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As Android smartphones have become more advanced, better ways of integrating them into the car have launched. You can stick with the basics and connect your phone to your car’s audio system, or you can try using Google Now in the car to interact with your phone without ever touching it.
Aware of this, Google released Android Auto almost two years ago. Until recently, the app required a compatible car to function, but that’s changed. Now, anyone can use Android Auto to enhance their driving experience.
Let’s take a look at how to get set up with the Auto experience and what it can do for you.
Warning: Using your phone while driving is dangerous! While Android Auto simplifies the interface and in theory is only as dangerous as fiddling with the radio, your focus should always be on the road when driving. Do not use Android Auto in a way that could endanger yourself or others.
Getting Set Up
To start, download the Android Auto app from Google Play. It requires Android 5.0 Lollipop or above, which all but the oldest phones should have. You’ll also need a data connection to use the app, since you won’t have Wi-Fi in the car.
The setup is pretty straightforward. The app will ask you to grant the needed permissions to access your phone calls and other information.
After this, you’ll be asked which Bluetooth device you want to associate with Android Auto. If your vehicle has built-in Bluetooth or you use an adapter, select it here. If you don’t have Bluetooth in your car, you can add it with a cheap adapter (I use this one, but there are plenty under $20).
Note that you’ll want to buy a mount for your phone as well to keep it accessible. Magnetic mounts are popular; these usually clip onto your vents. If your car has a CD player that you don’t use, you can also buy a mount that inserts into the CD slot. We don’t recommend suction-cup mounts, as those can obstruct your view and tend to fall, which could damage your device.
Once you’ve done preliminary setup in the app, you’re good to go! You’ll be greeted with a basic home screen and can start digging into the features.
What Can Auto Do?
Android Auto is your driving companion. It allows you to use only driving-friendly apps (like Google Maps) to avoid the temptation of texting and driving. It presents these apps in a simple interface (portrait or landscape) with big buttons so you can safely make changes when needed.
Like Google Now, the main screen populates with cards to bring you pertinent info. You’ll see upcoming calendar events as well as weather info. When driving, Google may also suggest destinations if you’re not en route to a specific place.
Music, Calling, and Maps
The three main buttons at the bottom of the screen bring you to Maps navigation, the Phone menu, and your music. Each portion gives you the most important view for its app as soon as you open it, and it provides a slide-out menu on the left for more control when you’re stopped.
Tapping the music icon for the first time asks you to choose a compatible app from your phone. Google Play Music, Pandora, Spotify, and Audible are all supported. The music portion gives you a simple Now Playing screen, along with controls specific to that app. For Spotify, you’re able to access your library, check your queue, or browse recently played music — perfect for being on the go.
The phone section presents you with your recent call history, along with the ability to dial a number. You can also listen to your voicemail and check your missed calls, though those are probably not activities you need to do while driving.
Finally, the Maps feature presents you with Google Maps’s Driving view by default. Even if you’re not using Maps for directions, this view provides you with live traffic, so you can foresee slowdowns. Using voice control, you can say “Navigate to Wendy’s” or “Drive to Houston” for directions.
At any time, you can jump back to the home screen using the circle Home button. This also allows you to exit the app if you tap it on the Home screen.
Even though most apps don’t fall into the above three categories, you can still work with a lot of them in Android Auto. When you receive a text (or a message from WhatsApp, Telegram, etc.), you can have Auto speak the message from a notification balloon. If it’s urgent, you can send a reply with a voice command.
You can deal with group chats or non-essential messages too. If you’re getting slammed with messages, a mute option keeps them from bothering you. You’re also able to add a canned response so that with one tap you can reply “I’m driving right now” or similar. This lets people know that you’re not ignoring them while also removing the pressure to tap out a (dangerous) reply.
At any time, you can harness Google’s power by tapping the microphone icon and searching via voice. While you hopefully won’t need to use this often, you could quickly look up ratings for a restaurant or send a text to someone without taking your eyes off the road. You can also use it to make changes to running apps, like skipping the current song.
To add even more functionality, check out the apps with Android Auto integration.
Check the Settings
To round out your use of Android Auto, there are a few settings you should change. Tap the slide-out menu on the left side of the screen, then Settings to open them.
You can change the Auto-reply message to whatever you’d like. By default it says I’m driving right now, which should be sufficient. If you like, you could also add a note about it being an automated message.
Since you’re likely only going to use Android Auto in the car where there’s no Wi-Fi, you can Limit Wi-Fi to disable that connection when using the app. Though it could save battery, this isn’t necessary for most people. You should probably have a car charger when using Android Auto anyway.
Cool you can edit your Auto Reply now with the new Android Auto update. As well as a few other new settings pic.twitter.com/vzsoWMmrnu
— Ryan Warner (@rwarner) November 7, 2016
Under Auto Launch, you can choose whether your phone automatically pulls up Android Auto when it connects to certain Bluetooth devices. You can also adjust the Bluetooth devices that this applies to.
Finally, you can adjust Screen on to keep the screen always on, on only when charging, or to use your device settings. The best option here depends on how you’re navigating.
In an unfamiliar area, you probably want to have Maps up at all times, but if you’re just listening to music, you probably don’t need the screen on. Note that you should avoid keeping the display on for too long if you have an AMOLED screen.
Will You Add Android Auto to Your Commute?
No matter what kind of car you have, Android Auto is a great way to enhance your driving experience. The app isn’t perfect yet — a particular sore spot is the lack of support for Waze GPS. However, the app is always getting better, and simply having a clean interface to access your music and navigation is great.
Will you try out Android Auto in your car? Do you prefer another dashboard app? Share your experiences with Auto in the comments!