Julie’s gadget diary – How I set up handsfree media control in my MINI Cooper

mini-1

I love everything about my 2013 MINI Cooper except the stereo system which is pretty lame by most gadgeteer standards. When I ordered the car, I opted not to go full tech and buy the premium connected package because it was an expensive upgrade and the sales person at the dealership talked me out of it saying that it’s just tech that will quickly become out dated. He was right and I’m glad I didn’t spend extra for it. But what I did get wasn’t much… The stock stereo features Bluetooth, but only for calls. It does not allow audio streaming from a connected device. The stereo also lacks a nice display to show track info. While listening to SiriusXM satellite radio, it would take 2 or 3 button presses to show the artist and song title. One year of satellite service was included with the purchase of the car, but knowing that the free year was about to run out and that I wouldn’t be renewing, I went looking for alternatives to plain old FM radio or CDs.

I could have gone all out and modded my MINI like two of my co-workers who added Nexus 7 tablets to their cars, but I felt squeamish about tearing into the dash, so I decided to use what I had, my Samsung Galaxy Note 2, the iOmount iOauto Pro car mount, Kinivo BTC450 Bluetooth Car Kit and several apps.

What I want to do

The first thing I did was make a list of all the features I wanted and needed while driving:

1. Streaming music through my MINI’s existing stereo and speakers
2. Minimal wiring
3. Hands free calling
4. Hands free text message reading
5. Hands free audio track navigation
6. Automatically start playing music when the car is started and turn off music when the car is turned off
7. Backup camera
8. Wireless charging

Revising the list

At first I wanted to try to figure out a way to rig up Qi wireless charging and connect it via magnets to my existing iOmount and my phone. After some experimenting I gave up on that particular feature because the Powerbot wireless charging pad that I had purchased to hack didn’t provide enough juice to charge the phone while it was streaming music and the display was on. Since my normal trips are less than 30 minutes, I decided I didn’t really need to charge the phone. If I ever do find that the phone needs to be charged I can just connect a USB cable to USB connector built into the Kinivo BTC450 Bluetooth Care Kit.

I also dropped the backup camera feature from the project. I still want to do this, but I need to do more research.

Solving problems one at a time

How to mount the phone

The first thing I needed was a way to mount the phone in the MINI. This problem was solved by the iOmount car mount that I’ve been using for almost a year. I love it because it doesn’t use suction cups that can fall off, or special cases. It’s magnetic and so easy to use. I also love that I can flip the phone from portrait to landscape view with a simple twist.

How to make hands free calls

As I mentioned above, my 2013 MINI Cooper S stereo has Bluetooth call capability. I also use Google Voice to easily make calls just by saying “Ok Google call Jeanne at home”. It works great if you speak clear and don’t mumble.

How to stream music through my MINI’s existing stereo and speakers

kinivo-51

Since I wanted to use my phone as the media serving device, I also needed a way to route the audio through the car’s stereo. I didn’t want to do any rewiring, so I did a lot of research and came up with the Kinivo BTC450 Bluetooth Car Kit. What I like about it is that it’s small and easy to use. It plugs into a 12V power socket and the AUX input of my stereo. Luckily for me those two connections are close together in the center console.

 

kinivo-bt450-3

The small disc shaped device pairs with your phone and streams audio through the AUX input jack into your stereo. There are buttons on the edge that can be used to navigate music tracks. It can also operate as a handsfree speaker phone but the call quality wasn’t good at all and since my car already has that feature, I just disabled it.

kinivo-50

Disabling calling through the Kinivo was just a matter of going into the Bluetooth settings for that connection and unchecking the Call audio box. So when I was finished, only the Media audio box was checked for the Kinivo connection and only the Call audio box was checked for the MINI Bluetooth connection.

Another reason I really like the Kinivo is that automatically pairs as soon as you power up the car and turns completely off when you turn the car off. I don’t have to press any buttons to turn it on. It just does its thing.

