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  1. Automotive Computing (R)Evolution - The Android Head Unit Build - Apps That Rock!

    by , 08-15-2013 at 03:33 PM

    No matter what operating system you choose to control your automotive infotainment, software plays a heavy role in how the driver controls the solution. With Android, most every knows about the popular Google applications like Voice, Maps, and the Music, but someone venturing to install android as the heart of their car computer may not realize the power of the Google Play store in creating a terrific Android-Powered experience. The purpose of this post is to recognize some of the software products that provide functions to an automotive setup. So without further delay...

    Car Home Ultra

    I've mentioned this piece of software in prior posts, but it deserves recognition as a valued car Android software centerpiece. Car Home Ultra is a terrific solution for someone looking to access a host of android applications in a touch-friendly manner. Designed similarly to the Windows-based front ends we've all grown to love, Car Home Ultra may be the current best option to those looking for that experience. The buttons are large and touch friendly, allowing for 5 screens of 3x3 application launch buttons which can be customized to your liking. The colors can all be uniquely altered to match driver preference, and items like Speed, Weather, and Time/Date are all handy. Car Home Ultra can even be set to replace the Home launcher in Android. You can set the software to load on boot and use it exclusively to manage your android functions.

    Tablet Talk

    The would be hands-free solution for the ODROID. Short of creating a hands-free call link, Tablet Talk can do it all. The application must be installed on both your ODROID, and Android smart phone, but once the Bluetooth connection is made your Android car computer can send, receive, and manage your SMS messages. Users can select ringtones, receive text pop-up screens, and reply to texts via on-screen keyboard or voice. Tablet Talk will also ring for incoming calls, display incoming call prompts, and mute audio playback during a call. Keep in mind that with the ODROID, it can not play your caller through the audio system, based on lack of Bluetooth HFP profile support, but the app is still great!


    Anyone who has ever thought about automating an Android has probably heard about Tasker. There are many ways in which Tasker can come in handy when installing an ODROID in the car. While not the most touch-friendly application, Tasker can be used to automate tasks large and small. Want to dim your screen at a certain hour? Tasker can handle it with ease. Tasker can also tackle small tasks with the ODROID, such as reducing power consumption by underclocking the CPU when a Bluetooth phone is not connected. Tasker can lift heavy duty scenarios too with built in scripting support.

    MortPlayer Music

    I used to really love Google Music... until I tried to use it in a car. The interface is beyond chaotic to try to navigate, and if you're looking to play media from local storage like an external USB drive you better have a computer science degree. Enter MortPlayer Music. Built for touch from the ground up, MortPlayer can give you access to all of your music on local media in a clean and easy to use manner. MortPlayer does not rely on a database for music sorting, it relies on the user to have a folder structure in place to make the most out of the music library. MortPlayer has built in support for playlists, ID3, cover art, and more. It can also be heavily customized with themes, movable buttons, and color options.

    Other Android apps that rock include...
    Tunein Radio Worldwide radio stations at your fingertips. Nice touch interface.
    Torque Pro Incredible OBD-II/CAN all in one solution. Heavily customizable and Touch-friendly.
    Waze Crowd Sourcing navigation and live traffic information, Waze can many times serve as a free-replacement to Google Maps
    Beyond Podcast A great podcast downloader and manager allowing for streaming and offline support of your favorite shows
    PL2303GPS MockLocationProvider If you have a Prolific-based GPS device such as the BU-353, you need this app to make the device work with Android!
    Paragon Ntfs Mounter Users playing songs from external based storage will appreciate this app which will auto-mount USB media at boot or when its plugged in.

    Have an Android app you'd like to add, please do!

  2. Automotive Computing (R)Evolution - The Android Head Unit Build - Road Test!

    by , 07-18-2013 at 02:24 PM

    Well, the first full week worth of road testing the ODROID-X2 is in the books. Overall I'm delighted with my windows car PC replacement. Key improvements over my previous install include the time from ignition to boot, access to all of my media needs via existing applications, and the system absolutely flies. I cant get over the speed of the ODROID-X2. Even comparing it to my collection of Android based tablets, it really does breeze through everything I want it to do. Whether navigating, watching YouTube, or playing an emulator, the system never misses a beat. Configuring the UltraCarHome application with all of my frequently used programs was also a snap. I've also managed to get some functionality out of the SpaceNavigator, allow me to access all button controls on screen and swipe between main menus in UltraCarHome. I'm sure that with more bench testing I'll unlock a greater set of functionality.

