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Hands-on: Android Auto puts Google's in-dash experience on your phone (and, yes, it works)

Florence Ion | May 19, 2016
Forget about buying a new car or tearing out your car's dashboard. Google has a plan to bring Android Auto's distraction-free driving features directly to your phone.

There’s a back and home button on the bottom of the screen, a button to engage voice control, and a hamburger menu in the upper left-hand corner of the interface. You can tap around to select what you need, or hit the voice command button, and ask Android to do your bidding. Google says it will soon bring hotwording to Android Auto so that you can issue commands with a simple “OK Google” prompt rather than tapping on an icon to get started. 

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Navigation in the Android Auto app launches into an optimized version of Google Maps.

My demo was quick and simple—which is to be expected, as that’s the whole point of Android Auto. I asked Android Auto to play a podcast by name from Pocket Casts, and it immediately started the latest episode. I asked it to navigate to San Francisco International Airport, and it launched Google Maps inside the app. The directions even included the option to find gas stations and coffee shops along the way. I then asked it to call my phone by dictating the actual numbers, and it worked.

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Who needs a standalone Garmin when you’ve got Android Auto and Google Maps on your phone?

So far, so good. But just be aware that like its dashboard counterpart, Android Auto for the phone screen’s voice command feature can be finicky if your cellular reception is spotty. It’s also worth noting that if you’re using a smaller phone—like the 5.1-inch Samsung Galaxy S7—it’s not going to be easy to see album art, or glance at playlists, in Spotify. The Nexus 6P’s 5.7-inch screen size feels just right for this implementation of Android Auto, but drivers with smaller phones could face issues.

Android Auto, now with Waze

One of the best things about Android Auto on your phone screen is that all the applications already supported by the platform will work—this includes Spotify, Pocket Casts, and Waze, for which Google announced compatibility at its I/O keynote. In short, developers won’t have to worry about whether their Android Auto app will format correctly for sundry phone screens. There will also be a landscape mode available at launch.

Google plans to launch the finalized version of Android Auto for your phone screen “later this year.” I personally can’t wait for this new feature and its hands-free, in-car convenience, and I’m pretty sure those driving around me will appreciate it, too.

 

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