I’ve written a fair amount about infotainment systems; including CarPlay and Android Auto, despite only accessing the latter via a demo with Ford at Mobile World Congress when SYNC 3 was announced. I’ve also spoken to several manufacturers about a year ago on why South Africans could not access Android Auto. The response was that licensing agreements were pending between Google and the South African government. And yes, that is the real reason why South Africans cannot download the app from the local Play Store officially, but it can still be accessed because Android is an open system and allows such things. [Read my CarPlay review here].

I had no reason to properly explore Android Auto until the Kia Rio was sent to me for a week to try out, due to me missing the launch event last month. So I opted to download the Android Auto apk (Android Package Kit), the original source of the app that appears in the Play Store in other regions around the world, where “officially” supported. After a quick Google search, I found a version on APK Mirror, the same place I downloaded Pokémon Go (but you can use any other website you want to, just make sure you are not clicking dodgy links). The reason I actively went looking this time was that Kia said it was available, while in the past, based on my communications with various manufacturers, they had said it was not live.

Word from Kia South Africa:

If you have a car that is Android Auto ready, I suggest you download the app and start using it today (link above). You may need to change your smartphone settings to allow downloads from outside sources. Smartphones are a huge part of our lives, and systems like CarPlay and Android Auto exist to make it safe to use our devices while keeping our eyes on the road.

Separately, Android Auto can be used on any Android 5 and above smartphone without an infotainment system + touchscreen. The app takes over your phone and the interface gives you limited options like accessing maps, calls and music so you can concentrate on the road. This app is ideal because you’re not likely to text and drive (you can’t while the app is running).

First off, if you’re using Android Auto on a supported vehicle, like I did on the Kia Rio, you will need a USB cable for it to work. This is set out by Google, but apparently wireless connectivity is coming soon. CarPlay already supports wireless connectivity (I tried this on the Volvo XC90). I don’t mind it too much as wireless connectivity could drain your battery. When I use my phone as a GPS (most times I’m on the road), my phone is plugged into a car charger anyway. 

If you’re completely new to Android Auto, it is a system that is an extension of your Android smartphone that allows you to use your handset safely while driving. It pulls functionality from your phone, and thus not a separate system. There are some Android Auto compatible third party apps that works with it (see pic above). For a full list, click here.

Instead of typing a lot of stuff, here’s the quick run down/demo from connecting to Android Auto, to what commands you can use. It understood my accent most times. 

I just want to point out that I intended to call my sister Saajida and send her texts for the demo but Google didn’t know I was saying “Saajida”. So yes, I ended up using myself on my other SIM for the demo as this device isn’t my primary one.

In a nutshell, Android Auto lets you call, text, search, get directions, set reminders, etc by voice commands; just like what CarPlay does. Both offerings are usually on the same vehicle (well here in South Africa from I’ve noticed). The steering wheel on the Kia Rio has a voice command button (as does most cars with smartphone pairing features), so you can press it while driving to get any of the above-mentioned commands seen to.

I did not get to show you, but you can also set reminders like “remind me to text Dad when I get home”. If your Google Maps has a “home” location set, then you will be reminded when you get there; otherwise you can choose a time for the reminder.

TL;DR version:
– Download the Android Auto app from APK Mirror (link above)
– Use a cable to connect your Android 5 and up handset to your car
– Once cable is connected to phone, go into the app via your car’s dashboard
– Your smartphone becomes inaccessible at this point (disconnect to use phone again)
– Use Google Now to take care of stuff while driving
– A bit obvious but you will need data to for the search and Maps feature

Final thoughts:
I had the choice to use both iOS and Android on the Rio and I opted for Android Auto for the sole reason that it gave me Google Maps navigation, which is my favourite GPS system (live traffic). I did use CarPlay briefly and used Siri to read out my messages and reply to them, and it worked well, too. But I’m all for Google Maps and would rather reply to messages afterwards (since I turned off push notifications for them anyway).