Because I didn’t find much information about this unit on the net, I’m writing this review so others can have a look before buying.
How I came to this head unit
Because I was bored by my Zenec ZE-NC3811D head unit for quite some time now, I wanted something with more features and a smoother interface and without all those tiny annoyances that the Zenec brought to me.
My first idea was to create a Car PC again (I already did that many years ago), but this time with Android as operating system. I googled about possible problems (how to integrate FM radio, handsfree function not available in Android, equalizer/mixer for front and rear speakers, amplifier? ….) and found an Android head unit on ebay, that obviously already had all these problems solved.
I was unsure, the auction looked a little bit too polished and googling for the manufacturer “Nakamichi” didn’t give any resuls, somehow it looked like “cheap China crap”. I was convinced by a forum thread I found by google (look here) and put my Zenec for sale on ebay, was able to sell it for a good price and then bought this “unknown manufacturer” Android machine.
I expected some trouble and was aware of the fact that I shouldn’t expect a hardware nearly as perfect as the Zenec was, but I was okay with that. What makes this thing so interesting is the software. I installed it last weekend and have driven my first 300km now, so I’ll give a review:
Packaging and installation
I ordered the head unit together with a mounting adapter for my car and with “iSteering” as they call it. This is the adapter/wiring that makes the generic double-din unit installation “plug-and-play” and also adds support for my steering wheel control.
The installation was done in about 5-6 hours. I had some problems to solve with the mounting kit and I installed the external microphone at my front interior lighting module in the roof. I would say 1-2 hours should be managable if only the head unit should be swapped.
The packaging by a german Berlin based company was okay, the only mistake they did was to ship with a Fakra=>ISO adapter for the radio antenna. My car needs a DIN=>ISO adapter. I bought it myself. The mounting adapter is not perfect, the radio should be a little bit more in front but once fitted into the car it looks okay.
Android Operating System
The unit uses Android 2.2 alias Froyo and may seem to be a little bit dated. But I didn’t encounter any problems, all apps that I wanted to install are available and work as promised. There is not much to say about Android to be honest, you get what you expect. You can install what you want from the official Google Play Store, can customize your home screens, all that you can do on your mobile can be used here, too. Playing Angry Birds in at traffic jam? Read some news of your choice? No problem at all.
The operation is always very smooth, even if used heavily with a lot of apps running in the background and live wallpapers, the feedback is the best I’ve ever had in a car.
The only thing how you can bring it down to its knees is if you install larger apps in the background while operating the unit. I blame the 4GB microSD card that came with the unit for that, it seems to be quite slow. I already ordered a 32 GB Class 10 so this will no longer be a problem.
The 512MB internal storage are a limiting factor, but using App2SD brings massively more storage. The microSD slot that is used as the “internal SD card storage” accepts up to 32GB so there is a lot of room for apps/Music/Pictures/Videos etc.
The unit has additional slots in the front, one USB and one for a full sized SD card. Together with the two rear USB connectors, you get 5 possible connections in total to add more space. The rear ones are not usable though if you use a Wifi adapter (the shipped one has 150mbps and is good enough) and a 3G stick (more on that later).
Update: A problem that the unit has is it’s boot time, something you don’t want in a car radio. I get a boot time of about one minute to have the unit completely ready for use, it also depends on how many apps you install. I use “Startup Manager” to remove unwanted startup apps to improve boot speed. The unit can fast-resume if it is turned off for about 3 minutes only, everything that takes longer requires a full reboot. It would’ve been better if they added a battery like in any other mobile device to prevent the full reboot even if the car is stopped longer.
The android OS is not modified much, but there are plenty of special “Car Apps” that you don’t find in other Android devices:
FM radio, DVD player, equalizer/sound control, rear view camera, aux in selectors, rear zone, handsfree bluetooth app and some others. One row of apps of every home screen is reserved for these special car apps.
If one of those special app is used while turning off the car, the app is restarted automatically at next startup, a nice little feature that I would’ve missed but never thought about before buying the device.
The FM radio does what it should do and looks nice, you can manually enter frequencies but can also search and store new stations automatically. You can store up to 6 presets on every page to be accessed with a single touch. It supports both FM and AM frequency bands. Traffic announcement works, too, even if the radio isn’t switched on. However, after traffic announcment has finished, the device returns to the last built-in app started, even if there wasn’t any running. I used Spotify to listen to music, traffic started, traffic finished, device started the built-in music player. This needs to be fixed.
