’re towing a trailer and you need to know which roads and bridges to avoid. Garmin’s traffic data isn’t as comprehensive or accurate as that of Google Maps and Waze, though.

The Kenwood DNX694S makes navigating even easier by offering a choice of split-screen views that can show both navigation and audio or phone information simultaneously. For example, you can select a half-screen map view on the left, with basic audio track info and controls—or phone-call info—to the right. This model and other high-end Kenwood units were the only systems we found that could do this. You can also choose to have the map fill most of the screen, with audio info appearing across the bottom; alternatively, when the full audio display is shown, the DNX694S can display turn-by-turn directions across the bottom of the screen (if a destination is set) or the name of the street you’re driving on (if the system isn’t currently navigating).

A close up of the inputs on the back of our upgrade car stereo pick.
In addition to preamp outputs, this Kenwood lets you connect a backup camera, a dash cam or front camera, a GPS antenna, a subwoofer, a satellite radio receiver, and another AV device. Photo: Rik Paul
The buttons on the left side of the bezel are easy to reach and large enough to press quickly. Unlike with the lower-priced stereos we tested, the Kenwood’s 13-band graphic equalizer includes a Drive EQ mode that automatically boosts certain frequencies based on vehicle speed to compensate for the effects of road noise on audio quality. The Kenwood can also increase the volume automatically as your car goes faster and the noise increases.

The Kenwood also gives you extra inputs and outputs for expanding the system. You have two USB ports in the rear for CarPlay or Android Auto, as well as for charging a second phone. The DNX694S is compatible with the company’s DRV-N520 dash cam, and when a backup camera is connected, the stereo overlays helpful parking-guidance lines over the camera’s image. According to Seth Halstead, eastern regional training manager for Kenwood, drivers can also connect other accessories, such as an add-on forward-collision warning system, to the DNX694S. As with the other models in our test group, you can pair two phones simultaneously via Bluetooth.

If you need a single-DIN stereo: Pioneer AVH-3300NEX
Our single-DIN stereo pick, the Pioneer AVH-3300NEX, sitting uninstalled on top of a car dashboard.
Photo: Rik Paul
Also great
Pioneer AVH-3300NEX
Pioneer AVH-3300NEX
If you need a single-DIN stereo
This smaller stereo with a fold-out screen and CD player is easy to use and has lots of features, but it costs more than our top pick and adds complexity.

$450* from ABT
Buy from Amazon
*At the time of publishing, the price was $600.

Until recently, if you wanted Apple CarPlay or Android Auto in a replacement stereo, you had to get a double-DIN-size model, which wouldn’t fit many older or less-expensive vehicles. The single-DIN Pioneer AVH-3300NEX changes that, allowing many more cars to take advantage of these handy features. It does so by using a 7-inch screen that slides out and pivots up to give you the same-size display as a double-DIN model. The AVH-3300NEX is more expensive than our top pick and runner-up, but it works well and provides additional features.

The Pioneer MVH-2300NEX with its screen closed down.
The Pioneer AVH-3300NEX is the only single-DIN replacement stereo so far that includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. This lets owners of many older or lower-priced vehicles take advantage of those handy systems. Photo: Rik Paul
The AVH-3300NEX’s touchscreen is bright, clear, and responsive, and CarPlay and Android Auto work beautifully. Pioneer’s stripped-down menus show only the functions you’re likely to need from wherever you are, so icons remain large and easy to spot. Whether the screen is extended or tucked away, the nice, big volume knob on the front panel is easy to grasp, and the large forward and back track buttons are easy to hit. Pressing the volume knob brings up more menu choices on the screen. And the CD/DVD-player slot is easy to access whether the screen is deployed or retracted.

Other features include variable color lighting for the buttons, satellite radio compatibility (with a separate receiver), a 13-band graphic equalizer, 24 station presets (18 FM, six AM), a single rear USB port, dual-phone Bluetooth connectivity, a remote control, and a partially detachable face for theft deterrence.

Whether the screen is folded out or tucked away, the nice, big volume knob on the front panel is easy to grasp.

