Why double up on your smarts? You already have all the navigation and entertainment and connectivity power you need in your pocket, so it seems a bit silly to buy the same stuff to put in your car. Especially as you’ll probably update your phone every year or two, but you’ll be hoping your car entertainment system lasts as long as your car, give or take an upgrade. And you’ll certainly be hoping that will be more than a year or two.

So it was a smart decision in itself that the cleverest functions of Mongoose Automotive Technologies Australia’s latest premium head unit — the Mongoose Q2CA — rely entirely on your smartphone, taking advantage of its powerful inbuilt computer, which Mongoose then leverages via Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.

Apple CarPlay or Android Auto are Apple’s and Google’s respective versions of interfaces with your phone, allowing you to use a set of their facilities via the Q2CA’s own touchscreen. I will be returning to those functions since they basically form the core of things here. But before that, let’s check out the rest of its capabilities.

The Mongoose Q2CA is a double-height DIN unit, with its touch-screen using very nearly all of the space on the front. There’s only a fairly thin bezel — 5.5mm on the top, 13.3mm on the side — and a narrow band across the bottom for the controls. There is no disc slot or rotary volume control.

Instead the controls across the bottom are touch sensitive, and marked by red backlights. There’s a home key to take you back the main page of the unit, a microphone button to invoke Siri or Google Assistant, a mute button and a seven-dot volume level indicator. You can touch a point on this to select a volume level, or slide your finger along it.

With so little around it, the screen manages to be very large at 172mm (6.75 inches), or very close to as big as it could be in a device with this form factor. Mongoose didn’t indicate the screen resolution, but a little work with a magnifying glass and a calculator suggests that it is WVGA in resolution, which is to say 800 by 480 pixels.

The standard screen layout is sensibly organised, with everything on the front page. The Media selection — this brings up the screen for the Bluetooth or USB player, whichever is in use — has the prominent top left position. Underneath that is the radio selection. Within that there’s room for 30 AM and FM presets. There’s no DAB+ digital radio here.

Then there are eight more items on the main screen, smaller but still easily selectable, for other functions. Two of these are for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Two more are for USB and for the analogue auxiliary input, which also supports composite video.

There are selections for making phone calls via a connected phone, and playing back music via Bluetooth, both of these working outside the CarPlay/Android Auto systems. You might have a Windows phone, for example, or a Bluetooth-equipped music player that doesn’t run iOS or Android.

Or, for that matter, you may want to play music from an iPad, for which there is no CarPlay support, or perhaps an older iPhone that predates CarPlay. For CarPlay you need at least an iPhone 5, and iOS 7.1. For Android Auto you need at least Android 5.0.

Another selector is for the camera input, while the final one is for settings.

The head unit packs a full set of connection options, including support for steering wheel controls, and line level outputs in case you want to use an external power amplifier. There’s a subwoofer output, the mentioned A/V inputs and two USB cables supplied — one of those is for CarPlay or Android Auto (its tag only indicates the former, but neither does Android Auto work on the other USB cable). The other is for attaching an iPod or USB storage. A microphone with a generous length of cable for plugging into the rear of the unit is provided. There’s also a microphone at the top left of the unit (and a reset button at top right, just in case things goes wrong). That little microphone only switches on if the remote microphone isn’t plugged in.

As always, only a restricted list of supported apps work with the CarPlay or Android Auto functionality — basically audio players, maps and navigation, phone and texting. And of course use of the Siri or Google Assistant for voice commands. What you actually have available on the screen in CarPlay and Android Auto will depend on the apps you have installed on your phone. For example, Spotify will be available only if it’s on your phone.

Physical installation of this unit should present no difficulties. The necessary cable looms are provided, with caps on the RCA-terminated line outputs, and the other cables semi-stripped, requiring only for the insulation to be pulled off. The park brake lead to release the moving vehicle function locks doesn’t do anything weird. Those wishing to cheat can just wire that to earth.

Within the ‘Audio’ section of the settings is a three-band equaliser, and an easily adjustable balance/fader control. What is not provided are facilities for adjusting the time alignment of channels, limiting the ability to tune the system for the best stereo imaging, nor for adjusting the crossover frequency of the subwoofer, suggesting that the main speakers will always be delivered a full bass signal, even if a subwoofer is installed. That tends to waste power on bass that those main speakers probably won’t be able to deliver.

