Wireless Android Auto with Google Maps is terrible


C. Scott Brown/Android Authority

On paper, Android Auto Wireless is like a dream come true. You hop in the car, fuel up, 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 navigation instructions, and sending voice commands to text, make 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 Android Auto wirelessly can be so complicated that you might want to revert to using it wired, or even ditch it altogether.

I recently bought a new car for me – 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 brings wireless support to any Android Auto vehicle. After using this setup for a few weeks now, I seriously wonder if Google has fully thought through its rollout 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?

Begin? How to connect Android Auto to your car

Hands-free cards? No thanks.

As any Android Auto user knows, you cannot use the phone version of Google Maps while you are using the Android Auto version. Whether you use it wired or wirelessly, Maps becomes exclusively accessible through your car’s screen once you’re connected. If you try to open Maps on your phone while engaged with Auto, 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 isn’t easy either. “Malls within 25 miles of me that 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 figure this stuff out, 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. The whole point of Android Auto 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 happens if you are 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. He must know this because he activates or deactivates the Android Auto keyboard 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 solution is to turn off your car. In the case of my Crosstrek, however, you don’t wirelessly disconnect Auto by turning off the car alone. Because the car assumes you’ll always want to listen to music or whatever 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 vehicle, open the door, remove my 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 off the vehicle, open the door, take out my key, close the door, then wait for Auto disengages completely. Then I figure out what I need in Maps, restart the car, wait for my phone to reconnect, then continue on my way. How practical!

However, if I was using Android Auto with a cable, it wouldn’t be such a big issue. 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, of course, but that brings us to another huge problem that arises when using Wireless Auto.

Hey, Google: Sometimes there are two people in the car

The Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra stacked on top of the OnePlus 9 Pro

C. Scott Brown/Android Authority

The Crosstrek is a shared vehicle between my partner and me. I’m the driver most of the time, but there are plenty of times she drives him instead. It makes sense that she also connects her 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 repeatedly.

Continued reading: How to Update Android Auto

I’ve heard that some systems allow you to set a priority list for the car’s bluetooth connections and automatic defaults on that list. For example, if phone A appears at the top of the BT list, Auto will always go for that phone first. If it’s not there, it goes for 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.

It’s clear that wireless Android Auto isn’t 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 his phone automatically connects first, there’s no way to tell Android Auto to drop 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 for it 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?

Android Auto Wireless connect car

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 seem to be resolved, right? My partner can use her phone’s maps to find this mall within 25 miles and open at 6:00 for us, then I can use Auto to navigate there. Unfortunately, it’s also an awkward experience. There’s no way for her to send me the information, for example. She can share a location or route with me from Maps, but that sharing is sent via email, which cannot be accessed through Auto. She can’t even text me a link because Android Auto doesn’t recognize URLs in messages.

The only workaround is to pick up the phone and find the link, either in an email or text. When she’s in the car, that’s fine, because she 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 it sounds like she or I should just 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 so much easier to set this all up in Maps ahead of time and then send to Android Auto.

Oddly enough, even a wired connection wouldn’t help us here. Let’s say we were connected with a cable. My partner could disconnect 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, it will all go away because the app version of Android Auto is its own thing. Again, how is that even remotely OK, Google?

Android Auto and wireless Google Maps: just use Waze

Waze stock image 7

Edgar Cervantes / Android Authority

I spent a lot of time chatting with people and lurking in various subreddits trying to figure out the best way to approach 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 understand, 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 other Android Auto wireless issues, such as not being able to control who’s connected. However, it is the best alternative we have found so far.

Isn’t that something? The least terrible way to use navigation in Wireless Auto is to not use 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 finds out about this stuff soon so we can experience Android Auto the way Google thinks it can deliver.


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