Boss Audio Launches New $210 CarPlay Receiver With 6.75-Inch Touchscreen

If you don't have a vehicle with CarPlay installed natively, there are a number of third-party aftermarket CarPlay receivers from companies like Alpine and Pioneer, which can be an affordable way to get CarPlay integration in your car.

Boss Audio, known for its range of car speakers and accessories, recently launched a new CarPlay receiver, the BVCP9685A, and its $250 price tag makes it one of the cheaper CarPlay options on the market. For a limited time, there's a $40 coupon available on Amazon, dropping the price even further to $210.


The BVCP9685A from Boss Audio features a 6.75-inch capacitive touchscreen LCD, and the company says that this new version has a number of upgrades over the prior BVCP9675A option. The unit depth is now 5.3 inches instead of 6.7-inches, with the shallower body allowing for an easier installation process.

With proper car wiring, steering wheel controls and backup camera are supported, and an external mic improves voice pick up when giving voice commands to Siri.


Other BVCP9685A features include Android Auto support, AM/FM radio receiver, RDS and RBDS tuner, Aux and AV input, subwoofer pre-amp outputs, USB charging, multi-color illumination, and true double din.

Note: MacRumors is an affiliate partner with Amazon. When you click a link and make a purchase, we may receive a small payment, which helps us keep the site running.

Related Roundup: CarPlay

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Review: 2019 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV Forgoes Built-In Navigation in Favor of CarPlay

Mitsubishi isn't one of the biggest-selling car manufacturers in the U.S. these days, but the Japanese automaker has been rebounding substantially in recent years thanks in large part to its focus on the popular crossover segment, led by the Outlander.

The Mitsubishi Outlander has been offered in a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) variant for the last few years, and I've been testing out a brand-new 2019 model of the Outlander PHEV just as the first units are starting to roll out to dealers around the country.


In fact, the 2019 model is so new that Mitsubishi isn't even featuring it on its website yet, but in the U.S. at least, changes from the 2018 model are primarily cosmetic aside from some tweaks to the suspension, noise and vibration reduction, and comfort. 2019 models in other countries are seeing some more substantial upgrades under the hood, but those have yet to make their way into the U.S. models.

The U.S. version of the 2019 Outlander PHEV offers a 2.0 L 4-cylinder gas engine paired with dual 60 kW electric motors and a 12 kWh Li-ion battery. Operating solely on electric power, the Outlander PHEV can drive up to 22 miles depending on conditions, while it gets 25 MPG in gasoline-only mode, for a combined rating of 74 MPGe. But with a relatively small 11.3 gallon gas tank to make room for the batteries, overall range is only a little over 300 miles.

Level 1/2 (left) and CHAdeMO (right) charging ports

A 110–120 V Level 1 charging cable is included with the Outlander for charging from a standard electrical outlet, and it offers the ability to switch between 8 A and 12 A charging options. A full charge requires approximately 13 hours at 8 A or 8 hours at 12 A. For faster charging, you can use a 220–240 V Level 2 charging device, which takes about 3.5 hours for a full charge, or a CHAdeMO quick charger at a public charging station to deliver an 80 percent charge in about 25 minutes. The battery is also charged on the go through regenerative braking with steering mounted paddle shifters to adjust the regenerative braking force.


My test vehicle was the high-end GT S-AWC trim, which checks in at just over $42,500 before federal tax credits and includes a number of upgrades and option packages as part of the trim level. The lower-level SEL S-AWC trim starts around $35,000 before tax breaks.

Smartphone Link Display Audio


Mitsubishi offers a 7-inch touchscreen standard in the Outlander PHEV with an infotainment system it calls Smartphone Link Display Audio (SDA). CarPlay and Android Auto support are also standard on all PHEV trims, although SDA and CarPlay/Android are not available on the base ES trim of the regular Outlander.

Mitsubishi's Smartphone Link Display Audio (SDA) home screen

What's interesting about Mitsubishi's SDA system is that there is no embedded navigation available in U.S. models, with users instead needing to rely on CarPlay or Android Auto for their navigation needs. I spoke with Bryan Arnett, Mitsubishi's senior manager for accessory development and advanced technology, and he explained to me that the company made the decision to remove embedded navigation as an option in the United States as of 2016 models for several interrelated reasons.

One of the key aspects had to do with cost, as navigation packages frequently cost in excess of $1,000 on top of other options, so only a portion of users even purchased cars with built-in navigation. In addition, embedded navigation systems need to be regularly updated to ensure they have the latest maps and points of interest, and even when Mitsubishi offered map updates free of charge, users were slow to update.

Embedded navigation systems also can have difficulty competing with smartphone options that owners are already used to in terms of interface and the overall user experience, so Mitsubishi made the decision to go all-in on CarPlay and Android Auto to provide navigation using devices customers already have. Arnett told me that customer feedback on this move has been great, with users increasingly preferring their phones over embedded navigation.

That said, Mitsubishi is part of the Renault–Nissan–Mitsubishi Alliance, which late last year announced that it will be among a number of car manufacturers moving to adopt Google's Android OS to drive their future infotainment systems. The move will allow users to access built-in versions of Google Maps and other services, although CarPlay will continue to be supported. The Alliance is planning to start rolling out vehicles with Android OS-based systems in 2021.

SiriusXM screen in SDA

As for the current SDA system in the Outlander PHEV, the 7-inch display is framed by a small power/volume knob at the lower left corner and a vertical strip of fixed touch icons along the right side. These icons include a Home button to take you back to the SDA home screen from wherever you are, including in CarPlay or Android Auto, as well as an Apps button that offers a persistent, one-touch option to take you into CarPlay or Android Auto.

Pop-up menu in SiriusXM screen

There's also an Audio button to take you directly to the SDA audio functions and cycle through the various audio sources (including CarPlay's Music app), and a Menu button that pops up a panel at the lower right where you can access settings and other options depending on which SDA screen you're on.

