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Friday, June 25, 2021

I've Been GROWL'd: Upgrading to an Android Head Unit Can Bring an Old Car Back to Life | Monchster Chronicles

GROWL Elite Android 9-inch Head Unit from Growl Audio Philippines installed on a 2008 Honda City iDSI.

Text and Photos By Monch Henares

Do you have an old car you can't part with? It could be the very first car you owned with each of its thousand parts having a memorable story behind it. It could also be a car given by a special someone thus making it very sentimental. Or it could just be a car that runs and looks like it just got out of the showroom because you've maintained it meticulously with tender loving care throughout the years.


Whatever the reason is, why replace your keeper-of-a-car for the newest model that boasts of having the latest in infotainment and convenience features when you can simply upgrade its outdated stereo?


When I decided to upgrade the sound system of my 13-year-old Honda City iDSI, I had two choices to ponder on. The two most common head unit sizes are the double-DIN and single-DIN units. Single-DIN stereo openings measure 2 × 8 inches while double-DIN openings are 4 × 8 inches. If you're replacing a double-DIN unit, you'll have more options to add smart features to your stereo. A single-DIN doesn't automatically mean you won't be able to pair your Android phone to your car for Android Auto, but you will have fewer choices.


This was the look of my Honda City dash before the upgrade.


The stereo originally installed in my Honda City was a Jurassic thirteen-year-old JVC am/FM radio with a CD player unit. I had a choice whether to just upgrade to another single-DIN unit capable of connecting to my phone and music player or going all-out and getting a double-DIN state-of-the-art large-screen Android head unit.


Was it a mind-boggling decision to make? Nah! It actually took me a few seconds to decide that it would be a large-screen Android head unit. Maybe because it would have every convenience feature known to modern man, which meant wireless connections, voice command, and a large touchscreen. It would be like having a huge tablet on my dash. The coolest thing ever.


The majority of the head units I shopped around for were made in China. This really didn't weigh much in swinging my decision, 80% of all electronic stuff is made there anyway?


Now comes the tedious task ahead. With a dozen brands and styles to choose from, I now had to dig deep into specs, features, and a ton of online reviews. Which one would give me total satisfaction, awesome entertainment, and peace of mind while I drive?  


My criteria


  • I would basically search for a head unit with superb quality and workmanship, useful features, a long-term warranty, and after-sales service. 

  • There were three available sizes (7, 8, and 9 inches measured diagonally) in my Honda City. I also have to take into account the type of screens that were available. TFT or IPS? IPS screens have the capability to recognize movements and commands much faster than the traditional TFT LCDs and as a result, their response times are infinitely faster. I would prefer a glass screen from a plastic one as it is more durable (scratch-free) and it can weather the smoldering interior summer heat.

  • I would choose a Capacitive Touchscreen rather than a Resistive one. Capacitive touchscreens are more touch-sensitive, clearer, and capable of multi-touch inputs.

  • The CPU speed and the amount of RAM is a critical factor. The faster everything works, the less annoying and distracting the user experience would be. Internal memory should also be significantly large and expandable through external memory cards.

  • It should have a 4G or 5G Sim Card slot so it won't need to use a Hot Spot. 

  • Smartphone integration like Android Auto and Apple Play is a must. Standard connectivity such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, USB, and HDMI should complete the standard technology suite.

  • A live-musical performance high-fidelity sound reproduction is what I would be looking for. That can only be achieved with a multiple-band equalizer, high-rated speakers, and a sub-woofer. But as for now, I would have to settle with the four OEM speakers already installed in the car, because of budget constraints.

  • It should be capable of playing all common video and audio file types. The Head Unit should be able to connect to the OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) steering wheel infotainment control buttons.

  • Back-up Camera and rearview video capability is a must and hopefully, it's compatible with the OEM system if equipped.

  • It should have GPS and Navigation. Garmin is my favorite GPS/NAV interphase, but WAZE will do.

  • It should be able to display engine performance data by connecting to the OEM CAN-BUS system?

  • It should be compatible with the OEM TPMS and OEM Parking Sensors.


My Choice


I came across several ads and recommendations from friends, but one brand impressed me more than the rest because it had almost everything on my criteria list. With the Filipino's pulse and taste in mind, this brand is totally developed, designed, and assembled here in the Philippines. I am a staunch advocate for the “Buy Local” and “Support Local Industry” movements.



Unboxing of the Growl Elite Android Head Unit.

