First Look: Android Auto

Derryn Wong


Verbier, Switzerland- At the debut of the new Audi Q7, Audi also announced the beginning of Android Auto smartphone integration into its vehicles. Now Apple Car Play seems to be a bit more ahead of the curve, since there are already compatible head-units to be bought in Singapore, so getting a try on Google’s system proves to be an interesting view into what lies ahead for those using Android smartphones. 

Apple announced Car Play in March 2014, with Google following a few weeks after. In the USA, Anroid Auto systems are being rolled out for consumer use by Hyundai first.  

We had a short test run of the system at Audi’s exhibition station and it seemed to work well.

What do you need to do? Take an Android phone running Android 5.0 (Lollipop) and plug it into the existing infotainment system and you’re ready to go.

It was possible to control navigation and music functions without touching the phone at all, and according to the engineers, notifications and messages will appear within the MMI system itself too. 

Yes, we know the phone in the picture is an iPhone, but Audi’s system was running a bona-fide version of Android Auto.  Its concept is similar to Apple Car Play, and also ‘Honda Link’ (as seen in the Honda City ) where the smartphone behaves like a head unit, providing nav and infotainment functions.

In a costlier, higher spec car like the Q7 it’s less useful, but for cars without navigation and the like you can use your phone to help you get around, stream music via services like Spotify or Google Play and it can also display Google Now cards too. It’s all controlled via the rotary MMI knob too, so there’s no fear of being caught or missing attention by wrangling a finicky touchscreen.

Although we had no chance to try it, Android Auto also can be controlled using voice commands – for example you can ask it to find you food or a place, or to call someone on your contact list. Most modern infotainment systems have a similar feature, but they’re very hit and miss. 

But the true test of Android Car and its usefulness will come in a more basic machine than the loaded-to-the-gills Audi Q7, something more like an A1 small hatchback or similar – theoretically, it’ll allow you to have nav and infotainment features such as Spotify and Google Play without paying the huge sums needed (especially with Singapore’s hefty car taxes) for on-board features. 

Now, features like that can cost as much as $10,000 to add on, especially in luxury cars – like any additional or optional equipment, the cost is added to the OMV and scaled accordingly (approximately 130 percent at least) due to taxes once the car is landed here. 

So at the very least, like the technology it springs from, Android Auto will help make ‘smart’ cars more accessible to more of us.




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About the Author

Derryn Wong

CarBuyer's chief editor brings 15 years of experience in automotive journalism. Previously, he was the editor for Top Gear Singapore, and a presenter for CNA's Cruise Control motoring segment. He's contributed to The Business Times, Today, and many other publications, and also covered technology as editor of Stuff magazine. An avid motorcyclist and photographer, he is the Chief Slave of two cats. Follow him on Instagram @werryndong

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