You can find Android apps for absolutely everything these days, and driving is no different. Google’s in-car system, Android Auto, comes preinstalled in some cars now, but you can also use it by connecting your phone to a compatible car display, or just by using your phone in a dock on its own. Android Auto runs on any phone with Android 5.0 or later. The list of apps that work with Android Auto is small, but includes Spotify, Telegram, Skype, TuneIn Radio, and Audible, and it’s steadily growing. And, yes, it more than holds its own against Apple’s CarPlay.
Here’s where the rubber meets the road — these are the best Android Auto apps that complement the driving experience and will help you get the most enjoyment out of your next road trip. If you’re feeling a little left out because you’re an Android user with a car that doesn’t support Android Auto, don’t be, because Pioneer has just the thing to get you started.
Just because you’re in the car doesn’t mean you’ve left the world behind — usually quite the opposite. If you can’t abide miles of commercials, jingles, product hawking, and mindless chatter, you can stay connected to what matters with NPR One. You get the latest local, regional, national, and international news in a cohesive curated narrative flow. With NPR One, it’s not a one-way street: You can skip stories you’re not interested in, and the app knows not to present that genre to you again. Likewise, a light tap on the light bulb tells the app to give you more of that kind of story. You can search for your favorite shows, programs, and podcasts, and enable a sleep timer with five presets. While on the go, you can skip, pause, and search without taking your hands off the steering wheel.
If you’re the type to keep your ear to the ground while on the road, Scanner Radio is happy to oblige offering up live audio from over 7,000 fire and police scanners, weather radios, radio repeaters, air traffic, and marine radios all over the planet. You can turn on notifications for alerts anytime a scanner hits than 3500 listeners, ensuring you’re in on the latest major events. Also, you can check in with the scanners nearest to your location, view the top 50, and browse the directory by information genre. You’re always up to the minute and in the know with Scanner Radio. A paid version for $3 removes the ads.
Your local library — not to mention 4,000 others worldwide — is always at your fingertips with OverDrive, and you can read as many books as you want for free. While you can borrow eBooks, audiobooks, and streaming video from your library using OverDrive on your Android device, the audiobook functionality comes in especially handy while you’re driving. With OverDrive, you’re never too late to check out a book, place a hold, or worry about getting the books back on time. The app takes care of that. All you need is a valid account with a participating library, school, or other institution.
Spotify is still the largest music streaming service in the world, and it would have been a crime if it wasn’t compatible with Android Auto. Thankfully it is, so you have access to Spotify’s massive database of available songs, albums, and artists. If you’re not subscribed, you can still get access to music streaming for free, just with ads. If you want to download your songs for use in places without mobile data, or if you’re on a limited data package, then you’ll need a Spotify Premium subscription for $10 a month. We have a guide to help you get a discount on that though. Getting set up with Android Auto is easy — just plug your phone in and you’re good to go.
There’s a reason why radio is so strongly associated with driving, and that’s because you can’t spend time picking your next tune. Pandora is perhaps the top music streaming service for personalized music radio that learns as you listen, continually serving up better and better recommendations as you listen more. Unlike traditional radio, you can skip songs you’re not interested in — though the number of skips available is limited on free accounts. You can remove limitations on skips and replays, as well as ads, for just $5 a month, and you can also turn Pandora into a Spotify-style on-demand streaming service for $10 a month. We’d stick with the radio just for convenience’s sake, but it could be worth it if you really come to love your Pandora recommendations.
We have other messaging options in this article, but if you’re already using Facebook Messenger to keep in touch with friends and family, then you don’t want to change just because you’ve gotten into your car. If you have Facebook Messenger on your phone, then any incoming messages you receive will be sent to your Android Auto (if active), so you can keep up with everything. You can also have Android Auto read your messages out loud, and you can tap a large button to send a pretyped “I’m driving right now” message in reply to any of your messages. It’s simple integration, but it’s certainly welcome for driving, when you want as few distractions as possible.
You can get all sorts of useful real-time information about the road ahead from the active community on Waze. The app also offers turn-by-turn directions, reroutes you based on traffic, and alerts you about accidents, hazards, and police locations. You can also use it to share your ETA and progress with friends and family, which is ideal when you’re meeting up somewhere. Throw in info on points of interest, the best gas prices nearby, and Facebook integration, and you have one of the best navigation apps around.
This popular messaging app gives drivers a hands-free way of receiving and sending messages. When used in conjunction with Android Auto, you can simply tap on the message as it appears on your car’s display, then use your voice to draft and send replies. If you’re using GPS or another app at the time, messages will appear in the top third of your display, so you can craft your response without switching app screens and potentially missing your turn.
Google Play Music
Google Play Music’s integration with Android Auto gives you an easier way to listen to and control your music while driving. Use voice commands “OK Google” and “Play…” to start a playlist, play a specific song, or listen to a specific genre of music. You can also use your car’s display to navigate the app, where you’ll be able to see music recommendations, recently-played content, or mixes made using songs and artists you’ve previously listened to. Of course, in either case, you need to have Google Play Music properly set up and already be signed in.
Listening to music in the car is one thing, but the best podcasts can make a drive so much more bearable. Pocket Casts is one of the best podcasts apps on the entire Android platform, and it’s now fully compatible with Android Auto. When paired with the Android Auto UI, you’ll get the usual play/pause and back/forward controls, and you can browse podcasts, set filters, and capitalize on previously-made “Up Next” queues. The latter playlists need to be made before you launch Android Auto, however, so you may still need to fiddle with your phone before hitting the road.
Many of the apps that currently work with Android Auto are related to audio, music, and messaging, so it’s unsurprising to learn that Google Hangouts works seamlessly with the platform. Like WhatsApp, Hangouts can be used to send and respond to messages using your voice, which can be done by either saying “OK Google” or pressing the microphone button. Android Auto repeats the recorded message before you decide to send it, in the event the microphone misheard you or you have something to add. Since Hangouts is also available for iOS and the web, anything you do on those platforms will carry over to the Android Auto iteration of the app, so you can continue your text conversations without issue. However, keep in mind that it will be slower than if you were using a keyboard.
Music and podcasts are two things you can listen to while driving, but let’s not forget books, which can also help you pass the time. Audible delivers on that, thanks to its robust compatibility with Android Auto. Along with the ability to play audiobooks, you can adjust playback speed — between 0.5x and 3x — and skip between chapters. Best of all, you can navigate the Audible store and view your wish list, the best sellers list, and an assortment of genre-specific categories, so you can add new books even when you can’t access your phone or computer.
Amazon Music works similarly to Google Play Music, but it’s probably preferable for Amazon Prime subscribers. Any music tied to your Amazon account — be it in the cloud, music you’ve uploaded to the service, or songs found on your phone — will all be available when you decide to use Amazon Music with Android Auto, alongside features like Prime Stations. Voice commands are also available for hands-free use, meaning you can say “OK, Google” followed by a phrase like “Play Call Me Maybe on Amazon Music.”
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- The best iPhone apps available right now (December 2019)
- The best news apps for Android and iOS