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Best ways to use your phone with a new car stereo

Connect and control your media using your iPhone® or Android™ smartphone

Integrating your smartphone with your car stereo. In this article, we'll talk about several ways you can access the handy features your phone brings to the table when you connect it to a car stereo.

How can I use my smartphone with a new car stereo? That's one of the questions our advisors get asked every day. And as the technologies within both phones and stereos and the ways to connect them continue to evolve, it's a topic we do our best to stay on top of.

There are two main factors to consider when deciding on a stereo to work with your phone:

1. Which phone functions do you want to use?

The first is which smartphone functions in particular do you want to use with your stereo. There's a veritable laundry list of possibilities here, but most people usually want one or more of the basics: hands-free calling, playing music stored on the phone, streaming music, news, or podcasts using a specific app, integrating other apps (such as navigation), and phone screen mirroring.

2. How do you want to connect — wires or no wires?

The other factor is the type of connection that you feel most comfortable with, whether it's a wireless option like a Bluetooth® connection, or a single-cable solution such as USB, or possibly something a little more involved. Some functions can work between different phones and stereos when connected in different ways, but other functions require a solution that's a little more robust, regardless of the phone or stereo involved. 

MEX-GS820BT in dash

Bluetooth® for audio streaming and hands-free calling

Bluetooth wireless connectivity is typically the most convenient way to get audio from your phone to your stereo, since it doesn't require any plugging in. And when an important call comes in, you can talk without worrying about holding your phone while driving. 

And when it comes to music, a Bluetooth connection lets you see, select, and control your music from the stereo, even from a lot of streaming sources.

App control for your radio

Phone screen
A lot of stereo manufacturers offer apps to control the stereo from your phone when using Bluetooth. This is really handy for tuning the sound. It’s often much easier to adjust the stereo’s sophisticated sound controls using your phone.

As you can see from this screenshot, Sony's app lets you control the playback and volume of your music from select Sony stereos, as well as choose which source you want. 

Bluetooth has often gotten a bad rap for having noticeably less fidelity than a wired connection, but with sound-enhancing developments like aptX®, the sonic differences between Bluetooth and a wired connection — or even CDs in some cases — are hardly noticeable. Here's our selection of stereos with aptX. To enjoy Bluetooth with aptX, your phone needs to have it, too. Other upgrades like Wide Band Speech Technology allow for easy-to-understand conversations between you and your callers. Receiver makers also listened to customers and provided current stereos with the ability to pair more than one phone for multiple users.



Slide to see the Apple CarPlay and Android Auto images Receivers with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay look a lot like your phone's interface...on purpose.

Direct control over your Android and iPhone

Android Auto™ and Apple CarPlay® compatibility both do very similar things: they allow receivers to replicate commonly used phone functions and apps for calling, music, maps, and messaging on the receiver’s touchscreen display. 

Do the displays look familiar? In both cases, the user interface is similar to the phone’s, but optimized for in-car use. And like your phone, you can control the apps with both finger touches and spoken commands. You can even have your incoming texts read aloud to you as you drive. Connection is easy — you plug into the receiver with the USB cable that came with your phone, whether it’s an iPhone or Android.

Some receivers offer compatibility with both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, making them a great choice for owners of either kind of phone, or for those who share a vehicle with drivers who use different phones. There are also many wireless options for both platforms, where you don’t even have to plug in your phone.

Our overview of Apple CarPlay provides more details on how it works, while our introduction to Android Auto explains how it can help you use your smartphone from the driver's seat.

JVC KW-V51BT DVD receiver android

MHL/HDMI connection for phone screen mirroring

MHL stands for "Mobile High-Definition Link," and it’s a technology standard for transmitting video content from one source to another via an HDMI cable. With the right combination of Android™ phone, cables, and receiver, it’s a convenient way to view maps, music info, and other phone apps trough the receiver's display (you'll need to be parked in some cases, such as when using video apps like YouTube® and Netflix®). Currently, MHL technology is only compatible with Android phones.

iPhone® users can also benefit from an HDMI connection. It will allow users to view stored videos (while parked) and select apps on the stereo’s screen. In most cases, an extra adapter (or adapters) is required, and not all stereos feature an HDMI connection, although they are becoming more common in order to allow compatibility with Apple's Lightning™ interface.

JL Audio RD900/5 and phone

When you can't install a new car stereo

There are those vehicles that simply aren’t accommodating to a new car stereo. But, there are still ways to upgrade your sound system and get your phone involved. We now carry several amplifiers that have Bluetooth built-in, so you can still integrate your phone into the system without replacing the stereo. And the new amp will give your music a big boost in sound and clarity.

