Android Auto is Google's way of getting Android in your dashboard for much safer driving experience, but it still feels very beta.
Unlike a smartphone, which you can easily swap out and trade in for something else, Android Auto requires a bit more commitment. Right now, you have to either buy a car that's compatible with the software or pay to have it installed in an aftermarket setup.
I'm tried out a 2015 Hyundai Sonata and this car comes with Android Auto straight off the lot.
Android Auto is really simply to set up. You just plug it in and then tap the button to launch it. It has to be tethered via USB and connected via Bluetooth to work.
When Android Auto works, it works really well. I used it to commute the 35 miles to work and back a few days in a row and it kept me relatively sane on the drive home. I streamed Spotify radio, checked the traffic on Google Maps, and even asked Android Auto to find me a Starbucks.
Android Auto does the thinking for you
Android Auto borrows much of Google Now's contextual abilities to help you out during your drive, too. Once the app is booted up, you'll see a helping of suggestions on the Home screen. For instance, if Google Calendar knows you're due somewhere at a certain time and it's tagged with a location, Google Now in Android Auto will immediately offer a shortcut to get directions through Google Maps. From there, you just tap it and start navigating through to your destination.
This is the kind of helpful stuff that makes Android Auto worth the space it takes up in your car.
But for every wonderful thing Android Auto, there's still a minor element of distraction. You're always checking to see if it's working all right. Sometimes, the voice commands can't hear you well. And then sometimes, the cord jiggles a bit and the whole system just goes quiet.
I know we're gravitating toward a hands-free usage situation in our cars these days, but I often preferred using the touchscreen to control Android Auto rather than shouting out commands. I never knew what to ask Android Auto to get it to do what I wanted. If I wanted a specific playlist in Spotify, for instance, it just wouldn't understand me. If I asked it to send a text message the wrong way, it'd retort with "I'm sorry. I don't understand that command."
But I have to admit, having the familiarity of the Android interface in the car made using it so much easier. I didn't even bother to learn Hyundai's interface. Who cares? I have Android Auto running off my phone, complete with my apps and my music library.
I think after a few iterations, Android Auto will be more feature-filled, and worth the commitment to getting it installed in your car. Eventually, it'll have more apps, and maybe even car makers will throw their owns diagnostic apps in the ring.
Android Auto has a lot of potential, and if you can wait just a little bit, I think you'll be able to tell if it's really for you a year from now.