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Old April 21st, 2023, 08:02 PM   #1
InvisiBill
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MOTM - Aug '15
Motorcycle CarPlay/Android Auto screen

A year or so ago, I bought a 7" Coral Vision CarPlay screen meant for use with older cars, specifically trying to make it work on the bike. However, it wasn't waterproof, and didn't have a second BT radio for connecting to your helmet (only Aux and FM modulator output). And the 7" screen didn't really fit well anywhere without covering the gauges. Plus it's heavy - it has a suction cup mounting arm, but it also includes a dash pad because it's meant to sit on something and just use the arm to keep it from moving around. Coral Vision's site mentioned that they were working on an "M1" motorcycle version, but I never actually saw the product become available.

I recently stumbled upon a product that matches what the M1 was described as. It seems to be one of those Chinese products that's sold under a million different brands on AliExpress and Amazon. They're about $130-$150 on AliExpress, and about $250-$300 on Amazon. I found a specific one on Amazon that was under $200, so I decided to go with that for the quick shipping and easy returns if it wasn't as good as it appeared.







So far, I love it. I haven't seen it crash (or have any other issues) in a couple 45-60 minute rides, or while playing with it at home. It works just like CarPlay is supposed to, and after you've done the initial pairing, it automatically connects to the iPhone and BT helmet when turned on. I was pretty happy with my Ram Finger-Grip setup with knockoff MagSafe for holding my phone and charging it wirelessly, but I obviously worry about it less when it's in my inside jacket pocket. Even with Waze doing GPS routing and streaming music on Spotify the whole time, it doesn't use that much of the phone's battery, so I'm less worried about the fact that it's now in my pocket instead of on the charger. **Note that wireless CarPlay does have a bit of lag compared to wired. There's just a bit of delay between pressing a button (e.g. to skip to the next song) and when it actually happens. With wired CarPlay, pressing something reacts immediately, like you're pressing a physical button on your radio.

The 5" screen is a bit small compared to my car and the Coral Vision, but it fits very well on the bike. It's waterproof, so you don't have to keep it hidden under the windscreen. It includes 1" ball mounting hardware, with one screwed to the back of the mount, a short arm, and U-bolt and bolthole balls for the bike side. I stuck the arm on my existing Ram stem mount ball. There's a thumbscrew to hold the device in the mount (with that unscrewed, it's easy to pop out). The power cable is attached to mount, which powers the actual device via spring-loaded pins. It runs on 5V, so it includes a 12V-5V regulator lead as well as a standard USB-A lead and you can choose whichever works best for you. It will also get power off the Mini USB port used for doing firmware upgrades, though you obviously can't have a power cable and USB drive plugged in simultaneously (it might be possible with some splitters, but bidirectional data + power in can get tricky). It does give you an easy way to power it when you bring it inside though.



The device's firmware does have the ability to play music from a MicroSD card or USB drive, but those ports are covered by a plate held on with two tiny screws to keep it waterproof. Maybe throw in a MicroSD with your favorite songs as backup, but you're not going to be swapping these out easily. And most people are probably going to treat this solely as a CP/AA device anyway. You can set the volume and brightness of the display, and it has day/night brightness settings, which you can set to be active at certain times. However, the device doesn't actually have a clock built-in. Every time you turn it on, it comes up as 2022/01/01 00:00. This applies whether you cut the power (i.e. wired to switched power on the bike) or use the power button. But once it connects to your iPhone via CarPlay, it actually pulls the time from there - neat!

