Android Auto has become an almost essential feature if you want to listen to your phone’s music or podcasts in your car. But what is Android Auto? What does it do, and how do you use it? Here’s everything you need to know.
What is Android Auto?
Long gone are the days of car-mounted four-track recorders and tape players, and even the mighty CD player is a rare sight in the latest cars. Today, most people stream music, podcasts and other content from their smartphones to their car’s sound system.
A simple Bluetooth connection will stream music from your phone to your car, but Google’s Android Auto software makes things much easier by mirroring your Android phone’s screen on the car’s infotainment display. This lets you play music or podcasts and use navigation apps or a range of other software without having to touch your phone on the move.
You also can use Android Auto to make and receive hands-free calls, and it can read texts and WhatsApp messages to you while you drive. You can reply to them by just speaking, and use a range of voice commands by saying “OK Google” or “Hey Google” and then saying what you’d like to do, from making a call to getting driving directions or listening to music.
Android Auto is – or rather, was – also available as a phone-only app, letting you use a simplified interface on your phone screen that allows ‘hands-free’ (and therefore legal) access when combined with a dashboard or windscreen mount. However, this was phased out at the end of 2021, in favour of a new system called Google Assistant Driving Mode. This can launch automatically on your phone when it’s connected to the car via Bluetooth.
How does Android Auto work?
Android Auto connects your phone with your car’s infotainment system and displays a selection of apps on its display screen. You can then operate them using your car’s touchscreen, control dial or the buttons on the steering wheel, depending on what model of car you have. On touchscreen systems, using the apps works in almost the same way as it does on your phone.
Not every car features Android Auto, but most models made in the past few years will include it. You can use a cable to connect your phone to a USB socket or – with some cars – you can connect your phone wirelessly using both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.
What tech do I need if I want to use Android Auto?
In addition to a compatible car, you’ll need a smartphone running Android software, version 6.0 or newer.
If your car (or phone) doesn’t support wireless Android Auto, you’ll need a cable to connect your phone to the car’s USB socket. Any phone with Android 11.0 will be compatible with wireless, as will a Google or Samsung phone with Android 10.0, or a Samsung Galaxy S8, S8+ or Note 8 with Android 9.0.
What if I have an Apple iPhone?
If you use an iPhone, then Android Auto won’t work for you – you’ll need a car equipped with Apple CarPlay, which is a similar system. However, many cars that have Android Auto also have Apple CarPlay.
A Volkswagen with Apple CarPlay
How do I set it up?
On most cars, setting up Android Auto is easy – just plug in your phone and follow the on-screen prompts on both the car and the phone. Cars that can connect via cable or wirelessly will ask you which method you want to use.
Which cars have Android included?
Just about every modern car will feature Android Auto as standard or as an option that can be added when new. That said, there are some models that still don’t include it, so if you want it, it’s best to check the specification of the car you’re considering.
Android Auto in a Volvo
The car I want doesn’t have Android Auto fitted. Can I add it?
Yes, you can, but you’ll probably have to replace the whole sound system with a compatible, non-manufacturer’s unit. Such replacement units start at around £100, although you may want to pay extra for a professional installer to fit it for you. Alternatively, you might find it easier just to use the Android Auto phone app and fit a cradle for your phone to your car.
Does every Android app work with Android Auto?
No, not all of them. They have to be designed for use with the software, but a lot of the most popular apps are compatible, particularly those designed for music, podcasts and audiobooks. These include Spotify and Amazon Music, Audible, TuneIn radio and BBC Sounds.
Perhaps most usefully, the navigation apps Google Maps and Waze work very well with Android Auto. Many drivers prefer these over the car manufacturer’s own sat-nav systems.
You don’t need to worry about setting up individual apps for Android Auto – if they’re installed on your phone, they’ll show up on your car’s screen.
Can I rearrange the apps on my car’s screen?
Yes, you can. On your phone, open the settings and go to ‘Bluetooth and device connection’. Tap on Android Auto, and then select Customise Launcher, where you’ll be able to make changes that will be automatically reflected on the car’s screen.
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