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Audio/Nav/iPhone BLISS! Finally!!!! (O-Car head unit review)

Discussion in 'Roadster' started by JoshG, Sep 4, 2011.

  1. JoshG

    JoshG Member

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    #1 JoshG, Sep 4, 2011
    Last edited: Sep 5, 2011
    Finally, an audio unit that’s (nearly) PERFECT for a Tesla

    Oh happy day... driving my Roadster no longer involves terrible compromises with the audio and navigation controls that I’ve come to expect in other cars. Like many here, I found that the terrible JVC KD-NX5000 head unit was the sore spot in an otherwise wonderful driving experience: terrible UI, navigation that looks like it’s from 20 years ago, a bad screen, flaky Bluetooth integration, and an awful iPod/iPhone connector that’s flaky and can’t recharge the iPhone... not to mention the bad location of the iPhone where it’s too low to be useful, and blocked by the parking break.

    I had considered several replacement units here, but ultimately, what really mattered to me was great iPhone integration – I use my iPhone for navigation, audio and communications. I eventually realized that considering the iPhone as a peripheral to the head unit is dumb - why not just do away with the traditional head unit, and use the iPhone instead? I found two choices in new head units that do exactly that, the Oxygen O-Car, and Jackson Electronics iRoc.

    I ultimately chose the O-Car unit for two reasons:
    1. the articulating/rotating iPhone holder on the O-Car, allowing it to be used in any orientation and to extend and tilt for better ergonomics (the iRoc holds your iphone flat against the head unit and only in landscape mode).
      and...
    2. the fact that only the O-Car unit has a built-in AM/FM tuner in the head unit itself. (The iRoc has no way to receive traditional OTA AM/FM… it only supports internet audio sources.)
    Well, after a week of use, I can say I’m pretty much in love with this head unit. It works great, looks great, sounds good, and the ergonomics are fantastic.

    If you have a Roaster 1.0 or 2.0 (single-Din audio chassis), I’d highly recommend this unit. It’s just fantastic to have your iPhone mounted at a GREAT location, and to use it to fully control your audio, navigation, and communication controls.


    6113026409_491644d7a2_z.jpg
    2011-09-04-IMG_0812 by jg001, on Flickr

    The unit has an AM/FM tuner built in… which is controlled via their free “Radio” app, available in the app store. I don’t listen to much OTA radio other than baseball games and occasionally NPR, but it’s nice knowing that if I’m out on a more rural highway without data service, I’ll still have decent radio choices in addition to my ipod music.

    The app isn’t wonderful… it has some issues where it’s hard to “spin” the dial or seek to the next station, but it’s usable, and I assume they’ll fix that with updates to the app sometime soon. It does have RDS, allows storing 18 FM and 6 AM stations, and you can even customize the color of the display to suit your preferences (or match your Tesla exterior!)

    But of course you don’t buy this unit to receive radio, you buy it to have full access to all your ipod tunes, as well as any other apps you like (Pandora, MOG, Spotify, etc.). I’m a MOG fan and LOVE having access to Mog right at hand without the contortions and multiple screens/remotes I had to go through with the JVC unit. I also use the Sirius/XM app and it works great as well. (so long as you’re in an area with good cellular data service).

    Your iPod app works great of course… and pretty much every app you should want will work too. The app doesn’t baby you… it tells you in the manual not to be dumb: don’t try to use email, text, or watch movies on your unit. Nothing in the unit prevents you from doing so… but you’d be pretty foolish to do it.

    The ergonomics are quite good, especially in the Tesla. The iPhone holder in the unit sits flush and sturdy in the head unit, but with a gentle push, it pops out about 2.5”, coming closer to you, and once it’s out it permits you to tilt it towards you, rotate it to portrait orientation, tilt it to the passenger… whatever you like. In addition to letting you use apps however you like, the extension makes it easier to reach and tap, and the tilting solves a MAJOR problem in a roadster/convertible: Glare. With the articulating arm extended, you can tilt the unit to an angle that reduces or eliminates glare, even with the top off. It’s great.

