The massively popular F-150 pickup truck was one of the first Ford vehicles to gain the manufacturer's new SYNC 4 infotainment system for the 2021 model year, and I recently had a chance to test out the vehicle to get a sense of how the overall system functions, including a key new feature for iPhone owners: wireless CarPlay.

2021 ford f150
If you've shopped pickup trucks before, you know that they come in a huge array of configurations with different trims, cab and bed sizes, engines, and more across a range of prices. While I didn't get to test out the upcoming all-electric F-150 that's been making headlines recently, my 2021 test vehicle was a Lariat trim 4x4 with SuperCrew cab and a 3.5L PowerBoost Full Hybrid engine.

With some additional options, my tester came to a sticker price of a little over $68,000, which is toward the higher end of the F-150's expansive pricing range that starts at under $30,000 and can push past $80,000 fully loaded.

SYNC 4 Infotainment

The Lariat trim of the F-150 comes with a generous 12-inch infotainment screen for managing the SYNC 4 system and Ford says the hardware is twice as fast as that used in the SYNC 3 system. That makes for a responsive system that responds well when switching between functions and doing more intensive tasks like panning and zooming with built-in navigation.

2021 ford f150 sync darkSYNC 4 with built-in navigation

SYNC 4 is also designed from the ground up to be scalable across display sizes and aspect ratios, from the relatively traditional 8-inch and 12-inch display options in the F-150 to the large portrait-style screens in the Edge and Mustang Mach-E that get a slightly modified SYNC 4A system.

The overall look of SYNC 4 is quite similar to SYNC 3, with a simple look that generally lacks significant contrast and forgoes the increasingly common dashboard/widget home screen view for a split-screen view that allows you to see two functions simultaneously and easily switch between them using icons along the bottom of the display.

2021 ford f150 sync radio navSYNC 4 split-screen with radio and built-in navigation

I've come to prefer dashboard-style views that make it easy to see a variety of information all at once, but I must say that the ability to easily swap between functions, including ‌CarPlay‌, using the persistent navigation bar did grow on me over my time with the vehicle.

SYNC 4 offers both light and dark color schemes, and the system can be set to automatically switch between them depending on the time of day. I must say that I was not a fan of the light color scheme, even during the daytime, as it simply felt like too much light gray with not enough contrast among various elements and even the background. I much preferred the dark theme with its heavy emphasis on blue, which felt better to my eyes regardless of the time of day.

2021 ford f150 sync lightSYNC 4 light theme

SYNC 4 benefits from not being overly complicated, even though there are a number of advanced features thanks to it being installed in an F-150, such as controlling the onboard generator system, exterior work lighting, and more. But for general use, there aren't a ton of functions you'll need to access on a regular basis.

In addition to the large touchscreen, there is a set of buttons and knobs below it for controlling various audio functions like volume, tuning, play/pause, skipping forward and backward, changing audio sources, and accessing audio settings. Several of these functions can of course also be controlled using buttons on the steering wheel.

2021 ford f150 climateManual buttons and knobs for audio and climate control

Climate controls are thankfully manual, with generous knobs for setting the temperature and an assortment of buttons for various modes including heated and ventilated seats and the heated steering wheel. An easy-to-find rocker in the center of the grouping helps you quickly adjust the fan speed while minimizing the need to take your eyes off the road.

CarPlay

As is becoming increasingly common across the latest infotainment platforms, SYNC 4 supports both wired and wireless ‌CarPlay‌, offering maximum flexibility for phone integration. Wireless setup is simple, requiring only a quick pairing confirmation via Bluetooth before the Wi-Fi connection is made. From that point on, I experienced quick and seamless connection every time I started the vehicle.

2021 ford f150 carplay dashboard‌CarPlay‌ dashboard view

With the F-150's 12-inch screen divided into several sections with the split-screen view on the left and right, persistent navigation bar at the bottom, and fairly large status bar at the top, ‌CarPlay‌ feels like it takes up a relatively small portion of the overall screen real estate. It's certainly functional, but you won't get the expansive ‌CarPlay‌ experience you see on some other vehicles where it can display in widescreen at greater resolution.