How to automatically start playing music when starting car

My favorite media player is Slacker Radio, so I wanted to figure out how to launch the app and start playing tunes as soon as the phone connected to the Kinivo after I started my car. There are a couple ways to automate tasks in Android, I chose Tasker. There’s a learning curve to using it, but that’s what makes it fun.

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I created macros that trigger based on the phone being connected to the Kinivo. When it detects the connection it turns off WiFi, sets the display time out to 23 hours so that the display is on the entire time I’m driving. Next it launches an app called Wave Control Pro, waits 2 seconds, enables Wave Control Pro, launches an app called ReadItToMe, turns on the screen for 10 seconds so that I can unlock it with a swipe. Then it launches Slacker Radio, waits 3 seconds and using a media utilities plugin starts playing music.

When I’ve arrive to my destination and turn off the car, Tasker fires another set of commands when it detects that the Kinivo Bluetooth connection has ended. It pauses the music, kills the Slacker app, disables the Wave Control plugin and returns to the home screen.

How to change music tracks without physical interaction with the phone

I like Slacker Radio’s music selection, but I don’t love every song. Sometimes I want to go to the next track. Since I have my phone set to always have the screen turned on while I’m driving, I could just press the next track button, but that means I have my eyes off the road and on my phone – bad idea. The Kinivo has buttons that I could press to change tracks, but that would mean sticking it somewhere convenient where I could press the button. I didn’t like that idea either, so I did some searching and found Wave Control Pro.

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This app allows you to hover or wave your hand over the front facing camera on the phone to change tracks. Since I usually just want to change tracks, I set both the hover and the 1 wave connect to go to the next track. As you can see from the screenshot, you can also assign actions to 2 and 3 waves. With this app enabled and Slacker Radio playing, I can just hold my hand over the front camera and it will switch to the next track. I can do this without taking my eyes off the road. It works great!

They have a free version too, but I liked it so much that I purchased the Pro version.

How to read texts that come in while driving without touching the phone

We’ve all done it, heard a beep while driving that means a text message has come in and we read it when we should be paying attention to the road. The temptation to read messages is so strong that I wanted a solution that would completely remove the desire to touch my phone when receiving an SMS.

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I found the ReadItToMe app which will automatically read the text message and also who sent it as soon as it comes in to your phone. My Tasker macro starts this app when I’m in the car and turns off the Slacker Radio music and then reads the text message over the car’s stereo. When it’s done reading the message the music will start back up. You can configure each person in your contacts to either play through headset, Bluetooth or not at all. I don’t get a lot of text messages, but it seems to work well.

How it’s working after a few weeks

Everything was working really well and reliably with my Samsung Galaxy Note 2. But that has changed a bit since last week when I upgraded to a new LG G3 smartphone. Everything is working except keeping the screen on while I’m in the car. The built in Display Timeout setting in Tasker and the Secure Settings plugin for Tasker don’t seem to be working on this phone. I may need to root the phone in order to do what I want. Even with this small set back, I’m still having fun with this setup. Tweaking things is the best part of any project.

Update 07/25/14: I solved the display timeout problem by setting the timeout in the Secure Settings plugin in Tasker. Yay!

Update 07/31/14: Problem with display time out wasn’t actually solved after all. The max length of time that I can keep it on before it times out is 20 minutes. I have an email in to the Secure Settings plugin people to see if they can update their plugin with longer time out settings.

Update 08/04/14: The display time out issue has been resolved (I think). I was using the timeout Secure Settings setting incorrectly. Now I set the screen to manual on when I connect via Bluetooth to the Kinivio and then set it to manual off when Bluetooth is disconnected.

Now that I have the main features working, I want to get a backup camera and I would also like to find a way to listen to FM radio through my phone without using data. I wonder if there’s such a thing as Bluetooth FM radio, because I don’t want to physically plugin a wire to the phone. If anyone has advice or would like to share any similar projects that you might be doing, please do so in the comments.

