It is virtually impossible to stop folks from using their phones while driving, illegal and insanely dangerous though it may be. Thankfully, Google’s newly updated Android Auto now works in every car, not just a handful of models with fancy infotainment systems. (Your move, Apple. Seriously, what’s the hold-up?)
Android Auto effectively adds a “car mode” to your phone, an oversize, simplified interface that gives you quick access to phone, navigation and audio features. All you need is the app, which is currently available in the US on Google Play and rolling out soon to other countries, and a dashboard mount. (Not sure what kind of mount to get? Read my rundown of the three main smartphone-mount options.)
Let’s take a look at Android Auto’s features and what you should know about using them:
Android Auto works with a variety of third-party apps, all of which have been updated to integrate with Auto’s functional interface. These include messaging apps such as Kik, WhatsApp and Skype. There’s also music apps including Pandora, Spotify and Google Play Music, natch. Moreover, audio apps are ranging from Audible and NPR One to Overdrive and Stitcher.
To see what’s available and install any apps you do not already have, swipe right or tap the Menu button, then choose Apps for Android Auto.
If you are using a compatible messaging app, Android Auto can automatically generate a reply to any incoming text. By default, that message is, “I am driving right now.” To change it, just swipe right (or tap the Menu icon), then tap Settings > Auto reply.
Take note, however, that your auto-reply will not be auto-sent. When a message comes in, you will see it on the Android Auto home screen, with the auto-reply text shown beneath it. To actually send the auto-reply, you need to tap it.
When you do that, the message thread automatically toggles to “mute” status so you will not get further interruptions. You can tap again to “unmute.”
The Android Auto home screen will automatically display recent destinations from Google Maps; just tap one, and you are on your way. You can also ask for directions by saying “OK, Google” or by tapping the microphone or tap the navigation icon to access Maps. The icons here could be larger, Google — just saying.
Auto’s phone screen is about as straightforward as they come: You get your list of favourites (and recent calls) pulled from the Phone app, but oversized for easy at-a-glance tapping.
The order in which these favourites appear is based on the order they are listed in Phone, but when I tried reordering them in the latter, the list did not update in Android Auto. Hopefully, that is a bug Google will fix. In the meantime, you can swipe right (or tap Menu) to access phone features like voicemail and call history.
When you tap the headphone icon, Android Auto brings up player controls for the most recently used audio app. Tap that icon again, and you will see a list of the available choices from whatever compatible apps are installed.
For the majority of these apps, you will swipe right (or tap Menu) to choose what you want to hear from that app: playlist, podcast, etc. Once you have started listening, you can swipe left from the main player controls to access more controls — shuffle play, thumbs up or down, and so forth.
Auto for the people
If you decide to use Android Auto on a regular basis, and here’s hoping you do, you can set it to run automatically whenever your phone pairs with your car’s Bluetooth. Just hit the Settings screen, tap Auto launch, then select the corresponding Auto-launch device.
Once it is running, the app stays active until you hit the Home button, then asks you to confirm your exit.
I think this is a good first step toward making smartphones safer in cars, but I would like to see Google make certain controls even larger and add an auto-send option to auto-reply. Your thoughts?