The AVH-3300NEX also includes Pioneer’s AppRadio mode, which lets you operate a number of smartphone apps through a compatible phone, similar to how CarPlay and Android Auto work. While adding versatility, AppRadio seems a bit redundant when you also have those other systems. Plus, the AVH-3300NEX is one of many Pioneer models in which the AppRadio mode doesn’t yet work with Apple’s iOS 11.

A looping video of a person pressing a button on the Pioneer to make the screen fold out and back in again.
With the press of a button, the Pioneer’s 7-inch screen slides out of the head unit and pivots up to function as a double-DIN display. Video: Rik Paul
The fold-out screen design isn’t ideal for every car. It extends up about 4 inches from the stereo, so if your climate controls or other critical buttons are right above the stereo in your dashboard, you won’t be able to access them with the screen extended. It could also block air vents in the dash. Fortunately, while the unit doesn’t display any information when the screen is retracted, whatever audio you have running continues to play. So you can start a playlist or station, and then retract the screen. In addition, we think this unit is handy enough that you might choose it even if you have space for a double-DIN model—you could then use the other half of the stereo space as an extra storage pocket (and if you position the unit so that the extra space is above the stereo, you’ll minimize the amount of dash space that the screen covers).

The fold-out screen does add mechanical complexity, though, as well as the potential for more things to go wrong down the road. In our testing, a couple times the screen failed to deploy or retract properly. Trying again got it to work, although we had to reboot the stereo once (which meant restarting the car). Mostly, however, this Pioneer model worked fine, and so far we haven’t seen any owner reviews mentioning this problem.

If you want wireless Apple CarPlay: Alpine iLX-107
A close up of the Alpine iLX-107 sitting on top of a car dashboard.
Photo: Rik Paul
Also great
Alpine iLX-107
Alpine iLX-107
If you want wireless Apple CarPlay
Alpine’s model supports Apple CarPlay without a USB cable but costs more and doesn’t include Android Auto.

$670* from Amazon
*At the time of publishing, the price was $684.

With one exception—the new Alpine iLX-107—all of the stereos in our test group require you to tether your phone to the stereo via a USB cable in order to run Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. But if you want the convenience of CarPlay without the clutter or hassle of a cord, the Alpine iLX-107 is for you. It doesn’t include Android Auto, but it does run CarPlay wirelessly by creating an ad hoc Wi-Fi network to which your phone connects. (According to Pioneer’s Ted Cardenas, CarPlay and Android Auto use too much data to run over Bluetooth.) The iLX-107 is significantly more expensive than our top pick or runner-up, though, and while it worked well for us overall, we found that the on-screen buttons weren’t as responsive as the ones on our top pick, and we often had to hunt and peck to find what we wanted in the menus.

The iLX-107 is a sleek unit. The large, 7-inch screen sits flush with the bezel, making this model the most seamless-looking installation of any of the stereos we tried. That’s important to some buyers, said Wirecutter’s director of business operations, Christopher Mascari, whose father runs a car-stereo installation shop and has tried several models on his own. (Chris bought an iLX-107 for his own car.)

One of the iLX-107’s best features is its capacitive volume buttons right below the screen; they’re big enough to press easily, and they quickly increase or decrease the volume as you hold them. They’re good enough that, alone among the push-button stereos we tested, with the iLX-107 we almost never wished for a knob. Almost.

Overall, though, if you don’t need the wireless connection, our other picks give you more features for your money. And the iLX-107’s cousin, the iLX-207, gives you Android Auto and more features for about the same price.

What to look forward to
At WWDC 2018, Apple announced the latest version of CarPlay, which will add support for third-party map apps like Google Maps and Waze when it’s released later this year.

At the CES 2018 trade show in January, Kenwood, JVC, and Pioneer announced that they would be introducing their first models with wireless Android Auto. While Pioneer hasn’t announced pricing or availability, Kenwood and JVC say their stereos will go on sale in March. Kenwood will sell five such stereos, ranging in price from $650 to $1,400, and JVC will sell two models, priced at $650 and $750. Like the Alpine iLX-107, which offers wireless Apple CarPlay, these models will connect to a phone over an ad hoc Wi-Fi network instead of a wired USB connection. All are double-DIN stereos, and the lowest-priced models—the Kenwood eXcelon DMX905S and the JVC KW-M845BW—will offer an approximately 7-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth, dual USB ports, and satellite radio capability. Higher-priced models will include built-in navigation and/or a DVD player.

