Compared to a few years ago, in-car entertainment (also called infotainment) has changed a lot, it has evolved and continues to evolve continuously, year after year. Not only have manufacturers begun to offer more and more complete proprietary operating systems (on the new Renault, for example, Android Automotive arrives), external applications signed by Apple and Google have also arrived, we obviously think of the Smartphone Replication di Apple CarPlay e Android Auto. Two very popular systems nowadays, capable of working (only on some new generation cars, however) even wireless, without wires. However, there are those who do not like to connect their phone to the car every time they have to move, or those who think that the applications provided natively by Apple and Google are not enough.
For example, if on Tesla we also find YouTube and Netflix, just to give two examples, on Apple CarPlay and Android Auto they are not available for safety reasons – although Tesla also allows their use only when the car is stationary (below 10 km / h). For those who want an even freer experience, there are products that can offer different solutions from the pre-set ones from Apple and Google, for example tried an all-in-one dongle called CarPC – of which we want to tell you the pros and cons, as well as subsequently opening a small parenthesis linked to legality and safety.
A PC in the car
The name CarPC does not leave much room for the imagination, in fact we are dealing with a “mobile” and pocket-sized system that wants to bring the PC experience into the car, the operating system of this key is however based on Android 9.0 and what we really bring on the screen of our car is a smartphone of the green robot in all respects.
Before delving into the possibilities of this product, however, we must understand what we need to make it work: it is essential that yours vehicle is compatible with Android Auto. If you don’t have Android Auto on board, it will be useless to buy CarPC. The key uses the “doors” of Android Auto to bring the “unlocked” Google system to the screen of your car, but not all cars are compatible. We successfully tested it on Lynk & Co 01 (at the helm of the new Lynk & Co), on the new Mazda2 instead there was no way to start it, the car tells us every time we insert CarPC into the USB slot that the device is not compatible. So take into account that your car may not work properly. But what does this system offer in addition to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto? CarPC’s audience is an audience that wants disconnect your smartphone from the on-board experience. In fact, this key can be completely autonomous: it has its own memory expandable via microSD, it can connect to the network via a 4G SIM card (otherwise you can always use the hotspot of your phone), it has its own operating system based on Android 9.0 as mentioned above.
So, potentially, you will no longer need to connect your phone to the car, although if you want a 4G SIM you will have to pay a separate subscription to any Italian mobile operator. Once we understand the target audience and basic requirements, let’s actually go to using CarPC.
How CarPC works
On compatible cars, the first configuration of CarPC is really simple, you will also find pre-installed apps such as YouTube and Netflix, even if you will almost certainly need to update them the first time you use them.
These two streaming apps work a little slow but they work, during the playback of the contents it is possible to notice a frame rate that is not exactly fluid, with the video that constantly seems to lag behind the audio (max 720p). Was it the fault of the hotspot connection to our iPhone 12 Pro Max? We do not think this is the reason, the whole experience can be defined “laggosa”, even when browsing the basic home – which is a classic Android 9.0 home, with a less than excellent quality launcher. Even the use of Google Maps seemed a bit cumbersome to us, despite the fact that everything is moved by a 1.8 GHz OctaCore CPU, 4 GB of RAM and an integrated GPS antenna. The whole experience was not very satisfying, thanks to a similar device however it is possible to have YouTube and Netflix available even when the car is running – and here we need to open our parenthesis on safety. In the device settings it is possible to disable this feature, i.e. it is possible to have streaming only when the car is stationary, but by default it is always active and this could not only bring you some trouble with the police (a similar function is not legal in Italy ), it might as well make driving less safe.
It is true that you could use YouTube and Netflix even just to hear the audio, maybe you want your favorite shows that you have seen thousands of times to keep you company on the audio front, but you could always want to throw your eye on the screen. while driving, which is why it streaming while driving is prohibited.
To do things “right”, we really recommend that you set the streaming available only when the car is stationary, it could fill up your downtime – perhaps while charging a non-Tesla electric car, even if (and this is almost a advice from friends) it will probably be more satisfying to rely on your phone or tablet than the CarPC to view movies or TV series.
Another possibility of the device is a basic file managerthanks to which you can access music and videos, also through the original Google Play Store you have the possibility to add other apps to the device – as long as they are compatible with Android 9.0+.
CarPC in our opinion
Beyond the “streaming on the road” issue, which we strongly criticize for legal and safety reasons, CarPC can expand the classic possibilities of Android Auto by bringing applications such as YouTube and Netflix to your car, beyond the traditional Google Maps – even if not all the latest functions are available.
You can upload apps and files to the integrated microSD or add a new one of larger size (CarPC is sold in 3 + 32 GB or 4 + 64 GB versions), as well as installing a 4G SIM to make the device completely autonomous, without having to connect it to the hotspot of your phone – a function that can drain the battery faster smartphone. With CarPC it is also possible to navigate with Google Maps, but the general experience is not who knows how exciting. If we exclude streaming, a car compatible with Android Auto will certainly work better connected directly to your phone, without the need for a hotspot connection or a 4G SIM with a subscription to be paid separately. The final considerations, however, we leave them to you.
Certainly such a system would have been more interesting on older cars without Android Autothen yes that the leap would have been important, in the current state of things instead we would like to recommend CarPC exclusively to those who want a device independent of the phone capable of running streaming and offering a file manager, albeit basic, on the screen of their car .