19 November 2019

Android Auto - annoying issues and awkwardness

Android Auto on RCD330

I’m using Android Auto almost from its beginning. Until a few weeks ago Android Auto was only my phone, but now I’m using it also on my new RCD330 (click for review).
I often get questions about how Android Auto works, how to install it...

Android Auto is a simple application that can be installed on a phone. It is important to understand that it always works/executes on a phone. But it can use two different ways to communicate with the user:
1. You can use Android Auto on the phone. It will use the phone’s display, speaker and microphone. If the phone is connected with Bluetooth to the head unit (it is not necessary!), the speaker and microphone can be transferred to/from the head unit. It is clear that in this case, you don’t need an Android Auto support in your head unit.
2. If your head unit supports Android Auto, then you can connect your phone with it. In this case, display, speaker and microphone from the head unit will be used. Usually, the connection is made with a USB cable, but the newest head units also support wireless connection.
Android Auto navigation on the phone
In the next lines, you will find that there are some differences in both ways of using. Usually using on the head unit isn't so convenient.
Let's check some of them:
- When using the navigation on the phone, you can report speed traps, crashes, slowdowns…This option isn’t available on your head unit and you can't report obstacles there.
- Google Assistant is very useful for communication while driving. It works quite well on the phone but is much worse on the head unit. What really surprises me, is the fact, that answers are different. For example, if I try with searching for gas stations the results on the head unit were way off. But it works on the phone. The next example is my often command “save note to keep” when something crosses my mind and is worth to save. This works fine on the phone, but it doesn’t work on the head unit.
- The navigation on the head unit doesn’t allow searching on Google Maps while the car is moving. I understand the safety point of that, but maybe passengers can use it? It works on the phone.
- Zooming in navigation in Google Maps on the head unit isn’t as good as on the phone. It simply doesn’t presume the moving of the car. Usually, it is zoomed out too much. It works much better on the phone.
- Sharing your location with the head unit is quite limited. On the phone, you can select many different ways (SMS, Facebook ...) to do it, but on the head unit, only some are displayed (email).
- Notification for speed cameras isn't perceptible and should be different. If a user listening to the radio, it is almost inaudible.
- With the latest UI upgrade (August 2019), Android Auto on the head unit doesn't show cards anymore. Cards are still shown on the phone and I really like them. Cards show important information and have a nice design. When using Android Auto without navigation (especially on the phone), I would like to have a feature that switches on the display only occasionally or if something happened. Otherwise, the display should be switched off. This would help to save battery.
- While changing between day and night mode works quite good on the phone, it doesn't on the head unit. The main reason is probably that it generally gets lighting information from your car. But cars have many ways to deal with that. It can switch on lights when you came into a tunnel and then leave lights on. If you don't use an application like Android Auto, you won't even notice that. But using night mode Android Auto navigation on a sunny day can be uncomfortable.
- While listening to music or podcast on a phone, you can move the current position with slider. Forget that on the head unit with Android Auto. There are only buttons for skipping 30 (or 10) seconds. Be a hero and move your podcast 20 minutes forward. Besides that, it would be nice if the listener could see the current position while a navigation screen is on. 
- One really annoying bug exists - after disconnecting the phone from the head unit USB cable, the phone loses Bluetooth pairing. Before the phone can be used again with Bluetooth, it has to be paired again. I’m still searching for a solution. Until now, it looks that it is important to disconnect the phone before turn off the radio and leave the car. Otherwise, it will ask you to re-pair the phone the next time you enter the car.
- Using Android Auto with USB cable isn’t very convenient. Newer head units support wireless communications with (some) phones. This the way to go and if you can afford it, there is no brainer.
Just for info, if someone wants to try. On XDA you can find a provisional way - AAGateWay  It is an app that allows you to use Android Auto wirelessly even if you don’t have a modern head unit. It uses an Android TV stick or your old phone.
- When the phone is connected with a USB cable, it is used for data transfer (communication) AND for phone charging. This charging is quite powerful and the phone’s battery is full quite fast. As you know (look at the article Best phone battery saving tips) fast charging and too much charging is unhealthy for the phone’s battery. This is another important reason to use wireless communication with the head unit.

In the lines above, I wrote about the most annoying issues with Android Auto I found when the phone is connected to the head unit. Of course, there are more of them and although Android Auto is very interesting (and useful) in its basics, it is still far from perfect.
I'm aware that UI can change without prediction and I hope Google will soon changes/solves the above-mentioned issues.

What are your opinion about Android Auto?

