How to use Android Auto

Google developed Android Auto for motorists who are frustrated with their car’s native infotainment system. Like rival software Apple CarPlay, Android Auto gives drivers the option of embedding a familiar, smartphone-like interface into their touchscreen.

Further reading

Setting up Android Auto is a straightforward process, and it’s relatively easy to use. Here’s what you need to know.

How to set up Android Auto to run on the phone’s screen

Unlike Apple CarPlay, which runs only on a vehicle’s infotainment screen, Android Auto can run directly on a mobile phone in vehicles that either don’t have a screen or can’t run the software. The functionality is the same as it would be on the in-dash screen, but it allows the user to play audio over Bluetooth instead of needing to plug in. Regardless of the connection, the basic Android Auto functionality is the same. To get started:

  • Make sure your device is running at least Android 5.0 (Android 6.0 is recommended)
  • If you’re using Android 9 or lower, you’ll need to download the Android Auto app from the Google Play Store. Android 10 (the latest version as of writing) comes with the app built in.

Once you’ve downloaded the app and checked your phone’s operating system, you’ll need to start the app for the first time. Your phone may ask you to download updates to other apps that are used by Android Auto, like Google Maps. The app will also require you to review a safety notice and acknowledge terms and conditions, but only the first time you use Android Auto.

How to set up Android Auto to run with a USB connection

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Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Just like running Android Auto on the device’s screen itself, using a wired USB connection requires that you have a device that is running at least Android 5.0, but there is an extra step involved in the vehicle’s settings. You’ll need to make sure that your vehicle is compatible with Android Auto (dozens are) and that it’s enabled in your vehicle. The first time you plug in your phone, you will be prompted to download the Android Auto app if you don’t have it already. If you’re running Android 10 or higher, the app is already included.

To complete the setup:

  • Make sure your vehicle is running and safely parked
  • Unlock your phone’s screen
  • Pair your phone and car via Bluetooth
  • Update any required apps, like Google Maps
  • Review the safety reminder
  • Turn on notifications for Android Auto

Until you disable it, Android Auto will auto-start whenever you plug your phone in.

How to update Android Auto

There’s good news for people who worry about software updates. Android Auto is easy to keep up-to-date using the Google Play Store. Since the software runs primarily on your phone, you shouldn’t need to make any major updates to your vehicle’s infotainment system. If one is needed, you’ll likely receive it via an over-the-air (OTA) software update pushed directly by the manufacturer, or as part of a normal check-up at an approved shop or dealership.

How to use Android Auto

Android Auto 2019 update

The 2019 update brought a redesigned interface and new features to Android Auto. Previously, many consumers thought it was a somewhat bare-bones system. Switching from an Android smartphone to Android Auto felt anything but seamless. Thankfully, improvements to the design have us rethinking the system’s previous evaluation. The overhaul starts with the system’s menus. Instead of a “launcher bar” at the bottom of the screen, the updated interface has an app drawer. In fact, the drawer looks much like the one on the phone itself. There’s a new launch screen that takes the place of the home screen from previous versions. Now, when you plug in your phone, you’ll see the navigation app with a group of suggested destinations. The system is smart and will remember whether you were using Google Maps or Waze as your navigation software. Music or a podcast will start playing automatically as well. You can also disable the feature, though. On each screen of the interface, there is a home button that will return you to the app launcher. From there, you can select a different function.

Getting the most out of the app is quite simple. Tap the icon as you would on your phone to use the app. The app will not close until you decide to switch apps. It will also close if you unplug your phone, or turn off your engine. Many of the useful features operate through the use of voice-control. This is undeniably convenient for drivers as it frees up their hands. But there are also clearly-labeled and easy-to-read app icons and menus for when it’s safe to navigate by sight.

Google assistant is sure to meet your needs. As the number one voice control system on the market, you’re definitely going to enjoy what it has to offer. Google Assistant features nearly all of the same things in your car as it does on your phone. You can ask for directions or find the nearest gas station and make calls. You can set and edit reminders on the go and get updates on tasks throughout the day. You can even ask for music by the title, group, or genre.

The wonderful thing about Android Auto is that it has growth potential. We’ve only just scratched the surface of what the software is capable of. It will be interesting to keep an eye out for what the platform will look like and be capable of in years to come. As the years go by, infotainment systems improve exponentially. It’s up to Android to keep up the pace and offer software that matches the vehicle’s capabilities. Every year more and more companies are deciding to equip their vehicles with Android Auto. If your next car purchase is right around the corner, don’t be surprised to find it running Android Auto. For Android fans, pairing with Android Auto is a welcome experience each time they get in their vehicle.

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