What is Android Auto? Full review and user guide

What is Google's Android Auto and what are the benefits for UK drivers?

Android Auto is a version of Google's Android mobile operating system that's specifically designed for use in a car through the car’s infotainment screen. By pairing a modern Android smartphone with your car via Android Auto, you’ll be able to access and use your phone's key features safely through the car's touchscreen, digital dashboard, buttons and in-car microphone. This handy user guide outlines the key features and benefits of using Android Auto compared to manufacturer designed infotainment systems, as well as covering key questions like how to connect your phone.

Keeping up with the rapid development of smartphone apps and software has long been difficult for car manufacturers, with many in-house systems and features like satellite navigation quickly becoming dated or lacking information not long after release.

Android Auto smartphone integration allows you to mirror a simplified version of your phone screen to your car's infotainment system and use up-to-date phone apps like Google Maps or Waze for navigation. Android Auto also has the capability to extend standard infotainment functions – allowing text messages to be read or replied to, phone calls to be taken or music streaming from third-party apps like Spotify or YouTube Music – all while on the move. Apple users have access to a similar system to Android Auto called Apple CarPlay.

Android Auto basically makes connecting and using your phone in the car a simple process, but questions remain: What is Android Auto? How does it work and what are the key features? Scroll down the page for our complete guide to Android Auto.

What is Android Auto?

Android Auto is a piece of software that connects Android phones to compatible infotainment head units, displaying a simplified version of your phone screen and allowing you to use some of the key features of your phone while on the move. This includes reading text messages, making calls, streaming music or navigating using Google Maps or Waze. Many other third party apps are also available including WhatsApp, Spotify and BBC Sounds. 

More than 500 new cars currently on sale globally have Android Auto compatibility and there are numerous aftermarket car stereo head units that can add Android Auto to older cars. You can check compatibility on the Android website.

How to connect your phone to Android Auto

Connecting your phone to Android Auto is as simple as plugging your phone into your car’s USB port and unlocking it. Your phone will then connect with Google to finalise the set-up – Android Auto should then load up automatically. 

Older smartphones running Android 9 or below will require the Android Auto app (a free download from the Google Play Store). Then, you just need to open the Android Auto app and plug your phone into the car’s USB port. 

A growing number of the latest cars and smartphones also support a wireless Android Auto connection so there's no need to use a cable unless you also want to charge the phone and don't have a wireless charging mat. All you need to do is have your phone connected to your car via Bluetooth and Android Auto will work. 

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When pairing your phone for the first time you’ll be required to connect a new device and approve the pairing. Once approved, any time you connect your phone in the future, the connection will happen automatically.

If your device is running Android Auto but you get a blank screen on your car’s infotainment system, it may need a software upgrade or not be compatible at all. Android Auto needs at least Android version 6.0 to run.

What are the main features of Android Auto?

Interacting with Android Auto is predominantly done through your car’s infotainment screen, but manufacturers are increasing the scope of Android Auto through to the digital dashboard too. Some Android Auto features are also available through physical buttons, knobs or dials that control your car’s screen. 

January 2023 saw an updated user interface added to Android Auto, creating on-screen tiles for different apps and short-cuts to speed up replies and phone calls. This improved the usability of the system and put more information in view at one time.

Google also unveiled the digital car key technology that will eventually allow users to share digital keys with contacts, giving them permission to drive the car without a physical key. Android Auto also has the ability to automatically adjust the interface's aspect ratio to accommodate portrait, landscape and widescreen infotainment systems and head units. We explore the main features of the system below…

Maps and navigation

One of the most impressive features of Android Auto is Google Maps, which brings detailed navigation and real-time traffic information to your car. The display is quick to respond, it constantly looks for quicker route options and best of all, you can just click a microphone button and say, ‘Navigate to’ any given destination and it’ll take you there. The recognition can be fooled by background tyre roar if you’re travelling along a particularly noisy stretch of road - but that aside, it’s uncannily accurate.

Using Google’s data, Maps provides more information about commercial destinations instead of just streets and postcodes. And being Google, it also has access to your recent browsing and search history - so it’s possible to look for a future destination at your office desk or home laptop, jump into the car, hook up your phone and find it suggested as a possible route to you without even asking for it.

Real-time traffic information is based on Google’s other navigation users data, so is much more accurate than pre-installed manufacturers’ radio- and camera-based data. The system is also able to suggest quicker routes and provide information on traffic problems or roadworks. Other navigation apps like Waze are also supported.

Music streaming 

Android Auto also allows you to access your preferred music streaming apps. All big subscription-based services like Amazon Music, Youtube Music and Spotify are all compatible. We’ve tried Spotify with a premium account and it’s reasonably slick, showing album art and using Google’s cloud-based speech recognition to allow you to demand any track from the archive - regardless of whether it’s in your collection or not.

