Android Auto Gadget Review

Hands-on with Android’s in-car experience

iOS and Android
increasingly stretch into every nook and cranny of our tech, whether it
be our TVs or our home’s thermostat. One more area they’re doing battle
is in cars. Apple launched its CarPlay system last year, but Google has recently fought back with Android Auto.

both companies’ main aim is attracting big car manufacturers to integrate and
support their systems, aftermarket brands such as Pioneer are getting in
on the act too. It was the first brand to market with CarPlay,
and it’s the first to support Android Auto in its systems. It invited us
along to have a go with its first Android Auto system, to see what it’s
like to use.

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have to start with some bad news, though. If you thought upgrading your
car’s system with Android Auto would be easy, Google’s decision to
require a 6.5-inch minimum screen size means it’s a pricey upgrade.

cheapest Android Auto system is the AVIC-F70DAB pictured, which costs
around £700 to £800. It supports CarPlay as well, and has all the bells
and whistles of a top-end in-car system, but Pioneer’s cheapest CarPlay
system costs just £350. Pioneer tells us cheaper Android Auto systems
will come at a later date, but for now you’ll have to pay through the
nose to get it.

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a high barrier to entry then, but Android Auto makes a very good first
impression. The opening homescreen is reminiscent of Google Now. Slim
cards summarise the most recent events, such as messages received, calls
made and locations you’ve searched for or navigated to.

You can
scroll up and down the list and reminders will appear here too, but you
can’t swipe to dismiss them like you do on a phone. This is because the
interface, like CarPlay, is designed with an eye on safety, so it tries
to keep distractions and complex interface options to a minimum.

Related: Apple CarPlay vs Android Auto

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offers the same basic features as CarPlay, too. Navigation, calls,
messaging and music are the main features, each accessible via shortcut
buttons along the bottom of the screen. But Google’s trump card is its
voice search, which gets a prominent shortcut in the top corner.

it does basics like Siri does, Google’s superior search means it’s
better at giving you information on the go. For instance, ask it how far
it is between London and Glasgow and it will tell you, reading the
answer out loud.

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only place you can use text input is on the navigation system, where
you can use the keyboard instead of voice to search for locations. But
you can’t type messages and any messages you do receive are read aloud
rather than displaying on the screen. Another limitation is you can only
search for contacts using voice – you can’t scroll through a list and
select them.

Music apps supported include Google Play Music,
Spotify, Radioplayer (UK only) and Tune-in Radio. They all look and work
remarkably similarly, which is no accident. The basic idea is that each
app works in a similar, predictable way, so you’re not focused on
remembering how each app works.

While this does strip some of the
more advanced features from apps, it makes them easy to use. You can
use voice search to search and play specific songs or artists, and you
can even specify which music app you want to play in.

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Early Verdict

nothing especially flashy about Android Auto, but for a system that’s
just a few months old it looks and feels quite mature and polished. It’s
a shame that aftermarket systems are so expensive right now, but thus far it
feels like a more cohesive, attractive system than Apple CarPlay.

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