If you have more questions about how to integrate a smartphone into your car, check out these articles:

Or contact one of our expert advisors.

  • Jim from Kuna

    Posted on 10/1/2020

    I want to able to control my car stereo with my smartphone. The OEM stereo could be controlled by the integrated steering wheel controls. I installed an aftermarket car stereo, it came with 2 remote controls; one mounts to the steering wheel, the other is just your standard ir remote. I'd like to use my smartphone as my car stereo controller. Basically are there apps that function just like steering wheel controls. I can do many things with my smartphone connected whether by USB or Bluetooth. Smartphones can do all sorts of things by voice. Alexa, change the car radio station or suppose I want to be able to control the volume on my car stereo. Say Alexa, change the radio station. Or Alexa volume up on the car stereo. This is not streaming music from my smartphone to the car stereo, but rather controlling the car stereo with my smartphone.

  • Jonathan Stephens from Cardiff

    Posted on 7/15/2020

    Hi there. Are you able to control Spotify from your stereo without having to plug your phone in? Thank you

    Commenter image

    Alexander H. from Crutchfield

    on 7/16/2020

    Jonathan, there are a couple ways to do that. If you use Bluetooth Audio as the source on your radio, you'll have play/pause and skip controls over any streaming audio wirelessly. If you want enhanced (and wireless) Spotify controls, check out stereos with wireless Apple CarPlay and wireless Android Auto.
  • Tanvir Hasib from Dhaka, Bangladesh

    Posted on 5/11/2019

    I'm from Bangladesh. I bought a fully android car audio system which does not have any remote control option. Since I sit at the back and my Chauffeur drives the car, so I am looking for an application to control the car android audio system through my mobile sitting at the back seat. The control can be through bluetooth/WiFi/Screen Mirroring etc. Will your application support such service? Or can you suggest any such application that may serve my purpose? Regards Tanvir

    Commenter image

    Alexander H. from Crutchfield

    on 5/12/2019

    Tanvir, wireless Android Auto could be a solution. But depending on what you intend to control, just a Bluetooth connection could suffice, especially if you only plan on controlling the music.
  • Ryk from Reading

    Posted on 2/24/2018

    No mention made here about how you can use your phone in the car without ever touching your phone. Under UK law touching your phone while driving is an offence. Even if you are using it as a sat nav you cannot physically touch it. So how best to accept and make calls without touching your phone. Ideally you put your phone in the glove compartment or boot so you can prove to the police you were unable to touch it despite using it.

  • S Smith from Alton, il

    Posted on 6/18/2017

    Also you can use an hdmi converter if you do not have a hdmi port and use an amazon firestick for its mirror link capabilities and mirror your phone wirelessly.

  • Commenter image

    Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 11/30/2016

    Heather, if you bought your gear from Crutchfield, you can call Tech Support for free help troubleshooting your system. If you purchased your equipment elsewhere, you can still get expert Crutchfield Tech Support - 90 days-worth for only $30. Check out our tech support page for details. Or give Pioneer tech support a call 1-800-421-1404.

  • Heather from Wisconsin

    Posted on 11/29/2016

    I purchased a Pioneer 4100NEX from you and haven't been able to get any of that Apple CarPlay or Android stuff to work. I tried my IPhone 6 and even 5 and my Galaxy S7, both with all different cables and settings... Nothing. Seems impossible.

  • Commenter image

    Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 5/20/2016

    Edward, details in Apple's App Store say that StreetPilot is designed to work with iPhone models up to the 4S. You'll want to call Garmin customer support at 1-800-800-1020 to ensure compatibility with your 6+. According to our information on StreetPilot use with that Kenwood model, you'll also need to make the in-app purchase of Vehicle Display Integration and you'll need a wired connection between the receiver and phone. Keep in mind that if you bought your gear from Crutchfield, you can call Tech Support for free help troubleshooting your system. If you purchased your equipment elsewhere, you can still get expert Crutchfield Tech Support - 90 days-worth for only $30. Check out our tech support page for details.

  • Edward howard from Memphis

    Posted on 5/19/2016

    I have a kenwoodDDX470 and a iphone6spluse,Ineed to know how can I get my Harmon street pilot to come up on my touch screen

  • Kelly from Phoenix

    Posted on 5/19/2016

    I wanted to stream tunes, but keep the integrity of my 1973 Mach-1's interior intact. It has an era-appropriate in-dash 8-track player, which I have amplified. So I got a unit like the Cobra CWA BT 160 Airwave, and I stream Pandora from my phone through the radio, then amplified. It sounds great, and keeps my car looking era-correct!

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