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In-car infotainment systems have rapidly evolved over the past few years. Starting out with simple Bluetooth enabled stereos, these quickly advanced to be fully integrated with our smartphones, and now both Google and Apple have launched their own in-car systems.
Apple’s system is called Apple Carplay, this integrates directly with iPhones via a wired or wireless connection and adds a heap of extra functionality to your car.
In this guide, we’ll share the key things to look out for when buying such as unit and share our top picks depending upon your needs.
Table of Contents
What is Apple Carplay?
Apple Carplay is Apple’s car infotainment system that will display a user’s iPhone on the dashboard in a simple and safe format for use on the road. Here are some of the key features it enables:
Audio Streaming – One of the most popular uses for Apple Carplay is to access your phones audio streaming. This includes music streaming apps such as Apple Music, Spotify, Deezer, as well as podcast streaming and radio apps. However, Apple Carplay doesn’t work with iPods which feels like a big let down from Apple in terms of compatibility.
Navigation – Apple maps, google maps and Waze are all available on Carplay as they would appear on your phone.
Messaging – Display incoming messages from iMessage, WhatsApp and other messaging apps on screen with the option to reply via dictation.
Siri – Use Apple’s voice assistant to control all of the above as well as any other functionality usually provided by Siri, without your hands needing to leave the wheel.
Some Apple Car Play stereos also feature Android Auto so you can switch between them at your leisure. If you prefer Amazon’s voice assistant then your choice of Alexa-compatible car stereos is a little more limited.
Many modern cars now come with Carplay built in to the factory infotainment system, but for those looking to upgrade their head unit on an old car, there is now a broad set of aftermarket Apple Carplay units available to purchase in the UK.
Key things to look for in an aftermarket Apple Carplay head unit are:
Best Double Din Apple Carplay Stereos
Double din (or 2 din) is the most common size for Apple Carplay stereos, here are our top 5 favourite devices:
The Pioneer MVH-1400NEX is our overall favourite Apple Carplay head unit that’s available in the UK.
The Pioneer MVH-1400NEX makes an excellent upgrade to any OEM head unit and sits nicely in a double din slot. It features a decent size 6.2” capacitive touch screen which is similar to the screen you’d expect on a phone or tablet.
All of the connections are in the rear of the device including AUX and USB so you can have a neat install. Unfortunately, there is no WiFi in the device so Carplay must be via a wired USB connection.
There is no CD player, however I don’t tend to see that as a negative these days considering it runs Apple Carplay with access to Spotify and other streaming services.
The device is capable of playing flac files if connected via USB drive. There is a video input so you can have a reversing camera and it is idatalink compatible meaning it can control many of your cars factory systems such as steering wheel control, factory cameras,, AV input and more, but this will vary by car.
This head unit has been around for a few years but it still has a worthy feature set and can be picked up at a good price making it our best value choice.
Although it’s a budget device, it has plenty of features including rear camera input to connect up a reversing camera. On the front of the device it has both an aux input and usb which can be used for both mp3’s and high quality flac audio files.
There is no WiFi so Apple Carplay must be connected via a wired connection and with the USB slot on the front of the device, it will be hard to hide the wiring.
The touch screen is a resistive touch screen so it’s not as sensitive as the screens of a phone or tablet, however the addition of a rotary dial makes volume control extremely easy whilst driving and negates some of the issues.
The unit itself is a single din size with a double din screen, this means it will easily install into a double din space with plenty of room for wiring and accessories behind.
If a wire-free experience is top of your agenda then this Kenwood has our vote as the best stereo with wireless Apple Carplay.
When Apple Carplay hit the market back in 2014, it would only work via a wired connection. But a 2017 update added wireless capability provided the head unit has the right hardware, our best recommendation for a wireless Carplay stereo in the UK is the Kenwood DMX-7018.
When you do make use of the wired connection, the Kenwood features quick charge technology to keep your battery fuelled.
It doesn’t have a CD slot or AUX and the USB slot is on the rear so for the old times, so you’ll have to adapt to streaming instead. It does however feature DAB+ digital radio for a little extra choice.,
As far as audio quality goes, it has 4x50W outputs which is slightly lower than some units here but also has 3 pre-outs for front, rear and subwoofer along with a 13-band equalizer.
