Half a decade after the initial launch of Android Auto, Google’s answer to Apple CarPlay, the software is finally getting a major update.
Designed to be a liaison between a smartphone and vehicle with a compatible infotainment system, once connected a user can access many mobile functions directly via the dashboard such as hands-free calling, navigation and more.
An immediately noticeable feature of the refreshed system is the default dark mode. Easier on the eyes, it also looks more like an OEM piece of software blending in nicely with the menu layout of most cars. App selection is also a much easier process. Previously, choosing to launch Spotify for example involved first tapping on the small headphones icon at the bottom of the screen, and then navigating through a drop-down menu.
Now, simply tap the familiar circular launcher button in the lower left corner of the navigation bar to bring up a screen resembling what you’d see on your phone with large bright icons, organized in order of recent use. Also along the bar — that is dynamic, showing things like navigation directions or media controls depending on what’s onscreen — are shortcuts to a new notifications centre and Google Assistant.
Pressing the notification bell is especially useful because it groups all recent calls, messages and other alerts in one place, rather than having a bunch of popups jumbled together in the middle of the display as it was before. Selecting Google Assistant provides the usual voice-controlled functionality, helping read out the news, give the latest weather report or send out a text.
One more subtle change is the relocation of the clock from the right to the left side. A small modification for sure, but this does make the time a little easier to read by separating the numbers from the all the other little symbols for Wi-Fi connection, cell signal strength and battery life.
It is salient to point out there are no changes yet to the Android Auto app on the phone, which will be coming later. In addition, how the in-car interface looks will vary slightly depending on make and model. Vehicles equipped with widescreen monitors like the 2020 Lexus RX, 2019 Jaguar F-TYPE and 2019 Mazda3 can squeeze in additional information.