In-dash car stereos with a touchscreen and software is nothing new, but before Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, they all pretty much stank. Laggy. Slow. Never upgraded. Awful graphics. You get what I mean. Google took on a mission with Android Auto by trying to eliminate those problems, and also provide a solution to the texting while driving problem that plagues our roads. I have the Pioneer AVIC-7100NEX installed on a 1997 Ford Explorer (yes, an old car, I know) with Android Auto on it, and have had the last couple of months to use it and get a better idea of exactly how Android Auto works.
[df-subtitle]What is Android Auto anyways?[/df-subtitle]
Android Auto is software created by Google to run your car’s in-dash system (to clarify, I’m talking strictly about stereo/radio related controls, not your car’s system diagnostics computer or A/C control). That means it can run navigation and control music for you. However, in Google fashion, they’ve taken it to the next level. They have also integrated some things from Google Now to suggest actions for you to take, and help control notifications from your phone so that you don’t have to take your eyes off the road. All of this, and you can control it with your voice.
[blockquote author=””]Android Auto strives to keep things as simplified as possible, so that the driver can’t be distracted.[/blockquote]
The first time you setup Android Auto, it takes a little bit of time. I highly suggest setting time aside to familiarize yourself with Android Auto before driving with it. It is not too complicated, but it will be much easier, along with safer, to initially setup and use Android Auto before setting out on the road.
Anyways, when you first plug your phone into your car with Android Auto, your phone has to download the Android Auto app. There isn’t a whole lot you can do with it once it is downloaded, its simply a gateway of information between your phone and Android Auto. Once its downloaded, your phone basically becomes useless. All you see is a black screen with the “Android Auto” logo on it. Your phone will charge while its plugged in though. Any apps on your phone that are Android Auto compatible will now be available to you.
Once Android Auto is loaded you’re presented with a Google Now-esque screen with suggestions for places to navigate to, along with weather and any other important info that is related to driving. So you won’t be seeing that reminder that American Idol is on tonight that would usually show on your phone’s Google Now.
From there, you can choose (via touch) any of the suggestions for navigation, or you can direct your attention to the five buttons along the bottom of the screen. From left to right: Google Maps, Phone, Home, Music, and Other.
Google Maps, Phone, and Home won’t have anything different than those specific apps. Music and Other are another story. Any music apps compatible with Android Auto will show under the music tab, and you can select whichever you’d like. In the Other section I haven’t really seen anything aside from an option to exit Android Auto, but my understanding is any other Android Auto approved apps that aren’t related to music will show up here.
Overall, setup is painless and easy. Learning how to navigate the system is fairly easy to do.
From any screen, you can tap on the microphone in the top-right corner to prompt voice commands. Don’t worry about locating the mic: in the 1997 Ford Explorer my unit is in, they installed a mic that sits near the base of the steering wheel. Voice commands can do pretty much anything on your phone, except nothing is displayed from the results, only read out loud so that the driver is not distracted. The only time voice commands affect the display is if you prompt a new navigation or music selection, in which case it takes you to the appropriate app.
For example, you could ask “Play Foo Fighters radio on Pandora”, and Pandora will open up and start playing that radio.
What do I need to use it?
In order to use Android Auto, you either need a car with it built into the dash, or an after-market stereo (such as the Pioneer NEX-7100 that I used). You will also need an Android phone with Lollipop (Version 5.0). That means Android Auto will not work with iOS (that is what Apple CarPlay is for).
Does it work like your Android phone?
Not exactly. Android Auto is meant to not be constantly interactive. Its meant to setup and leave alone. Furthermore, the interface is much different.
Does it require a data plan?
Android Auto gets its internet connection straight from your Android phone. So as long as your phone has a data plan, you’re good to go.
Can it store music?
Not exactly. Android Auto pulls music from your phone, and doesn’t really store anything. That being said, if you have music on your phone (meaning you don’t want to use a streaming service) that is possible to utilize.
Do I need to have my phone plugged in?
Yes, Android Auto does not work otherwise. This is so that Android Auto can pull any information from my phone at any time, and its also so that you can’t use your phone while driving, for your own safety.
Keep in mind, Android Auto is simply a part of the after-market stereo (at least with the unit I use specifically). Meaning, if you forget your phone or are in a rush, things like AM/FM radio and other functions are still accessible through the unit. Android Auto only launches when your phone is plugged in.
How does it update?
I have not personally seen Android Auto update yet, but I’d assume it would do so through the app on your phone.
What apps are compatible?
You can check out a list of compatible apps here.
Where can I get it?
According to the Android Auto site, it’s available in “Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Mexico, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States”.
You can purchase Android Auto today with an aftermarket stereo from either Pioneer or Kenwood.
According to the Android Auto site, it will be available with a bunch of car manufacturers “soon”. View which here.
How much does it cost?
It depends on how you get it. If it comes with your car, that will be included in the cost. Kenwood has two models between $699-$749. Pioneer’s models range from $700-$1,400.
This is only the price of the unit itself, and does not include anything else you might need, such as special cords, mounts, microphones, etc. It also doesn’t include the installation fee if you don’t install it yourself.