What exactly does Android Auto do? 5 best features of Google's in-car system

Android Auto is super useful for drivers who use Android phones – but what exactly does Android Auto do?

Android Auto
(Image credit: Reddit: u/RegionRat91)

If you're an Android phone user and a driver then you're going to want Android Auto. But what exactly does Android Auto do? At its core it's a way to connect your Android phone to an in-car display. 

However, Android Auto doesn't just act like a big phone that's always on show, it's used for core communication, entertainment, navigation and voice-based tasks so you can keep your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road. 

Of course you'll need a compatible vehicle with the necessary kit so you can plug your Android phone in via USB (some recent cars support Android Auto Wireless so you can ditch the cable) in order to get everything up and running. 

Here's what Android Auto can do and its 5 top features: 

1. Great navigation with live traffic

Built into Android Auto is Google Maps for navigation, so you can easily setup routing to get you from A to B. Just like in Maps it offers turn-by-turn navigation, including by voice (you can mute this if you wish) and, if your car has the necessary support, then supplementary data on secondary screens to assist with lane options, exit junctions and the like. 

Beyond this, Google also live monitors traffic, using anonymous data from other drivers in real-time, so if your route is congested it'll let you know – and tell you that it's going to take longer, or offer alternative options to try and keep your drive time down. 

Outside of the default navigation on Android Auto there are wider options too. If you're a Waze user, for example, then you can instead run that through the system for what many describe as an even more optimum experience.

2. Voice messaging in apps

A big Google feature is Google Assistant and its voice control. That's baked into Android Auto, too, should you choose to use it. It's especially useful while driving because the laws around phone use are strict (you cannot even hold a device whilst in control of a vehicle in the UK).

What's great about voice and Android Auto is that everything is integrated. You can tell the system to send your brother a message in WhatsApp or Messenger and then dictate it. It's pretty accurate, too, which always helps. 

Android Auto can even read out incoming messages, if you give it permission to do so, which can be handy if you get an SMS while you're driving to an airport telling you that your flight's been cancelled, or you're just trying to keep up on the latest gossip in a WhatsApp group. 

3. Music control

Who doesn't listen to music while driving? Android Auto is a great way into listening to your favourite tunes – and via your favourite apps. There's direct link-up with Spotify, for example, or perhaps you want to listen through BBC Sounds to hear your favourite show. 

As voice is so integrated into Android Auto, you can request by saying out loud what you want to hear, from which app, and the system will locate it and start playback. If you don't have easy-to-use controls on your car's steering wheel then voice is a great way to skip, pause, and so on. 

4. Easy organisation 

If you're using Android and Google's suite of apps to plan your personal and work life then chances are you have plenty of meetings set – and Android Auto is a great way to tap into all of those appointments. The system can alert you via Calendar, you can tap appointments to commence navigation, and use voice to let contacts know if you're going to be late.  

5. It's all free!

Okay, so there's a slight caveat to that: you have to possess a vehicle that offers Android Auto compatibility (and not all do: Mini, for example, is Apple CarPlay only still) and the necessary built-in screen-based system (after-market products are also available as a workaround).

Assuming that box is ticked, that's that: simply plug your phone in via the USB port (unless you have Android Auto Wireless supported, which is  a newer feature) and grant permissions to access and off you go – all those great above features are yours for the taking. 

Tech Editor at T3, Mike handles all things tech – from phones, tablets and laptops, to gaming and computing. He's been working as a consumer technology journalist for the best part of 15 years, previously the Reviews Editor at Pocket-lint for 10 years, and has provided freelance work to publications such as Wired, The Guardian, Metro, and more over the years. In addition to his tech expertise, Mike is also a bit of a travel fiend, having travelled the globe extensively for both personal and work-related pursuits. You'll always find him setting up a new mobile phone, or critiquing the next MacBook, all while planning his next get-away.