Want to use Android in your car, but aren’t able to afford the upgrade to a brand new vehicle with an Android carputer?
Fear not: a car mode app brings voice control, sat nav integration and weather information to any car, however old it might be. All you need to do is mount your phone on your dashboard and install a suitable app.
Several are available, and here we’re going to compare five of them: Car Mode Ultra, Ultimate Car Dock, Car Dashdroid, InDrive: Custom Car Home, and the HTC Car app found on HTC-branded devices such as the HTC One.
Comparison Criteria For Car Mode Apps
In order to accurately assess these apps, I’ve opted to rate them based on the following five criteria:
- Visual clarity
- User interface speed
- Voice control
- Information & weather
- Google Maps Integration
I’m also using HTC Car as my reference point. It’s not perfect by any means, but it is a polished app that certainly meets expectations. The other four apps should be able to match or exceed these.
Each criteria will be rated out of five, which should enable us to determine a clear winner.
(Note that I’m not assessing media control options, as these apps can all support third party apps via customizable shortcut buttons. If you are looking for a way to play music from your Android device in your car, however, you’ll need to know how to connect it to your car’s audio system.)
It’s clear and has a fast, smooth user interface that is clearly part of the Sense 5 UI, but HTC Car isn’t by any means perfect. Although voice dialling is an option and the display will show you the time, your speed, and nearby weather, HTC Car doesn’t always launch apps setup with the custom buttons. It does, however, feature good navigation and Google Maps integration.
HTC Car also launches automatically when used with the official HTC car dock, thanks to a small magnet that is built into the device, which activates a microswitch inside the phone when attached to the dock. The same effect can be achieved on the other apps using NFC tags and Trigger.
Strictly speaking if you’re not using a HTC One with the original ROM (or a version with a few enhancements) then you won’t be able to use HTC Car (for instance, you might have flashed OmniROM). Although there are APKs floating around online for HTC Car, they’re not entirely reliable, so chances are that you won’t be able to find a copy for your device. If you do, and it works, please share in the comments!
Available free on Google Play, CarHome Ultra combines Google Voice search, navigation tools, and a voice dialer along with 25 configurable single tap buttons across five screens. There are also six information tiles that can be displayed in three available slots.
Perhaps it tries to cram too much in, but visual clarity suffers in the information tiles on this app. When I drive, I like to be able to see the time, and as my vehicle is currently a 15 year old seven-seat family car, I tend to rely on my mounted smartphone for this information as reading the dash clock can be challenging.
The problem here is that the clock is just too small, although overall the UI is good and works in both orientations. There’s also a night mode.
I’ve found that the voice dialing doesn’t seem to work, which may be an issue with my contacts and not the app, although OK Google works without any problem. Weather and temperature information seem to be accurate, and the Navigation button integrates with Google Maps and your Android account history.
Looking very much like the lost default car mode screen from Google Android 4.4 KitKat, Car Dashdroid is simple and effective. Swipe left to make a call and right to find your eight custom buttons and use the main central screen while you’re driving. Here you’ll find the time clearly displayed alongside the current weather, and below this your current approximate speed.
Voice activation integrates with OK Google, contacts can be launched quickly, and the navigation button is configurable so you don’t have to use Google Maps if you are using the TomTom app, for instance.
Car Dashdroid is a polished, slick, easy to use app that also features a comprehensive group of settings and a night driving mode with muted colours.
Perhaps trying too hard to squeeze in all of the perquisite features of a car dashboard app, Ultimate Car Dock features a clock that is too small, a ridiculous 24 custom buttons (you’re not supposed to use the phone while you’re driving, so why on earth would you need 24?!) and a battery meter on each screen of the app.
Where it does work well is with the Voice Command tool, but without built-in weather information (there is a speedometer, but this has its own screen) Ultimate Car Dock is really anything but. You’ll also need to upgrade to the paid version after 7 days. Given the limited featureset, this certainly counts against the app.
Taking a more literal approach to the car mode app paradigm, InDrive has three seperate screens: GPS, which is pictured above and shows your speed, distance travelled, exact coordinates, and altitude — all customizable; Music, which requires the Poweramp app for the best results; and Apps, which includes an immense 30 custom shortcut buttons with vertical scrolling, although the shortcuts only support a limited number of apps that you have installed.
With its clean UI and optional night mode, InDrive also features docking options, connectivity settings such as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi and a full car mode option to disable other features.
Sadly, there is no voice command system or weather information display built into InDrive, although the rest of the app works as you would expect, with Google Maps integration through the apps screen. Also, InDrive: Custom Car Home is no longer supported by the developer, but you’ll still need to upgrade to the paid version after the 30 day trial period is up.
What’s Your Favourite?
Car Dashdroid is our winner. It has superior information options, voice control, fast Google Maps integration, and an attractive UI that presents all of your required tools and apps without any fuss.
However, you might well have a better suggestion. Perhaps you’ve been using a native car app, or you stumbled across one that is really good but doesn’t have too many reviews on Google Play.
Use the comments to share your thoughts.