18 October 2019

RCD330 review - how I stop using RNS 510

Three years ago, I published an RNS 510 review. To be short, it is a good head unit, but its' navigation and missing Bluetooth connectivity drove me crazy.
My budget was limited, so I decided that 300 EUR is more than enough to get a 2-DIN head unit with most wanted features which will work in VW Passat. At first, I was looking for a head unit with Android as its operating system. But then I found that some people mentioned RCD330. The model name looks like those from Volkswagen's line and after some reading, I got a confirmation. It is an OEM head unit built-in Volkswagens in China, Russia, South America... It has some limitations, but on the other hand, it has some nice features all packed in the head unit with an acceptable price.

You can't buy it from Volkswagen, but you can find RCD330 in different stores (AliExpress, eBay...). There are some different subtypes of RCD330 and my suggestion is to read (at least) sticky posts on Reddit RCD330 subforum to get some important information.
I decided on RCD330 187E which supports Android Auto and CarPlay. The delivery from China was fast - a DHL delivered it only five days from placing an order. I can really recommend a seller Lemon Shark Autoparts Store for fast delivery and accurate information before ordering.

RCD330 supports communications with Volkswagen's CAN bus and changing RNS510 for RCD330 is quite simple. You need to plug only two connectors - Quadlock and antenna. My previous RNS510 installation also needs a connection for GPS antenna and phone.

Cars from the last decade don't need any changes in the gateway. Older can experience battery drain, so check for solutions on the above mentioned forum.
Just to have a clear error log, I remove the Navigation and CD from CAN Gateway Installation List with VCDS.
As I said, it supports communication with Volkswagen, so if you have sensors, it will be shown as before. Besides that, it will also show temperature, get a date/time, works with a back camera (maybe with little intervention) ...

RCD330 looks very similar to other Volkswagen's head units in the same generation. Pretty good color display and touch screen still have to prove over the cold months when cheaper head units usually have problems.
I'm not a sound expert, but the sound in my car didn't change a lot after the RCD330 installation. To be honest, I can't hear any difference.

Potential buyers should keep in mind that RCD330 has some important limitations: missing CD unit, missing its own navigation and missing RDS (Radio Data System) support.
Missing CD unit today isn't a big deal. The navigation can be used with Android Auto, so this won't be a big problem. But missing the RDS feature can be a deal-breaker for people who listen to the radio. To be honest, radio works fine, but part of the RDS system is AF (alternative frequencies list). Almost all radio stations use this feature which helps head units changing between different frequencies for the same station. This is very helpful if you drive in a region full of hills, mountains, valleys... Without AF you have to search for frequencies that really isn't comfortable.

Many websites write that RCD330 doesn't have an RDS at all. On my head unit, some radio stations are displayed with their names. I don't understand why only some don't have a name. And even more strange thing for me - if RCD330 displays a name, why a hell can't it save it to his own memory list. It can save a frequency and memory position for example, but can't save a string it has? Strange, really.

RCD330 has four different modes: Radio, Media, Phone, and App.
Radio was described in the previous paragraph, now it is time to check Media mode. As you can expect it supports Bluetooth, AUX, SD card and USB. For me, Bluetooth is everything I need and it works flawlessly. It connects quick, works without disturbances and sounds good. Hey, it even shows Unicode letters on display (for example Slovenian čšž).
I really like the next behavior - if listening to the podcast (or music) is interrupted before the end(eg. car is switched off), then next time it will start immediately at that position after you start the car.
However, some things could be improved. For example, if a new file on the phone starts to play, the previous source (Bluetooth in my case) can be preselected. Or if you are in Radio mode and start playing via Bluetooth, it doesn't jump to Media (and start playing). And one more - when media is played, it shows timeline, but you can't use the touch screen to move to a random position.
It is also strange to me, why RCD330 stays mute after finished playing media, even if I change to Radio mode?

Phone mode works with my OnePlus 5 as it should. It uses its own microphone, so you don't need to install an external one. Some users comment that this can lead to echo when speaking, but I didn't notice it.

Pressing an App button changes a lot. RCD330 gives control to your Android (Android Auto) or iPhone (CarPlay). In this mode, your phone must be connected with a USB cable and (for example on Android) Android Auto has to be installed on your phone. If Android Auto isn't officially supported in your country, you can still get it, but it is beyond this article. Read more about Android Auto on Google's website.

I have to mention quite a big bug. I'm still not sure if bug belongs to RCD330 or to Android Auto. It shows if a user has his phone connected to Android Auto (App mode on RCD330) and then switch off the car. Next time, the Bluetooth on your phone won't recognize the RCD330 and vice versa. Annoying. The solution is to change from App mode to any other before switching off.

