In Google’s attempt to be a part of almost every aspect of your life, they are now moving into the automotive realm, and while it took more than a year, if the recent mention at Google I/O 2015 is any indication, we can expect to find Android Auto in a slew of vehicles by the end of 2016. Last week, Hyundai announced that they were the first car manufacturer to feature Android Wear on production vehicles, starting with the Hyundai Sonata 2015, which is what we have on hand today.
We find out exactly what it brings to the table, or rather, to the car, in this in-depth Android Auto review!
Android Auto Features
Before getting started, it has to be mentioned that there are two versions of the Hyundai Sonata that can be seen in the video above. The silver car is the one that features Android Auto, but I was also sent a white version about a month ago, which didn’t come with Android Auto, but helped me familiarize myself with the other features of the Sonata that were already built-in.
Android Auto isn’t an independent system, and does require the phone to be connected to the in-built system in the car, which is done using a microUSB cable, and not Bluetooth as some might expect. Pairing the phone to the system is very simple via the Android Auto app that can be downloaded from the Google Play Store. The Play Store also features a list of apps that work with Android Auto, and is also the case with Android Wear, if an app you already have installed on your phone is compatible, it will automatically show up on the dashboard menu.
The Android Auto interface is fairly simplistic, taking on the familiar form of Google Now cards. If you have searched for any locations using Google or Google Now, or have any locations, such as Home or Work, already saved, those particular cards will show up, tapping on which will begin navigation to that destination. Of course, the full functionality of Google Now isn’t there, but apart from navigation, other key information such as missed calls, messages, and weather at your location are all available.
Jumping over to the media side of things, any compatible apps that are installed on your phone will show up on the list, which in my case, include Google Play Music, HeartRadio, NPR One, and Pocket Casts, the interfaces of which are also in a more basic form. For example, opening Google Play Music gives you direct access to player controls, with a menu on the left corner available to navigate through the various options such as Playlists, Albums, Listen Now, and more.
When it comes to the call functions, tapping on the phone button shows you a list of contacts, with the most recent call information at the top, followed by all the Starred contacts, giving you quick and easy access to anyone you might want to get in touch with. The menu gives you the option to access your call history, view missed calls, dial a number, or listen to your voicemail. Tapping on the microphone icon at the top right corner allows you to use voice commands to call a person as well, just as you would using Google Now on your phone.
When the car is parked, you can type out and search for a destination, but voice control is available here as well. Just say the name of the location, and once Google finds out, you can start navigation. The Google Maps section has a menu as well, with sections including categories, suggestions, and traffic information.
As mentioned, making a call is very simple, and the call quality is as good as expected. What is interesting though, and very useful, is how Android Auto handles text messages. When receiving a message, it shows up as a heads up notification, and when you click on it, the messages will be read out to you, including, hilariously, emoticons. Tapping on the microphone button and saying reply will let you answer the last message you received, using voice dictation to do so.
As you may have seen in the video, using Android Auto can lead to some frustration, because of the dependency on your phone and its internet connection. If you’re phone isn’t working, or you are in a location with a spotty wireless connection, the functionality of Android Auto is severely limited as well. That said, when it does work, it works really well, and sending a text message is also fairly uncomplicated.
Is it worth it?
The big question with regards to Android Auto is whether it is that much better than the navigation and infotainment systems already in place, which is honestly a very difficult question to answer. When it comes to the built-in system of the Sonata, you can connect your phone to it via Bluetooth, giving you easy access to the media on your phone. Also useful is the steering wheel integration, letting you control everything from it.
Android Auto does let you change the application you are using, so if you were listening to music and wanted to switch over to a podcast, that can easily be done using Android Auto. Answering and making calls is also very easy to do, but text messaging isn’t possible with the Hyundai system, which is a plus for Android Auto.
The navigation system also seems more robust with the built-in system, with a lot more options available within easy access. Similar options are available with Android Auto as well, but does require a few extra taps to go into the menu and find the various categories, and the implementation on the built-in system is a lot better. Android Auto is wholly dependent on your Google searches, while the Hyundai system is a lot more fleshed out, with maps that can be updated using SD cards, and location searches also powered by Google, without having to rely on your phone to do everything.
Car manufacturers have spent years building robust navigation and infotainment systems for their vehicles that do a great job. Android Auto doesn’t seem to bring much more to the table, and for now, isn’t much more than a very nice add-on. If you’re looking to do everything the Google way, the option is available to you, but if you’re already having a good time with the built-in navigation system, Android Auto, in its current iteration, isn’t yet ready to completely replace what is already available.
So there you have it for this in-depth look at Android Auto! The version that is seen in the video is what you’ll get with all other car manufacturers as well, and that is a nice feature of Android Auto. While Android Auto isn’t quite ready to be a complete replacement for what is already available, it does bring some useful features to the table, such as media app integration and text messaging using voice dictation, which can be great tools while on the road. Some polish is certainly required, but Android Auto is still in its very early stages, and will only get better over time.