By Tech Powered Dad | June 21, 2016
I recently wrote about analyzing minivan prices with R. The other effect of our family purchasing a minivan was that I inherited my wife’s 2008 Ford Fusion, a fine vehicle, but one from an era before Bluetooth and other modern conveniences. I decided that while I was happy to drive a car with a few miles on it, I was not satisfied with the outdated stock stereo. I ended up purchasing a Pumpkin Quad Core 7 inch 2 DIN Universal Android 4.4 Car Stereo Radio HD 1024x600 Muti-touch Screen GPS Navigation. I’ve had my Pumpkin for about a month now, and it turns out to be a somewhat flawed, but in my opinion, good value head unit for what it offers.
Only very basic instructions come with the unit in terms of installation. If you are like me and have never done a car stereo install, you’ll want to set aside a few hours, particularly if you intend to install some of the nice extras that come with the Pumpkin like the external microphone for calls or the backup camera. I used a universal Ford dash adapter kit sold on Amazon, and it did not fit well with around the Pumpkin, requiring a fair amount of trimming and filing. I did get that resolved, and the end result looks fine. I don’t know whether to blame that on the adapter kit or the Pumpkin.
An external microphone was included with my Pumpkin, and it improves both calls and voice search quite a bit.
Users do have the opportunity to purchase a hotspot that is compatible with the unit, but of course, that requires another data plan. My phone is rooted, and I have WIFI tethering enabled, so I use that as my data source for the Pumpkin. Straight Talk provides me with a healthy 5 GB allotment on their standard plan, and that has been plenty for my driving and listening habits.
Expect the unit to take about 25-30 seconds to startup when the car is started. Given boot times on most Android devices, that seems pretty reasonable to me, although I’d love to see that cut in half. On the other hand, the backup camera works almost instantly on startup, which is crucial. An Android logo is standard by default, but Pumpkin owners do have the opportunity to use their vehicle manufacturer’s logo during boot.
What I Love About Pumpkin Android
This is full blown Android on your car stereo! How cool is that? Different people may have reasons for wanting Android in their car, but for me, it primarily comes down to the latest and greatest experiences in my dashboard for music and navigation without having to look down to my phone. I find that the head unit is located such a way that I can glance at it for real-time navigation, for example, without losing focus on the road.
Streaming music with Spotify and other audio apps to your head unit via a hot spot is a major selling point
In terms of music, I’ve got a few of my favorite streaming music apps including Spotify, Slacker Radio, and Amazon Music. Obviously, Pandora or any of your favorites should be available in the app store. I’ve also got TuneIn Pro, and I love being able to select local radio from my college town of Champaign-Urbana and listen to the Tay and Jay show on my drive home from work as though I’m selecting a local show on my radio. The stock Pumpkin radio app for OTA FM/AM is really good too, allowing you to set up to 18 presets on each band and then saving the names of those stations so it’s easy to punch up whichever one you want. Another nice thing about having an Android head unit, if one of those FM stations doesn’t broadcast song info, it is easy to have a shortcut for a music id app like Sound Search for Google Play.
The stock radio app is quite good, with big buttons and plenty of presets.
Beyond audio, I primarily find myself using my Pumpkin for navigation. The built in navigation app it comes with, including all of its map data stored on an SD card (meaning no data connection required), is actually pretty good. I tried it out for a quick drive and it got the job done. Unfortunately, it nagged me every time I sped, even if I was just a couple of miles over the speed limit, but I assume there is a way to disable this.
Google Maps fans know recent updates let you know how long a traffic jam will last, even more convenient in a head unit than a phone.
Rather than the included app, I use Google Maps for Navigation. I have a voice search shortcut saved to my home screen, so I can search for locations easily while driving. The external microphone seems to pick it up well. From there, it is the goodness of Google Maps, rerouting you around traffic as needed, letting you know how long you will be stuck in traffic when it is unavoidable.
The other app I’m getting some mileage out of is WeatherBug. I’ve got a “current conditions” widget added on the home screen, and it’s great to be able to pull up a map of the storm you see on the horizon as you are driving into it.
WeatherBug not only alerts me to problematic weather but radar lets me know if I can drive through or should pull over.
Speaking of home screens, I feel like the Pumpkin is the first Android device I’ve had where live wallpaper is worth the bother. I often leave the unit on the home screen while I’m driving, and it is kind of neat to have it scrolling effects in the background.
The Quirks of Pumpkin
As I said at the beginning of this review, the Pumpkin is not without its issues. Let me try to run down the ones that have been most obvious to me.
In a modern Android phone, audio is well coordinated, so that if you have on a podcast and you start Spotify, the podcast will automatically mute. This is not always the case with Pumpkin. The FM/AM radio app, Bluetooth audio, and audio originating from Android Apps (Spotify, Pandora, etc), sometimes seem to be unaware of one another. You have to turn off one before moving to the next or you can have KISS-FM playing over the top of Spotify.
I’ve had a couple of trips, out of the hundred or so I’ve taken with my Pumpkin, where the audio knob stopped responding. I simply could not turn the volume up or down. This has only happened on longer trips (think 2+ hours), and has always been resolved by turn the car off and going back through the boot sequence. Workaround: swipe down and use the touch volume control in the pull down bar.
The hard keys for home, back, etc, are supposed to light up to make them easier to see in low light. They do, but only briefly during startup, and then not at all after that. I believe I’ve followed the wiring recommendations the manufacturer has posted to the Pumpkin site for people struggling with this problem to a “T”, but it hasn’t resolved it.
I found the default launcher that comes the manufacturer has skinned the Pumpkin with to be disappointing. The default home screen allows no changes (widgets, app shortcuts), so all you get is a clock and a weather/audio control widget, and the weather widget is broken. You can’t add your hometown. Workaround: download a better, custom launcher. I went with Nova Launcher Pro.
Voice search is the perfect way to get directions when driving, but it is not as stable as on my phone.
I’ve also found that at least one app I really love is unstable with Pumpkin, and that’s Google Voice Search. In particular, when I tried to update to the latest version of Google Search and get the Google Now Launcher, it crashed every time. Workaround: revert to the version of Google that came on the Pumpkin, but even then I get occasional crashes.
Bottom Line Pumpkin Android Head Unit Review
As you can tell from my review, my Universal Pumpkin Android Double Din is not perfect. Its bugs remind me of Android phones from a couple of generations ago. Very good, not great. In my experience, when I get a new product and the flaws become obvious, I either find myself fixating on the flaws in a way that it detracts from my user experience or enjoying the product so much that I forgive the flaws. With the Pumpkin, it is definitely that latter. I absolutely love having the ability to have these Android apps in my dashboard, driving around to music I enjoy, easily navigating in places I don’t know, all without having to fumble with my phone. And let’s be clear, despite its quirks, most things on Pumpkin work well and with a flexibility that, by contrast, our modern minivan’s Chrysler stock, touch screen head unit simply does not offer. The unit also came at a reasonable price for what it offers, under $300. My recommendation for Pumpkin is a qualified one, but it is an enthusiastic one nonetheless.
Click here to see the Android Pumpkin head unit price on Amazon.
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