FM radio screen in SDA

In general, Mitsubishi has worked to ensure that the SDA system is intuitive by limiting submenus and making sure everything you need should be no more than two taps away. That's certainly the case with most functions, but I feel like there are some areas where the interface could use some improvements.

Phone keypad in SDA

In particular, the SDA system could use a visual overhaul with modernization of icon and button designs, and some functions such as the SiriusXM screen feel quite cluttered. I recognize that SiriusXM offers a lot of features and I appreciate Mitsubishi's effort to make them all accessible, but I feel like there could definitely be some streamlining.

Second page of SDA home screen showing EV-related icons

As a plug-in hybrid, the Outlander PHEV has a good bit more going on technology-wise than most other cars, and so the SDA system has been augmented to handle that. There are a number of home screen icons for PHEV-specific functions such as vehicle info on charging state and power flow, timed air conditioning and charging settings, and more.

EV eco-related data

Climate controls are handled strictly through separate hardware controls located below the infotainment system, although you do get a brief climate setting overlay on the screen when you make an adjustment. There's also an Air Conditioning icon on the SDA home screen that displays the current climate control settings, but you can't make any adjustments through the touchscreen.

Hardware climate controls at bottom with display-only climate information app in SDA

CarPlay


CarPlay uses a wired connection in the Outlander PHEV, which is unsurprising given how slow wireless CarPlay has been to take off. There's a single USB-A port near the bottom of the center stack, which comes with a rubberized plug cover that feels a little unnecessary and just seems to get in the way if you plan to be plugging and unplugging a USB cable frequently.

CarPlay home screen

CarPlay behaves as you'd expect on the 7-inch screen, which is about middle of the road in terms of screen sizes. Some views such as in maps feel a little on the small and cluttered side if you're used to an 8-inch screen, but it's completely usable. CarPlay is operated strictly by the touchscreen, with no additional touch pad or control knob on the center console, and that's fine with me.

Apple Maps route guidance in CarPlay

The dedicated Home and Apps buttons make it easy to jump in and out of CarPlay, although I'd prefer it if they were located on the left side of the screen for a little bit easier reach.

Now Playing screen in CarPlay

The Outlander PHEV does come with a digital driver's display centered behind the steering wheel that can offer information such as range, MPG, trip odometers, energy flow, and more, but unfortunately there's no option to display audio information, a feature I typically like to use when the main infotainment screen is taken over by other functions such as CarPlay navigation.

Driver's display between the speedometer and power/charge gauges

As with most other cars, the voice control button on the steering wheel serves dual duty, with a short press bring up the SDA voice assistant and a long press bringing up Siri.

SDA and Siri voice control button located at top of lower left cluster

The first time you hit the voice control button, a screen pops up letting you know how that works, and you can tap a checkbox to permanently prevent the introduction screen from showing up in the future.

Pop-up screen explaining how to activate SDA and Siri voice controls

Ports and Connectivity


As I mentioned in the previous section, there's a single USB-A near the base of the center stack, where you can connect a phone for CarPlay or Android Auto, or other devices like iPods for audio purposes.

USB port located at base of center stack and adjacent to console cupholders

A pair of cupholders are located very close to the USB port and serve as decent places to store a connected phone, but there's no dedicated phone storage tray. I do feel like Mitsubishi could have made room for a tray, as there is a fair amount of empty space on the center console even with some extra buttons and switches for managing the hybrid functions of the vehicle.

Center console layout

There's no USB port inside the center console compartment, which would have been another nice option to have for those who like to keep their phones hidden away while driving. You can certainly still store your phone in the compartment, but you'll have a USB cable running out from under the lid all the way up to the dash.


On the rear of the center console, you'll find a second USB-A port for rear passengers. It's a fully functional USB data port, so it can be used not only for device charging but also for CarPlay or a media source.

Mitsubishi does not offer any wireless phone charging or Wi-Fi hotspot option on the Outlander PHEV.


One thing that is available on the Outlander PHEV GT trim is a 1500-watt AC power system with one outlet on the rear of the center console and a second in the cargo area. When active, you can power all sorts of electrical devices using the system, which can be handy for camping, extended trips into remote areas, or even for household items during power outages. There's also a single 12V DC power port up front on the dashboard.

Wrap-up


Overall, I was impressed with the CarPlay integration on Mitsubishi's latest SDA infotainment system, which the company tells me has been included on over 400,000 vehicles worldwide and over 100,000 in the United States. Interactions with CarPlay are fluid, and dedicated touch buttons for hopping in and out of CarPlay make for a smoothly integrated experience.

As for SDA itself, it certainly offers a lot of capabilities, especially on the Outlander PHEV with all of its hybrid technology. I thought I'd miss an option for embedded navigation, but it's starting to make a lot of sense for companies to forego built-in navigation in favor of owners' own smartphones that can offer a better user experience.

But while Mitsubishi has emphasized a streamlined menu hierarchy to limit the number of taps needed to access any option or setting, the visual design of the system could stand to see some improvement. It looks dated, and some screens end up looking quite cluttered. The home screens are easy-to-use grids with colorful icons to help you pick out what you're looking for at a quick glance, but again, the user interface element designs are looking rather dated and could really use some freshening up.

I'm optimistic about Mitsubishi and other manufacturers moving toward Android OS in the next few years, as built-in Google Maps (and hopefully Waze) will be great additions to these systems. Cloud-based navigation systems do sometimes falter compared to embedded systems in areas of poor cellular coverage, but Mitsubishi tells me it's working on addressing that through caching and other means as it moves toward bringing built-in navigation back with Android OS.

The base gas-powered Outlander ES trim starts at a little under $25,000, but you'll need to step up to the SE trim for an additional $1,000 in order to get the SDA system with CarPlay. If you're interested in the PHEV version of the Outlander, that starts around $35,000 for the SEL S-AWC trim with SDA and CarPlay standard.

