C. Scott Brown/Android Authority
On paper, Android Auto Wireless is like a dream come true. You get in the car, accelerate, and your phone’s apps and services magically appear on your infotainment system. In seconds, you’re listening to your music, receiving turn-by-turn directions, and sending voice commands for text messages, phone calls, and more. It’s like we’re living in the future!
Of course, this is only on paper. In the real world, using wireless Android Auto can be so tricky that you might want to go back to using it with a cable, or even ditch it altogether.
I recently bought 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 a Motorola MA1 dongle that provides wireless support to any vehicle with Android Auto. After using this setup for a few weeks, I seriously wonder whether or not Google has given 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 I faced, I’m going to dwell a lot on one of Google’s own services: Maps. Surely, if anything should work well with a wireless automatic system, it would be Maps, right?
Departure? How to connect Android Auto to your car
Hands-free cards? No thanks.
As all Android Auto users know, you cannot use the phone version of Google Maps while using the Android Auto version. Whether you use it wired or wirelessly, Maps becomes exclusively accessible through your car’s screen once it’s connected. If you try to open Maps on your phone while logged into Car, the app simply 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 isn’t easy either. “Malls that are 25 miles from my house and open at 6:00 p.m.,” for example, would be difficult to navigate on your car screen. Since you can’t use your phone to understand these things, you… can’t?
Google Maps functionality is severely limited when connected to Android Auto.
It is obvious that Google limits the phone version of Maps in this way. Android Auto’s goal is to force you to leave your phone alone and focus on the road. However, there are some very common situations that Google doesn’t seem to account for with this limitation. One is obvious: what if you’re parked? Using the phone version of Maps while parked is completely safe, but Maps will still not work on your phone when docked. And it’s not like Android Auto doesn’t know you’re parked. You need to know this because it enables or disables the Android Auto keyboard depending on whether the car is driving 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 does not wirelessly disconnect from Auto turning off the car on its own. Because the car assumes you’ll always 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 have to park, turn off the car, open the door, remove the key, close the door, then wait.
So, in other words, to use the phone version of Maps in the car and connected to Android Auto wirelessly, I have to park, turn the car off, unlock the door, pull out my key, lock the door, and then wait. so that Auto is completely disabled. Then I figure out what I need in Maps, restart the car, wait for my phone to reconnect, and then I’m off. How practical!
However, if you were using Android Auto with a cable, that wouldn’t be such a big deal. I could just log out and use Maps on my phone as I pleased. I could even do that while driving! I wouldn’t, of course, but that brings us to another big issue when using Wireless Auto.
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’m the driver most of the time, but often she drives it. Of course, you would also connect your own wireless phone to Android Auto.
This creates an explosion of even more problems. The first is huge; there is no way to control who has priority for wireless Android Auto. Theoretically, when two phones are present, Auto should give priority to connecting to the most recently connected phone. However, we have seen this failure time and time again.
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 use that list as the default. For example, if phone A appears at the top of the BT list, Auto will always search for that phone first. If it’s not there, it goes to phone B and so on. That doesn’t seem to be the case with the Crosstrek, and if it is, it’s certainly not consistent. I couldn’t find any online documentation from Google to say whether it should work this way or not.
Android Auto Wireless is clearly not designed for multiple phones.
Even if we could control priority, it 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 your phone automatically connects first, there’s no way to tell Android Auto to disconnect that connection and switch to mine. Instead it should end its own connection and then wait for my phone to connect. This workaround is terribly inconvenient, first of all, but also terribly slow. Once Auto realizes it’s “gone”, it can take several minutes to automatically connect to my phone. Sometimes it doesn’t connect at all! When this happens, we have to turn off the car, open the car door, close it, restart the car, and wait for Auto to connect to my phone. How are you, Google?
Robert Triggs/Android Authority
Let’s go back to Maps for a moment. With another person in the car, the issues I described in the previous section would seem to be resolved, right? My partner can use Maps on his phone to find this mall within 25 miles and open at 6pm for us, then I can use Car to navigate there. Unfortunately, it’s also an awkward experience. There’s no way for her to send me the information, for example. You can share a location or route with me from Maps, but this sharing is sent via email, which is not accessible via 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, that’s great, because 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 routes to Android Auto? No, you will have to pick up your phone.
Of course, Google doesn’t want us to do that at all. I’m sure she would say she or I should tell Android Auto to navigate to the mall using a voice command. Sounds good, but what if we need a specific route? What if we have multiple stops? What if Maps is having trouble finding the mall we want to go to? It would be much easier to set this all up in Maps ahead of time and then Send to Android Auto.
Crazy enough, even a wired connection wouldn’t help 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 as the Android Auto version of the app is its own thing. Again, how is this even remotely good, Google?
Android Auto and wireless Google Maps – just use Waze
Edgar Cervantes / Android Authority
I’ve spent a lot of time chatting with people and researching various subreddits to try and figure out the best way to fix these issues. Time and again, I’ve seen the same advice: just use Waze. Using Waze on your car screen frees Maps from Android Auto’s dominance. If you use 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 find out where to go. Once I figure that out, I can ask Waze to do the navigation. I still can’t send multiple custom stops or routes, but at least I can do things 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 navigation in the car is Nope 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 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 Google really gets this soon so we can experience Android Auto the way Google thinks it can deliver.