C. Scott Brown / Android Authority
On paper, wireless Android Auto is a dream come true. You hop in the car, turn on and your phone’s apps and services magically appear on your infotainment system. In seconds, you’ll be listening to your music, get step-by-step navigation instructions, and give voice commands to text, call, and more. It’s like we’re living in the future!
Of course, that’s only on paper. In the real world, using Android Auto wirelessly can be such a hassle that you may want to go back to wired use — or even drop it altogether.
I recently got a new car – a 2019 Subaru Crosstrek – that comes standard with Android Auto. It only supports wired connections, but I was able to get a Motorola MA1 dongle that provides wireless support for any Android Auto vehicle. After using this setup for a few weeks now, I seriously question whether or not Google has fully thought through the rollout of wireless support. It just doesn’t feel ready for primetime.
Wireless Android Auto just doesn’t feel ready for primetime.
To illustrate the problems I’ve encountered, I’m going to focus a lot on one of Google’s own services: Maps. If anything was supposed to work well with a wireless Auto system, wouldn’t it be Maps?
To work? Connect Android Auto to your car
Hands-free cards? No thank you.
As any Android Auto user knows, you cannot use the phone version of Google Maps while using the Android Auto version. Whether you’re using it wired or wirelessly, Maps is accessed exclusively through your car’s display once you’re connected. If you try to open Maps on your phone while doing Auto, the app just won’t open.
However, the Auto version of Maps is incredibly toned down compared to the full phone app. For example, searching for restaurant menus is impossible, nor is it easy to do a granular search for specific places. For example, “Shopping centers that are within 25 miles of me and open at 6:00 PM,” would be difficult to navigate on your car’s display. Since you can’t use your phone to figure this out, you can just…can’t?
The functionality of Google Maps is severely limited when connected to Android Auto.
It’s obvious why Google restricts the phone version of Maps in this way. The whole point of Android Auto is to force you to leave your phone alone and focus on the road ahead. However, there are many common situations where Google doesn’t seem to take this limitation into account. One of them is clear: what if you are parked? It’s perfectly safe to use the phone version of Maps while parked, but Maps still won’t work on your phone while connected. And it’s not like Android Auto doesn’t know you’re parked. He must know because it turns Android Auto’s keyboard on or off depending on whether the car is moving or not.
Additional complaints: Android Auto is so bad I went back to iPhone
One way to get past this is to turn off your car. In the case of my Crosstrek, however, you do not disconnect the Car wirelessly by just turning the car off. Since the car assumes you still want to listen to music or whatever while parking, Android Auto will stay on until you open the driver’s door and take the key out of the ignition.
To gain full control over Maps, I have to park, turn off the car, open the door, take out my key, close the door and then wait.
In other words, to use the phone version of Maps while I’m in the car and connected to Android Auto wireless, I have to park, turn off the vehicle, open the door, take out my key, close the door, and then wait for Auto turn off completely. Then I find out what I need via Maps, restart the car, wait for my phone to connect again and then go on my way. How handy!
However, if I were to use Android Auto with a cable, it wouldn’t be such a big deal. I could just unplug and use Maps on my phone to my heart’s content. I could even do that while driving! I wouldn’t do it, of course, but that brings us to another major problem that comes up with 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 me. I’m the driver most times, but there are plenty of times when she drives him instead. It makes sense that she would also wirelessly connect her own phone 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. In theory, when two phones are present, Auto should give priority to connecting to the last connected phone. However, we have seen this fail several times.
Read further: Update Android Auto
I’ve heard that some systems allow you to set a priority list for the car’s Bluetooth connections and Car Defaults for this list. For example, if Phone A appears at the top of the BT list, Auto will always go first for this phone. If it’s not there, it goes for phone B and so on. This doesn’t seem to be the case with the Crosstrek, and if it is, it certainly isn’t consistent. I couldn’t find any documentation from Google online to say whether it should work this way or not.
Obviously, wireless Android Auto isn’t designed for multiple phones.
Even if we could prioritize, that wouldn’t change the fact that there’s no direct way to change who’s connected afterwards. If I’m driving and want to access my phone, but her phone connects automatically first, there’s no way to tell Android Auto to disconnect that connection and go to mine. Instead, she should end her own connection and then wait for my phone to connect. This workaround is terribly clunky, first of all, but also woefully slow. Once Auto realizes she’s “gone”, it can take several minutes to connect to my phone automatically. Sometimes it won’t connect at all! When that happens we have to actually turn the car off, open the car door, close it, restart the car and wait for Auto to connect to my phone. How is this good, Google?
Robert Triggs / Android Authority
Let’s go back to Maps for a moment. With another person in the car, the problems I described in the previous section seem to have been resolved, right? My partner can use her phone’s maps to find that mall within 40 miles and open for us at 6pm, then I can use Auto to navigate there. Unfortunately, this is also an inconvenient experience. For example, there is no way for her to send me the information. She can share a location or route with me from Maps, but that share goes to email, which is not accessible through Auto. She can’t even text me a link because Android Auto doesn’t recognize URLs in messages.
The only solution to this is to pick up the phone and find the link, be it in an email or a text. If she is in the car this is fine as she can do it safely from the passenger seat. You can guess how I would do this if she wasn’t in the car (hint: by breaking the law).
Want to share directions to Android Auto? No, you should grab your phone.
Of course, Google doesn’t want us to do this. I’m sure it would say she or I should just tell Android Auto to navigate to the mall with a voice command. That sounds nice, but what if we need a specific route? What if we have multiple stops? What if Maps has trouble finding the specific mall we want to go to? It would be so much easier to set all this up in Maps ahead of time and then send it to Android Auto.
Funnily enough, even a wired connection wouldn’t help us here. Let’s say we were connected with a cable. My partner can unplug my phone and then use the full version of Maps to create a specific route to the mall with multiple stops. However, when she plugs it back in, that would all disappear because Android Auto’s version of the app is its own thing. Again, how is this even remotely okay, Google?
Wireless Android Auto and Google Maps: Just use Waze
Edgar Cervantes / Android Authority
I’ve spent a lot of time chatting with people and lurking in various subreddits to find out how best to tackle these issues. Over and over I saw the same advice: just use Waze. Using Waze on your car’s display frees Maps from Android Auto dominance. If you’re using Waze — which, just 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 drive the car while using Maps to figure out where to go. Once I figure it out, I can let Waze do the navigation. I still can’t send multiple stops or custom routes, but at least I can do things faster and more efficiently.
Of course, this doesn’t solve the other Android Auto wireless issues like not being able to determine who’s connected. However, it’s the best alternative we’ve come up with so far.
Isn’t that something? The least awful way to use the navigation within Wireless Auto is by: not use Google Maps, one of the company’s star products.
More about 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 have direct control over who is connected and if we use Waze we won’t have that many problems with Google Maps. We can only hope that Google sorts this stuff out soon so we can experience Android Auto the way Google thinks it can offer.