The Hyundai home screen on a 2015 Sonata.
  • The Hyundai interface comes on when the car is started, with the choice to open Android Auto presented once the phone is plugged in. The Hyundai interface works with Android Auto, so that if music is playing through the car's head unit, it will continue to play in Android Auto and you can control it through the head unit. It will only switch over once you choose media from your phone. You can also use the in-car navigation while inside Android Auto - you don't have to use Google.
  • Image Credit: AOL - Jonathon Ramsey
The Google Now screen inside Android Auto.
  • The Google Now home screen is what comes up first, and can be returned to by pressing the round, center icon at the bottom of the screen. It is a combination of notifications concerning what you're doing now, where you've been, and where Google thinks you might want to go, based on past behavior.
  • Image Credit: AOL - Jonathon Ramsey
Google Maps inside the Android Auto operating system.
  • Google Maps, accessed by pressing the left, arrow button at the bottom of the screen. Voice recognition is quite good, and you can press the microphone button on the steering wheel to enter a destination by voice. If for some reason the system doesn't understand, you can enter an address via a keypad, or switch back to Hyundai navigation and try by voice or keypad there. You can use Hyundai navigation while still using Android Auto for media and phone calls, for instance.
  • Image Credit: AOL - Jonathon Ramsey
The Google Maps menu inside Android Auto.
  • Google Maps offers these three menu options to make searches easier, and you can use these with taps on the screen. You might know that one of the suggested destination is where you want to go, for example.
  • Image Credit: AOL - Jonathon Ramsey
The Suggestions menu inside Google Maps on Android Auto.
  • These are the suggestions given to me, based on where I'd been and what I'd searched for previously.
  • Image Credit: AOL - Jonathon Ramsey
The Phone menu inside Android Auto.
  • Do that from the Phone screen and you'll get these options. When you call your voicemail, if you need to enter a password, you can do that on the screen. At the top is a notification from the media player, which lets me know that a new 'track' has come up on NPR One. Notifications from other parts of Android Auto always appear at the top.
  • Image Credit: AOL - Jonathon Ramsey
A few of the apps available in Android Auto.
  • Three of the media apps available on Android Auto. At the time of writing there are 16 apps available, others will come online as they are approved specifically for Android Auto (they can't just be Android apps).
  • Image Credit: AOL - Jonathon Ramsey
The NPR One podcast screen inside Google Auto.
  • Media apps will have a similar interface, with prominent track information above and a menu bar that changes by color at the bottom, with the relevant controls. Because this is a podcast, for instance, I can go back 15 seconds using the button to the left of the big blue Play/Pause button.
  • Image Credit: AOL - Jonathon Ramsey
The Spotify app inside Android Auto.
  • Spotify, for instance, is known by a big green Play/Pause button, and because there's no deeper menu inside the app, I get a "plus" button on the very left.
  • Image Credit: AOL - Jonathon Ramsey
The Google Play interface inside Android Auto.
  • Google Play has an orange Play/Pause button. At the top is a notification that I have a text message from Vincent Vega. If I tap it, the system will read the message to me - including emoticons - and I can reply by saying, "Reply," and speaking my message to the system.
  • Image Credit: AOL - Jonathon Ramsey
The Return screen inside Android Auto.
  • The far right button at the bottom takes you back to the car's native interface. Switching back and forth doesn't change anything that's happening in the system until you actually request some sort of change.
  • Image Credit: AOL - Jonathon Ramsey
The Motorola Moto360 watch.
  • In addition to voice text messaging, the Motorola Moto360 watch was a surprise favorite. It's a phone on your wrist, connected to the phone and therefore the car, and fills in every blank you might encounter. You can use it to send text messages, set reminders, lock and unlock and start the car remotely, and if you need a larger screen you can port its information to the phone or the car head unit. It's a winner in my book.
  • Image Credit: AOL - Jonathon Ramsey
The Android Auto screen on a handset when connected to the car.
  • Once you plug your phone into the USB drive, the handset is blacked-out with this screen. You are almost entirely locked out of the phone, but that's the point of the system - to keep the handset out of your hands.
  • Image Credit: AOL - Jonathon Ramsey
After a week with version one of Android Auto in a 2015 Hyundai Sonata, my opinion is that it fulfills the promise of the technology. I couldn't even exploit it fully because I'm not married to the Android ecosystem. At my desk right now there's a PC in front of me, an iPad on my left, and an Android phone on my right.