List of hardware and apps used

Samsung Galaxy Note 2
Kinivo BTC450 Bluetooth Car Kit
iOmount
Slacker Radio
Tasker
Wave Control Pro
ReadITToMe
Secure Settings plugin for Tasker
TaskKill plugin for Tasker
Media Control plugin for Tasker

Posted in: Android related, Articles, Audio, Video, TV Gear, Car Gear

{ 25 comments… add one }

  • Dave Snyder July 25, 2014, 12:57 am

    Our new mounts will solve all your mounting issues much easier and simpler.
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    Pics and videos should be up on the site late next week.

    MobileMountSolutions.com
    Jackson TN
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  • Julie Strietelmeier July 25, 2014, 9:05 am

    @Dave I don’t recall mentioning that I had any mounting issues…

  • Andrew Baker July 25, 2014, 1:30 pm

    Maybe they have a better option for you! Free Mount to test. Jeez Julie won’t look a gift mount in the ummmmm mount?

  • Julie Strietelmeier July 25, 2014, 3:46 pm

    I really like the iOmount… So not sure if they can beat it in ease of use.

  • Jocelyn July 25, 2014, 9:13 pm

    You should have gone with either this GTA car kit or in Australia I’ve got the GROM iPD3

    http://www.gtacarkits.com/product/toyota-echo-1999-2005-iphone-aux-kit/

    Easy installation, all hard wired, one kit and you don’t loose the function of the cigarette lighter in the event that you might need it.

  • Julie Strietelmeier July 25, 2014, 9:24 pm

    @Jocelyn I think my solution is much less expensive and easier to install and use. The only thing I don’t have that your solution has is the car controls. But my gesture control works great. I’m happy with what I’ve done. :)

  • Jane P. July 26, 2014, 8:48 pm

    I have a similar problem with our 2006 Tahoe. After a second traffic ticket for talking on my cell phone (live in California), I upgraded my cell phone to a Bluetooth device and got addicted to our 2012 car’s hand free interface. The Tahoe provides no bluetooth interface, and during a recent out of town trip, I realized I needed something for the Tahoe, and started researching gadgets.

    I bought a Jabra Freeway last month. Via Amazon.com, it’s approximately $54 with free shipping. By the time I paid sales tax a little over $60. So it is more expensive than the Kinivo BT450.

    It is a “hands free” speakerphone. But it works very well for me. Got off to a shaky start with it. So I called Jabra directly and spoke with their engineering dept. They were very patient, and set me straight on how best to use the unit … I am very impressed with it. Julie, if you can get your hands on one, I do suggest you check it out along with the Kinivo.

    It is different from the Kinivo in that it is freestanding – you do not have to plug it into the auxiliary outlet of your stereo.

    What I like is that I can wake my cell phone and “command” it to dial any of my contacts or a specific phone number. The voice recognition is … uneven. But I think that is a problem with most devices. Looking at the reviews on Amazon, people can connect it to Siri and/or Google Voice-and seem very happy with that arrangement.

    I really haven’t used my Jabra with my iPod Touch. But once paired with the Jabra, I can either use it in connection with the car’s FM radio or just listen via the unit -which has 3 speakers. The battery life is phenomenal.

    One nice thing about the Jabra is that you can pair several devices with it, including GPS units.

    Because my husband also drives that car, I plan to pair his cell phone, along with my “Touch” , my GPS, and my cell phone. Pairing is very easy. I pulled over into a parking lot, and paired my phone in under 2 minutes.

  • Jane P. July 26, 2014, 9:01 pm

    @Julie “Now that I have the main features working, I want to get a backup camera and I would also like to find a way to listen to FM radio through my phone without using data. I wonder if there’s such a thing as Bluetooth FM radio, because I don’t want to physically plugin a wire to the phone. If anyone has advice or would like to share any similar projects that you might be doing, please do so in the comments.”

