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.
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
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
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.
To use an app, simply tap the icon as you would on your phone. The system will open the app for use. The app will continue to run until you choose to switch to another, unplug your phone, or turn off your car. Many functions in the system work via voice control, which is helpful for hands-free operation. But there are also clearly-labeled and easy-to-read app icons and menus for when it’s safe to navigate by sight.
Overall, Google Assistant is one of the best voice control systems on the market today. And the best part is that it can do almost everything in your car that it can 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 also ask for music by song name, artist, or genre.
Android Auto’s evolution is far from over. With every new software release, the in-vehicle infotainment experience continues to improve. More vehicle manufacturers are opting for Android Auto on their new cars as well. Odds are, your next ride will come with the feature (whether you want it or not). Of course, for Android enthusiasts, pairing with Android Auto is a welcome experience each time they get in the driver’s (or passenger’s) seat.