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Alpine Halo9 review: Android Auto and CarPlay are big and brilliant

Our Verdict

Price: $899 retailBottom line: It's not inexpensive, but it's incredibly easy (and fun) to use, with a large touchscreen, access to Android Auto and Apple CarPlay (among other sources), and it fits in most cars.

For

  • Large capacitive screen in a single-DIN format
  • Single USB port for Android Auto or CarPlay
  • Dedicated GPS antenna
  • Loads of options for car stereo enthusiasts

Against

  • Not inexpensive
  • No remote control
  • Screen isn't detachable for security

If you want to experience Android Auto — that is, if you want to experience Android Auto the right way — you're going to need to do it on a touchscreen. Sure, you can get Android Auto on a phone. And that's great, because it's better than nothing and it opens the platform up to anyone with an Android phone. But it's just not the same as having it on a big screen.

The problem is that not everyone can have a big screen. Some cars just can't handle a double-DIN unit, which is to say they don't have room for that much hardware.

Enter the Alpine iLX-F309 — aka the Halo9. It's a $900 head unit that handles Android Auto as well as Apple's CarPlay. It does either with just a single USB port — and more important is that it fits in a single-DIN space.

Oh, and the screen is 9 inches diagonal. Intrigued? Let's forage on.

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Alpine Halo9 What I like

I've used Android Auto and Apple CarPlay for as long as they've been around. They are two of the more important features Google and Apple have added to their phones in recent memory, for one simple reason:

They make you safer in the car. That is, they'll keep you from playing with your phone while you're driving.

Let's not pretend that you're never going to use your phone in the car. That's simply not realistic. But that doesn't mean you can't use your phone in a safe and secure manner. If your vehicle doesn't have an option for Android Auto or CarPlay built in, the Halo9 may well be the best aftermarket option.

Alpine ILX-F309 Halo9

Consider this: A 9-inch display is great. I'd almost argue it's a little too big, actually — some of the graphics in Android Auto and (especially) in CarPlay get a little glitchy at that size but at just WVGA resolution, with round icons occasionally gaining corners, and individual pixels very much visible in places. That's nitpicking, though. My wife has a 7-inch touchscreen in her car (capacitive, at that), and I'm never going back.

The trick, then, is how to get a 9-inch display in a car that decidedly was not built for such a beast. That's bigger than even what a double-DIN setup would allow.

In this case, Alpine has the screen extended from the body of the head unit, which fits nicely inside a single-DIN space. It's somewhat adjustable, so you can find the right fit between any controls and your air-conditioner vents. But do know that this isn't the sort of thing you'll be adjusting on the fly. So you'll want to work with your installer to make sure you get things fitted as well as you can before you drive off.

The Halo9 is a great aftermarket experience for Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Period.

While it's adjustable, it's not mechanical. The screen doesn't get sucked back into the body of the head unit, nor does it easily remove for added security. It's going to stand out a bit, very much in a good way, unless you'd prefer the interior of your car to be a little more inconspicuous. It's nowhere near the 15-inch touchscreen of a Tesla Model 3, but this thing is going to get noticed.

For shared vehicles, you'll love the fact that the Halo9 requires just a single USB port for Android Auto and CarPlay. Just plug in with the appropriate cable, and you're set. No tweaking settings, no second port needed.

And while I'm not usually a fan of aftermarket user interfaces, Alpine's is one of the better ones. You've got a mess of options, from Bluetooth and HD Radio to satellite radio, Pandora, and an aux port. And Alpine allows you to set favorites from any of the inputs (including phone calls, by the way), making it extremely quick and easy to access just about anything, should you decide to venture outside Android Auto or CarPlay.

And that's just the bare bones. There's a wold of options in addition to all that, including backup cameras and the KAC-001 Accessory Controller, and the iDatalink Maestro Module.

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Alpine iLX-F309 Halo9

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Alpine iLX-F309 Halo9

What I don't like

Look, there's not too much to not like here. I can nitpick over the small graphical hiccups in Android Auto and CarPlay at that 9-inch size and WVGA resolution, but that's not really Alpine's fault. Google and Apple maybe didn't really take this product into consideration when designing things, and it's something that maybe could improve in software at some point.

