Pioneer AVH-4100NEX Review

I love technology.  With the plethora of development boards out there and DIY projects there is a lot going on.  While I’ve been finishing out my masters class I have not had time to play with anything.  Fortunately as I finish out the program Pioneer has released their line of Andorid Auto compatible receivers.  I now get a nice new toy in the form of the AVH-4100NEX.  Here I chronicle my experience with it over the next few months.

Installation

Installation was mostly smooth.  The box lacks a single sheet of paper with a color wiring diagram, leaving one to have to flip into the manual to check it out.  Most wiring adapters are color coded, leaving only the reverse trigger, parking brake wire, and a couple others left.  Pioneer places a small tag on those, which was great thing to do!

My installation issue came when it was time to wire in the parking brake switch.  This is required to do most of the needed setup operations.  The paper tag fails to list what kind of signal the unit is expecting, ground or 12V power.  A look at the wiring diagram shows text that states the “power” side of the parking brake switch yet the images shows that it would be a ground when the parking brake is engaged.  Pioneer support was unable to answer the question.  They replied multiple times calling it 12V or power side.  I even send a screen  shot of the diagram issue and they could not understand the issue.  I am not a professional installer so maybe they all call that ground connection coming through “power” instead of signal or something else.  To make a long story short (too late!), I connected a ground via alligator clips (confirming not 12V), got the firmware updated, and then got it fully wired in.  I also added in a CCD backup camera the next day.

NOTE: Make sure you connect iOS and Android devices to the right USB port!  Port 1 is iOS and firmware updates.  Port 2 is Android.

Test phone

My primary phone is a Droid Turbo.  Yes, for some reason I continue to stick with the manufacturer notorious for not updating flagship phones on Verizon Wireless.  I hope to solve that with an S6 very soon.  This left me having to do all my testing with my OnePlus One running OxygenOS, which is one hell of an awesome phone.  Initial setup up is quick and almost fully automated once using the correct USB port and with the parking brake on.

NOTE: Yes, I know bypasses exist to eliminate the need for wiring in the brake.

Performance

So far the unit is quite snappy, except when using Android Auto.  Sometimes there is the slightest of lag.  I am still figuring out things like having two BT devices connected while using Android Auto.  Having Google Maps up on the head unit is nothing short of amazing.  The unit auto dims when the headlights are on, making it hard to view the map.  This is problematic for me as I turn on my headlights for day driving.  This will be remedied by an inline switch allowing me to keep it from happening during the day.

I’m not the biggest fan of the Android Auto’s phone interface yet.  I definitely prefer the Pioneer UI so far.  There are UI tweaks needed and I’ve already submitted feedback to Pioneer.  I also noticed a UI bug with the mute that Pioneer cannot reproduce.  I specifically asked if they were using the Pioneer UI or Android Auto but they have not responded.

My longest drives really using navigation have only been about 45min.  Between the two I had three freezes of the Android Auto Receiver on the UI.  Fixing it required unplugging the phone for about 10-15 seconds and plugging it back in.  Surprisingly things picked right back up with navigation, if I started it on the phone while it was disconnected.  This was actually quite disappointing.  I have a 25 hour drive coming up in the near future and plan to use the navigation the entire way just to count the number of freezes and see if there are any commonalities, like while playing music.

 

Issues discovered so far

  1. Poor mute indicator in Android Auto’s phone UI.  Always has a slash through it and always gray.  A circle appears to indicate mute is enabled.
  2. Mute indicator disappears when the dimmer is activated or deactivated, however mute remains enabled.  I actually have a video of this and Pioneers says they could not reproduce it on two different units.
  3. Android Auto UI freezes during navigation, perhaps only with music playing, often.

Research needed

I myself am not aware of what generates the UIs in Android Auto.  Is it the head unit or the phone itself?  Would Google or Pioneer be responsible for the mute issue?  It should not take long to discover this, I just have not been able to look into it as my last class is still finishing out.

I would imagine there is also a way to pull logs or debug information off the head unit.  I had to do this off my phone with my Recon Snow.  That one was another disaster for a while after Recon did a firmware update.  I actually had to tweet Recon to get their tech support to respond at times.  Hopefully I will find it is easy to get logging off the head unit without going to a service place.  If not, Pioneer will need to fix that one quick.  You cannot tell all of your consumers to take their vehicle in to a shop just to get logs off the stereo when there are USB ports and an SD card slot available to attach storage.

Overall Impression

This is one of the first head units out there doing Android Auto and I still love it.  The thing that will ultimately end up frustrating me will be the interaction with support.  I’m just getting into that but hopefully it will smooth out and fixes/improvements will come.  I would definitely recommend the head unit for those that can handle a 1.0 release.  If you just want something that will work 100% of the time you may want to hold off for a few firmware releases.  I also want to point out that I have not used the Apple car play side at all as I do not have an iPhone available for testing.

About Adam Oliver

Adam Oliver has been working in the IT field for over 10 years and is a Sales Engineer for Citrix Systems, Inc. Follow Adam on twitter at http://twitter.com/theadamoliver. Find out more about Citrix at www.citrix.com.
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