The competition
The Kenwood DMX7704S is basically a more-affordable, stripped-down version of our upgrade pick, the Kenwood eXcelon DNX694S. It doesn’t have the DNX694S’s CD/DVD player, built-in navigation, or separate video outputs for a rear entertainment system. But it still has the balky Kenwood screen, the complicated menu structure, and the small buttons along the bottom. We couldn’t find any advantage to buying it over the cheaper Sony XAV-AX100 or JVC KW-M730BT.

The Pioneer MVH-2300NEX has the same speedy operating system and 7-inch screen as the single-DIN Pioneer AVH-3300NEX, with exactly the same menus and capabilities. Unlike the AVH-3300NEX, it’s strictly a digital media player, with no CD/DVD player, and it usually costs about $100 less. But it has none of that model’s advantages: The volume buttons are squeezed into a tiny sliver at the bottom of the screen, and to raise the volume enough to hear on the road in an older car, we had to keep pressing the volume-up button over and over—unless you have guitar-string callouses, it’s uncomfortable and tedious. The MVH-2300NEX is more expensive than our top pick and runner-up, but it doesn’t provide any notable advantages, other than perhaps Pioneer’s versatile AppRadio mode. But with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto also available, that feature seems a bit redundant and overcomplicated. Moreover, the MVH-2300NEX is one of many Pioneer stereos in which the AppRadio mode doesn’t yet work with Apple’s iOS 11.

The high-end Pioneer AVIC-8201NEX is a descendant of the first replacement car stereo to offer Apple CarPlay (back in 2014), and it’s one of the more expensive models we tested. It comes with a built-in navigation system, satellite radio compatibility, HD Radio, and Pioneer’s Dual Zone Entertainment (which gives rear-seat passengers the option to enjoy different content than front-seat passengers). The AVIC-8201NEX is also the only model in our test group that has a capacitive touchscreen, which can recognize two-finger gestures such as pinch-to-zoom. That alone almost made it our upgrade pick after initial testing, but after spending more time with the unit, we found that the screen wasn’t much more responsive than the resistive screen on other models; it actually felt slower and less responsive than that of our top pick, the Sony XAV-AX100. Yes, we could pinch and zoom in the AVIC-8201NEX’s native Here mapping software, but it worked slowly and was imprecise, and those gestures didn’t work on Apple Maps in CarPlay. Tapping on the plus and minus buttons to zoom in and out was more accurate. Pioneer’s menus were fairly intuitive; we didn’t know what choices would pop up at first, but they generally seemed to be the items we were likely to need next. Like the other Pioneer models we tested, this unit includes the company’s AppRadio mode, although CarPlay and Android Auto already cover most of that ground. In addition, the AVIC-8201NEX is another Pioneer stereo in which the AppRadio mode doesn’t yet work with Apple’s iOS 11.

The Alpine iLX-207 gives you more features than our top pick or runner-up, but is also much pricier. It has the same bright, 7-inch display as its cousin, the iLX-107, along with Android Auto, which the iLX-107 lacks. However, it doesn’t have the iLX-107’s wireless CarPlay connectivity or its slick capacitive volume buttons. Instead, it has a thick lip across the bottom of the screen that protrudes about half an inch from the display, a design that drew mixed reactions from our staff. (The bar houses several plastic buttons that are large enough to press easily and provide some tactile feedback.) The iLX-207 also includes satellite radio compatibility, HD Radio, selectable illumination colors and wallpaper, a remote control, and an HDMI input and output. It can interface with Alpine’s DVE-5300 CD/DVD player, too. The iLX-207 worked well overall, but as with the iLX-107, we found that the on-screen buttons weren’t as responsive as on our top pick, and we often had to hunt and peck to find what we wanted in the menus.


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