What is Android Auto?

Want to beam the Android operating system from your phone onto your dashboard? With Android Auto you can do just that

BuyaCar team
Jun 30, 2021

We use our phones for practically everything nowadays; you may even be reading this on your phone. The list of things they can do is seemingly endless, and you might feel lost without yours. Up until fairly recently, however, driving was an activity where you couldn’t keep connected.

It makes sense that phones can be put to use in a car as well, though. Smartphone technology giants Apple and Google realised this, and came up with systems that allow you to safely integrate much of the functionality of your phone into the media system in your car. Apple came up with CarPlay, while Google introduced Android Auto. This is generally implemented by connecting your phone to the car via a cable, but wireless Android Auto is in development and will use a Bluetooth connection.

The idea is that you can still be connected to your phone without the need to have it distracting you in your pocket, or worse in your hand. By connecting your phone to your car's media system, you can control phone calls, messages and other apps including music and maps via your dashboard display - potentially even with voice controls or buttons on the steering wheel.

If your car doesn’t come with sat-nav as standard, you don’t need to change your car or pay to get an aftermarket system fitted - your smartphone already has the functionality and Android Auto can help you get the most from it. This means that even cheap cars can have a fully updated sat-nav system with live traffic information (as long as your phone is compatible and you have a high enough data allowance).

Regular updates to the mapping software means it’s always up-to-date with the latest road closures and new road layouts, and that also future-proofs your car. After all, a car’s sat-nav system is the most likely aspect to feel a bit dated after a few years.

Technology like this can be found in all sorts of cars these days, as manufacturers have recognised it as an integral feature for modern drivers. So if you're an Android phone user on the search for your next car, getting one with Android Auto is something you might be interested in.

Is Android Auto compatible with my car?

The overwhelming majority of new cars are now sold with Android Auto capability included as standard, but this is not universal, while other models have had Android Auto for a number of years. So, it is worth checking whether any specific cars you're considering have this before purchasing, whether you're looking at new or used cars - especially if you're looking towards the budget end of a model range. Some entry-level models may not have Android Auto, for instance, but the next trim level up could potentially include it.

Alternatively, tech brands like Pioneer and Kenwood are now producing aftermarket head units that support the technology, so you might instead consider fitting one of these systems if you're set on a particular model without Android Auto included or have an older car.

Phones that use the Android operating system include Samsung, Google, Nokia, Xiaomi, Sony and OnePlus.

What if it isn’t compatible?

Don't worry, because in November 2016 Google, which owns Android, began rolling out Android Auto 2.0. This updated system is compatible with any car and what’s more, it doesn't require a screen, a real plus if you're driving a car that's a number of years old.

Instead, you put your phone (it must be running Android operating system 5.0 or later) in a cradle and its screen becomes your entertainment screen in the car.

What are Android Auto’s advantages?

The best thing about Android Auto is that you can bring the apps you use everyday into the car with you - for free. So if you want your favourite Spotify playlist on the go, it's right there waiting for you. Gone are the days when you had to put up with the music selection of radio DJs.

Seeing as it’s owned by Google, you'll also be able to make use of Google Maps, which will often be more useful than the standard sat-nav built into your car's media system - if it has one at all. You'll have access to all your search history, meaning finding places you've been to recently should be a doddle.

While you won't be able to make use of every app you have installed on your phone, having things like games available would be obviously inappropriate while driving. But you'll still have access to functions like voice control (if your phone is capable), so you'll be able to control everything by speaking to your phone without needing to take your hands off the wheel at all.

Meanwhile, if you’d rather use your car’s media system touchscreen, and assuming it’s compatible, you’ll find Android Auto displays only a few easy-to-prod buttons, making it safer and less distracting to use while driving.

Relatively recent implementations of Android Auto available since 2019 are also able to read out notifications to you, including messages and emails. Yet another useful function to ensure your attention is not distracted from the road.

What’s it not so good at?

Android Auto can be a little buggy at times. For example, scrolling through more than 10 albums on the Spotify app will cause the computer to crash, requiring you to restart the car to rectify it.

Also be aware that anyone running with restricted data access on their monthly contracts will want to be aware of how much they use their phones when they aren't connected to Wi-Fi. Some newer and more sophisticated cars are fitted with their own Wi-Fi hotspots, so that's less of a problem if you have the money to spend.

Finally, some car brands like Volvo charge extra to have Android Auto compatibility but, fortunately, most offer it as a no-cost standard feature. When looking at used cars, it's worth keeping an eye out for models where the original owner paid for it as an option. Find one of these and you could get a suitable car with Android Auto for less than going for a model with a higher specification level.


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