I proudly chose the GROWL Elite Android 9-inch Head Unit from Growl Audio Philippines. A double-DIN head unit with the following specs on the brochure: 

  • OS: Android 10
  • CPU: Octa Core 1.8-GHz
  • RAM: DDR3 6-GB
  • Internal Memory (ROM): 128-GB 
  • VIDEO: RMVB, MKV, MOV, WMV, AVI, MPG, TS with 1080P 
  • AUDIO: MP3, WMA, WAV, OGG, FLAC 
  • GPS MODULE: Supported 
  • GPS Navigation software: HereMaps, Waze, Google Maps
  • Screen: SUPPORT HD TFT (800×480/1024×600/1280×720) and Capacitive Touch screen.  
  • Wi-Fi
  • 4G LTE Sim Card support
  • HDMI out
  • Bluetooth Audio and Hands-free Call
  • Steering Wheel Control: Supported 
  • Rearview video: Automatic Backup Camera turns on when put on reverse Compatible with Digital TV (TV PLUS)
  • 1-year Warranty (Parts and Labor)


The Purchase


I contacted Growl Audio Philippines through their Facebook page and inquired about the price and availability of their top-of-the-line, crème de la crème, and flagship head unit, the Elite Android.  I was lucky to chat with Arbues Tolentino, Growl's Business Development Head. He gave me a brief rundown of what the Growl Elite Android model was capable of doing and its compatibility with my car. 


More impressive than its specs was its price tag of Php37k. I told Arbues that I fell off my seat after reading his price quote, but actually, I was pulling his leg so he could offer me a better deal.  The prices of the other brands with similar specs, that I got quotes from, were in the same range or even higher.


Arbues quickly mentioned, “Sir, we have a PROMO now going on where you can get the Elite unit for two thousand pesos less. Now Php35,000.00 only”. Though I wanted a bigger discount, I was happy with the offer, who wouldn't be?


I agreed, and we did a virtual handshake and scheduled my 2-hour installation for a Monday morning at Centris Walk, Eton Centris in Quezon City. That was the only Growl store open and available.


The Install


I got to the Growl Centris store before 10AM and finally meet Arbues face-to-face.  He introduces me to Michael Dacanay, Growl's Sales Development Associate, who unboxes the Growl Elite Android 9-inch Head Unit for me, and we go over the unit's physical features and connections. 


He connects the unit to a test rig at the store, and he shows me the speed and features of its Android interphase.  This is not done for every customer. I specifically asked for a detailed demo to feed my OCD quirks. Since two technicians were available that morning, I was in for a faster install. 


Growl Audio store at Centris Walk, Eton Centris in Quezon City. 

Tech Mike worked on installing the head unit inside the car. The installation was done with utmost precision. Tech Mike knew how to remove the center consul and trims without breaking valuable wire terminals and connector clips. It seemed he did this 100 times before. He didn't even splice my OEM wiring, he just plugged it in using a Honda wire-harness compatible wire-connector terminal block. That's what I call plug-and-play.


Tech Mike installing the head unit inside the car.


Tech Edmar on the other hand worked on installing the reverse camera in the trunk lid. The reverse camera is integrated into the license plate light housing. It looks more OEM than those stand-alone cube-shaped types you would see protruding like a sore thumb on cheap installs. The color temp of the LED cluster it came with didn't match the one I had on the right side. Oh well, my old one can always be replaced. Edmar's install was neat and thorough. I couldn't see a wayward wire in sight. 


Tech Edmar installing the reverse camera in the trunk lid.

The meticulously clean installation took a little more than 1-hour to finish. Michael Dacanay then did a run-through with me on the operation of the unit. Now I know why the box didn't include an operator's manual. I didn't need one. It was like simply operating an Android cellphone. There is a user's guide built into the interphase for less-techie owners.


16-band Equalizer with Field, Surround, Bass Enhancement, and Bass Filter


My audiophile ears couldn't be happier. The new Growl Elite Android Head Unit brought my old outdated OEM speakers to life. The Android Auto feature also made it safer and less distracting for me to answer a phone call or search for my favorite playlist. The Big 9-inch screen definitely adds to the car's technology and interior pizzazz.


Congratulations to Team Growl for the excellent buying and installation experience. I've been Growled!

 


The Good and the Bad

  

PROS (after 1-month of daily use)

  • It's a simple Plug & Play install.

  • The color of the mounting frame matches the original factory color of the dash. It may not be the same shade of gray as the original, but it blends quite well.

