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Lead image

What is Android Auto? The best of your phone in the car

One of our experts shares his experience with Android app control through a car stereo

What is Android Auto™? Android Auto is the easiest and safest way to use your Android smartphone in the car. It gives you larger icons and takes advantage of your phone's voice control functions to give you access to more of what your phone can do. 

In this article, we'll get a guided tour as to how it works from an Android Auto fan and, more importantly, how to make Android Auto work in your car.

In the news: Android Auto updated their user interface in late 2018 for better music exploration (including voice search) and multiple messaging options, among other improvements.

Android Auto makes certain phone apps easier to see and safer to use from behind the wheel. It works as a standalone app on most Android phones, but it really shines when paired with a compatible touchscreen car stereo. The pairing typically works via wired USB connection. A handful of newer stereos offer a wireless option.

The interface is streamlined and voice-driven, so you can concentrate on the road ahead and keep your hands on the wheel while still staying in contact with others, pulling up music and podcasts, or finding your next destination.

Here's a quick look at how Android Auto can perform in your dash: 

We asked Patrick Spraker, a Merchandising Specialist here at Crutchfield, for a tour of how Android Auto helps him during his 3-hour round-trip commute to the office. He'll help fill you in below. But first, we'll answer some common questions.

Android phone with Android Auto

Is your smartphone compatible with Android Auto?

Android Auto should work on any phone running Android 5.0 Lollipop or above, but Android 6.0 Marshmallow or better is recommended at the minimum. Downloading the Android Auto app onto your phone is a good way of double-checking your phone’s compatibility — before you go stereo shopping.

How do you get Android Auto in your car?

Android Auto will only work on compatible touchscreen car stereos with a screen size of at least 6.4". So, either you buy a new car into which it's been factory-installed, or you can install one of these Android Auto compatible head units in your vehicle. Some older stereos may require a firmware update to get up to speed — check the owner's manual or get in touch with Crutchfield tech support if you purchased your stereo from us.

What apps work with Android Auto?

Lots of apps for entertainment, communication, and navigation work with Android Auto — way more than we could list here. You can check out the app list for an up-to-date listing of what's compatible right now. In the meantime, here are some highlights:

Navigation apps:

  • Google Maps
  • Waze

Music/audio apps:

  • Google Play Music
  • Spotify
  • Pandora
  • Amazon Music
  • iHeartRadio
  • Stitcher
  • SiriusXM Radio (subscription required)
  • Audible
  • Slacker Radio

Messaging apps:

  • WhatsApp
  • Facebook Messenger
  • Kik
  • WeChat

Everything you love about Android on your car stereo

Android Auto employs the "card" format (which it borrows from Google Now), placing important bits of info on the screen in easy-to-read rectangles or squares. We also refer to them as tabs. You can pull up a number of different functions with a fingertip or voice command, or get back to the stereo's home screen in a jiffy.

Android Auto home screen in a Pioneer AVH-W440NEX receiver

One fan's overview of how Android Auto works on a car stereo

Merchandising specialist Patrick Spraker, one of our resident Android Auto experts, talks us through some of the main features of Android Auto, which he uses via his Google Pixel™ 3 XL smartphone. Let's hear what he has to say.

Dominic and Patrick

Patrick explains the benefits of Android Auto to me (I'm an iPhone® user).

Intuitive layouts for super-easy control

"Once Android Auto launches on a compatible receiver, the stereo shows large, easy-to-read cards with handy info like the weather, driving time estimates, default music app, and even the names of recent texts or calls. The app even juggles these tabs around based on relevance. Virtual buttons along the bottom of the screen get me to the phone functions and music and navigation apps."

Voice commands let you go hands-free

"Voice control via Google Assistant lets me control the action without touching any screens. I simply say "OK Google" or "Hey Google" or press the appropriate buttons on my steering wheel controls and tell it what I want to do: call a contact, compose a text, take me to a place, play an artist or album. I can also search for information (like phone numbers or store hours) or nearby destinations."

[Read more about hands-free Android Auto]

Patrick in car

Patrick with Android Auto maps on the receiver's display.

I can play all my music services

"I can pick up my music right where I left it by tapping "play" on the music app card. Google Play Music's my go-to app, and when I don't have any songs queued up or a playlist in progress, it presents me with a "Music for driving" screen with several curated playlist options based on my past selections. The menu also gets me to my playlists, podcasts, and other recent listening activity." 