Stepping up to the higher-level GT S-AWC trim can push pricing up to around $42,000, with even more options and packages available on top of that. Keep in mind that the Outlander PHEV will qualify for federal electric vehicle tax credits of $5,836, so that'll go a long way toward making the PHEV version more price competitive compared to traditional gas models if you'd like to go that route.

Related Roundup: CarPlay

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Toyota Corolla is Finally Getting CarPlay

Toyota today announced that CarPlay and Android Auto will be standard features in its all-new 2020 Corolla in the United States.

CarPlay in 2020 Corolla

CarPlay will be accessible through Toyota's standard Entune 3.0 multimedia system alongside Android Auto and Amazon Alexa. The base model 2020 Corolla is equipped with a 7-inch touchscreen, while the LE trim and above feature a larger 8-inch display. All models use wired CarPlay via USB ports.

Toyota says the 2020 Corolla will be available at dealerships this March, starting at $19,500 in the United States.

Toyota was a longtime CarPlay holdout, but it now offers Apple's platform in the 2019 and later Avalon, Camry, Corolla Hatchback, C-HR, RAV4, and Sienna as well as the 2020 Corolla, Tacoma, Tundra, Sequoia, 4Runner, and Supra. Read our review of CarPlay in the 2019 Avalon and 2019 Corolla Hatchback.

CarPlay provides convenient access to frequently used iPhone apps such as Phone, Messages, Apple Maps, Google Maps, Waze, Apple Music, and Spotify directly from the dashboard. The platform was introduced in 2014 and is now offered in over 500 vehicle models in the United States, according to Apple.

Related Roundup: CarPlay
Tag: Toyota

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Review: 2019 Buick Regal TourX Features a Clean and Modern Infotainment System Design With CarPlay

GM was one of the early adopters of CarPlay, with the feature debuting on a few 2016 Chevrolet models and rapidly spreading across the company's various brands including Buick, GMC, and Cadillac.

As part of a 2018 model year redesign intended to breathe some more life into its Regal sedan, Buick introduced the Regal TourX, an all-wheel drive wagon version that offers more cargo space to compete against some of the top models in the class including the Subaru Outback and Volvo V60.


I've spent some time testing out a 2019 Buick Regal TourX to get a sense of GM's latest infotainment system (which GM is calling next-generation Buick Infotainment) and how it integrates with CarPlay.


My test vehicle was the high-end Essence trim, nearly maxed out with most of the available upgrades including built-in navigation, panoramic moonroof, automatic cruise control, park assist, automatic emergency braking, and more.

Buick Infotainment


GM has been working on unifying its infotainment offerings, starting with the 2017 Cadillac CTS that launched with the "next-generation CUE" infotainment system. The same general system with some slight tweaks has been starting to expand across the Buick, Chevrolet, and GMC brands since that time, with the Buick Regal receiving the new Buick Infotainment version of the system on some 2018 vehicles.

The Essence trim of the Regal TourX comes with a generous 8-inch touchscreen display integrated nicely into the dashboard, while the mid-level Preferred and base TourX trims come with a slightly smaller 7-inch display as standard. The Buick Infotainment system operates identically on both screen sizes, although you'll need the 8-inch screen if you want features like built-in navigation and a marketplace for third-party apps. All trims support CarPlay and Android Auto.

Main app screen with hardware controls below

While it doesn't float above the dashboard like on some other vehicles where the driver's line of sight is of utmost priority, the Regal TourX's display is still highly visible, with prominent placement tilted slightly toward the driver. A matte finish and a bit of brim from the dashboard help cut down on visible fingerprints and glare, and the whole thing comes across as a very cohesive design rather than a screen awkwardly stuck onto the dashboard.

Below the screen, there's a strip of hardware controls including a centered volume/power knob, forward and back buttons on either side to change tracks or station presets, and home and back buttons on the outside edges of the row. It's a fairly limited selection of physical controls, but it's largely sufficient for the most common quick adjustments that are more easily made by feel.

Audio controls

The Buick Infotainment system offers an extremely clean design that's very simple to navigate. It has a modern look that's reminiscent of a smartphone or tablet operating system. Icons are simple and easy to recognize at a quick glance, with a little bit of color to differentiate the major functions.

Built-in navigation

The system is controlled strictly by touch, with no trackpad or scroll wheel input provided. That's a good thing in my view, as direct manipulation via a touchscreen is a far more natural interaction mechanism.

Multi-view home screen with audio, map, and phone sections

The system offers a couple of different home screen views, with the ability to swipe between them. One view divides the screen into three sections, with one showing a map of your general area, another showing your current audio information and track controls, and then a small strip showing any connected phones to give you quick access to their functions.

Third-party app management screen

The other main home screen view is a customizable 4x2 grid of app icons that spans multiple pages if necessary. Aside from the default apps included on the system, you can also download a number of third-party apps including The Weather Channel, Spotify, and more.

Second page of home screen apps

Any of the app icons on these home screen pages can be rearranged by tapping and holding, then dragging the icon to the desired location, with other icons adjusting their positions to make room, just like on iOS.


When you're within the Buick Infotainment system, there's a persistent shortcut tray or bar along the bottom that offers icons for quickly getting back to the home screen or to music, phone, navigation, or climate. The bar also shows the current time, exterior temperature, and cellular signal strength.

Onscreen climate controls

Most climate controls can be managed through a set of buttons and knobs located lower on the center stack, but you can also make adjustments through the infotainment system.

CarPlay


CarPlay on the Buick Regal TourX requires a wired connection using one of the two USB-A ports inside the center console compartment. While connected, you can store your phone either inside the compartment or in a nearby cupholder with the cable routed through one of the gaps in the front of the console compartment lid.

CarPlay home screen

CarPlay does take over the entire infotainment screen when it's active, so you won't be able to see information such as audio or navigation from the Buick system. If you've opted for the digital driver's display that's standard on the Essence trim and an option on the Preferred trim, that helps overcome the visibility issue as you can select from several different views to get the information you need right in front of you.

