Owning several Audis in the past, I’ve had the RNS-E navigation unit before.
It was an adequate solution when it came out, but by 2019’s standards it is ancient and terrible.
The RNS-E II came with my 2012 model year Audi TTRS, and while it boasted some upgrades like a better screen and real-time traffic updates, it was generally the same difficult to use interface that took way too long to enter your destination for it to ever be practical.
This was an okay workaround, but squinting at my screen and dealing with the quirks of the Viseoo Bluetooth dongle got old.
One day I was bored, and had a little extra cash in my PayPal account, so I decided to roll the dice on an Xtrons 7″ Android headunit.
I figured it could stream bluetooth music so at the very least it would be a good replacement for my iPod to Bluetooth dongle that never quite worked well or consistently.
But the newer Android units also have aftermarket solutions for Apple CarPlay, and after driving a loaner Q5 for a few weeks that had CarPlay built in, I got spoiled and really loved the interface, so it was time to get creative and find a way to make it work.
Step one was locating a headunit (the face of the stereo) that was CarPlay compatible. I looked around and there were aftermarket headunits by Pioneer and the like that had CarPlay built in, but those headunits all looked very aftermarket and required a custom face plate for the Audi TT that doesn’t look very clean or OEM.
Instead, I went to Amazon and found a bunch of options by Chinese manufacturer Xtrons that ran Android operating systems. They could be found under $300 and had pretty good specs, so I went with the one that came with Android 9.0 figuring that would be a more recent model.
You can pick one up here:
Xtrons makes a unit for nearly every modern application, so if this one doesn’t work for your model/year Audi just search around as chances are they make one that looks pretty OEM for your exact car.
The nice thing about this headunit is that it retains the steering wheel controls and factory bluetooth microphone, so you don’t lose any features by trying to add new ones.
Next I needed to find a CarPlay adapter. The Xtrons unit I originally purchased never worked, so I sprung an extra $63 for the highest rated one on Amazon, which can be found here:
Last but not least, you’ll need a set of high quality radio keys. Don’t be the cheap ones, you’ll rip the skin off your fingers and then throw them out (ask me how I know). Instead, get these:
With everything I needed, I proceeded to install.
The install was pretty straightforward, as the unit came with a plug and play harness. There was some guess and check to plug all of the wires together correctly, but it didn’t take more than 30 minutes.
This YouTube video does a good job explaining the directions, and you can skip the bluetooth microphone if your car already came with bluetooth from the factory:
If you’re still stuck, this guide has more information, or you can leave me a comment with your question.
Once you’ve confirmed the radio is installed properly and working correctly, insert the CarPlay dongle and plug in an official Apple cable to the USB port. Its a small white box
You’ll need to install the app to run CarPlay first, which can be found by downloading it at: http://126.96.36.199:8080/AutoKit/AutoKit.apk
You can download it to a USB drive, or your phone, to transfer it over to Xtrons and then go to the Applications section to load a new APK file to run AutoKit.
Once the dongle is plugged in, and AutoKit is installed as an app, you should be able to plug your phone in, open the AutoKit app, and get CarPlay!
To make it work best, go to the Settings and choose compatible mode, and be sure not to connect anything else via BlueTooth initially.
If you’re getting the visual but no audio, try loading the normal “Music” app from the Android headunit and that should get audio playing, then head back to AutoKit to restore the CarPlay interface.
It took a little tinkering around at first to get things dialed in, but now it works seemlessly every time.
I simply get in my car, plug in my phone, and I have the Apple CarPlay experience, along with a much better screen, and option to load even more apps.
I plan to eventually wire up the backup camera and play with the other features of the unit, but for less than $400 all in I’m super happy with the upgrade.
The sound quality has also been great and is really not a big difference from the factory (Bose) headunit it replaced.
Some may say the Apple CarPlay interface is overrated, but I must disagree. I love that it reads your texts for you (if you choose), the Google Maps integration makes it super easy to type in a destination, and the big buttons make it easy to change entertainment sources while driving without getting distracted.
For anyone considering it, do yourself a favor and replace the (awful) Audi RNS-E unit with this cheap chinese knock-off and you’ll see just how far technology has come in such a short time.
And if you think youre fine using your phone, well having the same interface with a much larger screen is a really nice feature.
What’s crazy is that the RNS-E navigation unit was part of a $3,000 technology package on my car, and I replaced it with something that cost nearly 10% of that that works 100% better.
I don’t blame Audi for this, but the advantage of running Android is that it can be shared by millions of other devices and cars, which means it makes more sense to update it and add features much more regularly.
Got any questions on the install or features? Hit me up below.