Google Play Music via Android Auto in a Sony XAV-AX100 receiver

Texting and calling made simpler and safer

"The tab format makes it easy to tell which calls and texts are the most recent. I can have incoming texts read aloud to me over the car stereo and dictacte a response without taking my hands off the wheel. I also have the option to send a customizable canned response like, "I'm driving right now" or "I'll get back to you shortly." I can also mute a conversation if I'm getting bombarded with texts. I can even see a preview of the message onscreen when my car is stopped, which wasn't a feature available until late 2018."

"I can make calls by tapping the phone icon, or dial up a contact from my phone book by speaking the name out loud."

Incoming texts and calls via Android Auto on a Sonyh XAV-AX5000 receiver

Android Auto navigation options

"Android Auto defaults to Google Maps for navigation, but it also works with the popular Waze app for turn-by-turn directions and crowdsourced info on traffic, accidents, and speed traps along my route. It also works with many other navigation apps, and once I set a favorite, it'll default to that one going forward. Once Android Auto learns my daily driving routine, it automatically figures out how long it'll take to get to either work or home, depending on the time of day and where I am."

Android Auto maps on a Pioneer AVH-W4400NEX receiver

What about wireless Android Auto?

Yes, wireless Android Auto is a thing now. Compatible stereos employ a built-in Wi-Fi® network in combination with Bluetooth to communicate with your phone. After the initial setup and pairing with your phone, you'll be able to launch Android Auto on the stereo without touching your phone as soon as you get into your vehicle.

Not only does wireless Android Auto save you the hassle of having to plug in your phone whenever you get into the vehicle, it also works great for fans of wireless charging in the vehicle, as they can set their phone down and leave it alone to charge as they travel.

The number of aftermarket stereos with wireless Android Auto out there is small but growing.

Woman driving with android auto

Do you have more questions about Android Auto?

Patrick gave us a lot of insights about using and Android phone in the car. If there's anything else you'd like to know about Android Auto, you're sure to find it on Google's stand-out Help page, or the Android Auto FAQ page. Or you can contact our advisors. Whether you're looking for the cheapest Android Auto head unit or the best Android Auto stereo, our advisors can help you find the one that's right for you. 

  • Michael Phinney from Dagsboro

    Posted on 2/13/2019

    Android Auto is ok to most but it does have some major flaws. Why didn't you share those? For instance... it has a difficult time playing downloaded music from your device OR if their is no internet connection due to cell will stall. Those are only a few, there are please share the WHOLE story.

  • Matt from EDWARDSPORT

    Posted on 7/9/2018

    I bought the pioneer avh 4201 nex package from you, to install in 06 silverado. Easy install and everything worked well except the android auto, which was the whole reason for the upgrade. I installed the supplied USB cable in port 2 and my galaxy s8 charger to that. Only thing it did was slow charge phone. I've tried several different cables with no results, how can I get android auto to work?

    Commenter image

    Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    on 7/10/2018

    Matt, so sorry to hear that. Please call our Tech Support team for free help troubleshooting your system. You'll find the info you need on your emailed receipt, or just give us a call at 1.800.955.9091. They'll help get to bottom of this.
  • Jack from San Jose

    Posted on 1/22/2018

    How old is this article?

  • Commenter image

    Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 6/14/2017

    Aaron, Android Auto will not give you screen-mirroring capability. You can find more about compatible apps and phones here. Your phone will need to use OS Lollipop (5.0 or newer) and a mini-USB to USB connection for Android Auto. As far as screen-mirroring goes, the receiver you have will only do so with MHL-enabled phones and an adapter cable. Note that you'll also need the parking break engaged for that feature on your receiver. If you have any questions, give us a call.

  • Aaron from Bethalto

    Posted on 6/9/2017

    I purchased a Kenwood DDX9902S and I have a motorola Droid Force Z phone. I am putting this in a Jeep and often use offroad trail mapping apps on the phone. So not google maps. ViewRanger is one and Maprika is another. Will android auto let me mirror my phone screen on the head unit screen for various apps? My phone only has a USB-C port. No type of HDMI port. If I need anything other than the phone and head unit to do that, what will I need to get my phone screen to show up on the head unit screen?

  • Commenter image

    Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 1/31/2017

    Jay, you sure can!

  • Jay from Staford

    Posted on 1/30/2017

    Can I view the Google Maps app while listening to the FM radio?