Driver's display showing current audio information

There's no Buick app icon on the CarPlay home screen, but the hardware home button makes it easy to get in and out of CarPlay at any time. Pressing the home button while in CarPlay takes you back to the Buick system, while pressing and holding the button takes you into CarPlay. That makes this system one of the relatively few with an always-available hardware method for accessing CarPlay regardless of what you're doing in the infotainment system.

CarPlay's "Now Playing" screen

Colors on the CarPlay screens look a little washed out, and there don't appear to be any settings to adjust the color. I'm not sure the reason for this issue with the colors, as they seem fine on the native infotainment system. I got used to the CarPlay colors after a while, and it's not a major problem, but it was definitely noticeable at first after coming from other vehicles with more vivid colors.

Apple Maps in CarPlay

Voice control is managed through a dedicated button on the steering wheel, with a short press bringing up the Buick voice assistant and long press accessing Siri.

Voice assistant/Siri button is at top right of left cluster

Ports and Wireless Charging


Aside from the two USB-A ports inside the center console that can be used for connecting for CarPlay purposes, my tester also came equipped with a pair of charge-only USB-A ports on the rear of the center console. There's also a 12V power port up front and another in the rear cargo area.

Charge-only USB ports on rear of center console

A vertical wireless charging pocket is available on the Regal TourX, but only on the Essence trim and only as part of a $1,725 package that also includes LED auto-leveling and cornering headlights, heated side mirrors, rear park assist, lane change/blind zone alert system, rear cross traffic alert system, and upgraded power lumbar seat controls.

Center console with vertical charging slot and two USB ports inside the compartment

Unfortunately, the charger has a few design issues. First, it's located inside the center console compartment, which makes things a bit more difficult than just tossing your phone on the charger when you hop in the car and grabbing it as you exit. Second, it doesn't fit Plus/Max-sized iPhones. A naked iPhone XS Max can be forced down into the charger, but even then it's not deep enough to allow the phone to charge.

iPhone XS Max squeezed into the charger but not charging

In fact, GM's wireless charging system is generally a bit of a mess for iPhone owners, as you can see in device compatibility matrix. Prior to the 2019 model year, some of GM's models used wireless chargers that didn't fully implement the Qi standard, and so they were incompatible with iPhones unless the vehicles are retrofitted with newer hardware. But even now that GM has rolled out full Qi support in 2019 models, the company acknowledges that Plus/Max iPhones may not fit in their chargers.

OnStar and Wi-Fi Hotspot


As a GM vehicle, the Buick Regal TourX comes with the company's powerful OnStar suite of connected services. Basic access such as vehicle diagnostics, maintenance reminders, and the third-party app marketplace is included for ten years, while buyers receive a one-month trial of OnStar's Safety and Security Plan that offers automatic crash response, roadside assistance, stolen vehicle assistance, and turn-by-turn navigation assistance from a live advisor.

Onscreen options for OnStar services

Once your trial runs out, you can choose from a variety of paid plans with different combinations of features.

The Regal TourX also has available 4G LTE hotspot service through AT&T. Service can be purchased separately or as part of the Unlimited Access Plan bundle that also includes OnStar services.

Wrap-up


I really liked the Regal TourX's infotainment system with a clean and modern user interface that makes it easy to find exactly what you need without garish colors. The minimal hardware controls are enough to get things done by feel without making it overly complicated, and they look nice too. The overall hardware design of the center stack is great, with the screen fitting in extremely well rather than looking like an iPad mini stuck onto the dashboard as an afterthought.

CarPlay integrates quite well with the Buick Infotainment system, and the available driver's display helps compensate for the lack of a split-view widescreen infotainment display. The 8-inch screen in particular provides plenty of real estate for both CarPlay and the Buick Infotainment system, and the screen and hardware controls are within easy reach of the driver. The dual-duty hardware home button makes it simple to jump back and forth between the systems as needed.

Beyond the infotainment system itself, the Regal TourX could use some refinements. The only available USB ports for plugging into the system are inside the center console compartment, which is fine for those who prefer to keep their phones tucked away, but I prefer having some options with at least one USB somewhere on the center stack and another inside the console.

Wireless charging is another area that really needs improvement here. While GM is moving past its early issues with iPhone incompatibility on the technology side, it's mindboggling that Apple's larger phones won't even physically fit in the charger. Apple's Plus/Max phones have been essentially the same size since the iPhone 6 Plus launched in 2014, so there's no excuse for not making the charger large enough to accommodate them.

That said, the wireless charging issue may not affect that many users, as many will have smaller phones that fit fine or won't want to use wireless charging since they have to plug in for CarPlay anyway. It's also an expensive add-on considering it requires the top-end trim plus an additional pricey package to even get it, so I imagine many owners won't even opt to have their vehicles equipped with it.

The 2019 Buick Regal TourX starts at $29,995 for the base model, which does include CarPlay on the 7-inch touchscreen. The mid-level Preferred trim starts at $33,595, and if you want to upgrade that to the larger 8-inch screen with built-in navigation, you'll have to do it as part of a package that includes other features like Bose premium audio, the digital driver's display, and remote start, which pushes the price to around $35,500.

Alternatively, you can go straight to the high-end Essence trim starting at $35,995 and get the 8-inch screen standard. A package adding navigation and Bose premium audio bumps the price to just over $37,000, and if you go all-in on the advanced safety features and other options, you can push the price tag up to over $43,000.

Related Roundup: CarPlay
Tags: GM, Buick

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Review: 2019 Nissan Altima Offers CarPlay Standard Alongside an Updated NissanConnect Infotainment System

Since debuting CarPlay in the 2017 Maxima, Nissan has been gradually expanding support for Apple's in-car platform throughout much of the carmaker's lineup, integrating with its NissanConnect infotainment system.

I've had an opportunity to spend some time testing out CarPlay and NissanConnect on a new 2019 Nissan Altima, one of the most popular midsize sedans on the market, and I've found it to be a solid combination.