If you leave the home screen because you started an app, the radio is switched off. I assume this is because of the fact that the radio is switched by the hardware backend. The system want’s to make sure that you can hear sounds that your apps play, so it switches off the radio to be sure. Not the best design, they should’ve routed the radio signal into the Android system to be able to hear radio and Android notifications at the same time.
There is a workaround though: I was able to have radio enabled while using other apps once. I will update this review with the exact reproduction, if I find out how.
One small iSteering annoyance: If I use the up/down knobs of my steering wheel, it switches the frequency in steps of 0,5Mhz (“seeking”), it would have been better if it would switch to the next preset. I double-checked and I mapped the keys to preset up/down, not seek up/down so I assume that this is a bug.
The audio player doesn’t do anything special except supporting the iSteering commands such as prev/next track. Unfortunately, the player does not support showing the raw folders, one thing that I really miss. I don’t like the artist/album grouping because I have plenty of folders with mixed music, which results in many artists and many albums, for me personally, a totally useless feature.
The video player so far played nearly every single video that I have thrown at it. I had my test videos still on my USB stick because I tested the Zenec when I bought it. Where the Zenec fails at most h264 encoded material, the Android unit plays it back very smoothly. Even 720p videos are no problem, only 1080p fails. Unfortunately, with an error message that is removed from the screen immediately and is therefore impossible to be read.
The GPS chip that is shipped with the unit works without problems. I get 10+ satellites all the time and the signal is there within seconds after startup. “GPS status” says my error is only 1 meter, which is great.
My unit does not come with the iGO software that is shipped with the Adayo branding in other countries. That’s really odd, as I have read good reviews about the iGO. My unit only has the Google Navigation preinstalled, but it’s not a full onboard navigation, it requires an active internet connection.
Telephony itself works great. The software always sits in the background and even pops up if there is an incoming call, regardless of the app currently opened. It just works as expected without a hassle.
But something more about the dialer app itself: It allows contacts to be used with up to six telephone numbers and also a picture is supported. However, I don’t see why there is no Google Contacts support on the device and why the official contacts from Google are not used in the dialer. At startup, it said “No contacts” even after synchronizing with my google account. It just makes no sense to me. Additionally, my Huawei Ideos X3 with Cyanogenmod won’t sync the phone book with the radio, the Bluetooth connection is lost unexpectedly.
I use the device with “Premium Sound System” Sony speakers which are factory installed. Additionally, I installed a Kenwood subwoofer driven by a Next Q24 amplifier, I use two of four channels in bridged mode.
The unit has an onboard Dolby decoder and I’m not sure if the hardware chip is also used for the equalizer processing, but this may be unbelievable, but the sound quality is way better than my Zenec was.
The options that you have in the EQ are better than the Zenec, too. The unit has a 3-band parametric equalizer, that means you do not only get bass/mid/treble volume adjustments, you can also adjust the frequencies at which the adjustment takes place. So you get a total of 6 sliders and an additional subwoofer volume slider and an on/off switch for the sub.
I was able to get a sound with a very smooth hand-over between the speakers and the sub within minutes, while I was never satisfied with the sound result of the Zenec adjustment options.
- I have a 3G stick here, a Huawei E173s-1 with N24 branding (common german TV station), with SIM unlocked. The stick does not work, even though it appears in the list of supported 3G sticks as stated in the product page of my dealer. It may be because of the N24 branding where some options are different, I’m not sure. Yesterday I was able to test a E173u-1, this one failed to work, too. I contacted my dealer, he replied that he is waiting for an answer from the manufacturer.