    Bluetooth integration is quite nice – the head unit pairs with the iPhone via Bluetooth as well as the dock connector, so phone calls will pause your audio and your phone call takes over, coming over the speakers and your voice is picked up by a small microphone. It’s great when your top is on, when you’re driving without the top, the other party can’t hear you well if you’re at highway speeds, but at lower speeds it is fine for short calls.

    Smart things you’ll appreciate:
    • Oxygen was very smart to put a hard-dial volume control right on the face of the unit. Without taking your eyes off the road, you can adjust the volume of audio or your phone call.
    • You can change the color of the radio app and “sound” app for your preference or to match your car interior/exterior.
    • Articulating arm is adjustable for tilt/orientation, and the resistance/firmness of the movement is adjustable with an included tool. My phone is held very solid, but still can be easily tilted/rotated.
    • The iPhone is now in a fantastic location – visually, and ergonomically. It’s where it should be., rather than down near your lap, behind the parking brake where it was before!
    • The unit comes with a special case for the iPhone 4 and another for the iPhone 3GS. This helps hold it in place, with special tabs on the back that the head unit uses to help its “grip” on your phone. Those cases are ok, but not great… a bit flimsy. But, it turns out the encase shell that I already have and love works GREAT with the O-car. It holds the phone fine, and is quite sturdy.
    Problems/issues: In addition to the problems with their radio app mentioned above, there are some issues to be aware of.
    • If you DON’T dock your iPhone, the head unit will switch to Radio mode, playing whatever station you last tuned it to. You’ll have no way to change the station, but you can turn it off and adjust the volume thanks to the built-in volume control.
    • The radio tuner itself isn’t an app, it’s a separate audio component/source in the head unit… it’s just CONTROLLED by an app. When listening to the radio, you can NOT mix in audio from an iPhone app… this means you’re welcome to use navigation apps, but you won’t hear the spoken instructions like you do when you’re listening to other iPhone apps. This is ONLY a problem when you’re listening to AM/FM radio… not iPhone audio apps. If you’re listening to your ipod music, or Sirius app, or Pandora, then the iPhone properly mixes in navigation instructions (depending on the capabilities of your chosen navigation app). But, when you’re in radio mode, the head unit can’t generate overlay audio… so anything your iPhone is trying to tell you is muted. (With the exception of phone calls…. Those work fine due to Bluetooth “interruption” capabilities in the head unit). I suppose there might be a navigation app that could send its voice instructions over Bluetooth, instead of via the audio-out in the dock connector, and that could solve this problem. But it doesn’t work that way for most navigation apps today. Those apps assume you’re able to hear audio coming over the dock connector, and you can’t on the O-car if you’re using the radio.
    • AM/FM reception is NOT great. Signals seem weaker than in the JVC unit. Not a biggie for me, it gets KNBR 680 AM for me, which is what I really care about for Giants games. But it doesn’t lock on to weaker stations as well as other units do. If you want great AM/FM performance, this probably isn’t the best unit for you.
    • It remains to be seen if the articulating/rotating iphone holder will remain sturdy or if it will eventually break or have problems. So far, it seems well made, but these are mostly plastic parts and it may have problems in the future.
    It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty close, and they could address some of these issues with updates in the future. It’s infinitely better than that JVC unit that was there… I’m incredibly pleased with it.

    I bought my unit at Abt Electronics online (http://www.abt.com/mobile/product_details.php?product_id=55396), and it shipped fast and installed easily (let me know if you want to know my bay-area, CA installer who swapped it for the JVC unit in about 60 minutes for under $100!)

    If anyone has questions, let me know.

    A few more photos are below, and more are in the Flickr Collection if anyone wants to see more or view in higher resolution.