For the redesigned Altima, Nissan is offering CarPlay standard across all trims, meaning that even the base model starting at $23,900 will support it. That's a welcome distinction from many other vehicles where a higher-level trim or a special package is needed in order to get CarPlay. Not all Nissans include CarPlay on the base trims, but the company tells me that it's moving in that direction and the Altima redesign for 2019 was a good opportunity to make it a priority.


My tester was an Altima SR with front-wheel drive, which represents the model's second-level trim and starts at $25,250. It includes a spacious 8-inch touchscreen display atop the center stack that's standard across the lineup. The SR trim does not include built-in navigation or more advanced NissanConnect subscription services, but it offers a good idea of what you can get at a relatively low-level trim that minimizes the hit to your pocketbook.

NissanConnect


The Altima comes with a standard 8-inch touchscreen and an updated version of NissanConnect that is similar to versions found in other recent Altima models but includes some improvements in visual appeal and performance, although some of the screens do appear a bit busy and cluttered.


The 8-inch touchscreen is large enough that it's easy to hit most icons on the touchscreen, whether it be in CarPlay or in NissanConnect, and you can customize some of the NissanConnect screens to make it easy to jump to your favorite audio sources or other functions. Nissan has also provided some hardware buttons in a strip below the touchscreen, as well as a volume knob at the left side and a tune/scroll knob at the right side.

Those buttons offer convenient access to some features, such as a prominent Home button to take you back to the NissanConnect home screen, a Phone button to jump into the phone app (either NissanConnect or CarPlay), an Audio button to select sources or see the main audio screen, buttons for switching audio tracks or presets, and of course a Back button to get you out of whatever you're currently doing.

One of three available home screens – clock widget in particular could use an improved design

There's also a dedicated Camera button that on my tester simply allowed for adjusting picture quality for the rear camera but is more useful on higher-level trims that include features such as a front camera or a surround-view camera system.

As in many other vehicles, the Altima's touchscreen can attract some fingerprints that are most visible in direct sunlight, but there's a little bit of a matte finish to help reduce fingerprints and glare.

One of the home screens with shortcuts surrounding a central audio widget

On the software side, the Altima's implementation of NissanConnect actually includes three different home screens, all of which are customizable with various widgets and shortcuts. Widgets can share live bits of information like clock, phone, and audio apps, while shortcuts are simply icons that let you hop into a specific function or audio source.


Each home screen is based around a 4x2 grid of spaces, and you can fill up those spaces with whatever combination of widgets and shortcuts will fit in your layout. Widgets can take up larger spaces such as 2x1 or 2x2, and then you can scatter 1x1 shortcut icons in any remaining spaces.

Once you have your home screens set up, you can easily swipe between them, so it's convenient to have something like a central home screen with your most used functions and then a swipe to the left or right can access more focused home screens, but the choice is yours.

CarPlay


Unsurprisingly, the Altima's CarPlay implementation is a wired one, and you can use either the USB-A or USB-C port up front to connect to the system. CarPlay setup was seamless, as CarPlay popped up on the car's display the instant I plugged my phone in, without having to jump through any hoops other than granting permission on my phone to allow CarPlay to function while the phone was locked.


CarPlay appears big and bright on the large 8-inch screen with a traditional aspect ratio that includes the usual 4x2 grid of icons on the home screen. In addition to all of your Apple apps and CarPlay-compatible third-party apps, the home screen also includes a Nissan app icon that makes it easy to jump back to the NissanConnect system. You can also use the hardware home button centered under the screen if you prefer a more tactile method.

CarPlay icon at left side of launch bar at bottom of main audio screen

Going in the other direction, the NissanConnect audio screens by default place an icon at the lower left that will take you to functions for a paired phone or, if an iPhone is connected via USB, into CarPlay.


My preference for infotainment systems is for there to be some way to display information from the native system alongside CarPlay, whether it be a split widescreen or portrait display or even something like FCA's Uconnect system with status and menu bars that can display a little bit of information for increased integration. The Altima doesn't offer that, but it does make it fairly easy to jump back and forth.


Fortunately, car manufacturers are also moving toward digital driver's displays that can display some additional information and be customized to suit your preferences. On the Altima, the driver's display can be set to show full audio track information, or if you choose a digital speedometer, for example, you can have audio information displayed at the bottom of the screen. Unfortunately, only the channel name is shown for SiriusXM, but for other sources (Bluetooth, USB, FM radio when track data is broadcast) it will display the song name.

Driver's display with digital speedometer and SiriusXM channel shown below

As is nearly universal among car manufacturers, the voice control button on the Altima's steering wheel serves dual duty, with a short press bringing up the Nissan assistant and a long press activating Siri. The hardware Tune/Scroll knob can also be used to control the CarPlay interface if you prefer a more tactile feel than the touchscreen, but its location at the far side of the display from the driver makes it a bit inconvenient, so you're pretty much going to want to use either the touchscreen or Siri to control CarPlay.

Siri/voice control at bottom center of right cluster

Ports and Connectivity


The 2019 Altima is among the growing number of vehicles offering USB-C ports for connecting devices. At the base of the center stack is a smartphone storage tray (which is a bit too small for an iPhone XS Max with a Lightning cable sticking out the bottom) and a pair of USB ports: one USB-A and one USB-C.


It's certainly nice to see USB-C starting to make its way into vehicles, as even though USB-A is still common, cars are designed to last ten years or more and it's good future-proofing to include these newer ports even though they're still just starting to gain traction with consumers.

iPhone XS Max in phone tray putting strain on Lightning cable

There is a second set of USB-A/USB-C ports on the back of the center console for rear passengers, but these are only for charging, not for connecting media devices to the NissanConnect system for playback. Nissan does not offer wireless charging or Wi-Fi hotspot functionality as options on the Altima.

Rear USB-A and USB-C ports

Wrap-up


The Altima along with the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord remain the most popular midsize models in a shrinking sedan market, with those top manufacturers seeking to maintain some momentum while others scale back or even eliminate their sedan models in favor of crossovers that are dominating sales growth. As a result, the redesigned 2019 Altima brings some nice enhancements across the board, and the in-car technology is no exception.

