C. Scott Brown / Android Authority
On paper, wireless Android Auto is like a dream come true. You get in the car, speed up, and the apps and services from your phone magically appear on your infotainment system. Within seconds, you’re listening to your music, receiving turn-by-turn navigation instructions, and delivering voice commands for text messages, phone calls, and more. It’s like we’re living in the future!
Of course, that’s just on paper. In the real world, using Android Auto wirelessly can be so tricky that you might want to go back to using it wired, or even ditch it altogether.
I recently got a new car for myself, a 2019 Subaru Crosstrek, which comes with Android Auto as standard. It only supports wired connections natively, but I was able to get my hands on a Motorola MA1 dongle that provides wireless support to any vehicle running Android Auto. After using this setup for a few weeks, I seriously wonder whether or not Google gave any thought to its implementation of wireless support. It just doesn’t feel ready for prime time.
Wireless Android Auto just doesn’t feel ready for prime time.
To illustrate the problems that I have faced, I am going to focus a lot on one of Google’s own services: Maps. Surely, if anything should work well with a wireless auto system, it would be Maps, right?
Starting? How to connect Android Auto to your car
Hands-free maps? No, thanks.
As any Android Auto user will know, you cannot use the phone version of Google Maps while using the Android Auto version. Whether you’re using it wired or wireless, Maps becomes exclusively accessible through your car’s display once it’s connected. If you try to open Maps on your phone while connected to Car, the app just won’t open.
The automatic version of Maps, however, is incredibly watered down compared to the full phone app. Searching for restaurant menus is impossible, for example, and doing granular searches for specific places is also not easy. “Shopping malls that are 25 miles from me and open at 6:00 pm,” for example, would be difficult to navigate on your car screen. Since you can’t use your phone to figure these things out, you just… can’t?
Google Maps functionality is severely limited while connected to Android Auto.
It’s obvious why Google limits the phone version of Maps in this way. The goal of Android Auto is to force you to leave your phone alone and focus on the road. However, there are very common situations that Google does not seem to take into account with this limitation. One is obvious: what if you’re parked? Using the phone version of Maps while parked is completely safe, but Maps still won’t work on your phone while connected. And it’s not like Android Auto doesn’t know you’re parked. You must know this because it turns the Android Auto keyboard on or off depending on whether the car is moving or not.
Additional complaints: Android Auto is so bad it made me go back to the iPhone
One way to overcome this is to turn off the car. However, in the case of my Crosstrek, it doesn’t wirelessly disconnect from Auto by turning off the car on its own. Because the car assumes you’ll still want to listen to music while parked, Android Auto stays on until you open the driver’s side door and remove the key from the ignition.
To regain full control of Maps, I need to park, turn off the car, open the door, remove the key, close the door, and then wait.
So, in other words, to use the phone version of Maps while in the car and connected to wireless Android Auto, I need to park, turn off the car, unlock the door, take out my key, lock the door, and then wait. so that Auto is completely disabled. Then I figure out what I need from Maps, restart the car, wait for my phone to reconnect, and then I’m on my way. How convenient!
However, if you were using Android Auto with a cable, this would not be such a significant problem. I could just log off and use Maps on my phone to my heart’s content. I could even do that while driving! I wouldn’t, of course, but that brings us to another big problem when using Auto wirelessly.
Hey Google: Sometimes there are two people in the car
C. Scott Brown / Android Authority
The Crosstrek is a shared vehicle between my partner and myself. I am the driver most of the time, but many times she drives it. It stands to reason that you would also connect your own phone wirelessly to Android Auto.
This creates an explosion of even more problems. The first is huge; there is no way to control who gets priority for wireless Android Auto. Theoretically, when two phones are present, Auto should prioritize connecting to the most recently connected phone. However, we have seen this fail on numerous occasions.
Continue reading: How to update Android Auto
I’ve heard that some systems allow you to set a priority list for your car’s Bluetooth connections and automatically default to this list. For example, if Phone A appears at the top of the BT list, Auto will always search for this phone first. If it’s not there, it goes to Phone B and so on. This doesn’t seem to be the case with the Crosstrek, and if it is, it’s certainly not consistent. I couldn’t find any documentation online from Google to say if this should work this way or not.
Wireless Android Auto is clearly not designed for multiple phones.
Even if we could control priority, that wouldn’t change the fact that there’s no direct way to change who’s connected after the fact. If I’m driving and want to access my phone, but your phone automatically connects first, there’s no way to tell Android Auto to disconnect that connection and move on to mine. Instead, it would have to terminate its own connection and then wait for my phone to connect. This workaround is terribly inconvenient, first of all, but also woefully slow. Once Auto realizes it’s “gone”, it may take several minutes to automatically connect to my phone. Sometimes it doesn’t connect at all! When that happens, we need to turn off the car, open the car door, close it, restart the car, and wait for Auto to connect to my phone. How is this okay, Google?
Robert Triggs / Android Authority
Let’s go back to Maps for a second. With another person in the car, the problems I described in the previous section would seem solved, right? My partner can use Maps on his phone to find that mall within 25 miles and open at 6:00 pm for us and then I can use Car to navigate there. Unfortunately, this is also a clunky experience. There is no way for her to send me the information, for example. You can share a location or route with me from Maps, but that share goes to email, which isn’t accessible through Auto. He can’t even text me a link because Android Auto doesn’t recognize URLs in messages.
The only solution for this is to pick up the phone and find the link, either in an email or text message. When you’re in the car, this is fine, as you can do it safely from the passenger seat. You can guess how I would have to do this if she wasn’t in the car (hint: breaking the law).
Want to share directions to Android Auto? No, you would have to pick up your phone.
Of course, Google doesn’t want us to do this at all. I’m sure she would say that she or I should tell Android Auto to navigate to the mall using a voice command. That sounds good, but what if we need a specific route? What if we have multiple stops? What if Maps is having trouble finding the specific mall we want to go to? It would be much easier to set all this up in Maps ahead of time and then Send to Android Auto.
Crazy enough, even a wired connection wouldn’t help us here. Let’s say we were connected with a cable. My partner could unplug my phone and then use the full version of Maps to create a specific route to the mall with multiple stops. However, when you plug it back in, it’s all gone because the Android Auto version of the app is its own thing. Once again, how is this even remotely good, Google?
Wireless Android Auto and Google Maps – just use Waze
Edgar Cervantes / Android Authority
I spent a lot of time chatting with people and searching various subreddits trying to figure out the best way to address these issues. Over and over again, I saw the same advice: just use Waze. Using Waze on your car screen frees Maps from the dominance of Android Auto. If you’re using Waze, which, to be clear, is also owned by Google, you (or your passenger) can still use Maps on your connected phone. In this situation, I can park and leave the car running while I use Maps to figure out where to go. Once I figure that out, I can get Waze to do the navigation. I still can’t send multiple stops or custom routes, but at least I can get things done faster and more efficiently.
Of course, this doesn’t fix Android Auto’s other wireless issues, like not being able to control who’s connected. However, it is the best alternative we have discovered so far.
Isn’t that something? The least terrible way to use wireless in-car navigation is No uses Google Maps, one of the company’s flagship products.
More on this: Android Auto problems and how to fix them
Anyway, my partner and I are starting to think that going back to a wired connection for Android Auto will be better. We will have direct control over who is connected and, if we use Waze, we will not have so many problems with Google Maps. We can only hope that Google really gets this figured out soon so we can experience Android Auto the way Google thinks it can provide.