    As with most test scenarios however, I do have a couple of complaints with the install as it stands. The Anker external battery pack is not living up to my expectations. It appears the battery life is heavily effected by the ambient temperatures. Inside, the battery lasts for several days under a charge with no power usage mitigation. In the summer heat inside the vehicle, the battery barely manages to last 10 hours. Also, at 1.5A input maximum, it takes close to a full day to charge the battery, meaning my car will never truly charge the battery properly. The Anker portion of the project will be scraped for now.

    Another problem I am not so surprised with is touchscreen accuracy. The higher on the touchscreen I press, the more inaccurate the points become. It becomes burdensome in apps where the menu or other controls are on the top 75 pixels on the screen. I'll have to do more modifying of the kernel to attempt to correct this problem.

    The final gripe I have at this point is one that many tablet owners have come to somewhat expect. Despite the fact that my area has 4G LTE coverage, there are points where I wish the ODROID-X2 wasn't so heavily dependent on a network connection. Because the X2 doesn't have an internal battery, it needs internet access to correct time/date settings after a cold boot. Also, at times it takes upwards of 30 seconds for the X2 to scan and pick up my mobile hotspot connection. There have not been times where I've been left with buffering messages on the go, but I find myself waiting for that internet icon to display before I really feel like I can enjoy my X2.

    These small issues aside, I definitely still get excited when I can start my car and not see resume problems, BSODs, or configuration issues. The ODROID-X2 already feels closely integrated into the vehicle, and I'm definitely ready for more bench testing to continue to maximize its potential.
  3. Hardware Review: CustomGadz X2 Module for Android

    by , 09-23-2012 at 02:55 PM

    What is it?

    The CustomGadz X2 Module meshes the smartphone to the car PC, allowing for user-friendly control of an Android-powered car PC through a larger touchscreen monitor.

    The Verdict:

    The CustomGadz X2 Module is the ultimate way to make your smartphone your everyday car PC. Simply plugging in an HDMI cable from your phone to a monitor transforms your vehicle into an Android-powered experience.


    The world of do-it-yourself in-car entertainment has recently seen a paradigm shift. The days of finding a space for a typical mITX motherboard and power supply are seemingly being phased out. Instead, more and more individuals are creating ways to install different forms of low cost, power sipping computing solutions. The most popular of these options going into automobiles these days are the Android powered tablet displays. The benefit of an entertainment setup such as this is easy to see at the surface. You get an instantly-on operating environment that is tailored specifically for touch screen usage. Most of the worries of destroying car batteries are a thing of the past, and a tablet device of any quality is going to have a display which is capable of viewing in all levels of sunlight.

    The challenge when dealing with this form of car PC is installation, particularly for a person who has already dipped into a car PC installation in the past. The very nature of a sleek, slim mobile device which essentially does it all can be quite the chore to wedge into a modern automobile console. Every tablet comes in its own shape and size, making a car friendly docking solution somewhat unachievable. So with these issues raised, what solution does an individual have when craving Android but cringing at the thought of taking an expensive tablet and hacking away to make it work in a dash?

    Enter the CustomGadz X2 Module. Based closely on the Mimics iPhone module, the X2 eases installation hassles by allowing Android control through dash-friendly 7” touchscreen display. The brain of an X2 operated car PC is your HDMI-capable smartphone. Once configured, the X2 Android module allows users to control their smartphone from a dash installed touchscreen. The X2 plugs into the touchscreen ribbon cable found in the screen housing, and uses Bluetooth technology to translate those presses to the smartphone. With X2 module installed, having a car PC is as simple as plugging the HDMI cable from your smartphone to your touchscreen monitor.

    The X2 is essentially the link that allows users to experience the same friendly user interface whether in or out of the vehicle. Other obvious benefits are the available mobile data connection, and the amazing capabilities of built-in Android applications. Users get Google music, navigation, and voice control. These are applications that car PC users have been searching long and hard for when installing Windows-based solutions. Users also get a system that is entirely portable, and easily powered, as the X2 only requires a 5v signal and your Android can be powered with an everyday automotive charge cable.

    As one can imagine, the many flavors of Android demands some configuration before the X2 becomes a perfect option. Quite honestly, configuration was somewhat confusing, especially having tested on the base X2 module with the adapter for my 4-wire Lilliput touchscreen. Essentially, configuration requires connecting the device to a PC running custom terminal program. Users must also connect an external button and LED light (neither are included with the base X2 package) and enter button presses to correspond to the commands the application dictates. Once configured, the X2 module must then be calibrated through the combination of a downloadable Android app and another combination of button presses and led flashes. While a tad bit tedious, the entire process is well documented in the installation manual.