I appreciate the spacious 8-inch touchscreen and CarPlay support across the board on Altima trims, giving everyone easy access to the ecosystems they're already familiar with on their phones. If anything, CarPlay is even more important to have on lower-level trims where built-in navigation isn't available, so it's great to see Nissan going all-in on CarPlay with the Altima and other models as their redesign cycles allow.

The native NissanConnect infotainment system is intuitive with a customizable interface, and the display is bright with vivid colors to help the interface elements stand out. Some of the pages can get a bit cluttered, and I'd like to see a little more modernization of some of the user interface elements, particularly the home screen widgets and shortcut icons.

For a mainstream midsize sedan intended for mass market appeal, the Altima does a solid job of presenting a clean and useful experience with NissanConnect and offering convenient integration with CarPlay.

The 2019 Nissan Altima starts at $23,900 with CarPlay included standard. A new all-wheel drive option is available for a $1,350 charge on all trims other than the high-end ones equipped with the VC-Turbo engine, and you can push pricing all the way to over $37,000 if you choose to max things out with an Edition ONE VC-Turbo trim.

Related Roundup: CarPlay
Tag: Nissan

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Toyota Expanding CarPlay to 2020 Tacoma, Tundra, Sequoia, and 4Runner as VW Debuts Wireless CarPlay in Europe

Toyota today ahead of the Chicago Auto Show announced that its 2020 model year Tacoma, Tundra, Sequoia, and 4Runner vehicles will feature CarPlay, Android Auto, and Amazon Alexa in the United States.

CarPlay in 2020 Toyota Sequoia

CarPlay will be a standard feature in each vehicle, but screen size will vary by trim. With the 2020 Tacoma, for example, the base SR trim will feature a 7-inch touchscreen while SR5 trims and higher as well as TRD Pro trims of the Tundra, Sequoia, and 4Runner will feature a larger 8-inch touchscreen.

The press release doesn't specify whether the CarPlay implementation is wired or wireless, but it is presumably wired in line with its 2019 and newer Avalon, Corolla Hatchback, Camry, RAV4, Sienna, and C-HR. Toyota will offer wireless CarPlay in the 2020 Supra since it is based on a BMW platform.

Last year, we published an in-depth review of how CarPlay performs in the 2019 Avalon and 2019 Corolla Hatchback.

Toyota was one of the last major automakers to offer CarPlay, which provides convenient dashboard access to iPhone apps such as Phone, Messages, Apple Maps, Google Maps, Waze, Apple Music, and Spotify. These will be the first-ever Tacoma, Tundra, Sequoia, and 4Runner models with factory-installed CarPlay.

CarPlay availability in Toyota vehicles may vary outside of the United States. Pricing and availability were not disclosed.

2020 Volkswagen Passat in Europe

In related news, Volkswagen this week announced that the 2020 Passat will be its first vehicle with wireless CarPlay, although the press release is for the European market. It's unclear if or when Volkswagen will offer wireless CarPlay in the United States or other countries—we've reached out to ask.

CarPlay enthusiasts may remember that Apple apparently prevented Volkswagen from demoing wireless CarPlay way back at CES 2016 for reasons unknown.

Related Roundup: CarPlay

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Review: 2019 Ram 1500 Offers a Gorgeous 12.3-Inch Portrait Display With CarPlay Support

Back in November, I took a look at Fiat Chrysler's Uconnect infotainment system and CarPlay integration in the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivan, discovering a quite positive user experience that nearly seamlessly incorporates CarPlay into Uconnect. That seamlessness comes thanks to an 8.4-inch Uconnect display that keeps a top status bar and a bottom menu bar visible at all times for easy navigation.


FCA isn't stopping at an 8.4-inch display, however, with the company's 2019 Ram 1500 offering a gigantic 12.3-inch portrait display as an optional upgrade. I've had a chance to spend some time with a Ram 1500 Laramie, so I thought I'd share my impressions of this large portrait display.


Uconnect on the Big Screen


Given my previous look at Uconnect 4, I'm not going to spend much time looking at the infotainment system in general, other than differences unique to the larger display. Suffice it to say, I've found Uconnect to be one of the better infotainment systems out there, and its persistent status and menu bars at the top and bottom of the screen make it easy to shift between functions. The interface is relatively clear and easy-to-use, and the various functions perform well.

When it comes to hardware on the Ram 1500, it's impossible to miss the gorgeous 12.3-inch portrait display with rich, vibrant colors. It simply dominates the entire center stack in the car, with a selection of hardware knobs, buttons, and switches framing it.

You might think a giant 12-inch rectangle of glass could generate a significant amount of glare, and that can be a bit of an issue in certain situations with direct sunlight. It's really not enough to make it difficult to see the screen, but it is noticeable at times. The display is also a bit of a fingerprint magnet as you might expect, but again, they're generally not too noticeable in person unless you're in the right light.

What the large portrait display allows for Uconnect is a choice between a unified single app interface or what is essentially a pair of 7.5-inch displays stacked on top of each other. Regardless of which setup you choose, the status and menu bars at the top and bottom remain visible.

Full-screen audio app

The single app view can be a bit of overkill for some functions, but it allows for large, easy-to-hit buttons and an impressively broad map view. I generally found the split-screen interface to be more useful, allowing a full view of navigation and audio functions simultaneously, for example.

Navigation on top, card selection screen on bottom

Configuring the split-screen display is as easy as hitting the Home icon in the top left corner and then choosing what you want displayed on the top and bottom cards from five available options: Media, Comfort, Nav, Phone, and Sirius XM Travel Link, which offers data such as nearby gas prices, sports scores for your favorite teams, and more.

Split-screen navigation and audio

If you want to swap the positions of your two screens, there's an icon in the top left corner of the bottom card that will do that. And the menu bar at the bottom remains active to easily jump into a full-screen app, for example.

