DIY : DIY Android Auto Retrofit for BMW 328 – Brian Snyder – Medium
After not finding much information about Android Auto retrofits on the web, I thought I’d contribute what I’ve learned through this article. Enjoy!
I’m not much of a car guy. I’ve had my 2007 BMW 328xi since the spring of 2009. And to be honest, I still like it now just as much as I did then in almost every way. It drives me back and forth from Lincoln Park to my office in the Hancock Center, it runs errands across town, and it shuttles us back and forth to Notre Dame for six home games a year.
I am, however, a bit of a gadget head. So while the car runs just fine (with some to-be-expected-but-still-annoying maintenance), and I love the sound of the stereo, what bothers me about my car is the iDrive system, which looks like the Weather Channel from 1992:
After some casual Googling, I found that Audi has surpassed BMW in the connected driving department, and I quickly scheduled a test drive of a slightly used, certified pre-owned A4 at Fletcher Jones. What drew me to the car more than anything was the “virtual cockpit” system, where the entire instrument panel is one big screen:
What most took me by surprise in my test drive, though, wasn’t this virtual cockpit. I became absolutely enamored with Android Auto. Not only can it use Waze or Google Maps (to which no car navigation system can hold a candle in my mind), but it can also play Spotify, Google Music, PocketCasts podcasts, etc. And, more important that anything, it eschews some terrible car manufacturer’s voice recognition system for Google Assistant, the gold standard for voice response AI.
And while I loved the A4 in my test drive, I couldn’t help but think: would trading my beloved, fully paid-off, and lowish-maintenance 328, combined with about $38,000 out of pocket, be worth it just for Android Auto? No way. But now that I’d had a taste of what it would be like to have a “smart” car, I couldn’t go back to my 8-bit-looking iDrive, either.
I started by looking to see if I could turn my dashboard screen into an Android Auto display. After much reading and a few hours of YouTube, I decided against taking apart the entire dashboard of my car and rewiring things:
I decided that I needed to have:
- Bluetooth music streaming from my Galaxy S8+ (my car has a Bluetooth hands-free phone connection, but only an aux-in and iPod-in for stereo connection)
- A monitor that would be significantly bigger than the screen of my phone, mounted in a way that it would never get in the way of seeing out the windshield
- Super-easy setup every time I get in the car (nothing to turn on)
- A way to change songs without looking at my phone
- Fast charging for my phone
The 10.1″ screen is by a company called Elecrow. I’ve never heard of this brand before, but I figure that for only $110 with free shipping and free returns, it was worth a shot. I had originally ordered a 7″ screen, but it was DOA and returned the same day as I received it. Be careful buying no-name electronics over the Internet. That said, I’m glad it happened, because I like the 10.1″ screen much more.
I mounted the screen directly in front of the iDrive screen so that I wouldn’t have to look at the iDrive and so that I could still see out of the windshield with no obstruction. The OHLPRO mount that I bought has a suction-cup stand that works perfectly against the flat surface in front of the iDrive display.
To power the monitor in the car, I needed a cigarette lighter socket adapter, which was less than five bucks. One of my favorite features of the Elecrow monitor is that it turns on immediately upon receiving power, meaning I don’t have to turn it on when I get in the car. The power cable hangs down from behind the screen and plugs into the power socket in the ash tray.
To power the display, I only needed a way to get an HDMI signal from the phone to the monitor, as the Android Auto app runs directly on the phone and the Galaxy S8+ mirrors the display out via a simple USB-C to HDMI adapter. It even has a pass-through to provide charging power to my phone while connected to the monitor. Not a bad little device for $24.
Finally, I only needed Bluetooth stereo. I picked up the AUKEY Bluetooth kit for $22 that connects to the Aux port in the car armrest.
Unfortunately, the Aux port in older BMW cars is prone to picking up engine noise, but a $9 Mpow ground loop noise isolator took care of that problem easily. An AUKEY dual-port USB car charger in the glove compartment keeps the AUKEY powered while fast-charging my phone at the same time.
When I get in the car, I connect the phone to the USB-C before starting the engine. After the car starts, the monitor turns on by itself. The phone automatically connects to the AUKEY Bluetooth for stereo streaming and connects to the BMW built-in hands-free Bluetooth phone system. Upon making these connections, the phone automatically launches Android Auto, and I’m off and running! I can even hide the Android Auto interface and turn on the ESPN app if I want to have College Gameday on in the background when I’m driving to South Bend.
I’m tremendously happy with the results of this little DIY project:
- My Android Auto screen is bigger than the one in the Audi.
- I didn’t spend much money (way less compared to a new Audi!)
- The screen isn’t obtrusive.
- Android Auto starts quickly on-screen with little effort.
- I didn’t do anything to modify the car that can’t be undone in a matter of minutes.
But, that said, there are a few things I still wish I could do or do differently:
- The monitor is not a touchscreen. I have no idea how I would be able to get touchscreen input back to the phone if it were. Having to look down at the phone to start navigation or change playlists is way less involvement than I used to have with my phone while driving, but it’s still dangerous. I read about some people who used an Android tablet and an app called Headunit Reloaded for DIY Android Auto, but I don’t have tethering on my phone and will lose my grandfathered AT&T unlimited data plan if I add the feature.
- If I can’t have a touchscreen, I’d love to have a knob control like the Audi has. Something like this would be great if it were compatible with my phone and with Android Auto. I welcome all ideas!
- If I can’t have a knob or a touchscreen, I’d at least like to have a way to trigger the Google Assistant via a hardware button. The Google Assistant is just a great way to interact with Android Auto, but if I’m going to look down at my phone to invoke it, I might as well just do whatever I was going to do on the phone. It would be wonderful if the “phone” button on the AUKEY Bluetooth adapter were able to invoke Google Assistant. And yes, I’m aware that “Okay Google” works as well, but my music is usually too loud for that to work. Ideally, I’d love to make the now-worthless BMW Voice Command button on the steering wheel start Google Assistant.
- While I love the buttons from the AUKEY Bluetooth adapter for skipping songs without looking at my phone, I wish the skip buttons on the steering wheel could do this.
- The HDMI output from the Samsung Galaxy S8+ is super widescreen like the phone itself, creating a letterbox-like effect on the screen and a very odd situation where black bars display on top AND sides when showing a 16×9 video.
- The Android Auto app starts in the same orientation as the phone. So I have to make sure that orientation lock is turned off and that the phone is horizontal when I plug it in. I wish the Android Auto app had a setting to always display in horizontal mode.
- I wish I would have cleaned a Chicago winter’s worth of dirt out of my car before taking these photos.
What do you think? What ideas do you have for how my setup could be improved? Hit me up! And thanks for reading.