    First of all, I realize you are using the Kinivo differently that I us the Jabra.

    Regarding FM auto stereo system. I am also researching alternatives for my travel trailer. And I noticed that the technology has improved greatly over the past 2-3 years. You now have auto “head units” which allow for streaming music via your bluetooth device. One product I’m considering is a Sony mex-N5000BT. It inexpensive $130, has a small footprint, and will connect wirelessly with your mobile device. I’d be interested to see if this approach meets your needs.

    Also, thanks for this review. It is of great interest to me!

  • walk July 27, 2014, 12:22 am

    @Julie:
    I’ve also got a second generation 2012 MINI hardtop (i.e. R56)… Except mine is a JCW (John Cooper Works). Great car. Love it.

    I personally went with the standard MINI Y-Cable (USB+AuxIn) since I have lots of lossless music files and you can control playlists through the head-unit and forward/back control using the steering wheel buttons (and charges the phone). I have the same stereo head unit as yours with the H/K option – I believe Android support is limited.

    I also ignored the over-priced MINI Connected and MINI GPS options. They were both of questionable quality although having the large LCD replacing most of the speedometer would have been nice (but with my JCW dark gauges it is less distracting – IMO).

    I’ve got a ProClip dash mount in the same location as yours. It is rock solid and high quality. I transfered this same mount from my last MINI to my then-new JCW – the mouint is now 5 years old. I also use an adjustable ProClip phone holder (originally designed for an iPhone4) that I modified to hold an Apple short 30Pin-Lighnting adapter and my iPhone5.

    Interior shot with previous setup using iPhone4:
    https://www.flickr.com/photos/walk0080/6405933703/in/set-72157631865717173

    Modified Holder for iPhone5:
    https://www.flickr.com/photos/walk0080/8128370810/in/set-72157631865717173

    This setup gives me Siri and phone calls through Bluetooth and music/podcast/maps/etc. through the head-unit.

    For a backup camera I installed a great high quality licence place camera unit from Boyo (made in S.Korea from Amazon.com) and a 4.3″ LCD panel (cheapo China unit from Deal Extreme) in the lower cubby. This is a wired setup so I removed a number of interior panels to route cabling. I ended up using UTP Cat5 cabling so I have 2 cable pairs unused for some future project I guess. :-)

    Backup camera display interior:
    https://www.flickr.com/photos/walk0080/10432177256/in/set-72157636766930634

    Back-up camera installed at rear:
    https://www.flickr.com/photos/walk0080/10387519456/in/set-72157636766930634

    I posted a walkthrough of the install here last year including parts list:
    http://www.northamericanmotoring.com/forums/navigation-and-audio/260057-my-r56-reverse-backup-camera-install-how-to.html#post3832092

    Hope someone finds this useful.

  • walk July 27, 2014, 12:29 am

    @Julie: “…I would also like to find a way to listen to FM radio through my phone without using data. I wonder if there’s such a thing as Bluetooth FM radio, because I don’t want to physically plugin a wire to the phone.”

    Maybe I am missing something, but your car stereo has a built-in FM tuner for listening to radio. AM too!

    Perhaps you meant when NOT in the car you want to listed to FM radio using your phone… considering I never use my FM radio I guess I don’t see the appeal! :-)

  • Julie Strietelmeier July 27, 2014, 9:46 am

    @walk Thanks for your comments and pictures! I also have the Y cable, but I didn’t really want to use my iPod. I wanted to stream from Slacker Radio and didn’t want to have to plug anything in at all. I prefer getting in the car, connecting my phone to the iOmount magnetically (no levers or buttons to fool with there) and having music start automatically a 15 seconds or so after I start the car. As for FM radio, yes, I know my MINI’s stereo already has that feature, but the display on the radio is very limited. I love the display on my phone that shows a artist name, song name, album artwork. So it would be nice to be able to switch to the one FM station that I enjoy when I get tired of Slacker. Your backup camera looks great. I hope I’ll find one for myself soon that doesn’t require me to dismantle the car. ;)

  • Julie Strietelmeier July 27, 2014, 10:37 am

    @Jane P. Thanks for your comments. I don’t really want to change the head unit in my MINI, so I’m looking for another alternative for the FM radio feature. I listen to it so infrequently, that it’s not very high on my want list right now.