2021 ford f150 carplay home‌CarPlay‌ home screen

‌CarPlay‌ also looks a little out of place against the relatively monochrome SYNC 4 system that takes up the rest of the screen. But ‌CarPlay‌ performs well, and I noticed no lag or other issues when using either a wired or wireless connection.

2021 ford f150 carplay mapsApple Maps in ‌CarPlay‌

While ‌CarPlay‌ itself is limited to only a portion of the SYNC 4 display, it does an adequate job of displaying content, including navigation apps. Any smaller and it would definitely feel cramped, but it gets the job done.

2021 ford f150 carplay now playingNow Playing screen in ‌CarPlay‌

The main advantage of this layout for SYNC 4 is that ‌CarPlay‌ integrates very well with the native system. You can view secondary information like radio or SiriusXM data and controls in the split-screen view right alongside ‌CarPlay‌, and jumping back and forth between ‌CarPlay‌ and other SYNC functions is extremely easy thanks to the navigation bar at the bottom. You're always only one tap away from getting in or out of ‌CarPlay‌.

2021 ford f150 split screenSplit-screen ‌CarPlay‌ with options for secondary cards

In addition to the 12-inch main infotainment screen, Lariat and higher trims also include a 12-inch all-digital driver productivity screen. It's dominated by large digital tachometer and speedometer dials, but it can display some information such as native navigation prompts in the center portion of the screen. It does not support second-screen ‌CarPlay‌ ‌Apple Maps‌ navigation prompts, which is disappointing but not terribly surprising considering that feature is just starting to be supported by a few manufacturers.

2021 ford f150 productivity screenDriver's 12-inch productivity screen

Charging and Ports

The F-150 does offer an optional wireless phone charger, but unfortunately, my Lariat trim tester did not come equipped with it. The charger is included on higher-end King Ranch, Platinum, and Limited trims, and it's unfortunate that it's not available even as an option on lower trims to complement wireless ‌CarPlay‌ and Android Auto.

2021 ford f150 media binMedia bin with USB-C and USB-A ports for charging and wired phone connectivity

There are three sets of USB ports through the cab, however, with each set including both a USB-C port and a USB-A port. One set for data and charging is located at the base of the center stack next to a generous media bin, which is where the wireless charging pad is located on trims that offer it. The chargers and bin have a retractable cover to help hide away valuables.

2021 ford f150 consoleCharge-only USB-C and USB-A ports in center console

The second and third sets of USB ports are both charge-only, with one set located inside the cavernous center console compartment and the third set located on the rear of the center console for second-row passengers.

2021 ford f150 rear portsCharge-only USB-C and USB-A ports, as well as 12V and 120V power for rear passengers

My test vehicle was also equipped with Ford's 7.2 kW Pro Power Onboard system, which is exclusive to the hybrid powertrain and offers various other 120V power outlets and even a 240V outlet scattered around the cabin and in the bed of the truck, allowing the vehicle to act as a generator for power tools and other devices. Even under a full load, the system can run for up to 32 hours on a full tank of gas.

2021 ford f150 pro powerPro Power Onboard panel in truck bed with four 120V and one 240V power outlets

Wrap-up

My feelings on SYNC 4 in the 2021 Ford F-150 can really be broken down into two parts: the look and the functionality. To put it simply, I'm not a big fan of the overall look of the system. Too much of the overall interface is relatively monochrome, which results in a boring look and makes it harder to pick out information and interactive elements. I particularly don't like the light theme and its fairly bright gray look, while the dark theme's blue offers a bit more character but is still too much of one color for my tastes.

On the functionality side, I found SYNC 4 to be a very solid system that was easy to use, even considering some of the extra features included thanks to the F-150 being a workhorse pickup. The system is responsive and I appreciate the flexibility of a split-screen view that gives access to both ‌CarPlay‌ and the native system simultaneously.

