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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 review Android Auto from a user's point of view and, more importantly, explain how to make Android Auto work in your car.

Android Auto makes certain phone apps easier to see and safer to use while in the car. You need a radio that's compatible with Android Auto in your dash to take full advantage of its many helpful features. The pairing can work either wirelessly (in many vehicles) or via a USB connection (in any compatible radio).

The interface is streamlined and voice-driven. 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. Google has worked hard over the years to update and improve Android Auto, making it more intuitive and responsive.

We asked Patrick, 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.

Android phone with Android Auto

Is your smartphone compatible with Android Auto?

If you have Android 10.0 or newer on your phone, it already has Android Auto baked in, so no need to check for compatibility or download any additional apps. For Android 6 through 9, download the Android Auto app to double-check compatibility. Android Auto will not work on any operating systems below Android 6.0.

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, you either buy a new car that has it factory-installed, or you can install one of these Android Auto compatible stereos in your vehicle. Some older stereos may require a firmware update to get up to speed — get in touch with Crutchfield tech support if you purchased your stereo from us, or check the manufacturer's website.

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 Google's app list for an up-to-date listing of what's compatible right now. In the meantime, here are some highlights:

Popular Android Auto apps
Navigation apps Music/audio apps: Messaging apps:
Google Maps Spotify WhatsApp
Waze YouTube Music Messenger
SpotHero Pandora Telegram
ChargePoint Amazon Music WeChat
iHeart  Kik
SiriusXM Radio
(subscription required)

Everything you love about Android on your car stereo

Android Auto employs the "card" format, 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, one of our resident Android Auto experts, talks us through some of the main features of Android Auto, which he uses via his Android smartphone. Let's hear what he has to say.

Dominic and Patrick

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."

Android Auto voice assistant

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."

Many aftermarket stereos also include a dedicated voice assistant button which can be used to trigger Google Assistant with a quick tap.

OK Google™ support for much more than apps

OK Google does a lot of other stuff beyond the basic functionality of Android Auto, so if you're driving and suddenly need to set a reminder or dictate a note to yourself, you can do so without pulling over. And you’ll be able to see the results on your receiver's screen, or have the results read out loud to you. OK Google can find out if a business is open, let you know if your flight's on time, translate words or short phrases, and even convert currency for you. And of course it'll do a Google search for you and speak the answer aloud to you.

Driving hands-free shouldn't mean sense-free

As phone integration platforms such as Android Auto and Apple CarPlay® become more ubiquitous, it's important to remember that there's nothing more important than the task at hand when it comes to driving. No amount of safety features can take the place of common sense behind the wheel, so we encourage all drivers to exercise caution and awareness when integrating their devices with their vehicles. 

Patrick in car

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." 

Making a phone call in Android Auto

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 dictate 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."

"I can make calls by tapping the phone icon, or dial up a contact from my phone book by speaking the name out loud."

Navigation in Android Auto

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."

Android Auto messaging

What about wireless Android Auto?

Wireless Android Auto adds yet another level of convenience to your travels. Compatible stereos employ a built-in Wi-Fi® network in conjunction 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.

Check out our full selection of aftermarket stereos with wireless Android Auto — there are plenty of them on the market to fit nearly any vehicle and budget.

What should I be wary of with Android Auto?

As with any relatively recent technology that requires constant updates, there may be issues after you add an Android Auto radio to your vehicle. Some users complain about the lack of connectivity with their phones, while others mention that Android Auto isn't fast enough. Sometimes the screen layout is the problem, but that can be chalked up to personal taste. Overall consistency seems to be Android Auto's main issue according to the app reviews online, but app updates can typically resolve these sorts of problems.

Android Auto - Spotify screen

Do you have more questions about Android Auto?

Patrick gave us a lot of insights about using an 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. 

  • Mike from Franklin

    Posted on 11/9/2022

    Absolutely love it! I had no idea of this feature until I bought my JVC head unit. Thanks Crutchfield

  • Michael Phinney from Dagsboro

    Posted on 2/13/2019

    Android Auto is ok to most but it does have some major flaws. Why didn't you share those? For instance... it has a difficult time playing downloaded music from your device OR if their is no internet connection due to cell will stall. Those are only a few, there are please share the WHOLE story.

  • Matt from EDWARDSPORT

    Posted on 7/9/2018

    I bought the pioneer avh 4201 nex package from you, to install in 06 silverado. Easy install and everything worked well except the android auto, which was the whole reason for the upgrade. I installed the supplied USB cable in port 2 and my galaxy s8 charger to that. Only thing it did was slow charge phone. I've tried several different cables with no results, how can I get android auto to work?

    Commenter image

    Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    on 7/10/2018

    Matt, so sorry to hear that. Please call our Tech Support team for free help troubleshooting your system. You'll find the info you need on your emailed receipt, or just give us a call at 1.800.955.9091. They'll help get to bottom of this.
  • Jack from San Jose

    Posted on 1/22/2018

    How old is this article?

  • Commenter image

    Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 6/14/2017

    Aaron, Android Auto will not give you screen-mirroring capability. You can find more about compatible apps and phones here. Your phone will need to use OS Lollipop (5.0 or newer) and a mini-USB to USB connection for Android Auto. As far as screen-mirroring goes, the receiver you have will only do so with MHL-enabled phones and an adapter cable. Note that you'll also need the parking break engaged for that feature on your receiver. If you have any questions, give us a call.

  • Aaron from Bethalto

    Posted on 6/9/2017

    I purchased a Kenwood DDX9902S and I have a motorola Droid Force Z phone. I am putting this in a Jeep and often use offroad trail mapping apps on the phone. So not google maps. ViewRanger is one and Maprika is another. Will android auto let me mirror my phone screen on the head unit screen for various apps? My phone only has a USB-C port. No type of HDMI port. If I need anything other than the phone and head unit to do that, what will I need to get my phone screen to show up on the head unit screen?

  • Commenter image

    Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 1/31/2017

    Jay, you sure can!

  • Jay from Staford

    Posted on 1/30/2017

    Can I view the Google Maps app while listening to the FM radio?

  • Frank from smithfield

    Posted on 11/25/2016

    Just purchased and installed Pioneer AVIC-8100NEX . Everthing worked except android auto. When It didnt I purchased the pioneer CD-AH200 cable kit. Still no luck. upgraded firmware on head unit and phone (GalaxyS7 VRZN OS Marshmallow 6.01) No luck there. Called Crutchfield support was told it could possibly be the OS. Removed radio, checked all connections, tried different usb cables, Still no luck. Finally today, after reading internet posts I tried the Samsung charging cable hooked to usb cable coming from radio. It worked! went around house and found an old Blackberry cable , it worked! Retried the pioneer cable and a couple of others of a thicker gauge, still didn't work. My thought that all cables were alike was totally wrong. All usb (M/F)extension cables coming from head unit were fine.It was the cable from extension to phone which has issues .All the thinner gauge USB -Mini USB worked. Thicker cables did not. Go figure. I hope this helps others.

  • Commenter image

    Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 11/15/2016

    Stephen, I've reviewed the links in the article and they still point to car stereos with Android Auto. Additionally, at any point, when shopping for car stereos you can filter your search for Android Auto using the options on the left rail of the page. Hopefully, you'll find this helpful, but if you'd like to speak to an advisor regarding Android Auto choices, please give us a call.

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