In my last post I talked about trying to make my 11 year old car stereo a little more modern, without tearing out the center section of the dash. I used an Amazon Echo Auto for a while.
Then I fell into an interesting idea of using an Android tablet to run Apple CarPlay.
Companies make these little boxes. They allow you to hook up your iPhone (wired or wirelessly, depending on what you want to spend) and the box works with an app on the tablet, and shows the CarPlay content. Near as I can tell, it’s fully functional.
Obviously, there are some weird things. When I first loaded things up, the orientation of the table was portrait, so Car Play showed as portrait, even in landscape position. I had to power down the tablet completely to fix that. But it was fixed. Might be other stuff later.
So, here’ the list of what you need. I will link to a couple of things I bought, but similar ones may work as well. I’m not an Amazon affiliate, so these are not affiliate links. Just plain links.
CarPlay Adapter. I bought a wired version of the CarLinKit adapter. Be aware, there are clones of these, but the often brick when you update the firmware, or so the internet says. Download the free app onto your tablet. $40.
Android Tablet. They say any Android table running 4.4.2 will run the app. I suggest one that can charge wirelessly, for reasons I will explain later. I happen to be shopping during the 6th birthday for Alexa or something, so I got Kindle Fire HD 8 Plus for $55. They are normally $110. I thought $55 for a wireless charging, Android capable device was a steal. Unless you plan to go find a Chinese tablet on eBay or hope to catch a used one on FB Marketplace, you will probably be spending at least that.
OTG cable. I didn’t know what an OTG cable was. I still don’t know what the acronym is. But these are bales that let you use peripherals with devices like tablets, game systems, multimedia players, etc… In it’s most basic form, it converts a USB A plug from the CarPlay adapter into whatever you need to plug into your tablet. The Kindle Fire 7 is Micro USB, The Kindle Fire 8 is USB C. There are tons of these. Just search for a USB A to whatever-connection-you-need OTG cable. I got a 3 pack for about $9.
Tablet Car Mount. This is actually pretty important. Depending on the size of your tablet, you may need a pretty heft one. There are lots of $10-15 ones available, but the reviews are not great for real world use. I wanted amount that used my CD slot. Choose the one that will work the best for your car. I settled on this one, spent about $20. It seems to work OK for now, on regular streets.
AUX Input on the Radio. You need a way to get audio into the factory stereo system. The Fit has a mini plug. I imagine you could use bluetooth as well. You will be taking the audio from the valet into the stereo.
That’s technically all you need to make things work. $124. Not bad to get Apple CarPlay into your car without replacing the factory radio.
So here’s my experience. I started out using a 2019 Kindle Fire HD 7. Mainly because I had it available. The problem is that I don’t use the battery well on this device. It drains little, sits in standby and the gets thrown onto charge. These are cheap Amazon tablets. They work well, but my battery does not last long.
Here’s how the car mount works. There are these paddle things that slip into the CD slot a bit, then you tighten a bolt to make them spread apart and hold in place. It seems pretty tight. I am more worried about the swivel tablet mount moving that the CD slot part.
Once I have things completely finalized, I plan to manage the cables, and velcro the CarLinKit box to the mount.
I started out with the Fire 7. It is a good size. I actual bought a different case for it. My only complaint was battery life. My 7 inch Fire was 3 years old and I have not been “training” the battery to last a long time. I was unsure what to expect with the battery life and use the adapter.
I used the tablet in the morning for about an hour. Then again, briefly at lunch. I left the tablet on stand by in between. By 5 pm it has drained the battery entirely. Not great for a long trip.
So that took me down the rabbit hole of how to charge through the same micro USB port that you are sending data through. You can plug in the adapter, use it while you want. And then plug in a charger. That defeats the whole purpose of the box.
I spent a lot of time search and looking for information about this. I looked at a lot of OTG cables that claimed they could do both, or at least not drain the battery when in use. People were talking about soldering wires and stuff. After a couple of hours, I gave up. The Kindle Fire HD 7 does not seem to be able to charge and use the data functions at the same time- through the Micro USB port.
Enter wireless charging. I used to have a couple of these laying around, the wireless charging pads seem to work even if the USB port is passing stats. The Amazon Fire HD 8 Plus allows for wireless charging. So, I snagged one, and am eager to test it out.
In the mean time, I have tested the general charging state of the new HD 8 Plus. So far it seems to have about twice as much battery life as my 7 inch version. Which means I can probably get a day and a quarter out of one charge.