Alpine iLX-F309 Halo9

And I'm maybe not crazy about the capacitive buttons below the screen. This is where you'll adjust the volume and get into the favorites and seek and fast forward and all that jazz. Capacitive buttons aren't ideal for this because they don't have any sort of tactile feel to them. But keep in mind that if your steering wheel has controls on it (and mine doesn't) you'll probably not need them too often. So while maybe I'd prefer a remote control in this instance, it's not a deal-killer. (Especially given how much the Halo9 already costs.)

There's also no support for optical media — no CDs or DVDs — and no SD card. I'm actually fine with that — they're outdated forms of media and something I haven't wanted to use in years anyway. But if it's one of those things you just have to have, you'll want to look elsewhere.

And, finally, it's possible that a 9-inch screen is just too big for you. I'll strongly disagree, though, and am willing to come to your house and argue that you're wrong until you see the light.

Just saying.

Alpine ILX-F309 Halo9

Alpine iLX-F309 Halo9

4.5 out of 5

There's not too much to overthink here. The Halo9 fits a very large screen in a small space. It supports both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, and it does so with just a single USB port. It's got a ton of bells and whistles beyond that, sounds great and is easy to use, even if you're not a serious car stereo enthusiast.

It's more expensive than other Android Auto and CarPlay options — but it's also a much better experience.

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11 Comments
  • shouldn't the lack of wireless android auto and carplay be a con? that's one thing that is keeping me from getting it
  • The timing doesn't match up, though. Do I wish it had it? Sure. Is it a deal-breaker for me? It is not.
  • Does this thing SERIOUSLY not have wireless AA at 900 bucks? Pass
  • Without the screen being able to lock inside the unit or be removed it's only a matter of time before you are welcomed by a smashed window and effed up dash.
  • I was thinking this myself. Really seems like it should have a quick release function so you can stash the screen away like the old removable face-plates of the 90's
  • I currently have the Alpine iLX-207 in one of my vehicles. I also considered the iLX-107 which has the wireless AA. While wireless is cool, I have no problem connecting through usb. No delay through wired connection and also the ability to charge my phone. Alpine makes the best in auto head units in my opinion, very smooth interface.
  • I have the 107, it doesn't support AA at all. It's only a carplay device. It's a beast of a unit, but now that I have a Note 9, I need to get myself a new unit.
  • What's the power output from the headunit though? Most headunit barely put out enough to keep a phone fully charged on long trips
  • Ehhh - I'd rather spend that $900 on a new phone instead of a new head...
  • I don't know I'd get this unit. I saw it at best buy and the screens resolution really bothered me. I think it's 480p on a 9" screen.... no thanks.
  • Lack of SD card and a second USB port are a deal killer. How are we supposed to play music? I don't use my phone as a device to store music, nor do I stream music (it sounds horrible and/or eats up too much bandwidth). Pioneer gets it right. My 4200NEX has two rear USB ports and an SD card slot. I purchased a USB3 extension for the rear USB ports that I have mounted inside my center console--one I use for connecting the phone for Android Auto, and the other I use a 256GB USB stick with lossless FLAC files (some in high resolution). I also use the SD card slot for another 128GB of FLAC files. Wireless Android Auto is just another way for the system to flake out, so I would not even use it if the head unit had it. Wired is always the best way to go. Yeah, the larger screen is nice (I could certainly use one, given my bad eyesight!), but aesthetically it does not look so great. The Pioneer is smaller but at least it sits flush with the dash. And, it does not have the potential to interfere with dashboard controls and air vents. One cool solution would be for these head units to have a remote touchscreen option--give us the ability to mount a screen higher up on the dashboard, perhaps even suction-cupped to the windshield, so it is more in our view when driving. I miss that, actually. I used to use my Nexus 7 mounted as far forward on the windshield as possible and it was perfect, not to mention safer due to not having to glance down.