My experience using an extra phone for permanent Android Auto / Carplay

t3hub3rk1tten

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I haven't posted much recently as I was a bit tired of the negativity on the forums. I wanted to share my setup I've been working on though:

I was originally using Bluetooth from my Nexus 6P to play music. I ran into the stuttering issue a lot. It seems to be a problem with I/O to the WiFi and Bluetooth chip. Didn't have the problem with AA, but I didn't want to plug my phone in every time I drove. I drive short distances and I got the Touring because of the "easiness." Touch the door to open, push the button to start, don't bother with wipers, don't bother with AC, etc. I just won't plug in, unless to charge.

For various reasons, I have an extra iPhone 6 16GB and Nexus 5 32GB. So I have tried using both as permanent AA/CarPlay devices. I leave them plugged in the car, usually tucked away under the center console. I don't interact with them while driving except if something goes wrong. It works very well, for both devices. Now I'm using the Nexus 5 and Android Auto exclusively.

I use Hangouts for 99% of my messaging and Spotify for all my music. I also use Google Voice for all my calls, so I can route incoming calls to any phone number I want and make outgoing calls appear to be from my regular number. I also have a WiFi router in my garage.

iPhone 6 and CarPlay
The iPhone was wiped, and I installed Spotify and downloaded all the music I need. Spotify was set to offline. I also set it up to use my phone's WiFi hotspot and the garage WiFi. Few extra apps.

CarPlay is disappointing. For one thing, it's just plain ugly. The interface looks like a tech demo. Icons on a black background. Just not visually appealing, not really playful or sexy. CarPlay also lacks in the easiness factor. Half the time when I started the car, it would jump to the Spotify app. The other half, I would be sitting at the home screen and have to swipe to the second page to get to Spotify (can't rearrange apps), then tap on Spotify. Most of the time the music started playing. CarPlay is really solid to connect when the car starts, never had a problem.

Playing music in Spotify is basically a black screen (with very blacked-out background art you can't make out). In Spotify, you can't do anything except back, play/pause, next. You can pick out playlists and stuff to play from but you can't add something to your songs, make a new station, you can't even turn on Shuffle or Repeat. Spotify was buggy, when I would tell it to shuffle play a playlist, it would play the playlist and not shuffle. Also, randomly the app would forget that I had music downloaded. It would say I'm offline, but all the songs would disappear. As soon as I connected it to WiFi, they appeared and I could go offline. That's Spotify's fault, this may differ depending on your app.

Hangouts doesn't support CarPlay, which is disappointing. I still had my regular phone to use at traffic lights, but it just wasn't as seamless.

Having Siri available was great. I used Apple Maps a few times with no problems. Didn't encounter any problems with battery life while car was off, as I drive every day. Even short drives were enough to charge to 100%. Unfortunately there is no way to automate things on iOS, so even when the car is off the iPhone would stay connected to wifi. I'm not sure how long that would work idle but I don't think it would be more than a few days. Turned off all push notifications and background services.

Nexus 5 and Android Auto
Installed Spotify and downloaded all music. Nexus is running CyanogenMod 13. At first I was worried, because when I used my Nexus 5 the AA interface was kind of sluggish. However, when AA is all the phone is doing, it runs really well.

Android Auto is nice. The interface is really well done, playful, and easy to use. It switches between different themes for day and night. An easiness boost for Android is that every time it starts up, it takes you to the home screen which is basically Google Now. There, things like Spotify show up as well as shortcuts to navigate to work or home, or if you for example have an appointment on your calendar it will offer to navigate you there. Otherwise it will show things like weather. Usually Spotify will start playing immediately. Incoming Hangouts messages show up, and if you tap them they get read out. When using Spotify, I have access to normal options, like turning on and off shuffle, adding songs to "my songs", etc.

The one sore mark is that the Civic head unit connecting with Android Auto isn't perfect. The HU is Android, and it has to start up when you start the car. The boot sequence is pretty short, but it's still there with the Honda logo and all that. To let you use the rear view camera (RVC) faster, there's a special mode called EarlyRVC that gets ready in less than a second from start of the HU. While the system is booting in the background, this barebones interface lets you use the rear camera. You may have noticed this mode, because if you change the HVAC it doesn't show up on screen. There is a bug where if you use this mode really soon after the car starts, it can sometimes cause the connection to fail with the phone. It will usually show up as "Loading..." on the screen and never finish. To connect, you have to replug the USB for the phone.

