Test driving Android Auto

Now that we’ve been living with Android Auto for a month or so, we can report that it’s a good thing. Sort of.

While Android Auto promises to reduce driver distraction by integrating your phone with the car’s controls and center screen, the system is not as seamless as we’d like. And we’ve experienced a glitch or two along the way while using our Pioneer AVH-4100NEX stereo.

Like Apple CarPlay for iOS devices, Android Auto lets you access certain phone functions using the car’s touch screen, voice, and steering wheel controls, including navigation, calls, texts, and music. (Read: Installing Apple CarPlay and taking it for spin.)

Overall, Android Auto works well, with excellent voice controls that use natural speech. It’s easy to make and receive calls using your voice, and it is even simple to compose or listen to text messages. Entering an address is just as easy, and Google navigation and traffic info is among the best. Voice controls aside, the onscreen buttons and menus are large, easy to read, and simple to use.    

The problem is, Android Auto operates in its own little universe. If you want to switch from listening to music on Spotify to FM or XM, for example, you have to exit Android Auto. And it takes several steps to back out of the Android environment.

While none of this is a huge deal, it can be annoying. But if you never leave the realm of your phone, you’ll probably like Android Auto just fine, so long as your phone uses the new Lollipop operating system. Older phones aren’t compatible.  

Like CarPlay, Android Auto is set to roll out on a wide variety of new models soon. Virtually all carmakers have said they will offer both platforms. We’re eager to see how well automakers are able to integrate them into their vehicles.

Jim Travers

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