‘Browsing’ for new music or through playlists is quite restrictive, presumably for safety reasons. Even though your Spotify library may have 100 albums or artists, you’re only ever able to scroll through eight or 10 of them before you get a pop-up telling you to pause scrolling before you continue to browse. Apple’s CarPlay system - which offers many of Android Auto’s features on iOS devices - isn’t so strict.

There are also dozens of eBooks and Podcast apps on offer - although you may need to use trial and error to find one with the right mix of content and a user-friendly interface.

Third party apps

Third party apps like WhatsApp and Skype are already compatible, allowing you to potentially use those services to make VOIP calls instead of Android Auto’s conventional smartphone system. 

Bizarrely, phone access is one of Android Auto’s weaker points. It’s basically sound, and it will read out texts or WhatsApp messages to you and allow you to dictate replies - but it’s not much more comprehensive than a decent car-smartphone interface. At least the fact that it’s contained within Android Auto’s on-screen environment means that you don’t have to hop back out to the car’s own system to make a phone call; you do have to do this to switch radio stations or media if you’re not listening to music through an Android Auto streaming app.

Android Auto updates

One of the big advantages to Android Auto is its regular updates. While modern cars do receive over-the-air updates to their operating systems they are rarely comprehensive and , this isn’t even possible on older models. Android Auto has been updated regularly over the years with significant improvements to features and functionality. 

Which car manufacturers support Android Auto? 

To date, Android Auto is built into selected systems from these manufacturers:





Alfa Romeo




Aston Martin


Land Rover






































This looks like a comprehensive list but it’s worth remembering that Android Auto could well be optional or offered on most, but not all, of the vehicles available from those manufacturers. You’ll need to study the standard equipment list and the options section of the brochure pretty carefully to make sure you can definitely get hooked up. 

Android Auto is primarily designed for manufacturers’ built-in infotainment systems, but aftermarket head units from various companies including Pioneer, Sony and Kenwood also support the technology.

How can I get Android Auto in my car?

As we’ve seen, many new models come with Android Auto as a standard feature, although you may have to pay a little extra for it in some cases. If you have an older or classic car with outdated head units or no infotainment head unit at all, there are plenty of aftermarket stereos and touchscreens which will allow you to connect your phone via Android Auto.

How is Android Auto different from just using my phone?

The biggest difference is that the system has been developed with car use in mind, and as a result, it is easier to use Android Auto while driving than faffing about with a phone that is in a cradle or stuck to the dash. Remember it is illegal to use a hand held phone when driving.

Also, to help reduce frustration with missing buttons and avoid taking your eyes off the road, Google’s Assistant speech recognition software allows you to take command of the majority of Android Auto features, again helping drivers use the software on the move. You can also use the car’s buttons and even its steering wheel controls to access features such as voice activation and track selection, or even activate it by simply saying “Hey Google”.

What is the difference between Android Auto and Android Automotive?

Android Auto compatibility has become very widely available on new cars, however, one of its main advantages has been diluted in recent times as modern cars are increasingly connected to the Internet and able to receive over-the-air software updates. Of course, Google wasn't about to get left behind by the march of technology and it worked with car makers including Audi and Volvo to create Android Automotive. 

Whereas Android Auto is a smartphone app that can be paired with a compatible car, Android Automotive is Google's native in-car infotainment software. It gives you a full suite of Google services and apps including Google Maps navigation, Google Play app store and Google Assistant voice control in the car with no need to pair your phone.

The similarity of the Android Auto and Android Automotive names can cause a little confusion but there is an important distinction even though the actual user interface is similar. Android Automotive is currently installed on various new models from Volvo, Polestar and Renault with each manufacturer incorporating design changes to the system so it matches brand identity.  

How much does Android Auto cost?

Android Auto is free to use and comes as standard in many cars. However, it's worth remembering that while pairing with your car is free, Android Auto is a data-heavy service, so any dropouts in phone signal will eat into the data allowance on your mobile phone contract.

If you have to pay for your data, you may be charged extra by your mobile phone service provider, and these charges may be higher while travelling abroad. It may be possible to avoid using as much data by downloading maps for the area before you set off on the trip, and the same goes for your favourite media such as music and podcasts.

In addition, while there are many excellent free apps that support Android Auto, you may find that some other services, including music streaming, are better if you pay for a subscription.

Do you have Android Auto in your car? Tell us what you think of it in the comments section below...

Content editor

Ryan is responsible for looking after the day-to-day running of the Auto Express website and social media channels. Prior to joining Auto Express in 2023, he worked at a global OEM automotive manufacturer, as well as a specialist automotive PR and marketing agency.

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