I recently installed a new backup camera and head unit with wireless CarPlay about a week ago in my 2011 Xterra PRO-4X that originally came with the Rockford Fosgate audio system with steering wheel controls and an AUX in port.
I had researched stereo installations on thenewx.org, xterraownersclub.com, clubfrontier.org and YouTube. Unfortunately, the recent PhotoBucket shakedown has deleted the photographs from many of those threads, so I thought it would be useful to consolidate basic GPS stereo installation in one place and document with new photos. The installation process for any new 2-DIN GPS head unit should be very similar to this one.
I had been growing increasingly frustrated with the stock Rockford Fosgate stereo. The sound quality was never that impressive, and it seemed to be getting worse – especially when playing Pandora from my phone through the AUX input. My teenage daughter will be driving this car soon, and I wanted her to have a backup camera and less distracting entertainment/communication options that would keep her eyes on the road and off of her cell phone. When I read that Alpine had just released the world’s first aftermarket head unit incorporating wireless CarPlay (model iLX-107), it seemed like that would be a good solution.
Having lived with the new system for about a week, I am generally happy with it. The sound quality is much better. I anticipated that I might have to replace some or all of the other factory components (amplifier, subwoofer, speakers), but now that I’ve heard the new system I don’t plan to make any other improvements.
Alpine has done a very good job with the interface, and it works intuitively. The only setup problem I ran into was figuring out how to adjust the guidelines for the backup camera – it turns out that the blue “Rear” lettering when you bring up the camera settings is actually a hyperlink that opens up another level of settings including guideline adjustment. The rearview camera displays almost immediately upon starting the car and shifting into reverse, and after a couple of seconds the guidelines appear on the screen. Camera resolution is good under most conditions, but can get washed out in direct sunlight.
The head unit remembers what you were doing when you last turned off the car and will resume that operation when you turn it back on – even if it has to reconnect to your cell phone. I’ve gotten so used to digging my phone out of my pocket and connecting a cable to it when I get in the car that being able to skip those steps feels like a luxury (when it works – see below).
If I understand the technology correctly, wireless CarPlay uses Bluetooth only to establish an initial connection with the head unit, then it switches to wifi for improved throughput. This means that when your phone is connected to wireless CarPlay, it will use cell phone data even if a wifi network is available. If that’s a problem, you can revert back to using a physical cable when you want to stream music from a wifi connection.
I do have a few minor criticisms. First, I don’t like the volume up/down buttons on the head unit. They’re touchscreen rather than physical, and I have a hard time operating them while driving because they are so small. Fortunately, I have steering wheel controls for volume up/down and tuning/track up/down, so I don’t have to use the virtual buttons at the bottom of the head unit’s screen (the two physical head unit buttons work fine). I recommend installing a steering wheel control module to enable steering wheel controls if you have them.
Second, the microphone and clip are unnecessarily large. Initially I mounted it at the top left corner of the windshield, but it was distracting up there and the long tail of the microphone prevented it from being pointed directly at the driver. After a few days, I moved it above the steering column in front of the instrument panel where it is less noticable.
Third, Pandora is by far the least reliable CarPlay app. It doesn’t always launch successfully in CarPlay when you select it from the head unit even though wireless CarPlay has successfully connected to your phone. It helps if the Pandora app is already open on your phone, but my success rate in launching Pandora on the first try is about 50%. In fairness to Alpine, I think this is an iPhone/Pandora/CarPlay problem and not an Alpine problem because the other CarPlay apps launch fine even if they are closed on your phone and we have similar problems with Pandora/CarPlay in another vehicle that has native wired CarPlay. Unfortunately, the only way to recover from this problem is to kill and restart the Pandora app on your phone. EDIT: I don't know if Pandora would still be unreliable with my new iPhone SE because I've stopped using Pandora and now use Apple Radio which works flawlessly.
Fourth, wireless CarPlay occasionally fails to connect upon startup of the head unit. Referencing the phone’s settings will confirm that Bluetooth is on, but not connected to the head unit. This can be solved by clicking on the Bluetooth prompt for your stereo in the phone’s settings or turning your phone’s Bluetooth off and then on again. The fastest way would be to briefly put your phone in airplane mode because you can do that from the lock screen. The best feature of wireless CarPlay is not having to take your phone out of your pocket, so this occasional error is frustrating. Hopefully this is mostly a problem with my phone (5S), and not with the head unit. EDIT: My new iPhone SE doesn't have any problems connecting, so this issue was probably related to my old phone.
Fifth, wireless CarPlay drains your phone’s battery more rapidly than most other cell phone uses. It’s great for short trips around town, but if I am going to be driving for an hour or longer, I will connect the phone via USB or power it via the cigarette lighter.
In summary, wireless CarPlay is great when it works. But introducing another wireless interface in your life means more occasional troubleshooting. Pandora is disappointing, but the rest of the apps work well – including Apple Music (and its Radio function, which is an alternative to Pandora).