Five years after the launch of Android Auto, Google announced the first comprehensive update of the platform to Google I / O earlier this year. This update, which includes an updated layout, an app launcher, a notification tab, a new font, and a dark mode by default, will be available this week on Android phones around the world. By and large, Android Auto now looks and feels much more similar than your Android phone. Big, colorful icons highlight all sorts of things better than looking for apps under different tabs.
In the old version of Android Auto, there were small icons in the lower navigation bar that divided everything into categories: navigation, calls, home screen, music, and quit. Now everything is summarized in the app launch button on the left, a notification bell on the right, and a link to Google Assistant. Using Android Auto is much more intuitive because all compatible apps are displayed directly in the app launcher.
However, not all symbols work as you would expect. While icons for third party apps, such as Spotify and Audible, launch their respective apps, per se, your messages will not immediately appear when you click on Google News. Instead, Google apps like calendars and podcasts only call Google Assistant, which eventually prompts you to do it by voice.
This is technically useful considering Android Auto has been designed to let you touch the screen as little as possible. In practice, however, this felt unnecessary. It was annoying to find that the icons were there for all of your Google apps, but they mostly returned you to the Google Assistants. This overkill is indicated by the permanent Google Assist button on the right side of the lower navigation bar, because you could activate it at any time by voice or through the voice command button on your steering wheel.
Among other UI changes, almost everything is bigger except for the time, which is now hidden in the upper left corner. I hate this placement. In my 2018 Ford Escape, the reset screen means that most of the left side of the display is normally locked for driver's seat view. At least I should be able to say what time it is while I drive! And although the new left-facing app launcher should make it easier to access, it's actually more difficult for cars using this kind of screen configuration. From my seat I can not even really see where I am, and the effort to find that button when I should really drive is definitely not the intended usage.
While this new layout means this information, sometimes awkward, thankfully incoming calls, text messages, and now rendered bars can be highlighted a lot more against the dark background. You can view a summary of your notifications by tapping the bell icon. This is a huge improvement over the old home screen, where too many things are listed in different blocks of information. In this section, you can easily look at a text when you stop at a red light to see messages you may have missed. It also makes a lot more sense; Previously, this was mixed on the home screen with the weather report and now played. This made it difficult to take a look at who tried to contact you and when.
In the main view of Google Maps everything looks pretty much the same. When you plug in your phone, your Maps app will appear first, and the preferred addresses will be displayed next to shuttle times. You can still use other navigation apps, such as Waze. If a supported media app is used, be it YouTube Music or Plex, the icon below will be displayed so you can pause, rewind, or skip. The opposite is also the case if you are in the full-screen version of a music app. If you open an app while browsing Google Maps, the instructions will remain at the bottom of the screen so that you can view the album art or track progress, without losing sight of the upcoming turns. This screen that is currently playing is also a bit more informative than before, as you can see exactly how long a track has been played and how much of it is left. That's great when you listen to a podcast or an audiobook.
Although these additional controls are helpful. I wish you could hide the bottom navigation bar when not in use to better see the map. Usually I control music with the buttons on my steering wheel. So I did not always want to have them on the screen, even though the front buttons were useful.