  • Robert July 28, 2014, 8:37 am

    FYI – all that weight hanging your car keychain is not good for your ignition switch, even if you don’t drive a GM car :-)

  • Julie Strietelmeier July 28, 2014, 9:48 am

    @Robert I’m not worried about the weight for a couple of reasons. First of all the MINI’s ignition slot is spread out horizontally instead of just a key slot on some cars. Also, my Keyport weighs less than several traditional keys because it’s all plastic except for 2 key blades.

  • walk July 28, 2014, 10:04 am

    @Robert: Also the MINI “key” is basically close range wireless. Sticking in the ignition slot simply allows a wireless charging function and also the wireless security “key” function (push to start engine). The slot seems pretty robust. It’s nothing like the old school ignition switches and keys that GM is recalling.

    But still, keep your key chains light and minimal people – no need for carrying the kitchen sink with you ;-)

  • RBeckert July 28, 2014, 10:35 am

    Don’t know what FM station(s) you want to listen to but the Tunein Radio App has a “Local Radio” option and it seems to list most of the local FM stations in my area.

  • Julie Strietelmeier July 28, 2014, 11:12 am

    @RBeckert there’s one local FM station that I like, but since I listen to it so infrequently now, it’s really not that important. I was just hoping for a solution that doesn’t require using more of the data plan on my phone.

  • RBeckert July 30, 2014, 7:56 am

    This may be an answer for your FM station reception: http://freeradioonmyphone.org/

  • Julie Strietelmeier July 30, 2014, 8:23 am

    @Tato I don’t have any details as I haven’t set it up. As I understand it, there are 2 solutions at this time.
    1. Use an radio app to stream FM radio stations. This uses data, so it won’t be free. Your local station might not be available.
    2. Use an SDR radio and app. SDR radios can be purchased cheaply and come as a USB stick. It has to be physically plugged into your phone and also requires a physical antenna.

    @RBeckert I’m not sure how this is an answer (yet)…

  • rich July 30, 2014, 3:32 pm

    You know if you have a tuner built-in to your phone, there is no antenna, the ear phone wire is the antenna

  • Craig Carroll July 31, 2014, 3:37 am

    Hi i also have a g3 and have the same issue with the display timeout and tasker. Which option in secure settings are you using because all i can see that is applicable is lock screen timeout?

    Great article and thanks for sharing.

    Craig

  • Julie Strietelmeier July 31, 2014, 8:06 am

    @Craig I need to make another update to my article because the issue isn’t fully resolved. I can get the screen to stay on for a max of 20 minutes. Then it times out again. I use Secure Settings plugin for Tasker > Actions > Wake Device > Screen & Keyboard lights on > Duration = 20 minutes.

    I am going to write the people that write that plugin and see if they can add longer a longer duration. There’s a Manual Off duration, but that doesn’t work at all.

    If you figure out a solution, let me know :)

  • rich August 1, 2014, 11:01 am

    If the screen is oled, i believe it will burn in if left on all the time

  • Julie Strietelmeier August 1, 2014, 11:20 am

    @rich The LG G3 has an IPS display, so I’m not sure how that differs from an OLED display… Even so, I’m only wanting the screen to be on for the duration of my drive to and from work. The screen doesn’t remain static, it changes with different album artwork as the songs change.

  • Julie Strietelmeier August 4, 2014, 9:10 am

    The display time out issue has been resolved (I think). I was using the timeout Secure Settings setting incorrectly. Now I set the screen to manual on when I connect via Bluetooth to the Kinivio and then set it to manual off when Bluetooth is disconnected.

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