I tried the Android Automotive in-car operating system and I never want to go back

Time to Recharge: we test drive the Volvo XC40 Recharge with Google’s in-car operating system

Volvo XC40 Recharge and Android Automotive
(Image credit: Volvo)

All modern cars need an intuitive infotainment system – a way to control the music you’re playing, open apps, and even change settings on the car. A recent survey revealed that mapping services and a smartphone connection are more important to new car buyers than brand or engine size, so it’s an area that carmakers are clearly putting a lot of work into. 

I’ve tried most of the systems out there, from BMW’s iDrive to Audi’s MMI and Jaguar/Land Rover’s Pivi, and, while they’ve all got their fair share of positive points – none of them are perfect, leaving a gap for tech giants Apple and Google, with their years of experience in software and UI development, to enter the fray. The result, CarPlay and Android Auto, are essentially apps that mirror your smartphone screen on your car’s display. They’re better than the systems developed by carmakers, but still not perfect as they don’t offer total integration.

Volvo XC40 Recharge and Android Automotive

(Image credit: Volvo)

Enter Android Automotive, an in-car operating system that has been developed by Google. It not only includes Google Maps, Google Assistant voice commands, and YouTube Music, but also controls most in-car settings, such as the air conditioning, lighting, seats, and ride settings. Best of all, unlike Android Auto, you don't need a smartphone plugged in (or even present in the car). You even get a built-in version of the Google Play Store, which lets you download apps directly to your car like the world’s biggest Android smartphone!

Android Automotive is currently available in the Polestar 2 and Volvo XC40 Recharge (which is the car we’ve been reviewing). It’s an incredibly slick system, which can be controlled through the stylish built-in touchscreen or by saying the ‘Okay Google’ command, which works just like it does on a smartphone. It’s so well designed I never want to use anything else.

The system supports multiple accounts, and switching between users will change things like the seat and mirror position. Google will provide monthly security updates and the entire system is skinnable, so car manufacturers can completely customise the design to suit the vehicle.

Volvo XC40 Recharge and Android Automotive

(Image credit: Volvo)

Okay, there are some downsides to Android Automotive, the main one being there are currently only a few apps available for the system. Outside of Google’s own apps and a small selection of internet radio apps, there is very little to choose from. There is no YouTube or Netflix (to entertain you during a lengthy charge) and no internet browser. We expect this to change pretty quickly. For a start, Polestar has already developed a video streaming app that includes news services and national TV broadcasts in Sweden.

Can’t wait to get your hands-on Android Automotive? Although the software is currently only available on two premium, highly desirable cars, a number of other companies have signed up, from Ford and GM to Fiat and Nissan, so we think you’ll be seeing a lot more Android Automotive very soon.

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Spencer Hart
Spencer Hart

As the Product, Style and Travel Editor, Spencer covers everything from clothes to cars and watches to hotels. Everything that's cool, stylish, and interesting.