What is Android Auto? The best of your phone in the car
One of our experts shares his experience with Android app control through a car stereo
What is Android Auto™? Android Auto is the easiest and safest way to use your Android smartphone in the car. It gives you larger icons and takes advantage of your phone's voice control functions to give you access to more of what your phone can do.
In this article, we'll get a guided tour as to how it works from an Android Auto fan and, more importantly, how to make Android Auto work in your car.
In the news: Android Auto updated their user interface in late 2018 for better music exploration (including voice search) and multiple messaging options, among other improvements.
Android Auto makes certain phone apps easier to see and safer to use from behind the wheel. It works as a standalone app on most Android phones, but it really shines when paired with a compatible touchscreen car stereo. The pairing typically works via wired USB connection. A handful of newer stereos offer a wireless option.
The interface is streamlined and voice-driven, so you can concentrate on the road ahead and keep your hands on the wheel while still staying in contact with others, pulling up music and podcasts, or finding your next destination.
Here's a quick look at how Android Auto can perform in your dash:
We asked Patrick Spraker, a Merchandising Specialist here at Crutchfield, for a tour of how Android Auto helps him during his 3-hour round-trip commute to the office. He'll help fill you in below. But first, we'll answer some common questions.
Is your smartphone compatible with Android Auto?
Android Auto should work on any phone running Android 5.0 Lollipop or above, but Android 6.0 Marshmallow or better is recommended at the minimum. Downloading the Android Auto app onto your phone is a good way of double-checking your phone’s compatibility — before you go stereo shopping.
How do you get Android Auto in your car?
Android Auto will only work on compatible touchscreen car stereos with a screen size of at least 6.4". So, either you buy a new car into which it's been factory-installed, or you can install one of these Android Auto compatible head units in your vehicle. Some older stereos may require a firmware update to get up to speed — check the owner's manual or get in touch with Crutchfield tech support if you purchased your stereo from us.
What apps work with Android Auto?
Lots of apps for entertainment, communication, and navigation work with Android Auto — way more than we could list here. You can check out the app list for an up-to-date listing of what's compatible right now. In the meantime, here are some highlights:
- Google Maps
- Google Play Music
- Amazon Music
- SiriusXM Radio (subscription required)
- Slacker Radio
- Facebook Messenger
Everything you love about Android on your car stereo
Android Auto employs the "card" format (which it borrows from Google Now), placing important bits of info on the screen in easy-to-read rectangles or squares. We also refer to them as tabs. You can pull up a number of different functions with a fingertip or voice command, or get back to the stereo's home screen in a jiffy.
One fan's overview of how Android Auto works on a car stereo
Merchandising specialist Patrick Spraker, one of our resident Android Auto experts, talks us through some of the main features of Android Auto, which he uses via his Google Pixel™ 3 XL smartphone. Let's hear what he has to say.
Patrick explains the benefits of Android Auto to me (I'm an iPhone® user).
Intuitive layouts for super-easy control
"Once Android Auto launches on a compatible receiver, the stereo shows large, easy-to-read cards with handy info like the weather, driving time estimates, default music app, and even the names of recent texts or calls. The app even juggles these tabs around based on relevance. Virtual buttons along the bottom of the screen get me to the phone functions and music and navigation apps."
Voice commands let you go hands-free
"Voice control via Google Assistant lets me control the action without touching any screens. I simply say "OK Google" or "Hey Google" or press the appropriate buttons on my steering wheel controls and tell it what I want to do: call a contact, compose a text, take me to a place, play an artist or album. I can also search for information (like phone numbers or store hours) or nearby destinations."
Patrick with Android Auto maps on the receiver's display.
I can play all my music services
"I can pick up my music right where I left it by tapping "play" on the music app card. Google Play Music's my go-to app, and when I don't have any songs queued up or a playlist in progress, it presents me with a "Music for driving" screen with several curated playlist options based on my past selections. The menu also gets me to my playlists, podcasts, and other recent listening activity."
Texting and calling made simpler and safer
"The tab format makes it easy to tell which calls and texts are the most recent. I can have incoming texts read aloud to me over the car stereo and dictacte a response without taking my hands off the wheel. I also have the option to send a customizable canned response like, "I'm driving right now" or "I'll get back to you shortly." I can also mute a conversation if I'm getting bombarded with texts. I can even see a preview of the message onscreen when my car is stopped, which wasn't a feature available until late 2018."
"I can make calls by tapping the phone icon, or dial up a contact from my phone book by speaking the name out loud."
Android Auto navigation options
"Android Auto defaults to Google Maps for navigation, but it also works with the popular Waze app for turn-by-turn directions and crowdsourced info on traffic, accidents, and speed traps along my route. It also works with many other navigation apps, and once I set a favorite, it'll default to that one going forward. Once Android Auto learns my daily driving routine, it automatically figures out how long it'll take to get to either work or home, depending on the time of day and where I am."
What about wireless Android Auto?
Yes, wireless Android Auto is a thing now. Compatible stereos employ a built-in Wi-Fi® network in combination with Bluetooth to communicate with your phone. After the initial setup and pairing with your phone, you'll be able to launch Android Auto on the stereo without touching your phone as soon as you get into your vehicle.
Not only does wireless Android Auto save you the hassle of having to plug in your phone whenever you get into the vehicle, it also works great for fans of wireless charging in the vehicle, as they can set their phone down and leave it alone to charge as they travel.
The number of aftermarket stereos with wireless Android Auto out there is small but growing.
Do you have more questions about Android Auto?
Patrick gave us a lot of insights about using and Android phone in the car. If there's anything else you'd like to know about Android Auto, you're sure to find it on Google's stand-out Help page, or the Android Auto FAQ page. Or you can contact our advisors. Whether you're looking for the cheapest Android Auto head unit or the best Android Auto stereo, our advisors can help you find the one that's right for you.