Android Auto shifts gears: Hands on with the new dashboard interface

Google has partnered with Volvo to build Android Auto right into the car, no phone required.

Android Auto may not get as much attention as Waymo, Google's more exciting and mysterious self-driving car technology, but it's chugging along. While no cool new features were unveiled at I/O—and quite frankly, we’re still waiting for the Waze integration we were promised at last year’s event—Google's clearly been busy putting Android Auto directly into cars.

Right before I/O, Google announced a partnership with Volvo and Audi to integrate Android Auto right into the navigation system, no phone required. I got to see the Volvo V90’s Android-powered navigation system in action, and it’s a big upgrade from the relatively small screens we use now.

The vertical-mounted giant display was similar to the Tesla’s (though not quite as big). As soon as you turn the car on, it comes to life with four tabs to select from: Google Maps, the most recently used app, Phone, and Studio. At the bottom of the screen is a set of climate controls that let you adjust the temperature or turn on the heated sets, but you don’t have to touch the screen to operate them. Just say, “OK, Google, turn up the air conditioning,” and your car will start to get cooler.

Android Auto Daniel Masaoka

The Volvo V90 features a giant display that lets you control things like climate and cruise control along with maps and music.

Google Maps doesn’t require a phone to operate, but if you bring one along, all of your searches and trips will be synced. You’ll also be able to make calls through your phone (iPhones too, of course). There’s no dedicated messaging interface, however, you will be able to see and reply to notifications from your phone.

Available apps mirror those that work with Android Auto (which means there aren’t too many available yet), but popular services like Spotify and Pandora are represented. When you’re listening to music, you’ll be able to adjust the sound using the Studio tab, which gives you a standard set of speaker controls, including a fader, and bass and treble.

Swipe right and you’ll see options for things like the backup camera, the car's fuel-saving ECO driving mode, and cruise control. There’s a button on the steering wheel to bring up Assistant (or you can say “OK, Google”). Because the screen is resistive and not capacitive, it'll work when you’re wearing gloves, too.

I asked about updates. While they technically can be delivered over the air (OTA), the engineer I spoke to said they were still figuring out the how to push them out without disrupting the experience.

My biggest takeaway from my demo was just how much Android Auto has matured. It’s hard to see when we’re running it in our cars now, but Google has given its in-car OS an overhaul that should motivate other automakers to climb onboard. It’s more elegant than nearly every other navigation system I’ve used, and having Google Maps built-in is a major selling point.

Just like regular navigation systems, car makers can opt to allow for Apple’s CarPlay to be overlaid. That would be tricky with the Volvo V90’s vertical screen, while the Audi uses a more standard landscape display that would faithfully adhere to Apple's interface. The built-in Android Auto looks so good, it’s hard to imagine anyone opting to replace it, even if you're fully invested in the Apple ecosystem.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags Android AutoGoogle I/O 2017

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Michael Simon

PC World (US online)
Show Comments

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Luke Hill

MSI GT75 TITAN

I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Laura Johnston

MSI GS65 Stealth Thin

If you can afford the price tag, it is well worth the money. It out performs any other laptop I have tried for gaming, and the transportable design and incredible display also make it ideal for work.

Andrew Teoh

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

Touch screen visibility and operation was great and easy to navigate. Each menu and sub-menu was in an understandable order and category

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?