Car Advice

What is Android Auto?

Android Auto… it’s Google’s alternative to Apple CarPlay. But what is Android Auto?

AS WE’VE ALREADY discussed in our guide to Apple CarPlay, if you’re in the market for a new car, you’ve no doubt heard the term Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. But just what is Android Auto, what does it do, and does it really matter if a car has it, or not?

Android Auto is, much like CarPlay, a better way to integrate a phone’s functions into in-car infotainment systems. If you’ve got Bluetooth now, you’ll probably enjoy its call and music functions, along with a few other things it can do. Well, Android Auto does a lot more.

Android Auto is essentially a ‘light’ version of your mobile phone and its apps that’s accessible via the infotainment touchscreen. You can do things like use listen to Podcasts, use Google Maps and third-party navigation such as Waze, stream Spotify and Google Music and, of course, the usual stuff like scroll the phone book, make calls and send text messages with Google’s own voice dictation.

Increasingly, Android Auto is seen alongside Apple CarPlay, so if it has one it probably has the other. If you have an Apple iPhone, Android Auto won’t work for you, and vice versa. For manufacturers, integrating these two systems saves them money not having to develop and maintain their own maps and software. For the most part, it’s a win for both consumers and manufacturers, but not all car companies are happy about having to incorporate it. And some other companies only offer one or the other. 

So, when shopping, and if it’s important to you, ask if the car has either or both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. For a full list of Android Auto compatible vehicles, click here.

How do I connect Android Auto to my car?

Android Auto requires an Android mobile phone running Android 5.0 (Lollipop) or later, a compatible car and USB cable. A car mount is also a good idea as handling your phone when driving is illegal (though touching the screen when mounted is, in most states, legal). It can also work with either an aftermarket headunit (check compatible stereos here) or using the Android Auto app alone – known as car mode. There’s a full list of official questions and answers on Google’s Android Auto website.

Android Auto requires a USB cable to make its connection with the infotainment, and the Android Auto app must be installed on your Android phone. The phone doesn’t have to be made by Google – it just needs to be running Android 5.0 or higher.

Unlike Apple CarPlay that can be connected either by cable or wirelessly to some OEM stereos, Android Auto can, for now, only be wirelessly connected to certain aftermarket stereos.

Android Auto must also be run through a compatible USB port. All USB ports in Audis are usually compatible, but in the new Honda Civic, for instance, only the USB port hidden under the centre console will project Android Auto.

Once the cable has been connected the phone will prompt the user to agree to Google’s terms, including sending data over the mobile network. Once agreed to, the phone will go into Android Auto mode.

Android Auto functions via either touching the relevant navigation buttons on the infotainment or using voice control. Unlike Apple CarPlay, which requires Siri to be activated, Google will automatically turn on its voice recognition software when connected.

How to use Android Auto

The home screen for newer versions of Android Auto displays a row of apps similar to Apple CarPlay. If you’re a user of Google apps then you’ll have things displayed such as how long it will take to get to work/home, suggested quicker routes if there’s traffic, last song/playlist played and messages with a quick reply option.

When using Android Auto, some of the default infotainment software won’t work, such as navigation. For instance, when in Android Auto, the system will be using Google Maps (or any alternative, compatible Android navigation app), and it will use mobile data for this. But some functions will still work, such as DAB radio when using Google maps with voice guidance. Of course, Android Auto can be exited at any time to access the default infotainment screen.

Depending on how the vehicle infotainment is controlled, Android Auto can be operated using either touchscreen input, rotary dial and buttons or voice command. So, saying something like, “Google, play a song by The Clash”, will open your default music app and play songs by The Clash. Similarly, saying, “navigate to Hobart”, will commence Google Map navigation to Hobart.

What else does Android Auto do?

Because Android Auto uses Google Now voice recognition, its commands are similar. Here are some useful ones when driving:

  • Call…
  • Send message…
  • Find the closest petrol station…
  • What’s the weather like…
  • Play song, artist or genre…
  • Navigate to favourite restaurant…
  • Is favourite restaurant open now?

There’s also a reasonable amount of compatible apps available, and you can even video call with Skype. Here’s a list of some of the best apps:

  • Pandora
  • Spotify
  • Audible
  • Google Hangouts
  • Skype
  • WhatsApp
  • BBC Media Player

Using Android Auto while driving

Android Auto versions prior to v2.9 will lock the user from using both the phone and Auto projection at the same time. Versions from v2.9 and above will allow the user (hopefully the passenger) to unlock and use the phone while the vehicle is in motion.

Do I need a mobile network connection?

You don’t need a mobile network connection to use Android Auto but most of the apps won’t run properly without one – except for listening to music stored on the device.

Will my phone charge when connected to Android Auto?

Yes, devices will still charge when connected to Android Auto, but it may be at a slower rate.

What if I have an Apple iPhone?

You can’t use Android Auto, but you can use Apple CarPlay if the car has it. Check out our guide for Apple CarPlay here.

Can I use Android Auto on aftermarket stereos or install the software myself?

Some aftermarket headunits have Android Auto and can integrate with the OEM car buttons – if differs depending on the car and headunit. Some stereos also have the ability for wireless Android Auto connection.

Can I use my phone or a tablet screen as an Android Auto interface?

Yes, Android Auto can also run as a standalone interface. When activated in the Android Auto app, the phone screen will operate similar to the Android Auto display in new cars. The phone will need to be mounted to a cradle in the car because it is illegal touch an unsecured mobile device when driving.

What other cool apps are there?

Android Auto’s core functionality is integrating calls, messages, navigation and music. There’s not much to do outside of this. You can’t do things like watch videos or browse the internet.

Supported devices and cars

Android phones with operating system 5.0 higher, and with Android Auto app installed. For compatible cars, check the official updated list here.


Alex Rae

Alex Rae