Improving on the Tablet Install in the BMW

To update my previous post (here), I have done a little more work on the Tablet mounting. I purchased a nice hard snap-on cover for the tablet:

Then I glued it into place using a large L-bracket and some high-quality adhesive.
Here’s how it looks from the Front:
Note: I did have to grind back some more plastic in the mounting bracket to allow the tablet cover to sit as close to flush as possible.
Then, I just put it back in the dash like it was before. Here’s a shot of it holding the tablet nice a snug in the car. Now I’m just waiting for the Double-Din Bezel I ordered from Germany. (I broke down and ordered it since I wasn’t happy with the way my homemade one turned out.)

Replacing the Head Unit in my BMW with a Tablet!

I’ve been toying with this idea for a couple months…I want to do away with the aftermarket head unit in my 3 Series with my Nexus 7 tablet. Well, I finally got around to working on it.

First I had to move the HVAC controls down to the space where the sunglasses/storage compartment was. For that, I ordered this part and it was super simple. Just pull it out of it’s current spot under the radio and snap it into this new piece. The wiring should all reach the new location with no trouble.

You’ll also want to order the switch panel cover for the switch spaces. There are varying sizes depending on how many switches you currently have in this space. I only have the DSC button, but I wanted to leave an extra space for future use. So I got the 3-long one:

Next, I had to find a nice, small amp I could tuck in the dash behind the tablet. I went with this Alpine unit thanks to a suggestion from a friend at Best Buy. The nice thing about this amp is that it works two-channel OR 4-channel and has built-in HPF for both options. More on that in a bit.

Next it was all about wiring. I grabbed a standard wiring harness adapter for my car, just like one you would use to install an aftermarket head unit. I set about wiring up the power to the amp as well as the outputs from the amp back into the OEM speaker wiring. I also wired in a cigarette lighter socket to the switched power of the wiring harness. Wiring diagram to follow.
Now it’s all about fit and snug. I pulled out the plastic mounting piece from the dash (4 screws) and started playing around with all the components that needed to go into that space. I ended up trimming some plastic around the front of the mount to allow the tablet a rectangular indention to sit in.  (pay no attention to the pasty white legs. I’m Irish, whaddya want?)
This was all a bit of Trial and error. Make sure to leave some extra room for the microUSB to plug in. i bought a right-angle USB cable to make this a bit easier.
Next I secured the amp to the back area of the mount. This also required trimming some plastic to make room. YMMV. Keep in mind there will be wiring coming out of both ends of the amp.
Then, just connect the two harnesses to the amp (power/outputs and inputs), add a cigarette lighter USB adapter to the socket and tuck all the wires into the empty space in the mount. I used zip ties to secure the wiring a bit and make it easier to work with. I thought I had a pic of this but I guess not. Just imagine a bunch of wires tucked into all the empty space seen in the pic above.
Now to head back out the car and re-attach the mount into the dash. Also go ahead and connect the wiring harness to the OEM one. Connect the microUSB to your tablet. I used a Phono to RCA Y-adapter to connect the headphone jack of the tablet to the RCA inputs on the amp. Again, I used a right-angle cable to make things fit better.

