A lot of phones cross my path every month. OK, often every week. Occasionally more than one a day. And that means they also at some point end up in my car. And in my car I have a head unit that supports Android Auto, which undeniably has made me a safer driver. (And Android Auto has the added bonus of having a much better user interface than the dumpster fire that came with my deck.)
But here's the thing: If there's a weak link for Android Auto, it comes when you actually plug the phone in. Because the various Android manufacturers do all sorts of nonsense to their phones, including what happens when you plug one in. And on occasion, Android Auto might not work at all. So let's chat about that. These are the phones I absolutely recommend with Android Auto.
Any recent Nexus phone
This should come as no surprise, but Google's phones work best with Google's automotive initiative. I have never had an issue with the Nexus 6P. Or the Nexus 5X. Or the Nexus 6, back when I used it. (I can't remember if I tried the original Nexus 5.) If I had to recommend just one phone to use with Android Auto, it'd be one of those.
The problem comes when a manufacturer does pretty much anything that interferes with the connection process. Some phones (and these are a blessed few) turn into app installers once you plug in. Others just do something ... different ... and Android Auto isn't smart enough to compensate. (We'd argue that it shouldn't have to, but that's another thing for another day.
So if you want a phone that absolutely will work with Android Auto, get a Nexus. (Double points if you get a gold Nexus.
If not Nexus, look for something 'stock-ish'
This one's sort of a crapshoot. But we've generally found that phones that keep things as close to "stock" as possible do pretty well. That's usually meant Motorola's phones. (There have been exceptions though.) HTC has done pretty well, too. Beyond that it's been a little hit and miss.
And just because something looks "stock" doesn't mean there won't be some wonkiness going on under the hood. But at the same time, we've had phones like the Huawei P9 — something you can't even buy in the United States — work great. Go figure.
If you're just dying to know whether a phone works with Android Auto, you should check out our AA forums. I post every phone I test in there, and if I haven't tried it there's a chance someone else has.
What about Samsung's Galaxy phones?
Samsung sells more Android phones than anyone. They're also more customized than just about anything out there. There's good and bad news here. Take the Galaxy S7, for example. There are folks who have used it without issue. And then there are those of us who have never gotten the GS7 to work. Maybe it's a software issue. Maybe there's something inherent about the GS7 that doesn't like the cable I'm using. I don't know.
But I do know that there are 31 separate versions of the Galaxy S7 (worldwide). Some work. And some don't. Again, I'll point you to the forums.
We'll update this post if and when something new and exciting comes our way. Stay tuned!