My initial disappointment at a lack of a dashboard-style view quickly gave way to an appreciation of how the split-screen view and the persistent navigation bar make it easy to switch between functions and make ‌CarPlay‌ feel like just another app, even if the look is wildly different from the native system.

If I have one issue with the functionality, it's that I'd like to see a bit better use of space in the overall design. There's an awful lot of wasted space along the top of the screen, and I'd like to see a different layout on a screen with perhaps a bit different aspect ratio that would allow for a wider and larger ‌CarPlay‌ pane within the system.

When it comes to connectivity, the F-150 certainly offers an array of ports to help keep devices connected and charged, and of course, wireless ‌CarPlay‌ is a convenient option that's great to see standard across all trims.

I do wish wireless phone charging wasn't limited to only the higher trim levels, as it seemed a bit silly to me to be driving a vehicle with a sticker price approaching $70,000 but which didn't even offer the feature as an option on that trim. I'm still a firm believer that wireless phone charging should at least be an option if not standard on any vehicle that includes wireless ‌CarPlay‌ and Android Auto.

Related Roundup: CarPlay

Top Rated Comments

dlewis23 Avatar
4 weeks ago
I hate it so much when manufactures don't let the CarPlay interface use the entire display size. it makes zero sense. Go learn from BMW and how they do it.
Score: 19 Votes (Like | Disagree)
trigf Avatar
4 weeks ago

Supposedly the size is a limitation is due to iOS and CarPlay resolution restrictions.
CarPlay has several resolution options.

https://developer.apple.com/design/human-interface-guidelines/carplay/visual-design/layout/

They could have easlily used a 16x9 resolution and moved the rest of the infotainment information below the CarPlay interface. This is just terrible UI.
Score: 5 Votes (Like | Disagree)
J___o___h___n Avatar
4 weeks ago
Trust Ford to make it look awful.
Why is it not full screen?
Score: 5 Votes (Like | Disagree)
gaximus Avatar
4 weeks ago
This is why car manufactures need to support CarPlay and Android Auto. Look at how awful that UI is. Bright blue gradient buttons, this looks like something out of a late 90s concept. In 20 years, CarPlay will still look modern, because it updates with the phone UI, and the in car nav will look 40 years outdated.

Also I hope you can go full screen with the CarPlay, if not, I'm not sure why Apple would approve this.(I'm assuming that because this has to be licensed, Apple gets final word on implementation.)
Score: 4 Votes (Like | Disagree)
tomtendo Avatar
4 weeks ago

I hate it so much when manufactures don't let the CarPlay interface use the entire display size. it makes zero sense. Go learn from BMW and how they do it.
100%.

Our new 2021 Chevy Suburban takes up the whole screen tho... 10 inches or so... its massive and great! (Wireless too)
Score: 4 Votes (Like | Disagree)
mansplains Avatar
4 weeks ago
They took away the bed capacity for a bigger cab with a bigger screen and still can't maximize the interface. Stop turning trucks into SUVs.
Score: 3 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Top Stories

macbook air orange

Apple Developing a Whole New Kind of MacBook Air

Monday June 21, 2021 2:15 am PDT by
Apple is believed to be working on a completely new, high-end version of the MacBook Air, according to recent reports. Bloomberg's Mark Gurman, who often reveals accurate insights into Apple's plans, has repeatedly discussed the company's work on a high-end MacBook Air. Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo and leaker Jon Prosser have also referred to a similar MacBook Air model. The high-end...
ios wifi settings

iOS Bug Causes Specific Network Name to Disable Wi-Fi on iPhones

Sunday June 20, 2021 4:15 am PDT by
A wireless network naming bug has been discovered in iOS that effectively disables an iPhone's ability to connect to Wi-Fi. Security researcher Carl Schou found that after joining a Wi-Fi network with the name "%p%s%s%s%s%n" his iPhone's Wi-Fi functionality was left "permanently disabled." Changing a hotspot's SSID did nothing to correct the problem, with even a reboot failing to make a...
purple iphone 12 and 12 mini

iPhone 12 Mini Production Reportedly Ended Earlier Than Expected Due to Relatively Low Sales

