My review of Android in the head unit of Honda Civic cars
Just like I am a great fan of Android, I am also a great fan of Honda cars (I have already had three Hondas). Two months ago I decided to part ways with my previous Honda Civic to buy its newest version. I was extremely happy to learn that the head unit of my new car would run Android. After all, I am an Android geek and this was the best news I could get.
I thought that Android in my car would mean that I would be able to do with my new Honda almost all I can do with my Android phone: root it, customize it to all my needs, take screenshots and what not. Unfortunately, my Honda Civic turned out to have a bit limited version of Android on board.
Even though it offers a lot of functions and features that only Android phones can offer, there are also a lot of limitations. Since it’s a new car and under warranty, I am not going to try to “hack” its head unit at all costs (especially because it takes data from the on-board computer e.g.data about fuel usage).
That’s why in this review I am going to simply show you all the default functions and features Android in Honda offers its users and a few tips & tricks. Let’s start!
Version & Specs Of The Head Unit
This review relates to the head unit of 2015 Honda Civic Hatchback produced in Europe. I couldn’t really find anywhere the list of all the technical specs and features of this head unit (even in the user’s manual of my car). I have no idea why. There are tons of reviews of the car but almost none about its Android-driven head unit.
Here is what I found out regarding the head unit (either on some website or deducted it myself):
- 7 inches. I think this size ideally fits the cockpit of my car. It’s neither too big nor too small.
- Touch screen. This is obviously a touch-screen (contrary to, for example, head units in Mercedes cars which don’t have touch screens). It works OK, but its sensitiveness or responsiveness cannot be compared to the newest Android phones (like Samsung Galaxy S7).
- Android 4.0.4 (Ice Cream Sandwich) with unfortunately no update available as of now.
- 1.3 GB of storage. This is a bit too little if you want to install anything extra to your car.
- 8 physical buttons. On the left of the head unit there are 8 physical buttons like: home, volume down and up, menu, back, brightness and eject (the head units moves our and turns around if you want to insert a CD).
The head unit turns on when I insert the key into the ignition (and turn it around). At first it displays the logo of Honda and then asks me to accept the above warning. Unfortunately, I have to click OK every time I turn the car on (otherwise I won’t be able to use the head unit).
Of course, the primary goal of the Android head unit in my Honda Civic is to offer the most obvious car functions and features. To access these functions, you need click on the HOME button right after turning your car on and clicking OK on the above warning. If you don’t click on it, you won’t be able to use the head unit for anything other than the rear camera view and displaying time.
In the case of my Honda Civic, the following functions can be controlled from the head unit:
This is Garmin’s navigation and I must say I very happy with it. Since the car isn’t constantly connected to the Internet (I will talk about connecting it to the Internet in a few moments), I will need to update it soon. The only thing I am missing in this navigation is live traffic Google maps show.
Phone over Bluetooth
This is the feature I was missing the most in my previous Civic. If you pair your phone with the car head unit, you will be able to control it via the screen in the car. The car will access your contacts and call history. You will also be able to define speed dial numbers to be used in the car.
Of course, once your phone is connected to the car, all of its notifications will be played through the car’s speakers and displayed on the head unit. You will also see the battery level and signal strength on the car’s display.
For me this is a real breakthrough. If you pair your car with your phone over Bluetooth, you will also be able to directly listen to music that’s on your phone. It means you don’t have to insert a pen-drive or CD with music. It’s enough if you have your smartphone with you.
If you click on Audio while already listening music, you will see the information about the current track.
For me Bluetooth is the most comfortable even though it usually takes a few moments before the devices connect with one another after I get into the car.
If you click info, you can choose to display either a clock/wallpaper or information from the trip computer. While driving, you will be able to monitor current fuel usage and compare it with previous trips. You will also see the information about how far you can drive with your current amount of fuel.
These are the settings of the car-related features of the unit (the Android settings are in a different place I will show you in a few moments) like: Phone, Audio, Bluethooth/Wi-Fi, Info, Camera, System and so on.
The rear camera
If your car is in the reverse gear, the display will automatically switch to the view from the rear camera. You can adjust the settings of the camera if you click on Settings > Camera when you are in the home view.
There are basically two things you can adjust about the camera: fixed guidance (lines showing as you are turning the steering wheel) and dynamic guidance (whether you want to use the rear radar informing about the cars coming from the left and right).
Once you click on System, you will be able to adjust the settings on the head unit. This is the place where you can adjust the head unit to your needs. A few of the useful things you can do here include:
- Change the color of the whole system (I set it to Red so it’s more like Type R).
- Adjust the HOME screen to your needs (so that it displays the icons or shortcuts that interest you most).
Here you can also adjust many different things like Volume, Beeb, Display etc.
Other Android Functions & Features
The above mentioned features are more of less what most new cars have. However, Honda Civic with its Android-driven head unit goes one step further and also offers many features and functionalities that only Android phones or tablets offer.
To access these features and other apps that are installed on the car, click on the circle (with six dots in it) that is next to the Aha app on the HOME screen. Once you click on it you will see a regular app grid you know from Android phones or tablets.
I analyzed all the installed apps and features the Android head unit of my Honda Civic offers and here is what they are in a nutshell:
- The Aha Radio app. This is the radio app which needs the Internet connection and an active account to work.
- Browser. If you connect your car to the Internet, you will be able to browse the Internet through its built-in browser. Once you click on the address app, a quite big and comfortable keyboard will appear on the screen.
- Calculator. It works like a regular Android calculator and lets you make quick calculations on the screen.
- Calendar. I guess that with the constant Internet connection I could synchronize it with the calendar of my phone and notifications about upcoming events would be displayed here.
