How to try Android Auto without a dedicated head unit
Google launched Android Auto in 2013 to much excitement and fanfare, among claims that it would revolutionise the business of in-car entertainment.
Since then, things have gone a little flat, with few car manufacturers offering Android Auto as an option. That’s a shame because Android Auto is a great idea. With the in-car system merely serving as a conduit for the more advanced hardware, Android Auto would appear to sidestep the biggest problem for in-car entertainment systems – that of almost instant obsolescence, and substandard built-in satnav.
You could buy a third-party head unit – Pioneer makes a selection of these, and they also run Apple CarPlay – but with prices high and no official way of test-driving Android Auto with a standalone app, it’s hardly surprising the system has failed to take off.
Luckily, there is an unofficial way to get a flavour of what Android Auto has to offer: AutoMate. This is an app that’s designed to simulate Android Auto so you can try before you buy. It’s in beta at the moment, so you won’t find it by searching Google Play in the normal way. Here’s how to download, install, set up and use it:
Search the web for the AutoMate Google+ forum, and open it using the Google+ app on your phone.
Tap the Join button, then tap the small arrow to the right of the main “Automate for Android Beta” heading (or hit the “i” button at the top of the screen), and choose “Become a tester and download the app”.
On the next page, press the blue “BECOME A TESTER” button, and download from Google Play using the link at the bottom of the screen.
The first time you run the software, you’ll need to authorise access to notifications, but once this is done, you’ll be ready to go.
To set a destination, tap the microphone in the top-right corner of the screen and say “navigate to” and then your destination. Alternatively, tap the signpost icon in the bottom-left corner of the screen and then the magnifying glass in the centre and type the destination in using the onscreen keyboard.
Next, simply tap the triangular icon in the route box and wait for Google Maps Navigation to launch and close again.
It’s important to remember that AutoMate isn’t officially anything to do with Android Auto. This is why the app launches into Google Maps navigation to get its turn-by-turn instructions before reverting to the AutoMate navigation screen. It’s also why the media integration isn’t quite as slick. However, it’s the closest you’ll get right now to full Android Auto without having to buy a head unit (or a new car) on the off chance you’ll like it – and it works quite nicely as a preview.