Support for Android Auto has become one of the most important features to look for in a new car. Smartphone integration systems, such as Google’s Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, allow you to access the basic elements of your phone through the car's infotainment system. You can keep your phone stowed safely in your pocket or purse while you make and take phone calls, receive and send text messages, stream music, and are guided to your destination.
Compared to the pace of technological innovation in the smartphone world, the auto industry moves at a glacial pace. Because of the expense of developing a car, it can take several years for new functions to be built into vehicles. With Android Auto, you can have the latest features available at your fingertips.
Android Auto users will always have up-to-date infotainment, mapping, and connectivity, including access to Google Maps, which includes current traffic conditions and information from Waze users.
What Can Android Auto Do?
Android Auto can perform the basic functions of an Android-powered smartphone, plus the actions of several third-party applications using the car’s infotainment interface.
One of its top features is navigation. Android Auto uses Google Maps data supplemented with information about traffic flow. The maps are continually updated for free, unlike most built-in navigation systems, where you have to purchase and install annual mapping updates. Streaming navigation will, however, use your phone’s data plan. You can also use the Android Auto Waze app to get peer-sourced traffic data along your route.
Android Auto can stream music, podcasts, and other content into your car’s audio system from files stored on your device, Google Play Music, Pandora, iHeartRadio, NPR One, Spotify, and more. Streamed entertainment will also use your phone’s data plan.
You can talk and text using Android Auto, with most functions available by voice command. It can be set to auto-reply so you’re not distracted while you are driving. When Android Auto is running, your car’s phone buttons activate Android Auto’s calling functions. You can also use “OK, Google” in many vehicles. The system provides many more features than you get with a basic Bluetooth telephone connection, such as access to your entire contact list.
Android Auto, unlike Apple CarPlay, also supports a number of third-party talk and text messaging applications, including Hangouts, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Skype, and Google Allo.
What Does Android Auto Look Like?
The Android Auto app is laid out in an array of app tiles. Tap a tile, and it expands to take most of the display, with a ribbon at the bottom to access other major services.
As you use the app, it will start to predict what functions you will need and automatically begin presenting those on its home screen.
In most vehicles, when Android Auto is running, much of the vehicle system information that you would typically see on the screen is covered up. You have to exit Android Auto to get to functions such as climate control or car setup. An exception is the vertical screen used on several Volvo models. Android Auto takes a horizontal swath across the middle of the screen, leaving room for other vehicle controls on the screen.
How Do I Make Android Auto Work?
To launch Android Auto, you need an Android phone running the 5.0 Lollipop operating system and the free Android Auto app downloaded from the Google Play store. You connect your phone to one of the car’s USB ports with a high-quality cable and the system will launch. In some vehicles, you might have to enable the infotainment system to automatically start Android Auto when you plug in a compatible phone. Most Android Auto functions require you to have a good cellular network signal.
The system will not only take over the car's central display, but it will also take advantage of your infotainment system's controls, including voice commands, touch screens, command dials, and touchpads. Most cell phone handset controls are locked out when you are using Android Auto for safety reasons.
You can manage most functions with Google's excellent speech recognition technology. In most cases, you'll hit either a screen button or your car's steering-wheel-mounted voice command button to activate the voice recognition system. In some cases, you can just say "OK, Google" and Android Auto will spring to life.
Which Cars Support Android Auto?
The growing list of cars that support Android Auto includes the majority of new models entering the market or undergoing significant upgrades. Android Auto is supported by most manufacturers – the notable exceptions being Toyota and Lexus, who do not support either Android Auto or Apple CarPlay.
Almost all cars that include support for Google’s mobile system are also compatible with CarPlay, so if your household includes both Apple and Android users, everyone will be happy.
Android Auto is also supported by aftermarket infotainment systems sold by Sony, Pioneer, Kenwood, and others. You’ll need to replace your car’s existing system with a new head unit, but it’s a way to add the technology to older vehicles.
You can also run Android Auto as a standalone app on Android devices. You’ll lose the ability to use your car’s infotainment interface, but you can still legally take advantage of the in-car technology while driving in most states when you have your phone securely held in a dashboard cell phone mount.