Hands-free navigation is a must for drivers. Fortunately, smartphones make it easy with apps that mirror the phone’s operating system on your car’s screen. Apple has CarPlay, while Google has Android Auto to help you keep your eyes on the road.
For those with an Android device, Android Auto can help with directions, music, phone calls, and more. At CES 2023, it received an overhaul to make navigation, communication, and entertainment options more accessible.
Android Auto vs Google Driving Mode
Google has more than one driving assistant feature. android auto(Opens in a new window) is a standalone app and Google’s GPS navigation assistant for devices running Android 6-11. You can connect to your vehicle via USB or Bluetooth to use Android Auto, but the phone screen version no longer works.
Starting with Android 12, those without Android Auto built into their car will be directed to Driving Mode within the Google Maps app when attempting to use Android Auto on a phone screen (since the Google Assistant version has been discontinued as well).
Since Google Maps comes pre-installed on Android devices, you don’t have to download a separate app or use multiple apps to navigate. You can set Driving Mode to launch whenever you connect a smartphone to your car’s Bluetooth system, or use it by tapping Launch in Google Maps whenever you get directions.
Not sure if your car is compatible? Google has a helpful summary(Opens in a new window).
1. Play music and podcasts
(Credit: John Bogna)
If you like a few songs or a podcast while driving, you can access apps like Spotify when using Android Auto or Google Driving Mode. With Drive mode open, the home screen will display the most recently used media app along with some simple controls. Depending on the type of system your phone is connected to, Drive mode may be integrated with features such as steering wheel-mounted audio controls. Or say “Hey Google, play the latest episode of [podcast name].”
To open additional apps and settings, tap the app launcher icon that looks like four boxes in the bottom right corner of the screen. It will open a menu containing various icons for various apps and features. Tap the icon with a car and a gear to enter Settings. From here, you can set the driving mode options, such as accepting calls and texts while you’re on the road. You can also turn driving related messages on and off. To get there without touching any screens, just say, “Hey Google, open Assistant settings.”
3. Tell driving mode when to activate it
After an initial setup, your phone should connect and start Android Auto automatically via Bluetooth or a wired connection. However, you may not want that automatic connection, like if the passenger is trying to play music.
To set exactly when driving mode starts, open Assistant Settings, then tap Transportation > Driving mode and set when you want driving mode to activate. You can set Drive Mode to open when you are in one of the following circumstances:
When you connect your smartphone to a car’s Bluetooth
When you open the Android Auto app
When your phone detects driving (its sensors detect that you are moving very fast)
Whether you choose to set up the app wired or wirelessly, Google recommends keeping your Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and location settings turned on.(Opens in a new window) to get the most accurate results.
4. Make calls or send messages
(Credit: John Bogna)
On the Drive mode home screen, you will see large buttons to Send a message Y make a call next to the media application controls. Tap any of the buttons to use voice commands, or just tap the microphone icon. You can also say “Hey Google” or use the dedicated voice command button on your steering wheel, if you have one.
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Common voice commands include “call [name from Contacts]”, “send message to [Contact]”, or simply “send message”. Texts are read aloud, and when you get a phone call, Google’s voice assistant says who’s calling and asks if you want to accept or decline.
Android Auto is compatible with other messaging apps besides Messenger, like WhatsApp and Skype, so those messages can also be read aloud.
5. Use voice commands to drive
Like Android Auto, Google’s Drive mode changes the interface of your smartphone to reduce scrolling and therefore fewer distractions. The usual display is replaced by large, easy-to-touch cards that launch apps, let Google listen for voice commands, and more. You can open Drive mode without touching your phone by saying “Hey Google, let’s drive” or “Hey Google, navigate to [destination].” For more information on basic voice commands, see Google’s guide(Opens in a new window) to Drive mode.
6. Return home or exit driving mode with one touch
When you’re in the app’s home menu, in another menu like Settings, or looking for a playlist on Spotify, simply tap the car icon at the bottom center of your screen to return to the home screen of car mode. driving. To exit driving mode entirely, tap the car icon with a line through it in the top right corner of the screen.
7. No screen? Use a wireless adapter instead
(Credit: Eric Griffith)
Android Auto works whether you use it on a phone or a Bluetooth system. If your car is an older model that does not have Bluetooth, there are wireless adapters that offer Bluetooth connectivity or tablet-like devices.(Opens in a new window) that function as an integrated infotainment system. The easiest and cheapest route in this situation would be to get a car mount for your smartphone and use the app that way.
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