    The other obvious drawback to the current version of the X2 Android device is the compatibility is limited in both touchscreen monitors and Android smartphones. Be sure to check the device compatibility list before purchasing. Ultimately, the X2 Android device allows a new group of car PC user, those who don't want to fabricate and destroy dashboards to achieve all the things a car PC can be.

    The Positive:

    • Allows instant control of your smartphone through a larger display
    • Instant control response, no delay after presses
    • Auto-power on/off
    • Touchscreen presses are mirrored from both touchscreen and smartphone
    • Included software walks you through touchscreen calibration
    • Easy to power

    The Negative:

    • Configuration and calibration are a chore
    • Limited compatibility with Android smartphones
    • Multi-Touch capabilities of android aren't available on most touchscreen monitors
    • Base module does not include required adapters and add-ons

    The Verdict:

    The CustomGadz X2 Module is the ultimate way to make your smartphone your everyday car PC. Simply plugging in an HDMI cable from your phone to a monitor transforms your vehicle into an Android-powered experience.

    For more on the process of calibrating the X2 module with your touchscreen check out this video.

    Updated 09-23-2012 at 08:41 PM by Sonicxtacy02

    Product Reviews
  4. Hardware Review: mp3Car ToughBox 14 Mini-Box M350 Based Intel Mini ITX System

    by , 01-27-2010 at 06:17 PM

    What is it?

    The Toughbox 14 is a small yet powerful Micro-ITX computer system built and sold by the Mp3car store. The Mp3car store allows full customization of the Toughbox 14, and the price for a self-installed Toughbox 14 system starts at only $234.99.

    The Verdict:

    The Toughbox 14 is the absolute easiest way to add a powerful, efficient, and genuine car PC to any automobile. It was carefully designed to be everything you could want a car PC to be right out of the box. Couple that with the fact it’s built and backed by Mp3car and you have an absolute winner.

    See this product on the mp3Car Store HERE.

    What’s in the box?

    You decide. The base ToughBox 14 system consists of a Mini-Box 350 case, an Intel D945GSEJT motherboard with an integrated Intel Atom N270 processor, 512 MHz of DDR2 ram, and a 160GB laptop grade hard drive. Optionally, Mp3car allows expansion of the ToughBox 14 by adding a 2 port USB module, 2GHz of DDR 2 Ram, an Intel 80GB solid-state hard drive, and an internal PCI-E Intel 802.11 Wifi Card with externally mounted Wifi antenna. To further aid in the installation process Mp3car will optionally install Windows 7 Professional operating system, add a Carnetix P2140 vehicle power supply, and assemble and test the ToughBox prior to shipping. The total price for the Toughbox 14 with all included options is $979.91.


    The ToughBox 14 is an absolute fantastic option for hobbyist looking for a fully-built computing solution. In its complete form its ready out-of-the-box to handle anything a car PC needs to do. The ToughBox 14 is extremely lightweight and powerful, yet quiet due to the fact that only passive cooling is used. That’s right; the Intel atom N270 processor allows this compact computer to run silently, and also allows the computer to simply sip energy.

    As a whole, the ToughBox 14 is a near flawless design, which was very well thought out by mp3Car. There are little to no sacrifices. My first point of skepticism when starting to review the product is just how well would it perform with some CPU-intensive processes. I plugged the ToughBox 14 directly into a 12v home wall plug (more on this later), and installed Centrafuse 3 from Flux Media. Even on the high profile for visual effects, the ToughBox 14 had absolutely no problems handling the CPU-intensive front end. Music and Video played with no hitches or stutters, and opening navigation did not seem to stop the Atom N270 in its tracks like with some other smaller processors.

    There’s no question to me that the ToughBox 14 at its best is car PC ready. But I wasn’t quite ready to say the bundle was powerful enough to handle everything. To fully push the ToughBox 14 to its limits I decided to hook up an external USB hard drive with some high-definition .h264 encoded video. My current home theater PC, an aging Dell 3Ghz P4 with an NVidia Video card just simply can’t handle playing my copy of Disney UP. The movie is simply way to processor-intense even with the 512 MHz video card in play. So I decided to try playing UP on the ToughBox 14. The Atom processor to my surprise handled the full HD video, albeit at 80-90% CPU usage. Now in my mind there is no question the ToughBox 14 is ready for not only Car PC usage, but some HTPC usage as well.

    Now it was time to open up the M350 case and see what makes the ToughBox 14 tick. Removing the front panel revealed a hidden 2-port USB hub.