My Android phone is, in fact, so old that it's not compatible with Android Auto. So in addition to a Sonata, Hyundai let me borrow a Nexus 5 smartphone and a Motorola Moto360 watch. Yet even with all that gear, which, in practical terms is someone else's borrowed digital life, Android Auto still showed itself to be tech worth having.

When you start the Sonata you get the standard Hyundai infotainment screen. Plug your phone in, and you'll get an option to click over to Android Auto. At that point, you lose the ability to use your phone, which is the purpose of the system, to keep you from using the handset. Since the contents of your phone are ported to the head unit, there is hardly any reason to reach for the portable device anyway.

The Google Now screen comes up first, populated with a series of notifications resulting from Google having learned your life and kept track of where you've been going, who you've been calling, and what you've been searching for. After only two days, Google Now understood that I probably lived in Venice, CA, and not in Orange County, where the phone had previously resided.

No matter the make of car, the interface is the same. The icons along the bottom of the screen indicate Navigation, Phone, Home (Google Now), Audio, and Return – to go back to the car's native interface. The first four options represent much of what we use our phones for (we'll get to texting in a second), and that's what buyers want: for cars to work seamlessly with their phones. Oh, and to have voice recognition actually be useful.

Android Auto works with the Hyundai system, so if music is playing when you turn the car on, it will continue to play even though you're in Android Auto, and you can control it through that interface. Switching to media or apps on your phone is as easy as saying, "Play music," which defaults to Google Play, or pressing the audio button and choosing an app like JoyRide or NPR One.

Android Auto Hands-On | Autoblog


You do have to figure out how to speak to the system. I couldn't find any list of Android Auto-specific voice commands, so sometimes it would take a few tries to figure out how Google liked to be ordered around. Once, when I couldn't get it to understand an address, I used the Hyundai navigation system instead while still playing Android Auto media. The next time it happened, I got smart and spoke the navigation into the watch, which understood the address, and sent the nav instructions to the head unit through the phone. While I could get scores for American sports, I couldn't ever get it to tell me who won a recent Formula One race. And while I could get it to set reminders, I never figured out how to set up a calendar event.

One of my favorite features was the ease of sending and receiving text messages. Any message that Google can understand, it can send. When you receive a message, a notification pops up at the top of the screen, you press it, and Android Auto reads it aloud. To reply, just say, "Reply," and say what you've got to say. It will even do emoticons. It's great.

Unexpectedly, it was the watch that clinched it for me. Connected to the phone and therefore the car, the Moto360 works as a phone on the wrist, allowing me to do numerous things with voice commands that saved me from having to get my phone out when I was away from the car, including sending and receiving text messages. If my digital wanderings required a larger screen I could swipe the information over to the phone and pick up the trail there. Sure, you need to choose your moments to speak to your wrist – but once chosen, it's worth it.

Although Android Auto has rolled out first, we suspect that Hyundai will soon announce support for Apple CarPlay as well. And other makers will, likewise, support both. Another valuable proposition with Hyundai's implementation of Android Auto will be that in the future, it will be offered on the Display Audio head unit showed off earlier this year at CES (a unit that showcased Apple CarPlay, by the way), bringing the feature to lower-priced Sonata trim levels and packages. When that happens, buyers will be able to get a modern suite of integrated tech applications without having to purchase the top-tier OEM package that comes bundled with the fanciest head unit and other luxury features. Android Auto will be offered on the mid-grade Sonata trim, so on the Sonata tester I drove, for instance, a buyer could have saved $3,500 by skipping the Tech Package.

The ultimate expression of Android Auto is in being able to close the last huge hole that keeps us from completely syncing our everyday lives: the hours we spend in our car. My life, however, has too many other holes to make that feasible. If I 'lived' in Android, it would have even more to offer me. After a few hours spent searching for televisions on Google one evening, for instance, Best Buy showed up as one of the suggested nearby destinations while I was on my way to Dairy Queen.

To make sure I'm not simply enamored of this new, shiny thing, I asked Andy Gryc, the content conference director of the LA Auto Show's Connected Car Expo, what he thought of Android Auto and the coming systems. He said, "I think Android Auto will be incredibly influential in infotainment. The automakers desperately need seamless mobile integration, customer-friendly brands, and deep software competency, and Google is a powerhouse in all three. It's hard to underestimate the sea change that this will have across existing infotainment designs."

My thoughts exactly.

Share This Photo X