CarPlay


CarPlay isn't designed to be used on a large portrait display by itself, so you're limited to the split-screen Uconnect interface when using CarPlay, which allows you to display a Uconnect app simultaneously for convenient access to vehicle systems outside of CarPlay. While Uconnect normally lets you swap the top and bottom app cards, CarPlay is restricted to the top card, so you won't be able to customize that layout.

CarPlay home screen on top, SiriusXM audio controls on bottom

The CarPlay interface, particularly maps, can start to feel a bit cramped on smaller screens, but thankfully the Ram 1500's display is big enough that even in split-screen mode you still have a roughly 7.5-inch screen devoted to CarPlay, which is in the range of normal infotainment displays.

Apple Maps on top, Uconnect climate controls on bottom

There are a few quirks with the integration of CarPlay and Uconnect in this setup, driven largely by the fact that the systems are designed to only allow one of each app type to be open simultaneously. For example, you understandably can't run Apple Maps and Uconnect navigation at the same time, as you'd end up with confusing conflicts of information. Similarly, the system is designed to prevent you from accessing your phone through both CarPlay and the Uconnect Bluetooth setup at the same time.

These restrictions are present on all vehicle infotainment systems, but they stand out a bit more on the Ram 1500's portrait display because it's one of the few systems that allows you to view CarPlay and a full native infotainment app at the same time.

In certain cases, you can get CarPlay audio and Uconnect USB audio controls to show up simultaneously

The upshot of this is that if you activate CarPlay, it populates the top app card on the system and still offers the full set of app options for the bottom card, but if you tap navigation or phone, it simply activates Apple Maps or the Phone app up in the CarPlay screen rather than bringing up the Uconnect versions in the bottom card. It's not a huge deal, but it takes a little getting used to when things don't necessarily react as you'd expect.

As on the Pacifica Hybrid and other Uconnect vehicles, there is no "Ram" icon on the CarPlay home screen to take you back to the Uconnect system, thanks to Uconnect's bottom menu bar that lets you easily hop in and out of CarPlay controls from wherever you are in the system.

Google Maps in CarPlay

Both Uconnect and CarPlay can of course also be controlled via voice using a button on the steering wheel, with a short press bringing up the Uconnect voice assistant or a long press bringing up Siri.

Steering wheel controls with voice assistant button at right edge of left cluster

Finally, while CarPlay is best controlled via the touchscreen, you can also control it using the hardware scroll/enter knob to the right of the display. As with other knob-based control systems, it's not as easy to navigate the CarPlay system as it is through direct touch manipulation, but the option is there if you prefer a more tactile input method.

Climate Control


While Uconnect offers access to extensive climate controls via the touchscreen, FCA has thankfully retained hardware buttons along the left and right sides of the display to control the most commonly used climate control options.

Temperature overlap pop-up

Adjusting the temperature via the hardware buttons, for example, briefly pops up a temperature display over top of your existing screen content rather than completely exiting to Uconnect's full climate control app.

Ports and Charging


As a work truck, the Ram 1500 unsurprisingly has a number of available power ports scattered throughout the cabin, including a 12V power port on top of the dash and two 115V traditional power outlets, one at the bottom of the center stack and one on the rear of the center console.

The Ram 1500 also has no shortage of USB ports, including both USB-A and USB-C variants. The center stack has two easily accessible sets of ports, with each set including both a USB-A and a USB-C port. Either set can be used to connect to the Uconnect system, including for CarPlay.

Rear USB ports and power outlet

Rear passengers will find two more sets of USB-A and USB-C ports, with one set allowing Uconnect/CarPlay access while the second is for charging only. There's also a single USB-A port with Uconnect/CarPlay access inside the lid compartment of the center console if you want to keep your phone and cable completely hidden away.

Wireless charger at bottom of center stack, with USB ports and power outlet also visible

My test vehicle also included a Qi wireless charger down near the bottom of the center stack. A rubbery holder keeps the phone upright and pressed against the vertical charger, with a blue light letting you know that your phone is charging. Its location low on the center stack means you won't really be able to see the screen of your phone while you're driving, but it's best to not be looking at your phone anyway.

iPhone XS Max on wireless charger

Wireless CarPlay is not supported in the Ram 1500 or in any Uconnect system, so you'll need to have a Lightning to USB (Type-A or Type-C) cable on hand to hook things up. The rubbery phone holder in the center stack can hold a second phone to the right of the Qi charger, although larger phones with a cable sticking out may get in the way of the some of the toggle switches for parking sensors.

Wrap-up


The available 12-inch portrait display on the Ram 1500 is a rare feature among automotive infotainment systems, and it strikes an impressive look when you first encounter it. It's certainly handy being able to see two full-size app screens simultaneously, although some other manufacturers have been able to get away with nearly as much functionality packed into a split 75/25 widescreen display.

I appreciated that Ram maintained hardware buttons for the most important climate control options, as well as volume and tune/scroll knobs for those times you want to make changes by feel. And I really like the way Uconnect makes it easy to access frequently used functions through the customizable menu bar at the bottom of the screen.

Even more so, as with the Pacifica, I love the way CarPlay feels so integrated into Uconnect, making it incredibly easy to jump back and forth between the two systems. The split-screen portrait display even helps integrate things further by giving you access to both systems without even needing to switch.

Yes, there are a few quirks introduced by the fact that CarPlay usurps some of the traditional infotainment system functions, quirks made more obvious by that double app screen that lets you interact with both systems simultaneously. But overall, it's a net positive.

I do also still have some concerns about the shift toward increasingly large touchscreens in vehicles, which can make it harder to make changes by feel and end up taking your eyes off the road for longer. A portrait display magnifies these issues by bringing significant portions of the display lower on the center stack and away from the driver's line of sight. I would have appreciated it if the display could have been moved all the way to the top of the stack to minimize this issue as much as possible.

