What is Android Auto? Google Maps, apps and UK user guide
In-car smartphone connectivity is a big part of a new car’s appeal and Android Auto is one of the most common systems
Android Auto is Google’s version of Apple CarPlay and it’s one of the most desirable connectivity features on a new car. It’s a clever technology package that means you can use many handy features of your smartphone through your car’s infotainment screen.
There are plenty of reasons to use Android Auto but the apps would be the main one; useful ones such as Google Maps, Waze navigation, Google Play Music and Spotify are all available to use via Android Auto. The system can also read out your text messages and manage phone calls for you. You can use phone apps to play podcasts, internet radio and your own music.
If you own a compatible car and an Android smartphone running Android 6.0 or higher, you can use Android Auto. How you connect depends on your specific phone and car model – phones using Android 9 and earlier will require the Android Auto app, while Android 10 phones and later have Android Auto built in. If your car is equipped with Android Auto, all you need to do is plug in your phone using a USB cable and follow the on-screen instructions to get it set up. After that, all you do is plug it in each time you get into the car and it will appear on the screen.
However, that is not the only way to connect; some cars are fitted with wireless Android Auto capability, which enables you to connect your phone via Bluetooth to the infotainment system. Of course, this may mean you are unable to charge your device while you do so, but some vehicles eliminate this problem with a wireless charging pad. Bear in mind that no matter how you connect, your phone will need an internet connection to use all of Android Auto’s features.
Android Auto uses your car’s input device, so if there’s a touchscreen then you can use that to interact with the apps you’ll see. If there’s no touchscreen then it works with the rotary controller or steering wheel buttons. Voice control can also be used to work your way through apps and control the whole system without taking your hands off the wheel or eyes off the road.
You can also use voice control to set your destination; saying ‘Hey Google’ wakes up the voice recognition feature or, if your car has a voice control button on the steering wheel, you can simply press this. Google also recently added calendar integration into Android Auto, so users can see events and appointments.
Just like Apple CarPlay for iPhones, Android Auto makes using your phone in your car a lot easier, with the same operating system we’ve become used to on our phones and the same apps we use every day. Apps need to go through a certification process to be safe to use on the move, so not everything on your phone is available while driving.
There’s a huge range of apps available though, from music, radio, audiobook and podcasts for entertainment on the move, to various messaging services – operated through voice control, or a one-tap Smart Reply function. A recent update also added YouTube, which allows you to watch videos on the service when you’re parked.
One particular feature of Android Auto that might appeal to tech-savvy drivers is that useful information is organised by the system and shown on the infotainment screen as a ‘card’. Android’s example of this in action is a reminder to buy sun cream if the sat-nav has been programmed to direct you to a beach.
The service also recently introduced split-screen functionality, allowing you to view multiple apps on the screen at once, such as navigation and audio, without having to return to the home screen. The update also added scaling, so functions are more clearly displayed regardless of the size of your car’s display – larger screens might display more at once, while smaller ones can be pared back so they’re still perfectly legible.
And perhaps cleverest of all, the latest version lets you unlock and start some cars with your phone. The function is currently limited to a handful of phones and currently just a selection of recent BMW models, but it’s anticipated that the likes of Honda, Hyundai and VW will soon also join the party.
For those looking for the best audio experience, Android Auto also offers users a 90-day free subscription to Google Play Music to stream songs on the move.
Also like Apple’s system, Android Auto isn’t available in every car right now. It’s still being rolled out by various manufacturers but it won’t be long until it’s standard or optional on every car on sale. If you have an older car, many aftermarket radio units now come with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility.
Google is constantly updating the Android Auto software to enable more features and make it even more intuitive to use. These updates will be installed onto your mobile device each time there is a system update, so when you next connect your phone, the latest version of Android Auto will be loaded.
Cars with Android Auto in the UK
Android Auto isn’t on every new car yet, so if you’re keen for your next one to have it, make sure you check the manufacturer’s specifications to see which cars are available with the system – either as standard or as part of an option pack.
We can’t list every car currently available with Android Auto, because that list would be huge and constantly changing, but more and more cars are now offered with the software. We’d always recommend checking with the dealer first, as specifications can change regularly depending on the model year.
However, we usually mention it in our in-depth reviews, so head to our review of the car you’re looking at to see if it has Android Auto and/or Apple CarPlay.
What’s the difference between Android Auto and Android Automotive?
You may have heard one or both of these terms when reading about in-car connectivity, but despite their confusingly similar names, Android Auto and Android Automotive are two distinct systems designed to serve different purposes.
Android Auto is the system we’ve been talking you through so far – the software that runs on your smartphone and allows you to use certain features of your smartphone through your car’s in-built display once it's connected.
Android Automotive works differently. This is a unique operating system, based on Android, that is baked into the car itself and is used to run the car’s infotainment and climate controls, without any smartphone involvement. You can find it in new cars from Polestar, Volvo, Ford and Renault, amongst others. Although different manufacturers will tweak the visual layout, the operating system underneath is the same.
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