Best app for getting around
TRANSFORM YOUR SMARTPHONE INTO A SAFER IN-CAR DASHBOARD WITH THESE ESSENTIAL DRIVING APPS.
WHEN YOU’RE BEHIND the wheel, it’s not only illegal to do most of the things you normally would on your smartphone, it’s also often much more difficult. Even if it’s safely stowed in a cradle, pages of tiny app icons, pervasive notifications and unreadably small system information are just a few of the issues you’ll encounter if you try to use your phone in the car. It’s easy, then, to see why Australian laws have gotten so strict around in-car phone use.
In-car dashboard apps can, however, make a big difference. These essentially take your overly-smart standard phone interface and remove the complicated navigation buttons, strip away dense backgrounds, streamline your piles of apps and make anything important REALLY BIG. Yes, it’ll make your fancy QHD AMOLED smartphone look like it belongs to a thrifty, shortsighted technophobe — but it also makes it way easier and safer to do everything you legally can while driving.
While some of the best apps here might seem like a drag because they force you into an interface that won’t let you do anything that’s illegal. The better ones make up for this by being easier to navigate and streamlining processes that would otherwise take multiple taps, swipes and button presses. The way we use your smartphone in the car is (or should be) very different to the way you use it generally. Android Auto is a Google Play Store app that runs a streamlined interface designed to make everything you’re allowed to do in the car while driving much simpler. It does that by stripping back all the apps, services and information to just the essentials.
To start, that means ditching your Android’s general Back, Home and App Switching buttons and replacing them with the in-car essentials, giving you dedicated buttons for directions, calls and media playback, plus an exit button.
Android Auto also jettisons your background and homepage for a magnified notifications panel that takes up the better part of the screen. Displaying things like simple media playback controls, upcoming navigation suggestions, the weather and snippets of SMS or web messenger notifications (which it offers to read aloud for you) — there’s everything you’d want to do in the car within easy reach.
While it’s technically not legal in some regions of Australia to respond to text messages while driving (even using your smart assistant voice recognition to dictate responses), Android Auto does offer the ability to send a one-tap “I’m driving right now” response to any incoming messages, in case you’re worried others won’t understand your tardy responses.
Android’s usual time, battery level and connectivity indicators also remain on-screen, but they’re much bigger so you can read them from afar. Other than this, there’s just a Settings tab (which you probably shouldn’t use while driving) and a voice control button (and ‘OK Google’ voice trigger) so you can get directions, change the music or make calls without actually touching the device.
While it’s neat to have all these features, remembering to open a specific app every time you get in the car is a hurdle that most will want to avoid. To get around this, Android Auto can launch the app whenever a particular automatic Bluetooth connection is engaged. For anyone with an in-car Bluetooth receiver, this means Android Auto will turn on and off automatically with your car, making it a pretty pain-free process all round. Read more about Android Auto on page 96.
GOOGLE’S IN-CAR APP CUTS THE CRAP TO KEEP YOUR EYES ON THE ROAD. Free | www.android.com