Update: My E160 that I ordered arrived today and this one is the first 3G stick that actually works Just in case, here is the full list of “supposed to work” 3G sticks, if someone needs it:
- Huawei: E156G, E158, E160, E1690, E170, E173s, E173u-1, E173u-2, E1750, E1752cu, E1756, E176, E176G, E177u-2, E180, E1820, E1823, E353s, E353Wu-1
- ZTE: MF110, MF100, MF633T, MF190s, MF627, MF180, MF631, MF626, MF636
- I don’t expect to get an android update for this unit at anytime. I still didn’t find out who the real manufacturer of this device is. My device is branded as “NAKAMICHI”, others have different names, e.g. Foryou/Adayo/OttoNavi/Rydeen to name a few, there may be even more. In the device info, even the android version is called “OS-NAKAMICHI” while I have seen “OS-OTTO” on the Adayo screenshots in the forum thread mentioned earlier. They do not seem to be different a lot, but two things I noticed: First, there seem to be version with or without the iGO navigation. Second: The parking brake detection prevents playing videos while the car moves. In the Adayo version, this can be overwritten in the settings. In my version, the whole setting isn’t available at all. To be honest, I expected this before buying because in Germany, such a radio wouldn’t be allowed in a car. For the german readers: This is not a big problem, as theoretically, the braking line can be grounded and video playback still works because the device no longer gets a signal from the handbrake, but I think it’s worth mentioning it.Possible roadmap: Improvements of the software will be made by “the unknown manufacturer”. They will release them to Nakamichi/Foryou/etc so they can apply their modifications. Then, the update will be shipped to my local dealer, that will then hopefully inform me and give me an option to download and update instructions.
How an update on this unit will work in general, no one knows…. By SD card? Can I download it directly from within the unit? If one of you readers knows the answer, don’t hesitate to put it in the comments section
- My memory stick is not always recognized correctly when starting up. I often have to manually unplug and replug to get it working again. This seems to happen only if multiple sticks are attached at the same time.
- The device has a settings section “Input Gain”, you can adjust the input levels for all input devices here (Radio, Media, Navigation, ….). The problem is, I have no navigation app found yet where the input gain can be adjusted by the “Navigation” volume adjustment. All navigation apps are adjusted by “Media” but my music player too, so there is no options to change volume balance between music and navigation which can be annoying if you listen to Beethoven and Google Maps starts screaming you should turn left.
- Update: 3G Stick: I use a Huawei E160 to have internet-on-the-go. While it works flawlessly here in germany even at speeds around 180km/h (thx Vodafone, good network!) I sometimes have a connection loss that doesn’t seem to have something to do with the network, because the connection is lost even at full signal strength and it won’t come back automatically. I have to re-plug the stick to have the connection back running. This may not be the fault of the head unit though, maybe the stick is not the best either. If I have the chance to test another stick, I’ll let you know.
Well, if there is an update at anytime, there are some things that I would like to see improved:
- Steering wheel control/iSteering: It would be better to have multiple targets to be attached to one of the steering wheel buttons. That way, I could e.g. pick up a phone call and hang up once finished with one button. If there is no phone call, I could switch to the bluetooth app, etc etc…..
- Improve FM radio iSteering use, allow to change presets with steering wheel control
- The prev/next track buttons of my steering wheel do not work in apps from the Play Store. I’m not sure if this is the fault of the manufacturer or the android app developers. I will investigate this later, writing a small app that logs incoming keys on the screen. I’m eager to know what’s coming in from the steering wheel…
- The built-in special car apps are restarted if I turn on the car later, which is very nice. But that doesn’t work with other apps that I use. E.g. I use Spotify to listen to music, but this app needs to be started manually everytime. Also custom navigation apps. If the manufacturer could improve this, it would be very nice.
- Allow the google contacts app. It makes no sense that it is not installed, because the contacts could be easily used in the handsfree app. Also navigation software would benefit from that, as e.g. the Navigon app can also create routes to contacts.
- Of course: Fix the bugs mentioned in my review
Below are some useful apps that I have installed and tested:
A nice app to record tracks. The tracks can be viewed online later including speed etc. Nice to see where you lose time while driving.
A common music streaming app that also allows playlists to be stored offline, so you can listen to your music even without internet connection
- Real Time GPS tracker
allows invited people to watch where you are driving on google maps/web browser. Nothing for paranoid people of course. It’s up to you.
- Angry Birds
Always good to have games ready for the next traffic jam
- Google Music
Your personal music on-the-go, with offline caching features and nice cover art.
- Startup Manager
Nice tool to decrease boot time by removing unwanted apps from startup
Even if there are still some issues, I would buy the unit again if it got stolen. It’s the best head unit I’ve ever had in my car so far. You have so many options and the responsiveness is wonderfull, I don’t know any unit which can compete with it.
I still hope so, that there will be a firmware update anytime soon to resolve some issues still remaining. If you buy the unit, be aware of the fact that it is not perfect. The radio issue, some integration issues that you expect from a head unit are just not ready yet when using android. For example, a navigation voice causes the audio volume to go down, a complete recovery of the whole head unit state after a power-down, and some other issues are still missing.
I collected some videos of the unit in action: