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Waze on Android Auto: Invaluable feedback and alerts with sub-par maps and routing

One of the best ways to take advantage of Android Auto is with navigation. No more messing with your phone to figure out where you're going and how long it'll take to get there. Just tell it where you want to go, maybe tap once or twice, and that's it.

And Google Maps has been brilliant for this. Missing, however, has been Waze. Until now.

Some 14 months after first being announced at the Google I/O developer conference — and after a few months of semi-private beta testing —  Waze is now available for Android Auto in public release.

As with anything Android and Google, there always are a few things you need to know, however. And these are they:

How to get Waze for Android Auto

Two apps you need: the Android Auto app (opens in new tab), of course (because how else will Waze connect to Android Auto in your car, right?), and the Waze app itself (opens in new tab).

There's one caveat here, though. While Android Auto will run without a connected head unit — there's a nice little car mode that you definitely should check out if you haven't already — Waze requires the full-on Android Auto experience. If you don't plug your phone into your car to use Android Auto, you'll just need to keep using the same old Waze app you've been using.

Why Waze on Android Auto? The feedback

Why would you want Waze when there's a perfectly good Google Maps app already installed? (Longtime Wazers already know the answer to this.)

Waze alerts

User feedback. As in real-time notifications if you're coming up on a construction area or an accident. Or if there's a speed trap ahead. Or some other obstacle in the road.

When you're using Waze, you're able to report when you see issues other drivers might want to know about. And other drivers then see that information in real time, as a little icon on the screen, as well as through an audible alert. You can contribute to the cause, or not, but everyone gets to take advantage of it.

I've been using Google Maps on Android Auto for a couple years now, and it's been great. And I'll probably continue using it when I'm driving somewhere new. (More on that in a second.) But in town, where I'm less concerned about figuring out how to get where I want to go and more concerned about what's on the road on the way? That's where Waze is perfect.

Waze on Android Auto — the good, the bad, the ugly, and the "ads"

If you have Waze installed on your phone and are connected to Android Auto, you're good to go. Just hit the map icon again on the screen, choose Waze, and you're there. You can just let it run and see what things are like near your car at any given time, or you can set a destination, either with your voice or by tapping the screen. Pretty standard stuff, really. (Pro tip: Make sure you have home and work pre-determined, and take a few minutes to add other "favorite" places when you're not connected to your car.)

Real-time feedback from other drivers can be invaluable.

If you tell Android Auto to navigate somewhere, it'll default to whichever map app you were using last — Waze or Google Maps. That's a small thing (it'd be better to be able to say which app you want to use) and not something that's actually bothered me. It's just something to note.

We've already mentioned the real-time driver feedback. That's the "good" part of Waze on Android Auto. It's intuitive and mostly easy to use. If you're new to Waze, it could take a little while to get used to how far down into the options you have to go.

It takes three taps to report the most basic obstacle. For others, it's four. That's a few more taps than I want it to take. For instance, to report construction, you have to go through Main reporting button > Hazard > Hazard on road > Construction. (And that doesn't take into account that plenty of time there's construction that's not actually on the road, but that's another thing for another time.)

Waze and Google Maps

Waze on the left, Google Maps on the right. One is decidedly better looking.

And this is where we run into the first real miss with Waze on Android Auto. After more than a year in development (and that's just the time we know about), you can't use your voice to report cops or construction. That's a missing feature at best, and a liability at worst, taking your eyes off the road. (And keeping you focused on the drive ahead is the point of this whole thing.) That'll change at some point, I'm sure. But for now, it's missing.

The design itself of Waze's maps leaves a LOT to be desired.

And I'm not going to go into all the other things that veteran Wazers will note are absent from the Android Auto version. Because, frankly, I don't care. I don't want to worry about earning points or being able to virtually "wave" to other drivers. It's a bad idea in a phone app, and it's a bad idea in a native Android Auto instance.

I will, however, mention the other standout feature of Waze on Android auto, and it's not a good one. The design of the maps themselves is not good. That's a strange thing to say, given that Google owns Waze as well as Google Maps. But if you've ever wondered just how big a difference there was between owning the former and actually being responsible for the latter, here you go.

The visuals in Google Maps are so much better than Waze. That's true whether you're in a bird's-eye view or zoomed in at street level. (And Google Maps is smarter about when to use which, too.) That's true for the look of the streets and routes themselves, and it's true for the labels you see there, and on landmarks and destinations. It's exactly as good as we've come to expect from Waze, and nowhere near as good as what you want in a Google-owned map.

I'm also not crazy about the routing I've seen from Waze. (This isn't a new complaint.) Your mileage will vary depending on your location, of course. But Google Maps definitely is smarter about keeping me off side streets and avoiding more turns than necessary, even if there's more traffic on the major thoroughfares.

A local ad on Waze for Android Auto

A local ad on Waze in Pensacola, Fla.

And finally, there are the "ads." While you've likely seen them on the phone version of the app, there aren't what you'd consider normal display ads anywhere in Waze on Android Auto — or in any Android Auto app I've seen, for that matter. But Waze still has featured businesses. "Branded pins," they're called. Wonder why Whataburger or Taco Bell are so prominent on your map? It's because they paid to be. And they're not the only ones. Anyone can buy an ad on Waze, including local retailers.

This actually hasn't bothered me maybe as much as it should. Is it silly? Yeah. Annoying? A little. Does it make me want to eat at either? Nope. I'd actually say in terms of what those of us in the business call "native advertising," it's actually done pretty well. Tap one of those pins and it'll give you a little info about the business, and tap again to navigate to it. It's not what I'd consider to be intrusive at all.

What's next for Waze?

There's still plenty of work to be done for Waze on Android Auto. The UI of the maps definitely needs work. You can't yet send your ETA to someone. And there are plenty of edge cases veteran Wazers can come up with. (Some things, however, are best left outside of Android Auto, I'd argue, where minimization remains a priority.)

For now? If you've got an Android Auto-compatible car or head unit, it's definitely worth checking out. While the user interface is lacking, the feedback from your fellow drivers can be invaluable.

44 Comments
  • Really like Waze but until they add Miles and Yards as an option I can't use it as my default Navigation app. Who even uses Miles and Feet anyway. In the UK all our road signs are miles or yards so it should be a given like it is in every other Navigation app
  • Yards = feet / 3 You're welcome.
  • Yards = feet * 3 You're more welcome.
  • Uh, no. In context, divide the number of feet by 3 to get the number of yards.
  • Oops. Thanks for clarifying.
  • UK uses miles? Like a caveman?
  • Bizarrely in the UK we use miles and yards for road distances, and metric for everything else including measurements, weights etc.
  • Well, when it comes to measuring body weight they are indeed cavemen
  • Yeah I never even heard of 'stone' until I moved to the UK. Why the hell is the UK using such an ancient measurement for weight? I am hoping one day that the world will move on to metric but I'm not holding my breath. At least the sciences have for the most part.
  • Only 3 countries in the world DON'T use metric. Liberia, Myanmar and the United States
  • "There's one caveat here, though. While Android Auto will run without a connected head unit — there's a nice little car mode that you definitely should check out if you haven't already — Waze requires the full-on Android Auto experience. If you don't plug your phone into your car to use Android Auto, you'll just need to keep using the same old Waze app you've been using." I'm a little confused by the article. Does that mean you'll be able to select Waze as a navigation app in the phone version of Android Auto or are you still stuck with Google Maps?
  • Stuck with Google Maps on the phone version of Android Auto.
  • Why doesn't Google require Android Auto apps to work on all Android Auto displays? It's not good to have a different experience when you switch from one vehicle to another.
  • It works fine in my Nissan with it's Pioneer NEX8100, it works fine in my wife's '16 Accord and it works fine in two more cars of my co-workers and both of them have different manufacturers. The stand alone AA app is apparently the odd man out. But the experience is the same across AA enabled head units. Or so it seems in my little test.
  • You lost me on that one. It does on all android auto displays
  • Removed.
  • "But Google Maps definitely is smarter about keeping me off side streets and avoiding more turns than necessary, even if there's more traffic on the major thoroughfares." I wish this was an option, because I would MUCH prefer to take a thousand turns on side streets than sit in even one minute of traffic. I'll go 10 minutes out of my way, increasing my overall drive time, if it means less stop-and-go traffic. I know this is personal "taste."
  • You will love Waze then. Waze will take you on some crazy routes sometimes, but always trust the directions it provides and you will save time.
  • I was so excited... I reinstalled Android Auto, set it all up at my desk, and then read that it doesn't work on the phone mode. Waze is the only thing stopping me from using Android Auto in my car, so I'm hoping they add support for this...soon.
  • I agree! I have an Android Auto head unit in my wife's car, but not in mine. You would think that Google would require Android Auto apps to work on all Android Auto displays.
  • Again, works in 100% of head units but not on the phone so that's really close to 99.99% of their target audience.
  • It's too bad that it won't work without a connected head unit. :( Funny that Phil mentioned using Google Maps when somewhere "New" and Waze for in town. Same conclusion I came to after a recent trip to San Diego. Discovered that Google Maps was better with features such as telling me which lane to be in. There were a few other things, but I definitely noticed that Google Maps was better when I needed more detail.
  • I've been using Waze for years now. I absolutely love the app, but I only use it when going to places that I've already been or at least am somewhat familiar with the surrounding area. I very rarely use it when going to places that are a little obscure or where I'm a stranger. That's also a piece of advice I give to people who ask me about it as well.
  • I am confused, they are showing the same pioneer head unit i have, that has android auto on it, as long as you have a compatible phone that plugs into it. I use android auto all the time, so i am going to assume i should get waze on the unit the same way this user is. I opened it just now, and i am not seeing waze, although i don't have it plugged into my car yet.
  • Check the Play Store and confirm that you have updated Waze to the latest release.
  • Yea I tried this morning and It wouldn't work...check app updates and everything...got frustrated then put my phone on charge at work and the update came...maybe it wasn't available when all the other updates were downloading earlier in the morning.
  • "There's still plenty of work to be done for Waze on Android Auto. The UI of the maps definitely needs work. You can't yet send your ETA to someone. And there are plenty of edge cases veteran Wazers can come up with. (Some things, however, are best left outside of Android Auto, I'd argue, where minimization remains a priority.)" While I agree that most of the bells and whistles on the full Waze app are smartly left out of the AA version I really miss being able to read comments that people have left. Particularly if I'm in lock down traffic with an accident reported ahead. In my area (Dallas-Fort Worth) users will typically attach a comment to the accident with which lane, how many lanes blocked, are emergency responders on the scene, etc. Very useful.
  • The feature I'm missing is showing the relative distance to a destination when two friends on the app are heading there. When my wife and I both are heading to the same place after work it was handy to see when we were both going to get there or how late one person would be. The simple display of the bar with the icons on it was a great way to display it as well. Hope that makes it back in the future.
  • They really need to add support for Android Auto running directly on a device. I have an Android Auto head unit in my wife's car, but not in mine. I do have a nice phone mount that I place my phone in when driving my car that is perfect for Android Auto. Waze is the only Android Auto app that I have seen that doesn't work with Android Auto directly on my handset. Why? The only other feature is the on screen speed limit indication on Waze for Android Auto which is conspicuously missing.
  • They have said that Waze for AA on your phone screen is "in the works" but I guess they decided to release the initial version without it.
  • So they haven't implemented the ads that block the whole map while you are driving yet?
  • They can't. The feds told them that's a no no. So it won't happen because Waze is distracting enough. :)
  • I have a 2016 Honda Civic Touring edition, and Waze as of today is horrendous. Not accurate as to my location. Slow to update. I'll stick with Google Maps until they fix it.
  • Yeah same here on our Civic. I tried to switch back to Google Maps and Everytime the side camera came on, when it would go off, it would be back on Waze. I think I'll stick with Google maps for now.
  • The title of this article says it all... "...sub-par maps and routing". Until they get MAPS right, it useless. I'd love some of the features but Google Maps is way more accurate (and, isn't that why we use a GPS?) and the lane reminders are outstanding. Sorry Waze.. maybe another day.
  • First, nice to have Waze as option for AA. I've avoided using AA simply because I prefer to use Waze. Now with Waze intergrated I'm one happy camper. But let's really look at this, Google owns Waze and there has to be major synergies to be realized by combining the functions and features into one app. Take the best of both and roll out one new kick a$$ app. Current version of Waze on AA lacks some features, but let's take this for what it is, it's the first public release. Good to get it out and be sure it's functionally working right before adding all the bells and whistles. I imagine that more features and functions are forthcoming one Google/Waze is satisfied that the base code and features are bug free and don't cause more problems than they solve.
  • I'm not sure if combining the two wouldn't end up creating a mediocre compromise between the two. Even though they are both Google products they were created independently and it's kind of nice to have choice.
  • Wouldn't it be fairly easy for a couple of users to get together and report accidents to WAZE that aren't there so that others wouldn't use those roads, thus clearing a path for them to get through the area more quickly?
  • Um, you report accidents as you are in the immediate area. I guess if a large enough group did what you suggested it might create some confusion with travel times initially but 1) they are already in the area so they aren't clearing anything for their benefit and 2) it works both ways, as other travelers report with a thumbs down the "congestion" would be removed.
  • You can report things only when you are driving there. And then when it shows to other people they get the option to confirm or to inform that it is not there.
  • Works nice in VW Passat 2016.
  • They need to make the voice turn directions be quiet while I'm composing a voice text message. By the time they get this all perfected, merging the best features of Google Maps with Waze, self-driving cars will make it all obsolete.
  • I've have had no problem using Google maps for navigation and running Waze in the background with no guidance and still receive alerts.
  • "...you'll just need to keep using the same old Waze app you've been using."
    That's exactly what I'm doing. I use Waze 3.5 or 3.9, because anything 4.0 or greater looks cartoon-ish and has less features.
    I've tried Android Auto a couple times. On phone and in a rental and I feel that it takes away too much phone functionality.
    I do wish Google would combine which lane to use with real time reporting, while marinating the ability to select all time 2D viewing, but then I'd have nothing to pine for.