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Lenovo Smartphone into Center Cubby Installation DIY


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This is to document the rationale and install process that went into putting a (relatively) modern smartphone/tablet into my outback.





The most popular "carputer" option for these cars seem to have been the Nexus tablet. I did not like that particular option because


1) the platform is already 5 years old

2) no easily accessible physical power button

3) Needing to use custom ROMS to make it car-friendly

4)loss of the trip computer (I do like the ability to select distance, temp, etc), which would also trigger your airbag light.

5) cost of a JDM nav bezel.


After some measurement and search of possible smartphone options, I came up this: Lenovo Phab 2 Pro




You can get the Pro model for around $250 on ebay, (I paid $204 for a used one on amazon), or a regular Phab 2 model for less than $200 (less ram, no AR camera).





Installation was pretty easy, moreover, if you screw up, you can easily get replacement center-stack vent/cubby assemblies for $35-50. There was no cutting involved of the center surround. You do need to cut holes into the sides of the vents, you lose some side-to-side movement depending on how thick of a usb/headphone jack you use to connect the phablet. I trimmed part of the center cubby to fill in the small space left after mounting the phone in its place - it also adds extra stability for the phone with doublesided tape/epoxy.




Connectivity is handled by a USB cable, bluetooth, and a headphone jack. I already have an aftermarket stereo, so the headphone jack plugged right in. If using the OEM headunit, you can easily get the aux jack mod and/or bluetooth module for it. Usb cable is for power - I opted to run it under the shifter trim and into the center console 12v jack. I was thinking of using a 12v -USB adapter wired behind the headunit, but I decided the former as it was easier to route, and you can use a USB extension to plug the phone into a laptop if you want to add files, update, etc.




How about the software?

I needed to only change a couple of things in the stock android OS to adapt it for car use. I turned on developer options and enabled "Stay awake whenever charging", I downloaded an app to maintain landscape orientation at all times, and lastly, I enabled accessibility options so I can have a floating button to access the top bar (some of the upper touch areas are hard to reach to swipe down). With these three settings, the unit is always on when I turn on the car, screen turns off when the car is off (more on turning music on/off), and will always stay in landscape orientation. The phone remains powered on/standby when the car is off. I found I can leave the car unused for over 6 days and still have enough battery for it to turn on when I started the car again (and resume charging). This is a non issue, however as I can always use the paperclip method to turn the phone back on again.




How does it work?

Quite well. Modern smartphones are pretty standalone, and have robust hardware, so I have GPS, streaming, video playback. You have the option of getting monthly data, or even prepaid data for this phone (I left a SIM card in place in case I ever want to), or do what I did and connect to your cellphone's wifi hotspot. I found the audio jack sound quality to be highly dependent on the cable and headunit you use. The low profile jack I used did not have good shielding and I would occasionally get buzzing on the line. Bluetooh was much better and the unit will also stop playback when the car is off.



The way the smartphone fits is that it is slightly tilted - this makes it easier to see in direct sunlight (fig 1), partial (fig 2), and at night (fig 3) and there is a space along the top bezel where you can still press the power and volume buttons (for resets and debug mode) with just a bent paperclip.




Edited by rougeben83
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Most of this can be done off car, an excellent project for a rainy day. With the center cubby/trim off the car, you will need to take off the center cubby and side ducts (reqs t10 or t8 star bits IIRC). Test fit the smartphone (fig 1) and you'll see how close everything fits without any trimming. The pieces I had to modify were primarily cutting sections of the cubby assembly to hold the phone in place and to fill in the empty space on the sides (fig 2). I measured and trimmed the side pieces of the cubby, sanded them down (fig 3), then cut some additional plastic to fill in the holes (a used gift card) and epoxied on top of the side pieces. Spray paint black and mount (fig 4).



Next, I trimmed the lower half of the cubby to secure the lower part of the phone to the center trim (fig 5). I cut an additional plastic straight section, notched the ends, and used it to secure the top part of the phone to the side ducts (fig 6). Using double sided tape on the bottom, sides, and top will minimized vibrations and squeaks. Also transferred the metal "heat shield" from the bottom of the cubby to the top of the trip computer.







Edited by rougeben83
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Next is trimming the side ducts to fit the USB and headphone jack. There is minimal cutting when compared to the Nexus install.




Get low profile/90 deg adapters. Depending on how slim they are will determine how much horizontal play your vent will have. The usb adapter was a little thick, so I only have minimal side to side on the passenger side (fig 1). The driver's side vent is fine (fig 2). I used black windshield adhesive to seal up the plugs (fig 3).




Edited by rougeben83
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Time to install into the car. Removal of the center stack has been covered on the forums. You really only need to do it to run the USB power, and to connect the phone to your headunit (fig 1). I chose to run the usb power to the DC power inside the center console (fig 2). The hardest part was getting a step drill inside to get a large enough hole to fit the USB plug through.



The center cubby w/ smartphone simply snaps in place. It is a little harder to pop out than the stock cubby, but nothing impossible.




After that, it was a matter of putting everything back together.



Edited by rougeben83
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