Google’s Android Auto software replaces a car’s native infotainment system with a smartphone-like interface. It promises to reduce dangerous distractions by displaying familiar apps, like Google Maps and Spotify, directly on the car’s touchscreen. It’s presented as being more straight-forward to use than many infotainment systems, and it ensures motorists won’t be tempted to pick up their phone while driving by locking the screen.
Setting it up is straight-forward, but there are a few details to keep in mind. 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 directly. 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 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 what was previously thought to be a somewhat bare-bones system. Instead of a “launcher bar” at the bottom of the screen, the updated interface has an app drawer that looks a lot like the one on the phone itself. There’s a new launch screen that takes the place of the home screen from previous versions. When you plug in your phone, you’ll now see the navigation app with a group of suggested destinations. The system is smart and will remember if you were using Google Maps or Waze as your navigation software. Music or a podcast will start playing automatically as well, but it can be disabled. On each screen of the interface, there is a home button that will return you to the app launcher, where 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 until you’ve chosen to switch to another, unplug your phone, or turn off your car. Many functions in the system can be controlled with your voice, but there are also clearly-labeled and easy-to-read app icons and menus.
Google Assistant is one of the best voice control systems on the market today, and it can do almost everything in your car that it can on your phone. You can ask for directions or to find the nearest gas station, make calls, update and set reminders, and get updates on tasks throughout the day. You can also ask for music by song name, artist, or genre.
Android Auto has evolved quite a bit in just the past year, and it will continue to get better with each new version of the software. More and more manufacturers are including the capability in their vehicles, so there’s a great chance your next car will be able to run Android Auto if you don’t have one that’s compatible already.