Aug 17th, 2018

It’s no secret that the auto industry is notoriously behind when it comes to cutting-edge technology. While the smartphones we carry in our pockets are extremely powerful, the heat units in our cars are typically underwhelming and often not very intuitive to use.

Google’s Android Auto has been around for a few years now, giving users a simple and clear UI while allowing them to tap into the media they have stored on their phones and using their device’s web connection for navigation and Google search queries. But while Android Auto really hasn’t changed much over the past few years, the company’s for Wireless Android Auto systems are finally coming to market, making the system feel like it’s an organic piece of the vehicle rather than an afterthought add-on.

The Pioneer AVIC-W8400NEX we tested is an after-market head unit which costs $1,200 (you can get it for a bit less on Amazon). It was originally announced at CES 2018 to show off its Wireless Android Auto features, but it took roughly 6 months before it and competing Wireless Android Auto head units hit the market. Pioneer does have a cheaper model available, but while the Pioneer AVH-W4400NEX sells for $500 less, it has a resistive touch screen and goes not have built-in GPS and navigation which means you will need to rely exclusively on your phone’s GPS and data connection for navigation. In addition to Wireless Android Auto support, both options also support the new Wireless CarPlay feature are well. Unfortunately, we didn’t have any iOS devices on had to test it out.

Since Android Auto really hasn’t changed much over the past few years, we’re only going to cover the features that are new. As you might expect, wireless connectivity is the biggest feature here. Once your device is paired with the Pioneer AVIC-W8400NEX, the system will automatically boot Wireless Android Auto when the car is turned on, eliminating the manual step of removing your phone from your bag or pocket, finding the USB cable (which typically has dropped to the floor) and plugging in your phone. This means you can simply get into the car and start driving which is extremely convenient when you’re getting into your car for a short drive and simply want to keep your phone in your pocket. For now, the Wireless Android Auto feature only works with Google’s Pixel devices, but newer Android devices will gain Wireless Android Auto support once they are updated to Android 9.

With Android Auto, users have always been able to ask Google questions, but the latest upgrade now claims that it has Google Assistant built in. Honestly, the only thing that’s really changed is the branding since the company is trying to get Google Assistant in as many places as possible. You can ask it to set a timer, change the temperature of your Nest thermostat at home or turn off the smart lights in our house if they’re connected to Google Assistant, but it won’t let you play games or other simple things that your Google Home speaker can do. Honestly, having games available seems like a huge oversight since Google Assistant’s trivia and mad libs games would be amazing on road trips or a great way to pass time while sitting in traffic.

Of course, you can always bypass Google Assistant’s Android Auto limitations by mirroring your phone’s display on the screen by using Mirracast compatible device. Naturally, you will need to have the phone plugged in via USB to use this feature, but you’ll then you’ll have access to all of your phone’s features by using the Pioneer AVIC-W8400NEX’s touchscreen display.

One complaint we do have about Pioneer’s head units is that it takes a good 15-20 seconds to boot when you turn your vehicle on. It may not sound like a long time, but it’s an eternity if you’re in a hurry and need to enter your destination in Google Maps. It would be nice if Pioneer and others would take note from smartphone makers and build-in a battery into the system so that it can go into sleep cycle when the vehicle is turned off so that the unit doesn’t have to go through a full boot sequence every time you start the vehicle.

In our book, Wireless Android Auto is a must-have feature for your car and the Pioneer AVIC-8400NEX is currently the best option available if you’re looking f an after-market upgrade to your car’s stereo. It may be expensive, but it’s definitely worth the price if you spend a lot of time in your vehicle.

Buy the Pioneer ACIV-W8400NEX from Amazon

PIONEER AVIC-8400NEX Rating: star_fullstar_fullstar_fullstar_fullstar_empty (4/5)

The Good

  • Wireless Android Auto is a game changer
  • Every media-input option imaginable
  • Google Assistant in the car is a bit smarter

The Bad

  • Boot-up time is pretty slow
  • User interface is laggy at times
  • Very high price point

The Bottom Line

Wireless Android Auto in Pioneer’s new AVIC-W8400 is a must-have upgrade for anyone who spends a lot of time in their vehicle, especially if you own an older vehicle that’s in sore need of a head-unit upgrade.