For those with a good collection of CDs or wanting to entertain the kids with DVDs, this Sony XAV AX-200 is our best double din recommendation with a CD slot.
If having a CD player is important to you then the Sony XAV Ax-200 won’t disappoint as it has a slot capable of playing both CDs and DVDs on the built-in screen.
The screen is a 6.4” double din touch screen, however it is a resistive touch input as opposed to capacitive so it’s a lot harder to press. Alongside this is a volume dial like the one mentioned earlier for the AX-100.
It has a triple camera input so you can see from three different angles and the audio output is excellent with a 4x55w amp and 10 band equalisers.
This is the most premium receiver on our list and features high end features such as wireless Carplay, built in navigation and a CD player.
Unlike other head units, this one has built in Navigation so it doesn’t need to be connected to a phone in order to use this. Included is a complete map of Europe that can be updated via WiFi. You won’t get live traffic monitoring as do when connecting via Apple Carplay or Android Auto, but you will get traffic alerts and information straight to the device.
The 7” display on this unit is crystal clear and using the CD/DVD drive you can use it to play DVDs when the car is stationery. It also has dual camera input and can switch to a reversing camera when needed. On the downside, the touch screen is resistive type which isn’t as sensitive as capacitive touch and the lack of a volume dial may put some users off this high-end device.
The AVIC- Z820DAB also includes WiFi which means you can connect to Apple Carplay wirelessly, this is far better than having to plug and unplug your phone every time you use your car.
Best Single Din Apple Carplay Head Units
There is relatively little choice of head units that will fit a 1-din slot due to the need for a touch screen. However, we have summarised the best ones below:
Our favourite overall single din Apple Carplay unit is this Alpine iLX-F309 with a whopping 9″ HD screen.
The Alpine iLX-F309 has a single din chassis but sports an impressive 9” HD screen that can be adjusted to sit in a variety of heights and angles according to what works best with your vehicle.
The screen itself is fairly slim so should look good in any vehicle and it’s a capacitive touch screen so it’s easy to use and very responsive. It also has buttons along the bottom including skip back/forward and volume up/down which most people will agree are best to have a physical button for use when driving.
It is fully compatible with Apple Carplay although only via a wired connection as it doesn’t have built in WiFi.
There is no AUX input, however it does have a HDMI input which can connect to an in-car DVD player for plying back movies when the car is stationery, this is a nice feature for anyone with kids.
For a single din device, this Pioneer receiver manages to fit a lot of tech inside and gets our top pick for best single din receiver with a CD player.
The screen on this Pioneer device is motorised and folds away into the unit so it can fit in to a single din installation slot. This does however mean that the screen is 7” which is a lot smaller than the Alpine, but it’s also much neater when not in use.
One thing to point out about the screen on this device is that it’s resistive touch, this generally requires a little more pressure than a capacitive screen so isn’t as good in car infotainment systems.
The device is packed full of features, sporting a CD/DVD player tucked away into the unit and two camera inputs for front and reversing camera.
It works with both Apple Carplay and Android Auto via a wired connection and features Bluetooth calling and DAB radio as you’d expect.
This is the cheapest Apple Carplay single din head unit we could find and still has a huge amount of features.
The Sony XAV-AX8050D is another single din receiver that runs Apple Carplay. Similar to the Alpine mentioned earlier, this one also has a fixed external screen that can be manoeuvred to fit on your dashboard. The screen is 9” with anti-glare technology that makes it safe to use whilst driving.
Whilst this is the cheapest single din apple Carplay unit we could find; it’s still going to set you back around £500 so it’s not cheap. That being said, you get a reliable unit with an excellent stereo that has all the benefits of Apple Carplay.
It does only work via a wired connection to your iPhone, but you can play music wirelessly via the Bluetooth connection. It also has a rear camera input and DAB radio.
The device has a 10-band equalizer and Sony’s dynamic stage organiser which makes the sound seem like it’s coming from the dashboard itself.
We hope you’ve found this guide useful; you can also check out our review of the best Android Auto car head units for more inspiration.