    --josh



    6113571010_897c43e6e3_z.jpg
    2011-09-04-IMG_0811 by jg001, on Flickr

    6113571264_fcbda12e4f_z.jpg
    2011-09-04-IMG_0819 by jg001, on Flickr

    6113027649_b7b5f0916e_z.jpg
    2011-09-04-IMG_0818 by jg001, on Flickr


    The iphone as a nav or radio display looks awesome at night! ("simulated" night here in a closed garage with the headlights on). Navigon app switches into Night mode automatically...
    6113572424_4d1e5c0eca_z.jpg
    2011-09-04-IMG_0830 by jg001, on Flickr

    6113028281_a88a21049e_z.jpg
    2011-09-04-IMG_0839 by jg001, on Flickr

    6113028395_5e65e901e0_z.jpg
    2011-09-04-IMG_0838 by jg001, on Flickr

    Here it is in landscape mode, flush in the head unit...
    6113028797_197e42e81d_z.jpg
    2011-09-04-IMG_0852 by jg001, on Flickr

    and here it is extended and tilted towards the driver for better viewing and ergonomics. Tapping on the GUI does not rattle or retract the phone... it's held quite firmly, even when extended.
    6113028945_216a53b7b9_z.jpg
    2011-09-04-IMG_0849 by jg001, on Flickr



    --josh
     
  2. Lloyd

    Lloyd Active Member

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  3. TEG

    TEG TMC Moderator

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    Sweet solution, JoshG... Thanks for providing so many pictures.
     
  4. JoshG

    JoshG Member

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    #4 JoshG, Sep 4, 2011
    Last edited: Sep 4, 2011
    Fair point, but the company has promised that the unit will fit the iPhone 5 and they'll only have to release a new holder piece. Since it's built on a clamping mechanism, with no fixed width, height, or thickness requirement, I'd be surprised if the iphone 5 doesn't fit right out of the box. Only if the iphone 5 is quite a bit TALLER or SHORTER might there be a problem. Even then, Oxygen should be able to release a swap-out cradle piece with different dimensions. It's hard to explain, but if you see the unit in person, you'd realize it should fit most iphone size changes (unless they change the dock connector, and that would be pretty foolish of Apple given all the accessories out there.)
     
  5. Lloyd

    Lloyd Active Member

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    #5 Lloyd, Sep 4, 2011
    Last edited: Sep 5, 2011
    Read the link. It is a rumor, but the new holders are out, and they are definately different dimensions.
     
  6. JoshG

    JoshG Member

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    Yes, I did. And as I said, if the new phone is thinner and wider, I believe it will fit fine. If it's taller, (not what your link said), then it won't fit until Oxygen releases an adapter. What's your point? .
     
  7. Warrenbonz

    Warrenbonz Member

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    Congrats Josh on finding a solution you're happy with.
    Can you connect a rear camera to it?
    How does the sound quality compare to a "good" sounding head unit?
     
  8. Lloyd

    Lloyd Active Member

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    I did not mean to offend....... It just looks from your photos that it was set to attach to a specific size and thickness. The size and thickness of the new phone is rumored to be changing. It would be hard for someone to buy a new stereo, and then have to go a generation back to get a phone that would fit it, or wait until Oxygen catches up. Thats is the point.
     
  9. AnOutsider

    AnOutsider S532 # XS27

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    But he addressed that at least twice already. In any case, this looks cool, but I couldn't imagine using a phone as the primary display of a head unit in my car. I don't own a roadster, but man, this just impresses on me just how BAD the stock option(s) must be.
     
  10. JoshG

    JoshG Member

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    Thanks - I'm thrilled with it. It's hard to say how good the sound is yet because the stock speakers in the roadster are pretty bad. All I can say is it sounds better than the JVC unit did. Next step will be a decent power amp and new speakers all around. Then we'll know for sure if this head unit is any good. the unit doesn't support a rear camera as far as I can tell. Oddly, it DOES support video-out... so you could have a separate screen... presumably for other cars where you'd like a rear seat display.
     
