Quick Take - Adding Android to your Auto.
Most of us have become increasingly aware of technology creeping into new cars. It started when in-dash navigation became a more and more popular factory option. From there it evolved into automation systems that added voice activated integration like Ford's Sync. This quick tutorial will explain how to use an old tablet or phone to create an android powered digital infotainment interface for your older or under-equipped car.
The car in question is a 2010 Chevrolet Camaro. The Camaro's dashboard was meant to be clean, retro inspired, and is decidedly low tech. Chevrolet later added the option of a MyLink Infotainment system with navigation in 2013. Many better optioned Camaros come with "four pack gauges" which is a cool feature that added oil temperature, oil pressure, voltmeter, and transmission temperature readouts located just below the stereo unit. This was a direct homage to a similar option available on Camaros in 1968-69. Unfortunately cars without this feature suffered with a simple storage void. I realized though, that it was the perfect place to mount a secondary touch screen display.
I decided to use Samsung's Note phablet (phone tablet hybrid), it's screen would be big enough to impress and it fit perfectly in the space. Beyond that, the phone's simple design and tinted black glass panel blended well with the look of the existing radio. I wanted something that didn't appear as though it was a tacked on piece of equipment. I also knew the Samsung product would have an excellent AMOLED display which meant the blacks would be really dark and the display could effectively emulate other technologies (like LEDs) and match colors. The phone is actually mounted on an re-purposed iHome speaker that simply acts as a base, positioning the screen in a proper viewing angle. This product happened to be the same dark silver color as the Camaro's center console. The phone and the base are held in place with magnets on double sided tape. This means it is removable for charging the phone or uploading new music. The ultimate function of the device would be to serve as the music system for the car. Essentially an MP3 player, the phone could hold thousands of songs (even entire albums) and different playlists could be created. The image above shows one of the many music visualization apps that also turn the unit into a graphic equalizer.
The simple installation consists of mounting the device, then attaching the audio and power. If your car already has an audio input, great! You can directly connect the audio via the headphone jack. If not, you will need to install an aftermarket audio input. Bluetooth is an option as well if you want a cleaner cordless appearance. The Bluetooth works fine enough, but the constant pairing, additional battery drain, and inability to use some of the Samsungs' built in audio settings make Bluetooth not practical for everyday use. It would impress for a "show" mode. As far as power is concerned, since you are using a phone, it will have a battery that can be recharged. I opted to use an extended battery giving me about twice as much power as the standard battery. It can last as long as a week between charges. You can also have the power connected full-time but the power cord would inevitably be visible.
This live wallpaper is set to stay active for 10 minutes and gives the screen the look that it is scanning or computing. The icons were customized using a launcher which basically reskins the android menus to change their appearance to be simple and large. They provide shortcuts to the most often used apps and programs namely the music player, the Bluetooth settings, speedometer, visualizations among others. Having the system set up with few, large icons makes it easier to use which makes it safer and keeps your eyes on the road. This is a must!
This Ulysse Speedometer is one of the more thoughtful speedometer programs available for download from Google's Play Store. While the phone does not have it's mobile data turned on, it can still download apps and updates via Wi-Fi. This app uses GPS to provide speed as well a a host of other GPS based statistics. It's color scheme can be customized to match whatever car it is being used in. If you choose to have the phone connected through mobile data you'll have even more options such as streaming music on Pandora or podcasts on TuneIn.
When it comes to live wallpapers there are a ton of choices. I prefer simple retro inspired designs that look futuristic. This Potus live wallpaper gives the illusion of a vehicle traversing some alien landscape. You can, If you wish, take the time to find wallpapers, icons, and themes that work together to create an engaging interface. The physical installation of the screen in your car is easy, but if you want a certain look this is what may take the time. It can take alot of trial and error to find the perfect look. I opted for a simple monochromatic scheme. Most of these wallpapers have a plethora of options so you can make it look however you want it too. It is not uncommon however for the more extensive options to be part of a "full" or "pro" version that may require a small one-time charge.
This live wallpaper incorporates the Chevrolet logo and gives the impression of a stock system. The app allows you to choose from several car company logos and customize the background.
For when you want a little nostalgia with your music, this audio player emulates an old school cassette player. The song information even appears on the cassette and the tape wheels spin.
What started as a solution to a problem for what to do for music (with emergence of MP3's and the death of CDs) turned into a way to add some cool modern tech that elevates the look of the interior and is functional enough to used every day. It also looks especially great at night!