Every iPhone (or any smartphone) user needs a car with the latest smartphone integration options in its infotainment system. Navigation, sending/receiving texts and calls, playing music from your phone – being able to use all your necessary Apple iOS apps without having to pick up your phone while you drive, is not just more convenient, but safer.
All this is possible with Apple’s CarPlay. CarPlay is a standard developed by Apple for car head units which allows a car’s radio to become a controller for your iOS device. It lets you connect your iPhone to the car’s head unit through either a USB port, or wirelessly, and becomes a receiver for CarPlay functions.
A car’s infotainment only has to be built with CarPlay support once, but does not need firmware updates every time a new functionality is added to CarPlay. CarPlay updates are available on your iOS device, and your car’s radio will be able to receive those updates from your phone without any changes to the car itself!
But the only problem is – even though most car manufacturers are all licensing CarPlay in their latest models, many older models do not have CarPlay support.
So, what if your car does not support CarPlay either?
Here is where aftermarket radio systems like the Pioneer AppRadio 4 SPH-DA120 with CarPlay make life easier. Now you can get CarPlay support in your current car, simply by getting the old head unit replaced!
The Pioneer SPH-DA120 is a double-DIN stereo system with Apple CarPlay support, and is on the extreme low end of their price range, costing under £400. It supports both – Pioneer’s own proprietary software “AppRadio” which already has both Android and iOS support, and Apple’s CarPlay.
Pioneer is the very first manufacturer to start dishing out aftermarket in-dash receiver systems with CarPlay compatibility. For all iPhone users, this was a breath of fresh air as it meant they no longer had to buy a new vehicle in order to get CarPlay.
This in-dash stereo replaces your car’s factory head unit with a double-DIN deck featuring a 6.2-inch capacitive touchscreen. It supports other connectivity options like Bluetooth wireless streaming. However, it is a “slave” system; it lacks a CD player, in-built satnav system, or storage. Then again, you don’t need those separately if you’re using CarPlay.
Although Pioneer has a range of more expensive car receiver systems, you don’t need to spend the extra money if you only want CarPlay.
The Pioneer SPH-DA120 is for you if:
The Pioneer SPH-DA120 is not really for you if:
If you need a list of reasons to buy the SPH-DA120, then this list of features will let you decide if it’s the one you want.
The SPH-DA120 is a double DIN unit. “DIN” denotes standard automobile radio sizes. A double DIN is the bigger standard, and has a faceplate measuring 7 x 4 inches (single DIN measures 7 x 2 inches). The size you want depends on the size of the stereo slot in your car. With double DIN sizes, you can get smarter head units and more options to choose from.
There are usually two types of touchscreen technologies sold in automobile head units: resistive and capacitive. A capacitive touchscreen requires less force to register a touch and also allows for multi-touch gestures like scrolling, swiping, and pinching to zoom in and out. If you are looking for a smartphone-like experience, the DA120’s 6.2-inch capacitive touchscreen will feel good to your fingertips.
Now you can play audio files in FLAC format on your car’s stereo, without having to convert.
With this head unit you can also do everything in a voice-automated and “eyes-free” way by making use of your iPhone’s Siri functionality. You don’t have to be distracted to look at and touch-control your head unit again and again while driving. The voice-input is taken through a built-in microphone on the head unit, and not the one on your iOS device.
This doubles the typical number of devices you can connect to your head unit at a time. You can charge your phone while playing music from another USB-connected device, or switch between music from two different devices.
Whether you connect your phone via a USB connector or not, this head unit does have some basic Bluetooth support for actions like hands-free calling, wireless song search and audio streaming, and audio control. This is built-in to ensure driver safety in accordance with local driving laws.
With the Pioneer SPH-DA120, you can control either your iPod or your iPhone through your car’s dashboard.
This head unit comes with a rear camera input option too – to make it easier when reversing, parking, and maneuvering through tight spaces. It makes driving easier and safer.
We talk about this in detail in the next section.
This head unit is priced at only £350 – the perfect CarPlay-enabled receiver with a wide range of multimedia options that are sure to attract anyone shopping on a budget.
When you look at the AppRadio 4 (SPH-DA120), it is clear that Pioneer has made some effort to match the look of the iOS devices, with a silver-rimmed, bezel design. The black front plate features a 6.2-inch touchscreen, with a resolution of 800 x 480.
The screen size is a bit smaller than that of other popular head units, because of the left side of the screen having a panel of touch-sensitive buttons with functions like “Home”, volume control, and switching between modes.
When you power up the device (without turning on CarPlay), you are taken to the Pioneer Home screen, that features quite a lot of menus and navigation options and might feel like a complex maze, especially for users accustomed to iPhone’s sophisticated, simple interfaces.
So yes, even though we have been ranting about the system’s CarPlay support, it doesn’t take away from the fact that it also has Android support.
If you simply want to connect your Android phone to listen to music, you can do that without an app too.
However, for more advanced functionality, this receiver also has Pioneer’s own AppRadio Mode – which can work with both Android and Apple smartphones. AppRadio allows you to control your phone’s contacts, calendar, maps and more through your car’s head unit.
The AppRadio interface isn’t bad, but of course it seems cluttered compared to Apple’s clean interfaces.
And we’re here primarily for Apple’s CarPlay!
As soon as you connect an iOS device to the receiver, the green CarPlay option pops up on the front screen. As soon as you click on the CarPlay button, you are taken to Apple’s neat and clean UI.
CarPlay works on this device just as it would on any other CarPlay-enabled receiver. This is because CarPlay lives on your iOS device, not in the car’s head unit itself. Whatever updates are made to iOS software whether in terms of functionality or design, are automatically reflected on the deck’s display too.
There are a limited number of apps available on CarPlay presently: Phone, Messages, Maps, Music, and Podcasts. Among third-party apps there is support for Spotify, Rdio, and Stitcher (if these are installed and active on your iPhone, they will show up on CarPlay too).
You have to make copious use of Siri to use these apps, since touch-functionality is limited for safety. There is no keyboard input, everything is done through voice. You can have Siri compose messages, or read out unread messages from your iPhone (it only “reads” out, and no text is displayed, again for safety – to avoid your visual focus shifting from driving.)
You cannot check previously read messages.
With Maps, you can speak out the names of destinations you wish to reach. It will also show a list of recent destinations, including those from your contacts and emails.
The total reliance on voice input can be a bit frustrating, especially if Maps does not recognize the places you tell it – but so far, this is what CarPlay has allowed.
A summary of the pros and cons of the Pioneer AppRadio 4 SPH-DA120 CarPlay receiver is given in this section.
As our final verdict, and having judged by both – its features and customer reviews, the Pioneer SPH-DA120 is definitely the go-to CarPlay enabled car receiver for people on a budget.
There are better Pioneer head units out there, but if you are mainly interested in CarPlay, then this unit has way more than what you need, that too at such a low price point.
The wide range of multimedia options and support is quite astonishing for a budget head unit. So, if you’re looking for an affordable, basic, CarPlay-compatible unit as a first-step option, then the Pioneer SPH-DA120 does not disappoint at all!