Interestingly there was a switch buried down in the menu settings for choosing whether the car is left-hand drive or right-hand drive. By default it was on left-hand drive. But I didn’t find any obvious effect from changing it!

Apple CarPlay is a very convenient system, basically because there’s no set-up required at all. You just plug a Lightning cable into the marked USB cable, and then plug that into your phone. The CarPlay screen is brought up and after granting a couple of permissions you’re right to go. Android Auto has two modes: one where you control everything from the phone and the other where you use the head unit for control. The latter is like CarPlay, but you need to connect the cable and also pair the phone with the head unit via Bluetooth.

The first thing to note about the Mongoose Q2CA is that it was very easy to use. The touch-screen was responsive and the text and graphics were sharp and clear. The screen was bright, although the black levels were limited (judging from the harsh position of someone who reviews TVs regularly — few will find it troubling on a car head unit).

One thing I particularly liked was that the volume control is indeed on the right-hand side — closest to the driver in Australian cars. A touch-sensitive volume control has the potential for trouble, particularly an accidental touch of a high volume spot having the system blast at dangerously loud levels, possibly damaging speakers or head unit, or worse, alarming the driver. Mongoose has thought this through and has made its touch volume operate in a relatively safe way. If you touch any point lower than the current volume, it will switch instantly to that level. But if you touch a point higher, even right up at the top, the level will increase by only a modest amount. Keep tapping for more. To increase rapidly, you touch and swipe to the right.

You’re going to want to have a cradle for your phone somewhere reasonably close to the head unit, but also close to you. It will need to plug in for the enhanced features, but it turns out that unit’s own microphones won’t detect ‘Hey Siri’ or ‘Okay Google’. A safety feature I guess. You can instead tap the microphone button on the front of the head unit to have them listen to your question or direction, or direct your ‘Hey’ or ‘Okay’ at the phone. Once Siri or Google Assistant has started, the unit’s own microphone works.

Happily both Siri and Google Assistant are very good at understanding the human voice... at least by the standards of machine understanding. You will typically need to speak forthrightly, given the possibility of noise in the car. Then the effectiveness will depend mostly on how adept you are at using Siri and Google Assistant in general. You can do all the stuff expected in a car, including sending texts and voice dialling by contact name, and having messages read back to you. But you can do the other stuff for which we’ve come to rely on these assistants, such as asking for directions, finding out whether the shop you want to visit is still open, doing basic
arithmetic and even resolving disputes by asking for factual information.

Which is better? Siri and Google Assistant both have their fans. I’m better with the latter, but that may not be the case with you.

The unit did a very good job driving loudspeakers, and maintaining good control over them. I tried it both with and without a subwoofer. I would have preferred the inclusion of a switchable high-pass filter for the main channels for use with a subwoofer, but there still seemed to be plenty of power on tap. That was particular evident when I used main speakers with good bass (down to about 40 hertz) and no sub. The kick drum on the Primus album ‘Frizzle Fry’ was tight and strong, and Claypool’s bass well rounded and full, while the control of the unit over the speakers remained excellent.

If you want to play music from USB storage the unit turned out to be rather competent, handling not just MP3 and iTunes-style AAC, but also high resolution FLAC (up to 96kHz). It did not support Apple Lossless.

The unit ran fairly warm, but not unusually so. Just about the whole pack of it, apart from the spaces left for connectors, is covered with head sinks.

The Mongoose Q2CA performs well and is pretty good value for money. For those wanting to make the jump to a unit that integrates with a phone, particularly if you’re platform agnostic and may use both Apple and Android phones in your car, then it’s well worth checking out.

Price: $699

+ Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
+ Good overall performance
+ Very good value for money

- Nothing at this price

Type: Double-DIN multimedia head unit
FEATURES: 6.75-inch touch screen; Apple CarPlay; Android Auto; Bluetooth; Mic supplied; USB playback; AM/FM; Steering Wheel Control ready; Reversing camera input; A/V input; pre-outs including subwoofer
POWER: 4 x 45 watts (maximum) into 4 ohms