Android Auto is something that some of us have but many of us wish we had. Some car manufacturers have gotten onboard with Android Auto (and Apple Carplay) realising that it is actually beneficial to them but there are also many (cough cough Toyota) who for some reason seem to think their clunky, ugly, slow, old fashioned infotainment units are a great experience for users.
Lucky for us there are aftermarket head-unit manufacturers who are picking up where car manufacturers are failing their customers by making Android Auto head-units for everyone to get onboard. Kenwood have been making head-units for a long time, and have also been making Android Auto head-units since its inception.
This year Kenwood have released some high quality Android Auto head-nits, the first company to release one with the HD display. When the opportunity to check out one of these head-units, the DDX9018DABS to be exact, I jumped at the chance.
To find out what I thought of the Kenwood DDX9018DABS (and why I ended up purchasing it) read on.
What makes this different to all the others?
The Kenwood DDX9018DABS is a double DIN aftermarket head-unit that fits in a standard double DIN slot. It has the standard 6.8 inch display but what sets it apart from the pack is the quality of the display. Many, in fact most, aftermarket head-units have a 480p display. Kenwood have decided to hit the high end of the market with a 1280 x 720 resolution TFT display with an active matrix.
As soon as I turned on the car and saw the display of it for the first time I was hooked. The colours are so vibrant, the brightness so much brighter than my older head-unit, and not only that the touch sensitivity was far and away better than anything else I had ever experienced. Unfortunately taking pictures of displays rarely does the display justice and in this case it certainly did not.
The colours jump off the screen, making it much easier to see the maps quickly — get those eyes back on the road faster. The rear camera showed up so well in both day and night conditions, far better than my previous unit, using the same camera. The improved resolution of the display meant that everything was crisper and better to view.
What about the audio?
I love my audio and I love it loud and of high quality. In saying that the Focal speakers I have in the car are not top of the range but are close to it, as well as the focal digital amp, Alpine sub and matching Alpine monobloc digital amp.
The Kenwood DDX9018DABS sounds great. I love turning up the sound loud and pumping out the metal or some old skool hiphop on the way to the gym and this head-unit was easily able to accomodate my penchant for loud music.
The head-unit has a 192kHz/32bit over-sampling DSP and when combined with high quality, custom-made, carefully selected parts the sound it produces is a great representation of the signal going into it — be it from a streaming service, the CD or a USB. There is also a 13-band equaliser with digital time alignments and 3-way cross-over mode with three 5.0v preouts.
As for tuning the head-unit to get the sound correct it allows you to adjust the equaliser to how you want it, for individual types of music, changing the sound effect, the location that the music centres to (zone control), volume offset for various sources and well as some random sound effects that actually make some nice changes to the music.
For those interested in the detailed specs of the head-unit head over to the Kenwood website and check them out.
How’s the software?
Unsurprisingly, Android Auto is the same on this head-unit as it is on others. The difference here though is that the menus are easier to scroll through on the higher quality display. Of course the menus are easier to see but Android Auto is Android Auto. That is how it is designed to be — a consistent experience from one car to another.
The only time I do not use Android Auto in my car is to listen to the radio (usually the footy). The Kenwood DDX9018DABS not only has digital radio (hence DAB in the name) but also has a playback function!! Yep, that’s right, if someone talks and you didn’t hear something you wanted to hear, and it happens to me a lot, you can rewind to hear it. This function in itself sold the head-unit to me.
As well as this there are a heap of other functions on the Kenwood side of things including Air Mirroring over Wi-Fi if that is your thing rather than Android Auto as well as Spotify, iPod, CD/DVD, USB, HDMI and Av in.
One of the pitfalls of the early Android Auto head-units was that they only trickle-charged phones while they were connected to the unit — barely enough to keep it at the same charge while using. The Kenwood has “fast charging” which is 1.5A, whereas most other units only have 1.0A. It was not enough to get you fast charging like Qualcomm Quickcharge 3.0 but drive for a decent length of time and your phone will become fully charged.
The bulk of the software for the head-unit is in the audio tweaks, allowing you to alter the sound until you find something just how you like it. The sheer number of tweaks there are can be a bit overwhelming at first glance but one by one you can apply and turn off to see how you prefer each setting — let’s face it, everyone likes to listen to their music differently and this allows this to be accomplished.
What is good about it?
- The display is amazing and just pops out at you, sometimes too much. I actually have it turned down to nearly the lowest brightness and vibrancy as at night it was a tad too “loud”. The display makes this unit.
- The reception for the DAB radio was perfect in nearly every single location I tried it. It was way better than my previous head-unit although the installer said that he was not impressed with how the antenna on the previous unit was positioned so it may well be that. In the end, it seems that if you have the digital antenna installed correctly you will get near-perfect radio reception with the digital radio on the Kenwood head-unit.
- The “instant replay” on the DAB radio is fantastic and has come in handy quite often.
- Full steering wheel control of the head-unit using the module available from Kenwood for around $70.
What’s not so good about it?
- I wish it had wireless Android Auto. At this stage wireless Android Auto is still in its infancy and Kenwood are letting the market, and technology, mature before they bring it out here to Australia. There is no point bringing something that may still have a few bugs, especially with our relatively small population. Also, the wireless Android Auto protocol is only supported by a very few phones at the moment. All of Google’s recent phones support it but at this stage it is still listed only as coming soon to other phones. Google have included the protocol in Android 9.0 Pie so all phones that run Pie (either updated to or out of the box) will support it — hence Kenwood and other manufacturers’ decision to not bring their wireless Android Auto units to Australia until next year at the earliest.
- The head-unit has a DVD slot but no SDcard slot. While I am not sure I ever used the SD card slow on my previous head-unit there are a lot of people who like to store a lot of music etc on SD cards and play it from there. I am not one of these people so this did not affect me.
Kenwood DDX9018DABS: Do I recommend it?
The Kenwood DDX9018DABS is one of the first HD aftermarket head-units to support Android Auto. Kenwood and its sister company JVC have been making Android Auto units for a while. Kenwood are the manufacturer of the higher end units for this company and it shows in the DDX9018DABS. The display is most definitely high end. It is bright, sharp and crisp and extremely sensitive to the touch. The options within the Kenwood software to adjust the audio settings are extensive to say the least.
I found the DDX9018DABS to be easy to use while at the same time offering the opportunity to dig down into the details of the software. It worked with all phones I threw at it, including the experimental wireless proxy Android Auto. There are very few negatives concerning this head-unit, the only being that it lacks something that only a few phones in the world currently support – wireless Android Auto.
I would have loved it to have wireless Android Auto but at this stage it is only supported by phones running Android Pie (or a Google phone of the last few years still running Oreo). It will arrive here eventually but it will not be this year. At a guess and reading between the lines we are looking at later next year (2019) before we see wireless Android Auto land Downunder. For this reason I have purchased this Kenwood DDX9018DABS. Technology moves quickly and you cannot keep waiting for the next thing around the corner to get here because as soon as that arrives there is another new thing around the corner.
If you are in the market for a new double DIN Android Auto head-unit this year you cannot go wrong with the Kenwood DDX9018DABS. Available from all good car stereo retailers for a tick under $1000AU it is well worth the money. It may not be the cheapest around but you get what you pay for.
Scott liked this device and has decided to purchase it for his own use.