Monday June 21, 2021 7:07 am PDT by
Following widespread reports that the iPhone 12 mini has experienced poor sales performance, at least relative to other iPhone 12 models, Taiwanese research firm TrendForce today claimed that production of the device has already ended. According to TrendForce, the iPhone 12 mini "reached End-of-Life ahead of time" during the second quarter of 2021, suggesting that Apple will focus on selling ...
iOS 15 Users Underwhelmed Feature

Users Underwhelmed by iOS 15 and iPadOS 15, Survey Suggests

Monday June 21, 2021 7:17 am PDT by
Users appear to be underwhelmed by Apple's upcoming iOS 15 and iPadOS 15 updates, according to the findings of a new survey by SellCell. The survey asked 3,000 iPhone and iPad users, evenly split between men and women, aged 18 or over in the United States, what they thought of iOS 15, iPadOS 15, and the naming of the upcoming iPhone 13 lineup. Over 50 percent of all of the survey's...
Top Stories 63 Feature

Top Stories: Beats Studio Buds Announced, Apple Watch Series 7 Rumors, and More

Saturday June 19, 2021 6:00 am PDT by
The Apple news cycle started to move beyond WWDC this week, but that doesn't mean there still wasn't a lot to talk about, led by the official debut of the much-leaked Beats Studio Buds that might give us a hint of what to expect for the second-generation AirPods Pro. With no hardware announcements at WWDC, we also took a look at when we might finally see the long-rumored redesigned MacBook...
primeday2020 feature3

Amazon Prime Day: The Best Apple Deals

Monday June 21, 2021 6:15 am PDT by
Amazon's annual Prime Day event has officially kicked off today, beginning 48 hours of discounts, offers, and tons of savings across Amazon's storefront. This includes everything from home electronics to clothing, jewelry, video games, movies, and much more. Note: MacRumors is an affiliate partner with these vendors. When you click a link and make a purchase, we may receive a small payment,...
iOS Spam Calendar Feature

iCloud Users Continue to Be Plagued by Calendar Spam

Monday June 21, 2021 8:51 am PDT by
Despite previous attempts to put the situation at rest, some iCloud users continue to experience spam calendar invitations, causing their calendars to be filled with random events. The situation received widespread coverage in 2016, where Apple said that it was "actively working to address this issue" by "identifying and blocking suspicious senders." Victims are targeted in various ways. The ...
iphone 13 yellow

TrendForce: iPhone 13 Lineup Will Remain Limited to Maximum 512GB of Storage

Monday June 21, 2021 6:33 am PDT by
Apple will likely unveil its next-generation "iPhone 12s" or "iPhone 13" lineup in around two and a half months from now, and ahead of time, Taiwanese research firm TrendForce has outlined its expectations for the devices. A summary of TrendForce's expectations:Apple will unveil four new iPhones in September, including a mini model, a standard model, and two Pro models. September is the...
16 inch macbook pro m2 render

When Can We Expect the Redesigned MacBook Pros Now?

Wednesday June 16, 2021 7:11 am PDT by
With no sign of redesigned MacBook Pro models at this year's WWDC, when can customers expect the much-anticipated new models to launch? A number of reports, including investor notes from Morgan Stanley and Wedbush analysts, claimed that new MacBook Pro models would be coming during this year's WWDC. This did not happen, much to the disappointment of MacBook Pro fans, who have been...
maxresdefault

Video: 20 Annoyances Apple Fixed in iOS 15 and macOS Monterey

Friday June 18, 2021 11:36 am PDT by
With iOS 15 and macOS Monterey, Apple is adding several quality of life improvements, which are designed to address some of the complaints that people have had with these operating systems for years now. Subscribe to the MacRumors YouTube channel for more videos. In our latest YouTube video, we're highlighting some of our favorite "fix" features that address long-running problems in iOS and...