Android Auto was worth waiting three years to buy my car for
I used to drive a 2003 Honda Odyssey. During my Disney College Program, she picked up the name Crimson. If anyone needed to move, if anyone needed to haul a crew around, or was taking a road trip, Crimson was our girl. Even at 226,000 miles, I was reluctant to give her up. During three years of car shopping to succeed her, I had only one requirement for Crimson's replacement: it had to have Android Auto.
Now, I have it. And it's glorious.
This is my 2018 Honda CR-V, with the EX level trim, Obsidian Blue exterior, and most importantly, Android Auto. The native infotainment system on the EX and above supports both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, with the USB port that links up with the head unit sitting at the bottom of the center console compartment. It's a nice arrangement, allowing excess cabling to be coiled out of sight while the phone sits and charges on either the center console tray or in one of the cup holders.
If you hadn't spied it in the photo above, there's one big difference between this head unit and most aftermarket Android Auto head units: it has a good old-fashioned volume knob! I use the steering wheel controls more often, but it's good to have a knob that people in the passenger seat can quickly quell the music when they get a call, or you want to blast that drum fill during "In The Air Tonight". It's old school, but there's something undeniable about the appeal of a volume knob.
Speaking of steering wheel controls, the ones implemented on the CR-V's wheel are equal parts cool and confusing. The volume slide is haptic, so if you just brush your thumb over it, it'll turn the music up or down. This is cool if you're a volume rider like I am, but it's easy to trigger while making a turn. Likewise, the side-to-side arrow keys let you easily change tracks, but the center "Enter" button doesn't pause the music. As volume gets its own rocker now, the up and down buttons will switch music sources, if you're into that kind of thing. Me, I plug in my phone and let Android Auto do its thing.
There's also call and voice command buttons on the steering wheel, and that voice command button pulls double duty. Click the button once, and you can give a voice command for the non-Android Auto part of the head unit. Press and hold the voice command button and Google Assistant will process your search instead.
The Android Auto experience is supposed to be the same across phones and head units, and the layout does indeed match other head units. There're five buttons on the bottom nav bar: maps, phone, home, music, and Instrument Panel, which takes me back to the home screen on the CR-V's launcher — the CR-V's head unit runs Android. Navigating Android Auto is easier on the head unit's 7-inch electrostatic screen than it fumbling with Android Auto on the phone itself, as I did with Crimson.
Between voice commands and the easy layout of most apps, it's hard to run into the 5-tap limit when navigating, but every now and again that block me from reaching a playlist I wanted to switch to, but that's why you're supposed to get your music set up before you start driving. Using Android Auto for Google Maps instead of paying extra for a navigation service in the car is not only money-saving but sanity-saving, and the turn-by-turn directions are fed to the center screen of the CR-V's instrument panel, so I don't even have to look over at the main screen while I'm approaching a turn.
I've had the car for almost a month, and I can tell this is the beginning of a beautiful relationship. Without a doubt, I'm happy I waited for a model with Android Auto. Now, even though the CR-V has excellent Bluetooth and very easy pairing, I won't have to worry about it, because Android Auto's hardwired connection is easier and more stable. I know that wireless Android Auto was shown off at CES this year, and while that would be nice, I'd already waited three years for Android Auto. I wasn't going to wait another three years for wireless Android Auto.
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Ara Wagoner was a staff writer at Android Central. She themes phones and pokes YouTube Music with a stick. When she's not writing about cases, Chromebooks, or customization, she's wandering around Walt Disney World. If you see her without headphones, RUN. You can follow her on Twitter at @arawagco.