While looking for updated firmware for it, I discovered that the Maxca brand (selling theirs as the "Xplay C5 Pro" via an AliExpress store) seems to update the firmware semi-regularly, which is much more support than I've seen from any other brand. I can't even really find a brand on mine; the box is actually marked "CarPlay Decoder" and the picture looks like something you'd install inside a car's dash to add CarPlay functionality to the factory screen (you can just barely make it out in the pic above). I've ordered a replacement C5 Pro from AliExpress to save 1/3 the cost and get better support. The UI is slightly different, but I expect it to be pretty much the same as this one in most ways. Now I'm just waiting for the boat from China to get here...
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Old April 21st, 2023, 09:49 PM   #2
Alex
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Looks like a very useful gadget! A waterproof Carplay/AA device with a motorcycle friendly screen. And it's a heck of a lot cheaper than any GPS with that size/quality touchscreen, and I can't imagine there are many motorcyclists running around in 2023 without a smartphone to connect to it, handling GPS/music/communication and anything else that one would really need on the move. I've never felt comfortable attaching my cell phone to any hard point on the bike, and preferred to keep it in my jacket pocket throughout, and just used bluetooth to connect to it. This is just a much more capable connection, sending not just audio, but essentially the entire phone's mobile interface to the dash.

Please keep us updated on how well it works for you going forward!
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Old April 24th, 2023, 03:31 PM   #3
InvisiBill
EX500 full of EX250 parts
 
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Name: Bill
Location: Grand Rapids-ish, MI
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Motorcycle(s): '18 Ninja 400 • '09 Ninja 500R (selling) • '98 VFR800 (project) • '85 Vulcan VN700 (sold)

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MOTM - Aug '15
Related: AdvRider: Long Term Review / Easy CarPlay or Android Auto For Any Bike

Quote:
Is It Worth It?

In a word, absolutely. I’m already used to using CarPlay from many miles in my camper van. It’s wonderful to have exactly the same interface on my motorcycle as well. There’s nothing new to learn, and no adjustment to make from one vehicle to the next. I’ve had “affordable” Chinese electronic equipment before, but the fit, finish, and quality of materials in this unit is much better than my $30 Baofeng ham radio. The quality of affordable Chinese electronics is definitely improving. I do wish it worked better with my cheap gloves, but my problems would be solved by buying a pair with capacitive fingertips, which I’ll do the next time I need new gloves. In over 1,000 miles of riding and even a low-speed drop, I’ve had no problems whatsoever.

For a fraction of the price of a Garmin zūmo XT, I’m quite happy with this purchase. It performs nearly all the same functions. I need to get to know the REVER app a bit better, and then I can follow routes from .gpx files, which is the reason I started using a Garmin instead of my phone in the first place. It does have a few quirks, but I can live with all of them. If you’re still concerned about the quality of Chinese electronics, keep in mind that you can buy four of these for the price of one zūmo XT. It’s definitely worth the savings to me.
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Old April 30th, 2023, 02:15 PM   #4
InvisiBill
EX500 full of EX250 parts
 
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Name: Bill
Location: Grand Rapids-ish, MI
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Motorcycle(s): '18 Ninja 400 • '09 Ninja 500R (selling) • '98 VFR800 (project) • '85 Vulcan VN700 (sold)

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MOTM - Aug '15
I received my Maxca C5 Pro. As far as I can tell, the hardware is identical to the Amazon device I purchased. It has all the same accessories packaged in exactly the same bags, with the exact same instruction sheet. As I mentioned, the Amazon one came in a box that looked like it was for some sort of car in-dash CarPlay adapter module. The Maxca version has an appropriate box (shown in pics on the product page) that actually shows it as a motorcycle CarPlay device, and better matches the size of the device. There's now also an option to get a small handlebar remote with it, if your headset doesn't handle the forward/back/answer functions well.

The Maxca has their logo added (otherwise all the image options are the same) and their simplified gray and blue UI. The generic UI (used on my Amazon unit and most of the random ones I've seen) looks like something old that's trying to be futuristic - it's got shiny round "gauge" bubbles with shadows and reflections and the icons are "sitting on" a 3D shelf. It just comes off as trying to use fancy graphics effects to show you how good it is. The Maxca is more like a modern touch UI - it's got big, functional square buttons that take up the whole screen. At least with CarPlay, once you pair your phone with it, it just auto-connects and jumps into the CarPlay screen, so the only time you'd even see this UI is when you're trying to change a setting (volume, brightness, etc.), in which case the Maxca UI is probably going to work much better on a bike. I noticed some tiny menu differences buried deep down, but it's 99.5% the same, other than the main screen UI.



