What is Android Auto? | Features, Functions, Compatible Cars

Google may never build its own car, but it’s already a huge player in the automotive industry. Thousands of motorists use its Android Auto software daily, either because they don’t like their car’s native infotainment system or because they prefer the familiar, smartphone-like interface. The latest round of updates made it even more intuitive.

Like CarPlay, Apple’s rival system, Android Auto promises to make driving safer by reducing distractions. Whether it achieves this goal depends on who you ask; AAA found it helps drivers keep both eyes on the road, but a British study concluded using it is more distracting than driving drunk. The truth likely lies somewhere in the middle, and common sense goes a long way when using in-car tech. Here’s what you need to know about Android Auto.

What does Android Auto do?

Android Auto takes the features you love about your Android-powered smartphone and puts them directly in your car’s dashboard by overriding the native infotainment system. It displays information on a familiar, easy-to-use interface with cards you can swipe out of the way, legible menus, and large icons. It recently received a darker theme, an updated app launcher layout, and a more intuitive interface, so Android users will find it more familiar than ever.

One of the best parts of Android Auto is the Google Maps-powered navigation system, which provides step-by-step directions and automatically finds an alternate route if it detects heavy traffic. It’s a real boon if your car doesn’t have navigation built in. The software ports over saved destinations from your phone, so you don’t have to manually type in the address to your house, your office, or your school. Finally, Android Auto gives motorists on-demand access to millions of songs and podcasts via a growing list of third-party apps, lets them surf the web, and allows them to stay connected by making phone calls and sending messages using Hangouts, WhatsApp, and other messaging platforms.

All of the aforementioned features respond to basic voice commands, too. You can say “OK, Google, play The Offspring,” or “OK, Google, what’s the capital of Australia?” You can even ask, “OK, Google, what is Android Auto?” With voice commands, you can reply to messages using speech-to-text technology. Don’t worry if your car isn’t equipped with voice-recognition technology, though, as Android Auto’s features are accessible using the touchscreen in your car, or the rotary dial if your car’s screen isn’t touch-sensitive. Keep in mind that your smartphone’s screen will be locked when Android Auto is active, though you can swipe to unlock it when it’s safe to do so.

Google Assistant integration leverages intelligent voice controls to help drivers keep their hands on the steering wheel. Fluid, precise two-way conversations are possible with the Assistant’s artificial intelligence-powered technology, and all your favorite apps come along for the ride as well.

Speaking of, Android Auto works with a host of third-party apps, including Waze, Pandora, iHeart Radio, Skype, WhatsApp, and Spotify. However, vehicle settings aren’t part of Android Auto, so the driver has to exit the application to adjust climate controls, browse radio stations, or select a different driving mode. That said, Google is currently working with carmakers like Polestar to create new, Android-based infotainment systems where all of these features will be accessible from one place.

Which phones are compatible with Android Auto?

Now that you know what Android Auto is, we’ll address which devices and vehicles are compatible with it. Users whose phone is running Android OS versions 9 or below will need to download the free Android Auto application from the Google Play Store, but phones with Android 10 come with the functionality built in. Any phone running Android 5.0 and up that has an active data plan can power Android Auto, so you don’t need the latest device to use it.

Your phone must have a working USB port to connect to the car, though the newest Android phones from Samsung and others can support wireless Android Auto connections in a small but growing list of vehicles.

Which cars are compatible with Android Auto?

Dozens of new cars are compatible with Android Auto. Keep in mind, however, that some manufacturers charge buyers extra for the feature, and others choose not to offer it on cheaper trim levels.

Android Auto-compatible cars include most members of the Mercedes-Benz lineup, every nameplate in the Cadillac portfolio, plus numerous Chevrolet, Kia, Honda, Volvo, and Volkswagen models. Finding an Android Auto-compatible car shouldn’t be an issue, regardless of whether you’re shopping for a cheap hatchback, a rugged SUV, or a high-end sports car. The full list can be found on Android Auto’s website.

Lexus and parent company Toyota resisted Android Auto for years due to safety and privacy concerns, but both have changed their minds. Several 2020 models — including the Tacoma, the Sequoia, the Tundra, the 4Runner, and the RX — are Android Auto compatible. We expect the list will continue to grow in the coming months and years. BMW and Porsche are still Android-free, but Porsche told Digital Trends that could soon change.

Finding a used car that’s compatible with Android Auto can be a bit difficult because it took carmakers a while to let Google into the cabin. Hyundai, Kia, and Chevrolet were among the first companies to build Android Auto-compatible cars after the software became available in early 2015. If those don’t suit your taste, aftermarket manufacturers such as Kenwood, Panasonic, Pioneer, and Sony offer Android Auto-compatible head units.

Motorists can bypass compatibility issues by downloading Android Auto and using it as a standalone application. Simply launch the software and mount your smartphone to your windshield or dashboard. It offers the same features regardless of whether it’s displayed on a car’s touchscreen or on a smartphone. This solution allows anyone to use Android Auto in a 2019 BMW 3 Series, a classic Mini, a 1908 Ford model T, or anything in between.

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