  • Frank from smithfield

    Posted on 11/25/2016

    Just purchased and installed Pioneer AVIC-8100NEX . Everthing worked except android auto. When It didnt I purchased the pioneer CD-AH200 cable kit. Still no luck. upgraded firmware on head unit and phone (GalaxyS7 VRZN OS Marshmallow 6.01) No luck there. Called Crutchfield support was told it could possibly be the OS. Removed radio, checked all connections, tried different usb cables, Still no luck. Finally today, after reading internet posts I tried the Samsung charging cable hooked to usb cable coming from radio. It worked! went around house and found an old Blackberry cable , it worked! Retried the pioneer cable and a couple of others of a thicker gauge, still didn't work. My thought that all cables were alike was totally wrong. All usb (M/F)extension cables coming from head unit were fine.It was the cable from extension to phone which has issues .All the thinner gauge USB -Mini USB worked. Thicker cables did not. Go figure. I hope this helps others.

  • Commenter image

    Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 11/15/2016

    Stephen, I've reviewed the links in the article and they still point to car stereos with Android Auto. Additionally, at any point, when shopping for car stereos you can filter your search for Android Auto using the options on the left rail of the page. Hopefully, you'll find this helpful, but if you'd like to speak to an advisor regarding Android Auto choices, please give us a call.

  • Stephen from York

    Posted on 11/14/2016

    Your links no longer point to stereos with Android Auto. That would be helpful. It would also be helpful if in your search criteria this was an option too. I used to be a big supporter of Crutchfield but starting to look elsewhere.

  • Commenter image

    Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 11/11/2016

    Jim, give us a call. Since you bought your gear with us, you can call Tech Support for free help troubleshooting your system.

  • JIm from Poughkeepsie, NY

    Posted on 11/8/2016

    Why are these units so cable sensitive? I am installing an NEX 4200 Pioneer from you and trying to incorporate dash mounted, OEM looking USB ports, yet consistently have difficulties. I tried your PAC extensions and bought 2, one for Android Auto and the other for my wife's Apple Car Play. Most oddly, one worked part way during my Android test using the Android USB output on the back (I got a partial screen and icons), while the other had icons and only a black screen. In short, why is this so difficult? Its a CABLE, not a super computer!

  • Commenter image

    Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 10/11/2016

    Jeff, thanks for your comment. We've updated the links you mentioned to point to car stereos with Android Auto.

  • Jeff Lentz from Atlanta

    Posted on 10/7/2016

    It would be helpful if the links in your article returned the radios that actually are Android Auto compatible, rather than just "all radios". Limiting searches to just Android Auto radios is tough. Also, be careful recommending a lengthy USB cable. I've tried using a 10 foot cable with a rental car and the Android Auto would lose connection a lot. Use the shortest, best USB cable you can get.

  • Bryan from Baltimore, MD

    Posted on 8/18/2016

    Go on Google Play Store and download the free AutoMate app. It is a clone of Android Auto and you can use your phone as the touchscreen and your car's bluetooth for the audio.

  • Commenter image

    Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 5/11/2016

    Nessy, there's nothing quite like you're describing, but perhaps your simplest solution is to invest in one of our phone mounts and connect your phone or tablet to your factory stereo via Bluetooth. We have a wide variety of mounts for a wide variety of in-car application. I use a magicMOUNT mount in my car and find it indispensible.

  • Nessy from Levittown, NY

    Posted on 5/10/2016

    I;m new to this. My husband just got a new Honda 2016 Sport, but he went with the base model that does not have android auto compatibility. I see everywhere that its possible to just install a compatible radio (I have a compatible android phone too) and with a little work, you can have a car with major updates. However, are there any model of radios that can be used more like a tablet or non-installation required? I ask because the new car is a lease, and Im not sure (i doubt it in fact) that I can mess around with a leased car by ripping out the radio and installing my own. So I was wondering if there are any models I could use android auto on while in the car that does not have to be physically installed as a radio? Thanks so much!

  • Commenter image

    Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 5/9/2016

    Jen, the actual loading of the firmware may take less than ten minutes, but it's very possible that the input that needs to be accessed for the update may be at the rear of the receiver. In that case, it may be necessary to disassemble your vehicle's dash (and reassemble it). It sounds like the dealership is making sure to quote you a reasonable amount of time to get the job done (depending on their workload).

  • Jen from Brick, NJ

    Posted on 5/6/2016

    How long does it take to update the firmware? I purchased a car that has to have android auto updated & was told it would take a few minutes but when I went to the dealer they said it's at least 2 hours. Thanks!