I put the Maxca in the mount that I already had on the bike and, as expected, it powered up just fine. I plugged it into USB on my computer to dig around in the settings and get everything paired up. I haven't actually ridden with it yet, but I expect it to perform exactly the same as the original Amazon model.

On to everyone's favorite part of AliExpress, shipping from China... Just for reference, Hong Kong is 12 hours ahead of Eastern time. I placed the order around noon Eastern on Thursday 4/14. About 12 hours later (noon Friday 4/15 in HK), the tracking number started getting shipping updates. It spent a couple days moving through China and then left the country. It arrived in the US early in the morning on Monday 4/24. That's 9.5 days from the time I placed the order until it was in the US.

And that's where the tracking stops. Their tracking number status hasn't changed since then. The USPS-style numbers on that page don't give anything useful. The tracking number on the package I received is completely different. Usually USPS Informed Delivery catches any shipments to my address and I get tracking alerts for them. I didn't know this was even nearby until I opened my mailbox and it was stuffed in there. Looking up its tracking number after the fact, the label was created when the order originally shipped in China and the package made its way across the US beginning on 4/24, finally being delivered to me on 4/29.

I'm a little annoyed at the bad tracking, but it was delivered to me in 15 days, with a third of that being USPS sending it across the country. For cheap stuff coming from China, I can't complain about those results.


Final Thoughts
From what I've seen, all of these use the same hardware. Maxca seems to actually customize the firmware a bit and do updates, whereas you're lucky to even find the company behind the others (much less get regular updates). Between the UI and updates, I would say that Maxca is the best brand of these that I've seen online. All else being equal, they're my first choice. The downside is that the only official way to buy one (and therefore get support from them) is from their AliExpress store, so you get to deal with buying it from China.

Every other version appears to be identical, possibly with newer/older versions of firmware. If you don't mind buying from AliExpress and cost is your biggest concern, you can get them as cheap as $120. As with a lot of these Chinese electronics, you'll find a bunch of different sellers on Amazon Prime with different pricing. Some are close to $300, the one I bought is currently $190.

If you want it quick and easy, it might be worth paying $190 to get it via Prime. If you're willing to deal with AliExpress, just spend the extra ~$10 to get Maxca's support rather than the absolute cheapest one. You're still saving $50+ compared to Prime. I don't see the point in going with a random unsupported Chinese one on AliExpress just to save a few bucks, or in paying $300 for a US "retail" one (which is probably still the same unsupported random Chinese brand anyway, just being resold by someone in the US).
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Old May 8th, 2023, 06:15 PM   #5
InvisiBill
EX500 full of EX250 parts
 
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Name: Bill
Location: Grand Rapids-ish, MI
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Motorcycle(s): '18 Ninja 400 • '09 Ninja 500R (selling) • '98 VFR800 (project) • '85 Vulcan VN700 (sold)

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MOTM - Aug '15
Took my first ride with the Maxca the other day, and yup, it's basically the same to use.

I found one difference. The Amazon one had an option to set a time frame for the screen to switch to night mode. With the Maxca, you have to manually switch it. It's the little "sun" icon in the status bar at the top - tapping it toggles between day (sun) and night (moon) modes. You can configure a brightness level for each mode in the settings, then switch between the two with a tap.


I got the latest firmware from Maxca, which has one small change - the volume slider clears off the screen after 3 seconds instead of 10.

However, I ran into a problem updating it. I inserted the MicroSD card with the new firmware, went into the menu, and started the update. It showed the update screen, with the current and new firmware versions. It went through the progress bar, then said "Burn unsuccessful, please try again." It rebooted, only it was dead after that. It didn't seem to power on at all. I got worried that I was going to have to deal with sending it back to China for replacement. I messaged Maxca on AliExpress, and they responded quickly, and told me to read the bottom of the email where they sent the firmware link. Oops, missed that part.

