Boss Audio BVCP9685 Review: Update your car with Android Auto
Android Auto is one of the few aspects of the Android ecosystem that I’d never had a chance to play with. Simply put, I bought my 2005 Pontiac Vibe before Android Auto was a thing. Heck I bought my car before Android was a thing. So when Boss Audio asked me to take a look at their BVCP9685 head unit, I was keenly interested. Sure, I felt nervous about upgrading the radio in a 15 year old car, but I was excited at the prospect of finally having a modern radio system.
I have been driving with the head unit for approximately three weeks, and have travelled hundreds of miles in that time. Here is my full review of the Boss Audio BVCP9685.
The BVCP9685 radio unit is a Double DIN unit. You’ll want to check your owner’s manual for compatibility – probably, I’m not a car person. The radio has a large 6.75” screen on the front with some branding just below. LED backlit touch controls line the left side of the screen. You can choose a custom color (or rotate the colors) for these buttons. From the top down, you’ll find the mute button, volume up and down, the voice assistant button, and the home button which takes you to the main interface. The entire front of the screen is glass, so there is no tactile feeling to the controls which can make it hard to adjust the volume at times. But, I like that the mute button is at the top, making it easiest to find.
As for input sources, the radio can tune to AM and FM stations. You can connect your phone via Bluetooth and play back music or podcasts with the media player, or you can plug in your phone to the USB port and activate Apple Car Play or Android Auto. I tested Android Auto and the standalone radio – I did not have an iOS device to test Car Play. The stereo does not include a CD player. I frankly didn’t miss it, but you might, so it’s worth mentioning. As for output, you’ve got 80 Watts x4. It sounds great along with my car’s stock speakers.
The head unit also includes an external microphone for phone calls and voice commands. Speaking of voice commands, the aforementioned voice assistant button only works when your phone is plugged into the USB cable – Bluetooth need not apply. Overall, it’s a very nice looking panel that sits flush with your dashboard and blends in quite nicely. You can tell it’s an aftermarket addition, but that’s because it is.
Speaking of that USB cable, it comes out of the back of the unit. Mine routes through my glove compartment. You can also connect a cable for line-in input and an optional backup camera.
As mentioned this head unit has both Apple Car Play and Android Auto, depending on which phone you plug in. It also runs its own proprietary operating system when neither of those are connected. Android Auto is basically the same from radio to radio, so I’ll focus more on this main interface first, and then discuss Android Auto itself.
Whether you are using a phone or not, all input options are accessible from the main interface. Additionally, you can access other functions like settings, equalizer, and the rear view camera which I did not test. The main interface is also where you would launch Android Auto or Car Play after you connect your phone.
The settings menu gives you options for general settings, Bluetooth, display, audio and camera settings, if you have a camera. The settings are all intuitive, but there are some highlights. The audio settings menu is where you’ll find the balance and fader controls, as well as the equalizer. The EQ comes with 6 presets, plus a user adjustable setting. The display settings allow you to adjust Gamma and Brightness for both daytime and night time, which is very nice.
The radio interface is simple. The center circle shows you what station you’re on and allows you to favorite stations – similar to presets. Left and right arrows tune the radio or jump to the next recognized station. It’s all pretty standard from a normal radio, only now you’re using large touchscreen buttons rather than knobs. You also can access a quick list of stations for both AM and FM, and access 20 different preset stations, which is nice.
However, the one thing that’s not easy to do is to turn the radio off. Once the radio is on, it’s on until you pick another source, like bluetooth, or a podcast player in Android Auto. Speaking of which, there’s no quick way to switch between maps in Android Auto and the radio tuner – they’re at least two steps away from each other. It’s not ideal, but that’s more a failing of Android Auto rather than Boss, at least in my eyes.
Android Auto itself is a wonderful operating system. It prioritizes directions and entertainment – arguably the two main things you would normally do with your phone while driving. Android Auto implements a sort of quick toggle between the last two apps you had open. The secondary app has a few controls or other details about the app. If you’re navigating, and playing a podcast, your podcast will have play rewind and fast forward in the strip at the bottom. Tapping on the podcast app icon switches it, putting navigation and your next turn on the bottom strip. It’s a very smart design.
Android apps work with Android Auto as well, as long as they’ve been built for it. Pocketcasts and VLC (audio only) work, while video playing apps and games do not, and frankly thank goodness. They’re all laid out very nicely in an app drawer that you access by tapping the circle button. The icons are very large and the interface is overall very clean.
Google made a lot of great choices when it came to Android Auto. As previously mentioned, the only oversight was the ability to switch between a native radio app on the head unit itself. But it’s 2019 (almost 2020) – podcasts and spotify or GTFO, both of which work great on Android Auto. Overall, I will be hard-pressed to go back to a car that does not have it in the future.
Android Auto has definitely made me a safer driver. Putting maps and player controls on a large screen makes them easy to access, and voice control makes it easy to navigate. It’s a lot better than grabbing a phone, unlocking it, hitting the assistant button, etc. Plus, Android Auto limits what I’m able to do on a phone. Slack doesn’t work, emails don’t come through, and it doesn’t play videos. It basically allows you to navigate, play audio, and use the assistant. Everything else is happening on the phone, and out of the way. I’m very, very happy with Android Auto.
While I love having the head unit in my car, I would have been willing to sacrifice a slightly smaller screen for things like inputs or tactile controls on the front of the unit. This unit requires a USB extension cable to be plugged into the back and extends out through the glove compartment. It’s fine, but with the fairly prominent Boss branding on the front, I’d rather see a USB or line in port – or both.
Also, I’m not a fan of all the controls being touch. In a car where a split second can be life-changing, any need to take your eyes off the road, even to adjust the volume of the radio is too long. There are no tactile cues to look for when adjusting the volume, or tuning on the radio. A couple of knobs would have been a good way to go.
The screen itself is a bit of a fingerprint magnet. An oleophobic coating would have been a nice addition. I’d also like to see the screen get a bit brighter, so that in the rare instances the radio is in direct sunlight, you can still see it.
Finally, I’d like the radio interface to be a bit more…radio like. The head unit needs to scan for all available channels before you’re able to jump between stations. The presets are hard to find. Oh, and by the way, you can’t turn the darn thing off. Every other type of media playback has a pause button, but a radio signal is a constant one. While there is a mute button, that’s not a great way to turn off the radio. You can also select a different input, like line-in to silence the radio. Neither of those options are ideal.
This is a nice head unit at a great price. It currently retails for just over $200. I had it professionally installed, but from the YouTube videos I watched, it seems like installation into my vehicle was pretty straight-forward. I don’t speak car, so I opted to have it not screwed up by my stupidity. Your mileage will vary. If you have the opportunity, get Android Auto – it’s a really great experience. This unit is very clean and nice looking. The interfaces, both on the Boss side and the Android Auto side are well laid out and easy to navigate and use while driving, which is really the most important thing you can ask for. In short, if you’re interested in adding the best car experience you can buy to your automobile, this is a great option.