Pricing
The 2019 Ram 1500 starts at $31,795 for the Tradesman trim, but that only comes with a 5-inch Uconnect 3 infotainment system that doesn't support CarPlay. If you want CarPlay, you'll need to step up to at least the second-level Big Horn/Lone Star trim with the Level 1 Equipment Group that bumps up to an 8.4-inch Uconnect 4 system, bringing the total up to at a bit over $40,000.

The 12-inch portrait display reviewed here requires a minimum of the Laramie trim plus the Level 1 Equipment Group and the 12-inch display upgrade, which tips the scales at a little over $44,000. You can of course add all sorts of other upgrades to the Ram 1500, with my tester approaching $55,000 and a maxed out Limited model coming in at over $65,000.

Pickup trucks like the Ram 1500 have to serve a wide range of needs, so they're generally highly customizable with a variety of options across all different price ranges, and the Ram 1500 is certainly no exception. It would be nice if the 12-inch display system could be an option on lower-tier trims for tech-heavy users who may not have a need for some of the other upgrades you get as you move up the trim chart, but it's certainly not unusual for top-end technology to be limited to higher vehicle trims.

Related Roundup: CarPlay

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2020 Toyota Supra Features Wireless CarPlay

Toyota today announced that its all-new 2020 Supra sports car, introduced at the annual Detroit Auto Show this week, will feature wireless CarPlay.

2020 Toyota Supra

The upgraded 3.0 Premium trim, starting at $53,990 in the United States, will feature an 8.8-inch wide-format touchscreen display with wireless CarPlay, a premium 12-speaker JBL audio system, and Qi-based wireless smartphone charging. No further details about the system were shared at this time.

Wireless CarPlay enables drivers to use Apple's in-car software platform without connecting an iPhone to the system via Lightning to USB cable. Toyota will join BMW in offering wireless CarPlay as a factory-installed feature, while Mercedes-Benz has also indicated it plans to offer the feature.

This will be the first new Supra sold in the United States in over two decades. The vehicle will go on sale at Toyota dealerships in the first half of 2019.

Also at the Detroit Auto Show, Kia introduced its all-new 2020 Telluride midsize SUV with wired CarPlay compatibility on an available 10.25-inch touchscreen. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles also expanded its CarPlay vehicle lineup with the new 2019 Ram Heavy Duty, equipped with a 12-inch reconfigurable touchscreen.

2020 Kia Telluride

Kia and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles did not disclose pricing or exactly when in 2019 the new Telluride and Ram Heavy Duty will be available.

Related Roundup: CarPlay
Tags: Toyota, FCA, Kia

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CES 2019: Alpine Previews New CarPlay Receivers, One Features Oversized 9-Inch Hovering Screen

Alpine Electronics at CES 2019 this week debuted two new in-car multimedia receivers with wired CarPlay and Android Auto support.

The new iLX-W650 receiver features a seven-inch anti-glare capacitive touchscreen with a shallow chassis that measures 2.4-inches deep, allowing for the system to fit into vehicles that do not have a lot of depth behind the dashboard. The receiver has a so-called mech-less design with no CD/DVD slot.

iLX-W650

The iLX-W650 also features an amp-stacking capability that enables Alpine's new KTA-450 amplifier to fit in the open space behind the receiver using an included bracket. The combined depth of the iLX-W650, KTA-450, and mounting bracket equals less than the depth of a standard double-DIN chassis.

The iLX-W650 in tandem with the KTA-450 amplifier won a CES 2019 Innovation Award in the In-Vehicle Audio/Video category.

Other features include standard Bluetooth music playback, SiriusXM readiness, and three 4V pre-outs that allow aftermarket speakers, subwoofers, additional amplifiers, and sound processors to be added. Two camera inputs sold separately allow for the addition of multiple cameras, including a rear-view camera.

Alpine also added a second model to its Halo9 product lineup. Like last year's iLX-F309, the new iLX-F259 receiver features a nine-inch touchscreen that "hovers" over the dashboard, allowing the oversize screen to be added to a variety of vehicles without the need for custom installation.


The screen is attached to an adjustable mount that is connected to a traditional single-DIN chassis. It can be tilted at four pre-set angle points to better match the tilt and height of the dashboard and can be positioned up to 20mm deeper and up to 30mm lower than the default position during installation.

Other features of the iLX-F259 include a mech-less design with no CD/DVD slot, standard Bluetooth music playback, SiriusXM readiness, and one rear-view camera input with the option to add additional camera inputs sold separately.


Both receivers have a USB port for connecting an iPhone with a Lightning to USB cable, but Alpine does have a wireless CarPlay receiver available. Kenwood and JVC also unveiled several wireless CarPlay receivers this week.

The iLX-W650 and iLX-F259 will be available in March for suggested prices of $500 and $800 USD respectively at authorized Alpine retailers.

Related Roundup: CarPlay

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CES 2019: Kenwood Debuts Lineup of Wireless CarPlay Receivers

Following in the footsteps of Alpine and Pioneer, Kenwood today at CES 2019 introduced its first in-car multimedia receivers with wireless CarPlay.


Kenwood is offering seven new receivers with wireless CarPlay support, many of which are part of its eXcelon series. The model numbers include NX996XR, DDX9906XR, DDX8906S, DMX906S, DNR876S, DDX8706S, and DMX9706S.

Wireless CarPlay enables drivers to connect an iPhone to the receiver via Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, whereas most factory-installed CarPlay receivers still require connecting an iPhone with a Lightning to USB cable to access CarPlay functionality — the exception being select new vehicles from BMW or Mercedes-Benz.

The new Kenwood receivers also feature wireless Android Auto and Google Assistant, according to the car entertainment company.

CarPlay is Apple's in-car software that enables iPhone users to access a range of apps from a vehicle's dashboard display, such as Messages, Apple Maps, Apple Music, Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify, SiriusXM Radio, Pandora, WhatsApp, Downcast, Slacker Radio, Stitcher, and as of iOS 12, Google Maps and Waze.

Pricing and availability were not disclosed.

Related Roundup: CarPlay

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