    Being that it’s concealed when the case is fully-assembled, this 2-port extension would be perfect for a small Bluetooth dongle or 3G card. The USB hub is connected to the same board which houses the power button and corresponding blue LED. There is a jumper on the front board which allows users to disable the power button entirely, or set the motherboard to automatically turn on upon loss of power.

    Removing 1 small screw on the back of the case allowed full exposure to the components inside the case.

    The 2.5” Intel 80GB solid-state hard drive is suspended on top black support. The drive is directly over the north-bridge and processor heat sink, but during my testing this did not cause any problem at all. The advantages of the solid-state drive over a standard 2.5-inch laptop drive are tremendous. Solid-state drives have a better resistance to temperature changes. Also, a solid-state drive has no moving parts; this allows an improvement not only in shock protection, but also faster read/write speeds. The speed of the drive impacts the time to access data and load or resume an operating system. The operating system of choice on the ToughBox 14 full bundle is Windows 7 Professional, and Windows 7 has built-in optimizations for solid-state drives, further enhancing the capabilities of the ToughBox 14. Windows 7 also has better control of the computers hibernate/resume routine, ensuring that not only are hibernations faster, but resume have far less errors.

    Upon removing the hard drive mechanism we can see the single-chip 2Ghz DDR 2 module. The Intel 945GSEJT uses a laptop memory module installed on its side for space saving. Also installed is the Intel Wireless WifiLink 4965AGN PCI-E 802.11 device. Like the Ram module, the PCI-E device sits on its side. A small gauge cable is run from the WifiLink to the externally mounted Wifi antenna which is plugged into the back of the M350 case. With the onset of wireless 3G devices it might seem redundant to carry an 802.11 device in the car, but there are two clear advantages. First, there is no monthly charge for wifi use, and wifi hotspots are becoming more and more abundant with time. The second and perhaps greater advantage is the ability to automatically sync up with your home computers upon being in range of your home wifi device. This allows music, documents, and photos to seamlessly install to your car PC without much user input.

    The Intel 945GSEJT has internal connections for a single slim IDE channel, dual SATA connectors, and an analog HD Audio header. What’s missing from the motherboard is your standard 20-24pin ATX power connector. This is because the board is built to be plugged into any standard 12v 5amp power source. This greatly adds to the ease of installation because the power supply doesn’t need to be cluttering up the case. In fact, the Carnetix 2140 power supply packaged with the ToughBox 14 only takes two small sets of wires to connect to the rear of the case; the 12volt power line, and a smaller line which connects the Carnetix to the motherboard’s power switch. Having installed many car PCs and be

    The remaining connectors on the rear are nicely spaced apart and allow for a clean computer installation. There’s a standard VGA connector, a DVI video connection, 3 USB ports, an Ethernet port, and a single audio out connector.

    So basically, the ToughBox 14 full bundle is made from the case up to be user-friendly as a car pc. Installation in the vehicle is as straight forward as it gets. As with all vehicle power supplies, you must run wires for 12v, ACC, and GND to the wires that come with the Carnetix 2140. Then connect the two output wires from the 2140 to the appropriate inputs on the rear of the M350 case. Connect the VGA out from your monitor and touchscreen cable, and you’ve got a powerful and efficient car PC.

    The only real drawbacks are not specific to the ToughBox 14, but all pre-built car PC systems in general. First, there’s limited room for external accessories with only 5 USB ports. Of course, nearly anyone is capable of installing USB hubs that will allow expansion, but there are complexities in getting a reliable USB hub in the automotive environment. The second drawback is the price when compared to a self sourced computer. You could certainly build something similar for less, but knowing that you’re getting a reliable ready-made PC tested and backed by the Mp3car store should certainly be looked at as invaluable.

    The Positive:

    • Built and tested ready for use in the automotive environment
    • Customizable to individual user needs
    • Performance and reliability of the Intel Atom dual-core product
    • Energy efficient design
    • Built specifically for car PC use
    • Small form factor which allows for multiple mounting options
    • Simple to use and customizable Intelligent power supply

    The Negative:

    • Limited room for expansion
    • Use of more than 2 channel audio requires an additional header connection
    • Cost when compared to self-built self-sourced system

    The Verdict:

    The ToughBox 14 is the absolute easiest way to add a powerful, efficient, and genuine car PC to any automobile. It was carefully designed to be everything you could want a car PC to be right out of the box. Couple that with the fact it’s built and backed by Mp3car and you have an absolute winner.

    See this product on the mp3Car Store HERE.

    Updated 01-27-2010 at 06:30 PM by Jensen2000

    Product Reviews