  • The IPS LCD screen image is super-clear, color is true-to-life, and is viewable 180-degrees.

  • The glass capacitive touch screen has a fast and instant response.

  • It has a cool split-screen feature.

  • It has a 1-year warranty on parts and labor which is not available on most imported brands.

  • Compatible media file formats for Video: RMVD, MKV, MOV, WMV, AVI, MPG, TS with 1080P Audio: MP3, WMA, WAV, OGG, FLAC

  • It has both AM and FM radio bands.

  • This Growl Elite Android Head unit has Netflix, Waze, YouTube .... and all other popular apps already installed.

  • Operating Software and Hardware support are available.

  • 4G LTE compatible

  • An HDMI connection is available for auxiliary high-definition headrest monitors requiring higher resolution.

  • An Optical Digital Audio port is available.

  • It has exceptional sound quality controlled by its 16-band Digital Equalizer, Bass Filter, Surround Sound, and Sub-Woofer digital controls.

  • Full Android 10 OS

  • GPS Module supported

  • GPS Navigation Software: Waze, Google Maps, and an off-grid HereMaps app with updated Philippine maps.

  • All Growl head units are developed and assembled in the Philippines which means parts, service, and software upgrades will always be available.

  • It's fully compatible with all OEM steering wheel infotainment controls.

  • It worked flawlessly under the treacherous heat produced inside my car in the middle of the summer hot months.

  • It comes with a Backup Camera that turns on automatically. Video is clear and bright even at night.

 

Built-in Apps like Netflix, Waze, YouTube, etc.

Sharp 180-degree view from anywhere in the cabin.


Rear View

Sleek Back-up Camera integrated into the license plate lights.


Reverse camera in action.


CONS

  • Not compatible with any OEM TPMS (Tire Pressure Monitor System), but can be used with any Android/Bluetooth type aftermarket TPMS system

  • Not compatible with OEM parking sensors

  • The font can't be enlarged. It is readable but it's too small for me. I must be getting old.

  • It can't connect with the CAN Bus system of my car.  There is a terminal socket at the back for it, but Mike, the technician said it couldn't be done. Hopefully, in a future upgrade, it can be of use.

  • The glass touchscreen can get very hot to touch when left under the sun and it takes a while to cool down even with the air conditioning on max cool.


On a scale of 1.00 -10.00 with 10 being the highest, I give the Growl Elite Android 9-in Head Unit a Monchster Rating of  9.0 (Nine)


Future Upgrading

I would love to go all-out on the sound quality by upgrading the OEM speakers with premium top-of-the-line speakers and adding an under-seat subwoofer, that's if I come up with the hefty budget for it. But, as for now, I am 100% satisfied with what I hear.


I would also install a digital TV box if the need for viewing local television arises and probably a 4G sim card.



Arbues Tolentino, Growl's Business Development Head


With Michael Dacanay, Growl's Sales Development Associate after final check and software run-through.



Bass Enhancement Screen

Bass Filter Screen


Field Control Screen


WAZE Screen


Split-screen view.


A big Growl greets you at the shop located on the Ground Floor of Centris Mall in Quezon City.



Latest Growl Promo 

TCG (entry level) android head unit / PROMO PRICE: php15,000.00

Package (2-GB RAM+16-GB ROM, Quad Core) [18K SRP]

TCG PLUS android head unit /  PROMO PRICE: php22,000.00 

Package (2-GB RAM+32-GB ROM, Quad Core) [28K SRP]

GROWL PREMIUM (midrange) android head unit / PROMO PRICE: php28,900.00  

Package (4-GB RAM + 64-GB ROM, Octa Core) [34,000.00 SRP]

GROWL ELITE (top-of-the-line) android OEM head unit / PROMO PRICE: php35,000.00

Package (6-GB RAM + 128-GB ROM, Octa Core) [37K SRP]

For more information, visit www.growlaudio.com

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Monch "Monchster" Henares is an award-winning automotive journalist.  He is the founder of MonchsterChronicles.com, which ranks No. 6 in the TOP TEN Car Blogs and News Sites in the Philippines

He is also a tech and motoring specialist, inventor, and automotive engineer. He managed the motor pool for the largest limousine company in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA. He is now based in the Philippines, and together with his partner, Arabelle Jimenez, they co-founded motourismo.ph. Monch is currently the President of BuildMeUp Corp, a digital media company.

You may e-mail him at monchnrs@gmail.com
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