- Clock. Once you click on it a quite large clock will be displayed on the screen. You can also set an alarm if you want (or if you happen to sleep in your car).
- Downloads. Here you will be able to view the files downloaded. I guess you won’t see many of them here as the head unit has the capacity of only 1.3 GB.
- Gallery. I suppose you can view here the pictures you download to your car or mount in the pen drive. It doesn’t display pictures from the paired phone.
- Garmin Navigator. That’s simply the shortcut you have on the home screen.
- Honda App Center. This is very interesting. The version of Android in Honda doesn’t come with the Google Play store. Instead you have the Honda App Center.
Unfortunately, there is only one app to be downloaded from there. Maybe it’s a niche that Android developers should soon fill?
- Install App. This lets you install apps (in the form of APK files) from external devices.
- Music. That is basically what you have on the home screen after you click on Music.
- Search. You can search for a given app using this search tool.
The last item in the app grid is what we are interested in. If you click on Settings in the app grid, you will access the real Android settings of the unit. You will see something you probably know from your Android phone or tablet very well.
Once again at this point you can adjust the Wi-Fi or Bluetooth settings. You don’t have the option of turning on mobile data here because the unit doesn’t support a SIM card (and you can only connect to the Internet via Wi-Fi).
As you can see the number of settings available here is a bit limited and some of the options (even though they appear here) cannot be modified e.g. Date & time.
Connecting Honda to the Internet
This is probably the most interesting part of all. Since the head unit of my Honda doesn’t have a SIM card, I can only connect it to Wi-Fi. Of course, if you are driving, it’s impossible to be connected to a normal Wi-Fi network (like the one at your home).
What it practically means is that if you want to be online you need to turn your Android phone into a mobile hot spot and then connect your Honda to it (via Wi-Fi). If you are unsure how to do it, in this article you will learn to how to turn your Android phone into a mobile hotspot.
Once you set up the mobile hotspot, you need to go to the WI-Fi settings of your car and look for your Wi-Fi network.
Once you find you network, click on it and enter its password. From now on, your Honda will be connected to the Internet and you will be able to install updates or browse the Internet in your car.
The HOME panel I talked about above is in fact only one of the panels available to you. If you click on the arrow (take a look at the photo below), you will switch to a different panel (just like you can do in your phone).
If you want to add widgets to these panels (unfortunately there aren’t many of them by default), you need to go to the app grid and switch to the Widget tab. All you need to do is drag and drop the widgets on one of the panels.
Installing New Apps
Unfortunately, installing new apps on Honda is not as easy as installing them on an Android phone. Unfortunately, you cannot add the Google account to the head unit and so you don’t have the Google Play installed by default.
In the app grid, you have the Install App feature which lets you install new apps. To do that you need to copy an APK file to a pen-drive which you connect to your car.
Once you connect the pen-drive to your car, you will be able to choose which APK file you want to install.
To install the app, just click on the APK file and then Install. Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to install any of these apps. They all turned out to be incompatible with my car head unit. 🙁
Even though the Android in Honda is a bit limited and light-weight, you can indeed access the task manager and browse the active apps (and close them). To do that:
- Click on Settings on the app grid.
- Click on Apps and choose Task/History manager. You can now browse the history of apps and the apps currently active.
- To clear all the running apps, click on Clear All.
The above procedure will speed up your head unit a bit if it somehow slows down.
Unfortunately, the Honda version of Android is a bit limited and cannot be even compared to what regular Android phones or tablets offer. Below you will find the list of the biggest limitations for me.
No Google Play Services
Since the Honda Android head unit by default doesn’t have Google Play services installed, you won’t be able to use any Google apps (like Chrome, YouTube or Gmail) unless you at first successfully install the four files required for Google Play services.
Unfortunately, this is a bit problematic because the head unit runs a bit old version of Android (4.0.4) and has little capacity (only 1.3 GB in total). I gave up as I cannot do much without rooting the head unit (I don’t want to do that).
No Support for Android Auto
Unfortunately, Android Auto is not supported in Poland (yet), so I cannot the functionalities this app offers. I hope this will change soon. If Android Auto worked, I would stop complaining about the limitations of the built-in head unit.
Many Android Features Missing
Even though the head unit of my Honda runs Android and even behaves like it, there are a lot of things locked by default. These include:
- You cannot take screenshots of the head unit.
- You cannot turn on developer options.
- The hidden Android game isn’t available. 🙁
Unfortunately, my Android head unit offers only 1.3 GB of storage and an outdated version of Android. What is means is that I won’t be able to install and use many apps.
Honda App Center
The only app store installed by default on my car is the Honda App Center. There aren’t many apps available there yet. I hope that Honda programmers will do their homework and add new apps to the store in some time or I will do it once I learn Android app development to the extent I can develop my own advanced apps. 🙂
Some Features Locked While Driving
You cannot access most of the above features (or settings) if you are driving (if the engine of your car is on) so you need to do all the configuration before starting the trip. Otherwise you will see the following screen:
No possibility of updating Android
The funniest thing about Android in Honda is that it doesn’t even let you check for updates. In Settings there simply isn’t such an option like software updates there. I guess that Honda decided to release just one and final version of Android in its head unit.
Android in Honda: Cool Or Uncool?
Even though Android in Honda leaves a lot to be desired (especially for Android geeks like me), I am rather satisfied with this head unit. It offers just about anything I need while driving (possibility of pairing my phone with the car and good navigation) and even more.
Since my car is under warranty, I am not going to hack or modify this head unit in any way (I’d better do it with my test phones). If you have the same head unit and modified it in any way (or discovered some feature I missed), let me know. I would love to hear from you and hear your opinions on this Honda Android.