  11. TEG

    TEG TMC Moderator

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  12. JoshG

    JoshG Member

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    #12 JoshG, Sep 5, 2011
    Last edited: Sep 5, 2011
    Thanks AO, I hear you. I guess for me, the iphone is becoming a universal interface/control device. Its screen quality and UI are so much better than those on most head units that, for me, it's just easier. I know how text entry works, I know how to change volume, brightness, how to switch apps... so once you live with this unit in the car, it starts becoming clear that using another system's on-screen keyboard or horrible remote control (say, for entering a city name or street name in Nav functions), and another system's controls for brightness, for volume, etc. seems silly. why learn another UI when you know one for your iPhone, especially when those other systems are probably worse?

    I'm sorry if i came off as defensive to Lloyd... I thought I had addressed the iphone 5 stuff already - it will work: it will fit either out of the box or with a new clasp arm. (As evidence, the system already adapts for iphone, ipod touch gen 1, iphone touch gens 2-4, iphone 3GS, and iphone 4 out of the box, so why would anyone assume it will be obsolete with yet another dimension change for iphone 5?)

    I realize this isn't for everyone. For me, i look at it as a savior and it's completely simplified my life and returned my car to looking like a high-quality factory-clean install... rather than cords and aftermarket holsters or clips for an iphone, another (bad) display with it's own funky UI, and struggling with making that system talk nice with an iphone (which is probably been mounted at a less-than ideal spot in the difficult interior of the Tesla).

    Just getting rid of the "This device does not support charging on your phone" message EVERY time you start the car or connect your iphone was worth a bunch to me! (yes, I know about Scosche adapters and added one, but STILL got that message on occasion). TO ME... this system is finally "clean", easy, looks great, and has fantastic ergonomics in the Tesla... the UI is right at hand, no reaching, tilts to get rid of glare or face a passenger, comes with me for "security/theft resistance", and uses a system I already know how to navigate and control, enter text, and check status.

    To each his own... enjoy whatever you have. I've looked high and low and have never seen a head-unit and iphone interface cable+holder that I'd take over this unit for any reason at any cost, or at least one that would fit in the constraints of the Tesla roadster where everything is very tight and difficult to install or mount! But I definitely see that not everyone wants it this way and everyone has their various priorities.
     
  13. doug

    doug Administrator / Head Moderator

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    This is like a car radio with a removable faceplate that's functional when detached.
     
  14. JoshG

    JoshG Member

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    ^^^ :biggrin: :biggrin: :biggrin: ^^^

    Indeed! Quite functional!
     
  15. slcasner

    slcasner Member

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    What about the wiring into the harness that was in place for the JVC unit?
     
  16. Alan

    Alan Member

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    I am thinking of swapping my Alpine single DIN unit for one of these but one concern / question is the hand free phone option. Does this use the iphones microphone or an external input?

    If anyone else is planning on swapping an Alpine for one of these please post here, it will save hassle if one of our agrees to be the guinea pig and try it out.
     
  17. Did the installer use an adapter on the harness or did he cut the wires to put this unit in? If he used an adapter any idea where I could get one?
     
  18. JoshG

    JoshG Member

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    I believe everything was pretty much a straight swap of cables for between the head units... (at least it couldn't have been that complicated since it was done so quickly and everything worked great).
     
  19. JoshG

    JoshG Member

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    It comes with a wired microphone. My installer recommended putting it on top of the steering column cover. You can probably see it in the pictures above. Works better there than in the dumb place down by your right knee that the factory unit goes. Callers tell me all is fine when top is on, windows up... forget about it (like any wired mic not right in front of your face) when you have top off the car at highway speeds.
     
  20. JoshG

    JoshG Member

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    No harness... the unit comes with "pigtails" on the back... I think they were RCA jacks... about 8 of them for all the usual wire connections... so it looked like it was simple to connect to the wires that are already behind the dash.
     

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