Let's go back from the Android world. On my steering wheel, I found a button with a microphone sign. Originally it serves as a trigger for voice command in navigation on RNS510. But after installing RCD330, it works as a mute button. I took a computer with VCDS and searched for a solution. A small change (one byte) and button's behavior changes to the voice control. This works fantastic with Google Assistant. Now I can listen to the radio and press button on the steering wheel and ask: "How is the traffic to Ljubljana?", "What is the weather forecast for tomorrow?", "Where is the nearest pizzeria?" ... And all that even without "Ok, Google". After I get an answer, the radio (or media) plays as before without any intervention. Super.

Some words about manual (user guide). I'm the kind of person who likes to read manuals. I want to know as much as possible about the products/services I use. It was very hard to find a manual for RCD330. And now I can share a PDF file of the RCD330 manual. Well, the title is RCD340, but that is just different labels for markets.

Conclusion: Under the line, I'm happy with RCD330. It has some bugs, but I can live with them.
If you are in the market for a head unit under 300 EUR, then RCD330 (RCD340 or one of their cousins) are certainly worth a look.
Your comments are welcome.

02 August 2019

Primerjava stroškov električnega in dizelskega avtomobila

V naslednjih vrsticah bom poskusil narediti primerjavo stroškov dveh avtomobilov. Če jih pogledate na slikah, sta nekako simbolični že njuni barvi: beli je prijateljev električni Hyundai Ioniq, črni pa moj Volkswagen Passat 4motion DSG. Naj že vnaprej opozorim, da članek ne bo primeren za pikolovce in nergače, konstruktivne pripombe pa so vsekakor zaželene.
Stroške je zelo težko pošteno porazdeliti. Passat je letnik 2012, njegova okvirna cena na začetku ocenjevalnega obdobja je bila okrog 13 kEUR (cena novega blizu 44 kEUR). Na drugi strani je Ioniq letnik 2017, njegova začetna cena pa je bila 35 kEUR (oziroma 27 kEU, če kupec uporabi subvencijo in plača z gotovino).
Pri obeh avtomobilih sem v primerjavo vzel njuni zadnji dve celi leti (od registracije). Groba ocena je, da je Passat v dvoletnem obdobju izgubil kakšnih 5 tisočakov vrednost, Ioniq pa 10.
Passat je v tem času prevozil 55 tisoč km (skupno 223 tisoč km), Ioniq pa kar 97 tisoč km (kar je seveda tudi njegova skupna kilometrina). Omenjeni številki sta posledica tega, da ima Passat občutno krajše službene razdalje.

Primerjalna tabela (brez pnevmatik in upoštevanja padca vrednosti avtomobila):

Cena na kilometer z gorivom/elektriko:
Passat 0,142 EUR
Ioniq  0,019 EUR

Cena na kilometer brez stroškov goriva/elektrike:
Passat 0,066 EUR
Ioniq  0,018 EUR

Pri primerjanju je nujno treba upoštevati vsaj naslednje točke:
1. Kljub že tako ugodni elektriki, Ioniq pri stroških "goriva" še dodatno prihrani ker zelo pogosto uporablja brezplačne električne polnilnice.
2. Passat je občutno starejši, kar posledično prinese več izrednih stroškov (recimo menjava akumulatorja, amortizerjev ...), še posebej ker za avto dobro skrbim. Kakšna menjava niti ni bila čisto nujna.
3. Zavarovanji sta težko primerljivi. Glavna razlika je v sami ceni novega avtomobila, potem pa gre za različni zavarovalnici in nekoliko različna (čeprav podobna) kritja.
4. V primerjavi nisem upošteval pnevmatik. Ker primerjalnega obdobja Passsat ni začenjal nov, bi bila primerjava nepoštena. Neupoštevani strošek seveda niža tudi zaključno ceno na kilometer.
5. Začetna cena avtomobilov za primerjalno obdobje je zelo različna.
6. Število prevoženih kilometrov je precej različno, zato sem na koncu dodal stroške na kilometer, ki prikaže bolj realno primerjavo.

Naj za konec ponovim na začetku napisano. Primerjava stroškov je daleč od popolnosti, vseeno pa sem jih poskušal čim bolj uravnotežiti. Brez posebnih zaključkov sicer, morda pa vse skupaj postane kost za glodanje v teh vročih dneh.
Izbiranje med EV ali ICE avtomobilom ni enostavno. Mogoče vas pritegne tudi članek o plusih in minusih EV.