I’d say this is the future of infotainment, provided it catches on. Read on if you’re curious.
For the record, I just now installed a Pioneer alphanumeric 4100 whatever into the BRZ to alleviate a common issue colloquially known as “the stereo is utter shit.”
A lot of people make the mistake of going for the speakers and amps first, but even the simple speakers in the BRZ can do amazing things IF you give them enough power. Most factory head units just don’t have enough power to drive deep bass, resulting in a flat, muddy bass note full of distortion and nastiness. And this power shortage compromises the rest of the range as well.
So, the best course of action is almost always to upgrade your head unit first, then worry about other stuff.
Now, as for why you’re here: Android Auto.
It’s wonderful. The interface, just by being very good by smartphone standards (It’s no Windows Phone) is off the god damn charts for an “infotainment” system. I really hate that word.
Buttons are large and easy to press. The voice control works as well as it does on an android phone, which is to say well enough. It will be interesting to see how it copes with road noise.
What really sets it apart is the excellent integration with your phone. I jumped ship to Android first with the original Droid, then went back to iPhone before settling in with the Droid2. In other words, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to get my music to play in a world that only had eyes for iProducts. From the horrible FM transmitters to the surprisingly good Cassette adapters to the standby aux cord. When I first drove a car with bluetooth, it was a revelation. Not because it was wireless, but because you could pause, skip a track, or go back without having to pick up your phone. You could just use the car’s controls. That was huge for me.
But this? This is the next step. Not only do you get the basic controls, but you have essentially full control of the app. On Spotify, which is the only one I have currently that is compatible (more on that later), you can see a list of tracks in the playlist, scroll through, or go to a different playlist. You can turn on shuffle or repeat. You can search for a song, or cue up a radio station. The only issue I’ve identified so far is that it does not seem to recognize your “songs” list that’s created by +’ing songs. I don’t have any hard data, but I would be willing to bet you’re getting a better sound quality out of the direct USB connection than you would over Bluetooth as well.
Navigation is basically Google Maps. It may be possible to use others, I don’t know yet. I may see if I can get Waze working with it tomorrow.
But if you’ve used the Navigation in the BRZ before, you know how bad it is. The screen lags, the perspective mode randomly flips out, the map’s color scheme is just far enough off of being pastel to be uncomfortable, and the guidance voice who, by the way, sounds like it came from one of those DIY animation sites (I ALWAYS GO FLAT OUT), does not pronounce street names, which is a blessing and a curse.
Compared to that, Google’s in-house navigation software is angellic. I know I bitched about it a few weeks ago, but I’ve seen the depths of the evil in men’s hearts, now. I am willing to accept my adequate navigational savior into my life.
On a serious note, being able to search the map using Google Maps’ traditionally excellent search feature is wonderful. GPS systems have had “Points of Interest” for years, but now I can just yell at my car, “WHERE IS THE NEAREST CHIPOTLE!?” and it will bring up a list of the closest ones. You can even, while parked (or while you’ve grounded out the parking brake wire on your head unit to fool it) type on an on-screen keyboard. I actually prefer the BMW-style console-mounted controller to a touchscreen, but hey.
Last but not least, you get Google Now. It tells you things like travel time to recently searched locations, nearby accidents and weather, and reminds you of appointments. It also allows you to make queries about various things. I can ask it “What will the weather be at home tomorrow?” and get tomorrow’s forecast without having to spend a minute on my phone getting the same info. (I could also just ask my phone, but shhhhh.)
It’s worth noting, as mentioned above, that you can’t just use anything on your phone. Apps have to be made specifically for Android Auto, but once they are, that version is downloaded automatically if you’ve got the standard app already. Get on that shit, Audible.
So why is this the future of infotainment? Because it brings a new level of quality to automotive interfaces while also bringing to bear the modularity of an app-based environment. It takes what’s been a tolerable-at-best part of a car and asks the tough questions, like “What if this wasn’t shitty?” and “What if we made the buttons... bigger?”
And I love it.
As for Car Play... while the unit supports it, I do not have an iDevice. If you have an apple cellophone and are near Harrisburg, feel free to donate your personal cat portal to the science of amateur off-the-cuff tech reviews.