Boss Audio and sister brands Planet Audio and Sound Storm Laboratories today are introducing new car stereo head units that include support for wireless CarPlay and Android Auto at a price of just $400. With a capacitive 6.75-inch screen and support vehicle features like a rear camera and steering wheel controls, the new systems offer a solid value for those with older vehicles looking to update to a more modern head unit.
I’ve had a chance to spend the past couple of weeks checking out the Planet Audio version of the head unit, model PCPA975W, and I’ve been pretty impressed with its performance and simplicity. While you won’t get features like a CD/DVD player or built-in navigation, many users find those features unnecessary when much of that content can be driven straight from their phones.
Back in the early days of wireless CarPlay, I was skeptical of its utility, considering the potential for running down the phone’s battery and the fact that the car is frequently a good place to plug in and get a bit of a recharge during the day. As I’ve been able to spend substantial time using the feature, however, I’ve come to love it. So many car trips are short commutes or errands, and having CarPlay automatically pop up on the dash without having to take my phone out of my pocket is just so convenient.
Between the short trip lengths and Apple’s improvements in power management for wireless CarPlay, pretty much any battery concerns I had about it have been a non-issue. If I’m taking a longer road trip, I’ll certainly plug my phone in, but that’s such a small fraction of my trips that it’s rarely something I end up doing.
I won’t really spend time going over the details of CarPlay itself here, as it’s a pretty standard experience that most are familiar with by now, and Apple has steadily improved the experience over the years with features like the Dashboard, revamped Apple Maps, better support for third-party apps, and EV routing.
The new systems from Boss Audio aren’t super flashy, but they certainly get the job done, at least as far as I’ve seen in my testing. User interfaces on both original and aftermarket infotainment systems have long lagged behind those of smartphones in their visual appeal and utility, but they’re starting to make some real headway on that front. You won’t mistake Boss’s interface for that of an iPhone, but it’s much better than some other ones I’ve used, including a previous Boss Audio system I tested just last year.
There’s a solid range of connectivity options and supported sources, including terrestrial radio, Bluetooth streaming, USB media, and an AUX input for older iPods and other devices. An external microphone can be routed to a convenient spot like the headliner at the edge of the windshield for optimal performance. SiriusXM is not supported.
The 6.75-inch capacitive display with a resolution of 480×800 takes up the vast majority of the unit’s face, and the display is bright and responsive to touch. There’s some Planet Audio and model number branding along the bottom of the face, and then a strip of touch controls along the left side. The touch-sensitive buttons support multicolor illumination configured through the head unit’s settings, and they offer quick access to a number of functions with a dedicated power/home button to help with navigating the system, a microphone button for activating Siri, up and down volume buttons, and a mute button.
The user interface is simple and easy to navigate, with the radio screen offering a clear view of the currently tuned station, song and other information for stations that broadcast info via RBDS, and a strip with three pages of station preset slots. Onscreen icons offer access to tuning, station scanning, and an EQ that offers various preset sound profiles and the ability to customize your own.
Setup for wireless CarPlay was easy, and all I needed to do was plug my phone into the system over USB, walk through a couple of steps to configure wired CarPlay, and then toggle on the option for wireless CarPlay. From that point on, I had few difficulties with CarPlay. It does take 15 seconds or so for CarPlay to come up on the screen from the time you start the car, and I did have a couple of instances where it didn’t automatically pop up, but it was easy enough to manually activate it from main screen on the head unit and the issue was likely related to brief hiccups between handing off between my home Wi-Fi network and the head unit as I departed my home.
For those who don’t want to use CarPlay or Android Auto, you can still pair your phone via Bluetooth for phone calls and media, which can be controlled through the head unit.
While $400 is a great value for a system that supports wireless CarPlay, it’s important to note that that’s just for the head unit itself and there will be other costs involved in getting the unit installed in your car. Items like wiring harnesses to interface with your specific car model, modules for integrating with steering wheel controls and the backup camera, and a trim plate to match your car’s dashboard will increase the cost. And if you don’t feel comfortable doing the installation yourself and need a professional to do it, those ancillary costs for parts and labor could add up to more than the price of the head unit, doubling your costs.
Still, the cost may be worth it for a big upgrade in your driving experience, particularly if you’re willing to do a self-install. Recent models have so much functionality packed into their native infotainment systems that it’s not really feasible or desirable to swap them out for aftermarket units, but there are still plenty of cars on the road, some even only a few years old, that can certainly benefit from the technology upgrades available in these head units.
Boss Audio is debuting four new models today under its various brands: BOSS Audio BVCP9850W, Planet Audio PCPA975W, Sound Storm Laboratories DD999ACP, and BOSS Elite BE950WCPA. All four models are priced at $400 and they are essentially identical with the exception of branding.