Driving with your phone in hand is dangerous, which is why platforms like Android Auto are designed to be safe and accessible. The key is to know which apps work with it in order to keep eyes on the road and ears open. These are the best apps to help you enjoy every ride in the driver's seat.
- Finding your way around: Google Maps
- Open to requests: Spotify
- Staying on message: WhatsApp
- Weave through traffic: Waze
- Just press play: Pandora
- Tell me a story: Audible
- Listen up: Pocket Casts
- HiFi boost: Tidal
- Message received: Pulse SMS
- Audiobook borrowing: OverDrive
- Serve your own media: Plex
- Tuning in everywhere: TuneIn Radio
While you do have Waze as an option, Google Maps is arguably the most widely used app in Android Auto. There is the obvious need for turn-by-turn directions to get to a destination, which it handles well, but is also equally great at routing requests by voice via Google Assistant. You can also search and set up your route on your phone in advance before connecting in the car, where Android Auto then takes over.
Spotify has a massive library of songs, and is available to use free (with ads and restrictions) or as a Premium subscriber for unfettered access and offline playback. It works splendidly well with Google Assistant, right down to the track or playlist you want, and offers a user-friendly interface to boot. It will also pick up where you left off listening to when connecting to your car, making playback seamless.
It's a little easier to keep up with any active chat on WhatsApp when speech-to-text actually works, which it does. You can respond to incoming messages and send them out as well. Group chats might be a little harder to initiate a message with, but you can respond to a message. Use it to make calls to other users, which is great if you want to avoid long distance charges.
Where Google Maps can be good for longer trips, Waze excels at avoiding the worst of traffic and gridlock. The crowdsourced system essentially lets drivers help each other by reporting hazards or problems that pop up on the map. The map is also dynamic, allowing it to reroute you to get around with fewer obstacles. It also works with Google Assistant.
Pandora has been around for a long while now, and its original claim to fame remains its bread and butter. Personalized music radio means you can play music based on your tastes, making the app equally useful as a song and artist discovery tool. You could go the on-demand route if you become a paid subscriber, letting you stream tunes the same way you would with competing services.
You don't have to lose the chance to catch up with a good book when on the road. Audible has plenty of audiobooks available to listen to, giving you something to do that doesn't involve music or radio. Choose from any of the titles in your library, or buy new ones directly from the store. Once you've fired one up, switch playback speed or go straight to the chapter you want.
Who doesn't want to drive and take in a favorite podcast? Well, Pocket Casts has a whole trove of them ready to listen to an discover even before you get in the car. Set up a queue of episodes you want to get through before a long commute and they will play in sequence once you hit the road. Controls are simple and navigation isn't complicated, making this easy to appreciate.
If you're a self-respecting audiophile driving around with a nice car audio system, Tidal's lossless HiFi subscription service might be the option for you. Streaming it will take up considerably more cellular data, so you may want to offload some of your favorites to the phone, but the sonic boost should be evident with good speakers. The library is large, and you can try it for 30 days.
One of the best text messaging apps on Android works pretty smoothly in the car, too. Pulse has an edge over others in that it already works on various platforms, like iOS, MacOS, Windows, Wear OS, Android TV, Linux and more. Android Auto is just another, and receiving and sending messages is straightforward, even by voice. The feature set varies, and continues to improve.
Time to get your library card if you don't already have one. OverDrive taps into over 40,000 public libraries worldwide, giving you an 'in' with your local library to borrow audiobooks that you can listen to while driving. You won't have to worry about returning it or dealing with late fees, as the book will just disappear from your library when the time is up.
Still have a library of songs you downloaded years ago on a computer or hard drive? You can save some on your phone and listen to them through Plex, or set up a media server on your computer to stream from the entire library, no matter where you're driving. Plex also offers baked-in access to Tidal's library through a subscription, as well as a long list of free podcasts.
TuneIn is Internet radio covering the furthest reaches of the globe. If there's a radio station somewhere, you can probably find it here within the 100,000 available. It's nice listening to a station in another city or country while cruising or commuting. Doing that won't cost a dime, whereas live sports, ad-free listening and commercial-free music stations will cost you.
There's more where that came from
Android Auto has expanded a lot in the last few years with more apps supporting the platform. Google Maps stands out for how useful it is to use, no matter where you're driving. Waze is great, too, giving you some excellent redundancy when it comes to mapping. The same goes for music, where the options are so varied, the whole collection above could be made up of music apps. Spotify is great for both its library and excellent integration with Google Assistant. Do a search for Android Auto music apps, be it streaming or playing local files, and you will see several to browse through.
The same goes for messaging, podcasts and radio — the things you would want to do most in the car. No matter what collection of apps you go with, the odds are good you'll find something that works for you.
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