Set your tablet in place to test it out. At this point, when you crank the car, you should get power to the cigarette lighter socket you added which will charge the tablet. The amp should also power on. Go ahead and fire up your favorite music app on the tablet and test the audio.  You can make adjustments to the Front/Rear gain on the amp as necessary (you may want to test/adjust this before putting everything into the dash). Personally, I went with about 50% up front and 100% in the back.
Now the fun part. The ONLY place I could find a Double-Din bezel for this car is from a German website and would be over $100 shipped. I may end up getting it anyway, but before dropping that kind of cash on a tiny piece of plastic, I decided to try to make my own. I already had a single-din bezel from my aftermarket head unit install, so I picked up a second one and went to work:
It’s not the prettiest thing, but it’s still WIP. Eventually this will be covered in bondo, sanded smooth, and painted black. But in the meantime it will do the job of holding the tablet in place. The tablet is basically sandwiched in between the plastic mount in the dash and this piece. Again, you may need to trim some plastic around the inside of this piece to allow space for the tablet if you did not trim a deep enough section into the dash mount.
Once you have it all back together, this is what you have:
Additional Setup:
I use a live wallpaper for the music visualization:
(Music Visualizer App)
For automation, I use Tasker. I have it set up so when charge power is lost (ie. the car is turned off) to kill nearly all apps, turn off BT and Wifi, set the screen brightness to nearly 0, and the screen timeout to 10 seconds. When the car is cranked, charge power is on and it automatically resets to max brightness, always on screen, and resumes the music playback. As you can see, I also made a few custom shortcuts with Tasker to handle play/pause and track skipping as well as volume right from the homescreen.
Time for a beer! (or a few more)

Paid Music Services (an editorial)

Google Music has had its doors open to the general public for some time now, placing itself in the game with others like iTunes, Rhapsody, Rdio and Grooveshark (to name a few). That being said, I find myself wondering just how it will fit in, and just why we need another pay-per-song music service anyway. Over the years, I have found myself using all of the above-mentioned services, and the more I think about it the less the pay-per-song services make sense.

With iTunes, and now with Google Music, you can add your own existing MP3s with ease and even store them in the cloud to use with multiple devices wherever you may be (as long as you have a network connection). They also give you the option of buying new music for download and/or the cloud. Then, you can sync your music to allow for offline listening. Here’s the thing, though. When it comes to discovering new music I find Google falls short. At least with iTunes, they have radio stations based on your favorite artists or genres. Occasionally I’ll hear a song I’ve never heard and be like “Hey, who’s that? I like this!” With Google, you can “shop” for music but it has the same shortcomings as other pay-per-song services….namely, the 30-second clips. With the kind of music I like, it’s sometimes hard to know for sure if I’m really going to dig a song with nothing more than a 30-second clip. Not to mention, I have to search or browse though bands to find something I like.

In step services like Rhapsody and Rdio. They let you pay a monthly fee to have unlimited access to music. They also are cloud-based and accessible from anywhere there is a network but also have the ability to cache for offline listening.  With these services, I can play “artist radio” that will play music based on an artist I choose.  I find this to be the easiest way to discover new music. I know you’re going to say, hey Pandora does that for free! But the problem with Pandora is that I can ONLY listen to radio stations, where services like Rhapsody and Rdio let me also pick specific artists, albums, or even songs I want to hear, as well as the ability to build my own playlists with songs I don’t “own.”  (longest sentence ever?) Now I have access to full songs from any band I can think of (or never thought of) and I can listen to them on my computer, my smartphone, etc. It’s that freedom that really sets these services apart from pay-per-song services.

Well what about all those MP3s I have taking up storage space? Well, they’re yours. They always will be (the ones you obtained legally, anyway). In the meantime, I can add all those same albums to my Rdio or Rhapsody collections and listen to them anywhere (from the cloud) without having to convert them with iTunes or upload them to Google.

Then there’s Grooveshark. It lets you do most of the same things as paid services like Rhapsody or Rdio but without the “paid” part. From my computer, I can listen to all the music I want, absolutely free. The catch comes when I want to listen from my smartphone. But it’s not much of a catch because for a small monthly fee, I can download an App and listen to everything I want on my smartphone, too! Best part about Grooveshark? They have lots of GWAR!

So here’s my conclusion…I can’t see paying for music through services like Google or iTunes. If I “buy” an album I want something tangible. I like CDs. I like inserts and lyrics and all that comes along with actually buying an album. If I’m just going to be listening to music digitally, I see much more usefulness in monthly services that will let me listen to ANYTHING I want.  For me, I’ve settled in with Rdio. It’s a little pricier that Grooveshark but I find their mobile app to be much better than the competition.

Chime in and let us know what you think in the comments….

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