If you want to experience Android Auto — that is, if you want to experience Android Auto the right way — you're going to need to do it on a touchscreen. Sure, you can get Android Auto on a phone and that's great, because it's better than nothing and it opens the platform up to anyone with an Android phone. It's just not the same as having it on a big screen.
The problem is that not everyone can have a big screen. Some cars just can't handle a double-DIN unit, which is to say they don't have room for that much hardware.
Enter the Alpine iLX-F309 — aka the Halo9. It's a $900 head unit that handles Android Auto as well as Apple's CarPlay. It does either with just a single USB port — and more important is that it fits in a single-DIN space.
Oh, and the screen is 9 inches diagonal. Intrigued? Let's forage on.
Price: $899 retailBottom line: It's not inexpensive, but it's incredibly easy (and fun) to use, with a large touchscreen, access to Android Auto and Apple CarPlay (among other sources), and it fits in most cars.
- Large capacitive screen in a single-DIN format
- Single USB port for Android Auto or CarPlay
- Dedicated GPS antenna
- Loads of options for car stereo enthusiasts
- Not inexpensive
- No remote control
- Screen isn't detachable for security
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Spend the money — it's worth it
Alpine Halo9 What I like
I've used Android Auto and Apple CarPlay for as long as they've been around. They are two of the more important features Google and Apple have added to their phones in recent memory, for one simple reason:
They make you safer in the car. That is, they'll keep you from playing with your phone while you're driving.
Let's not pretend that you're never going to use your phone in the car. It's simply not realistic. However, that doesn't mean you can't use your phone in a safe and secure manner. If your vehicle doesn't have an option for Android Auto or CarPlay built in, the Halo9 may well be the best aftermarket option.
Consider this: A 9-inch display is great. I'd almost argue it's a little too big, actually — some of the graphics in Android Auto and (especially) in CarPlay get a little glitchy at that size but at just WVGA resolution, with round icons occasionally gaining corners, and individual pixels very much visible in places. That's nitpicking, though. My wife has a 7-inch touchscreen in her car (capacitive, at that), and I'm never going back.
The trick, then, is how to get a 9-inch display in a car that decidedly was not built for such a beast. That's bigger than even what a double-DIN setup would allow.
In this case, Alpine has the screen extended from the body of the head unit, which fits nicely inside a single-DIN space. It's somewhat adjustable, so you can find the right fit between any controls and your air-conditioner vents. However, this isn't the sort of thing you'll be adjusting on the fly. So you'll want to work with your installer to make sure you get things fitted as well as you can before you drive off.
While it's adjustable, it's not mechanical. The screen doesn't get sucked back into the body of the head unit, nor does it easily remove for added security. It's going to stand out a bit, very much in a good way, unless you'd prefer the interior of your car to be a little more inconspicuous. It's nowhere near the 15-inch touchscreen of a Tesla Model 3, but this thing is going to get noticed.
For shared vehicles, you'll love the fact that the Halo9 requires just a single USB port for Android Auto and CarPlay. Just plug in with the appropriate cable, and you're set. No tweaking settings, no second port needed.
While I'm not usually a fan of aftermarket user interfaces, Alpine's is one of the better ones. You get a mess of options, from Bluetooth and HD Radio to satellite radio, Pandora, and an AUX port. Alpine allows you to set favorites from any of the inputs (including phone calls, by the way), making it extremely quick and easy to access just about anything, should you decide to venture outside Android Auto or CarPlay.
And that's just the bare bones. There's a world of options in addition to all that, including backup cameras and the KAC-001 Accessory Controller, and the iDatalink Maestro Module.
What I don't like
Look, there's not too much to not like here. I can nitpick over the small graphical hiccups in Android Auto and CarPlay at that 9-inch size and WVGA resolution, but that's not really Alpine's fault. Google and Apple maybe didn't really take this product into consideration when designing things, and it's something that maybe could improve in software at some point.
I'm also maybe not crazy about the capacitive buttons below the screen. This is where you'll adjust the volume and get into the favorites, seek, fast forward, and all that jazz. Capacitive buttons aren't ideal for this because they don't have any sort of tactile feel to them. But keep in mind that if your steering wheel has controls on it (and mine doesn't) you'll probably not need them too often. While maybe I'd prefer a remote control in this instance, it's not a deal-killer (especially given how much the Halo9 already costs).
There's also no support for optical media — no CDs or DVDs — and no SD card. I'm actually fine with that — they're outdated forms of media and something I haven't wanted to use in years anyway. However, if it's one of those things you just have to have, you'll want to look elsewhere.
And, finally, it's possible that a 9-inch screen is just too big for you. I'll strongly disagree, though, and am willing to come to your house and argue that you're wrong until you see the light.
Alpine iLX-F309 Halo9
There's not too much to overthink here. The Halo9 fits a very large screen in a small space. It supports both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, and it does so with just a single USB port. It's got a ton of bells and whistles beyond that, sounds great and is easy to use, even if you're not a serious car stereo enthusiast.
It's more expensive than other Android Auto and CarPlay options — but it's also a much better experience.
Phil is the father of two beautiful girls and is the Dad behind Modern Dad. Before that he spent seven years at the helm of Android Central. Before that he spent a decade in a newsroom of a two-time Pulitzer Prize-finalist newspaper. Before that — well, we don't talk much about those days.
By Tammy Rogers