Hands-free navigation is a must for drivers. Thankfully, smartphones make it simple with apps that mirror the phone’s operating system onto your car’s display. 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 you with directions, music, phone calls, and more. At CES 2023, it got 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 who do not have built-in Android Auto functionality in their car will instead be directed to the Driving Mode inside the Google Maps app when trying 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 standalone app or use multiple apps for navigation. You can configure Driving Mode to start any time you connect a smartphone to your car’s Bluetooth system, or use it by tapping Start in Google Maps whenever you get directions.
Not sure if your car’s compatible? Google has a handy rundown(Opens in a new window).
1. Play Music and Podcasts
(Credit: John Bogna)
If you like some tunes or a podcast while driving, you can call up apps like Spotify when using Android Auto or Google Driving Mode. With Drive mode open, the home screen will display your most recently used media app along with some simple controls. Depending on what type of system your phone is connected to, Drive mode can integrate with features like 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 launch a menu that contains several icons for various apps and features. Tap the icon with a car and a gear on it to enter Settings. From here, you can configure Drive mode options like whether to accept calls and texts while on the road. You can also toggle driving-friendly messages on and off. To get there without tapping through any screens just say, “Hey Google, open Assistant settings.”
3. Tell Drive Mode When to Activate
After an initial setup, your phone should connect and launch Android Auto automatically via Bluetooth or a wired connection. However, you might not want that automatic connection, like if the passenger is trying to play music.
To configure exactly when driving mode launches, open Assistant Settings, then tap Transportation > Driving mode and set when you want Drive mode to activate. You can configure Drive mode to open when under 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 you moving very quickly)
Whether you choose to set up the app wired or wirelessly, Google recommends keeping Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and location settings turned on(Opens in a new window) for the most accurate results.
4. Make Calls or Send Messages
(Credit: John Bogna)
On Drive mode’s home screen, you’ll see large buttons for Send a message and Make a call next to your media app controls. Tap either button 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 just “send message.” Texts get read aloud, and when you get a phone call, Google’s voice assistant says who’s calling and asks if you’d like to accept or decline.
Android Auto is compatible with other messaging apps beyond Messenger, such as WhatsApp and Skype, so those messages can be read aloud, too.
5. Use Voice Commands for Driving
Much like Android Auto, Google’s Drive mode changes the interface of your smartphone for less scrolling and therefore less distraction. The usual display is replaced by large, easy-to-tap cards that open apps, let Google listen for voice commands, and more. You can bring up Drive mode without touching your phone by saying “Hey Google, let’s drive” or “Hey Google, navigate to [destination].” For more on basic voice commands, check out Google’s guide(Opens in a new window) to Drive mode.
6. Return Home or Exit Drive Mode With One Tap
When you’re in the app launcher menu, another menu like Settings, or looking though Spotify for a playlist, just tap the car icon at the bottom center of your display to return to the driving mode home screen. To exit driving mode altogether, tap the car icon with a line through it at the top-right corner of the screen.
7. No Display? Use a Wireless Adapter Instead
(Credit: Eric Griffith)
Android Auto works whether you’re using it on a phone or Bluetooth system. If your car is an older model that doesn’t have Bluetooth, there are wireless adapters that offer Bluetooth connectivity or tablet-like devices(Opens in a new window) that work like a built-in infotainment system. The easiest and cheapest route in this situation would be to just get a car mount for your smartphone and use the app that way.
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