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

    by , 08-15-2013 at 02:33 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!

    Tasker


    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 01:24 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 01:55 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.



    Description:

    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 07:41 PM by Sonicxtacy02

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    Product Reviews
  4. Looking for a Car-PC? Maybe you already own one...

    by , 05-13-2011 at 10:28 AM
    Tags: car, Car PC Add / Edit Tags
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  5. Ultra-compact Trim-Slice computer released

    by , 05-02-2011 at 03:15 PM
    Compulab has just released their new ultra-compact, ultra-portable Trim-Slice desktop computer, packed with features and available to ship. It runs on a trickle of power (less than 3w) that powers a dual core NVIDIA Tegra 2 CPU and 1 Gb RAM, as well as a 32 Gb SSD, 4 USB ports, Bluetooth, Ethernet, dual 1080p HDMI ports, and an SD card slot—all packed into a tasteful metal case that is only .6” thick. Its three models range from a barebones version priced around $200 (that lacks some of the above features) to a decked out $320 Pro model.


    While the hardware seems to have mass-appeal, the software is a work in progress. Trim-Slice was designed to entice software developers to make the most of this device, so Trim-Slice is encouraging the general consumer to hold off until the software matures into a more accessible version. What would you use a Trim-Slice for? Use applications could include media computers or one of the smallest car PC’s on the market.

    For more info, visit their website.
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