You can enter an "emergency restore" sort of flashing mode by holding the on/off button as power is applied. Did that with the MicroSD card inserted, and the flashing screen showed "Unknown" as the current firmware version, and the correct version for the firmware file on the MicroSD. I flashed it back to the first version with no issues. I then repeated the process with the new version, and that worked also. Afterward, I also put a custom boot logo on the MicroSD and added that, so now I have the Ninja 400 logo on the screen when I turn the bike on.

It's a combination of easy and annoying to use the device off the bike (for flashing, changing settings, getting devices paired, etc.). The mount powers it via spring-loaded pins that contact pads on the back of the device. There's not really a good way to apply power to those short of buying an extra mounting kit. However, it can be powered via the MiniUSB port on the side. That's really handy, except that you have to remove the side cover (with its 2 tiny screws) to access the port. Also, the included USB-A adapter plugs into the MiniUSB port, so you can't use that if you're powering the device that way. Because of that, I'd recommend getting a good quality MicroSD and using that for any sort of file operations you want to do. The firmware is only about 75MB and an 800x480 JPG boot logo isn't very big, so even a 128MB MicroSD is plenty. However, you don't want flaky data when you're flashing stuff, so make sure it's a quality memory card. For reference, Amazon currently has a 32GB Kingston UHS-1 MicroSD for under $7.


The device pretty much does what it says on the box. If you've used CarPlay before, this is a great way to get it on your bike, and linked up to your Bluetooth headset. It gives you a pretty good screen (same size and resolution as the Garmin Montana 700) for showing a driving-oriented UI, wirelessly linked to both your phone (safely in your pocket) and headset. I have no complaints about the device itself, but there's honestly not a whole lot to it. The fact that it enables you to have the CarPlay experience on your bike is the great part. It was really handy being able to tap the on-screen button to open my garage door when my Sena's battery died while I was riding (I normally just tap the headset button and tell Siri "Open garage bay 1"). Despite Apple's limitations, I do prefer the CarPlay UI (I wish you could just set an iPhone to show the CarPlay UI directly). It would be great if I could pull up GasBuddy or use CarScanner as an auxiliary dashboard to show some extra OBDII data, but I guess I'll survive.


(I assume you could substitute Android Auto pretty much everywhere I refer to CarPlay, but my mess-around-with-stuff Android is so old it doesn't support AA.)
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Old May 25th, 2023, 08:10 AM   #6
InvisiBill
EX500 full of EX250 parts
 
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Name: Bill
Location: Grand Rapids-ish, MI
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MOTM - Aug '15
I'm still loving this. The thing about it is that once it's set up, you don't really notice it, which is the sign of good technology. I turn the key on, I turn my helmet BT on, and the Maxca links to my phone and helmet. Waze pops up on the screen and Spotify starts playing. It Just Works™.

I previously had my phone mounted at the inside end of the left bar, basically right over the top of the fork. With the Maxca mounted over the triple instead, my helmet's chin bar actually blocks it from my view in my normal riding position. It's almost perfectly lined up where the top of the screen matches the top of the chin bar, so I just have to tilt my head down a bit to see it, yet it's completely out of my view normally. As someone who can be a bit ADHD about things, the fact that I can't see it (and that it works well enough that I don't need to be constantly looking at it) is great for minimizing distractions. The CarPlay UI itself tends to hide non-driving things from the display, so that alone is better than having your regular phone screen up in front of you while riding.

A buddy from California with a Triumph was quite interested in this when I got it. I'm not sure if he has a CarPlay vehicle, but his wife has a Tesla and he's an IT guy too, so he's familiar with geeky tech stuff. He's out here visiting this week, so I showed it to him and another buddy (former biker). They were both very impressed with it. The other buddy actually said, "That's better than what my car [Fiat 124 Spider] has!"

Just to repeat, I think the overall CarPlay experience is the real winner. But the C5 Pro is what enables it. It works well, so you don't even notice that it's there, other than when you glance down to check your map on that handy screen. Assuming it lasts long enough that I don't consider it disposable junk, I would definitely order another one immediately if something happened to it.
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