This sucks, but it's super easy to avoid. If you wait about 4 or 5 seconds from the car starting to put it in reverse, it doesn't happen. Start the car and then put your seat belt on, for example, and you should have no problem. Or, instead of opening your garage, getting in car, and starting, you could get in car, start it, and then use your remote to open the garage. This is kinda lame, but it's so easy to avoid I now don't ever encounter it.

The best thing about Android is the ability to use Tasker. For those unfamiliar, Tasker lets you create actions that run on your phone in response to conditions and events. These tasks can do just about anything you can do on your phone, change settings, send texts, etc. So I set up a task that when the phone is disconnected from power (car turns off) it activates airplane mode, turns off every auto sync and background service, and makes the screen turn off super fast. When it's connected to power, it reverses all that. Android's battery life when you're in airplane mode with everything turned off is insane. It will last for weeks.

One thing I tried at first was using Bluetooth tethering with my main phone. I always have BT on my main phone on, so this would have been a nice way to have the car phone have internet. While it worked and the car phone had internet, it was very slow. Google Voice Search barely worked. Using my phone's hotspot worked though. I also tried using VoIP, using my phone's hotspot. Don't even try it, the built in AA dialer doesn't want to use anything but cellular.

Bluetooth and calls
One downside to this. You can't use AA or CarPlay and your phone's bluetooth at the same time. So you won't receive calls. And because the phone doesn't have service, you can't make calls outbound. For some people, maybe this isn't a big deal. For me, it was, I like to call my parents to catch up when I'm making longer drives.

My solution was simple: get a prepaid SIM for the phone! A lot of people don't know this, but prepaid phone plans are dirt cheap. They may be slow, or have limitations on minutes, but as long as they have a few minutes and a few MBs, they should work. Check out https://www.reddit.com/r/nocontract and https://bestmvno.com/cheapest-cell-phone-plans/

After a lot of consideration, I got the T-Mobile $30 plan. It's not the cheapest, but for a little more I get 100 minutes, 5GB LTE data (unlimited throttled after). T-Mobile doesn't count music streaming against your data, so I can stream nonstop with this thing in my car without using that data. If you already have a family plan with a carrier, you may actually get a good deal on an extra line. My regular phone plan is paid for by my work, so I couldn't do that.

Because I use Google Voice, when I get a call, it also rings the car phone's number. Also because I use Google Voice, when I make calls outbound, they show up as coming from my Google number, even when I'm using the car phone. This was the big reason I chose AA over CarPlay. On the iPhone, you can't make outbound calls with the regular dialer, you have to use Google's app. On Android, any call you make goes out using Google Voice.

I also have Tasker set up so that when it's connected, it turns on a WiFi hotspot. So now I have a hotspot in my car that turns on automatically with 5GB of data. Not too shabby, lets my girlfriend use her iPad in the passenger seat. If I need a hotspot, I can grab the phone out of the car and bring it. The battery will last for almost a full day and I don't worry about my main phone dying.

Conclusion
That's a lot more text than I expected to write.

tl;dr I hop in my car, and Android Auto starts up right away. All my Google Now stuff are there for quick navigation. I can use Google Voice Search all the time with my phone in my pocket. Spotify streams music. I have a hotspot in the car. I rarely even see the normal interface (which I do like). It works very well.

If you're thinking of doing this, I highly recommend you buy a used Nexus 5. Get a really cheap one with scratches on the screen and stuff like this one, you won't be looking at it. Prices look to be around $100 or less. Don't go buying the absolute cheapest Chinese Android phone, as it may not work with AA. I also recommend only using a Nexus, because it's better supported by Google.

Update 9/1/2016 (~6 months)
Don't really have much to say, my Nexus has been working great. Highly recommend it still!



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bhorn

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This is a great write-up! I also use Google Voice, but I have noticed that using AA to reply to text messages ends up using the phone's SIM number to send the reply. Has this been your experience also?
 
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t3hub3rk1tten

t3hub3rk1tten

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This is a great write-up! I also use Google Voice, but I have noticed that using AA to reply to text messages ends up using the phone's SIM number to send the reply. Has this been your experience also?
Unfortunately, yes. This is a long-standing problem with Google Voice. Any app that sends text messages will send them with the carrier SMS.

I don't do too much texting nowadays, most of my friends use Hangouts, so it's not a big deal for me.
 
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Nice!

I'm running my Nexus 6 as my perma-car-phone, with a Project Fi data-only SIM. Everything works except calls (as you are aware), but I bought a magnetic vent mount (the iOttie iTap) so I keep my Nexus 5x propped up and use OK Google to control it specifically (turned it off on the 6).

Since I'm using Project Fi, I try to not use a ton of data, so I just play local files. Unlimited streaming would be nice, but I don't think it would justify the $30...

I'll look into using Tasker, though! Great ideas.
 

somarilnos

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On a side note, the Bluetooth audio stuttering issue is an issue I've run into often with Android, in other vehicles as well. In my experience, wiping the cache partition (Googling that for your phone can give you the details) tends to resolve this for the short term. It was a huge recurring problem when I had a Samsung.

http://www.androidexplained.com/nexus-6p-wipe-the-cache-partition/ details how to do this for a Nexus 6P. If you're interesting in trying that again at any point.

Appreciate the write-up, and it's some good information out there. Always like to see people exploring the usages for their tech.
 

ichii

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Didn't know you could use Apple or Google maps without data connection. Did you download the map in advance and can you search for directions?
 
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Didn't know you could use Apple or Google maps without data connection. Did you download the map in advance and can you search for directions?
You can download the map areas to reduce data usage, but I don't think you can go data-free
 
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t3hub3rk1tten

t3hub3rk1tten

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Didn't know you could use Apple or Google maps without data connection. Did you download the map in advance and can you search for directions?
I used my regular phone's hotspot when doing that. Most of my driving didn't need directions, so when I wasn't using a SIM in the car phone I didn't really have a problem.
 

Threemaples

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You can download the map areas to reduce data usage, but I don't think you can go data-free
I can use a nexus 4 without a data connection and use Android Auto with Google Maps. With newest version of Google Maps you can download an offline map with directory of locations. You can then use it to navigate in Civic and even search up locations. Only drawback is that Google voice doesn't work to search directions and maps on phone expire after 30 days

R
 

timmyhat

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Thanks for the write up! This is what I've been thinking of doing when I get my Civic, but wasn't sure how it'd work out. Using Tasker sounds like a perfect idea.

Any idea how it'll hold up in the summer? It get in the 100s where I live and I'm worried that leaving a phone in the car in that heat will kill the phone/battery. I'd really hate for the battery to explode or something! I'm guessing phones are designed to handle being left in a hot car, though.
 
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I can use a nexus 4 without a data connection and use Android Auto with Google Maps. With newest version of Google Maps you can download an offline map with directory of locations. You can then use it to navigate in Civic and even search up locations. Only drawback is that Google voice doesn't work to search directions and maps on phone expire after 30 days

R
Huh. I tried turning off cellular data and maps was unable to do anything. The location searches would just time out.
 

takemorepills

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I decided to use "Macrodroid" instead of "Tasker". Seems to work very well so far.

I have configured my master Nexus 5 to enable wi-fi hotspot when it detects the bluetooth in my car, and my slave Nexus 5 is set to connect to master N5 wifi hotspot when power becomes available at USB. When car shuts down, slave N5 goes into airplane mode (or just turn off all your radios if your phone doesn't support airplane mode by Macrodroid) and my master N5 turns off it's hotspot.
 

Threemaples

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Huh. I tried turning off cellular data and maps was unable to do anything. The location searches would just time out.
Did you download an offline map in the phone Google app first? You need latest google maps update. Not available in IOS yet I think.

R
 

speedtouch

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Do you have to re-plug in your Nexus phone every time you start the car?

For my Nexus 5X, I noticed it wouldn't launch android auto and would always display something like "no device detected" if I leave the phone plugged in when the car starts. Re-plugging it solve it for me, but it's a real annoyance when I only turn it off for a few minutes, like at a gas station. I've always thought this was just a common problem until I read your post.

There is a bug where if you use this mode really soon after the car starts, it can sometimes cause the connection to fail with the phone. It will usually show up as "Loading..." on the screen and never finish. To connect, you have to replug the USB for the phone.

This sucks, but it's super easy to avoid. If you wait about 4 or 5 seconds from the car starting to put it in reverse, it doesn't happen.
I think I encountered something like this once, spent 20 minutes trying to debug it. It would get stuck "Loading..." but if I waited a minute or two it would display something about a failed USB connection. It was weird because the phone started android auto as usual, just the car didn't seem to start it's own side of android auto. Replugging the phone multiple times didn't resolve it, turning the car off and on a few times didn't resolve it, and restarting the touch display with the phone still plugged in didn't resolve it. A combination of removing the car's saved information of the phone as an Android Auto and Bluetooth device, unplugging the device, and restarting the touch display resolved it though. Very strange state to get in, I wonder if it was due to the same underlying cause: putting the car in reverse too soon.
 

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