Technology can be a wild beast.
For anyone who lives and breathes tech, you know the rules are always changing. One day a certain smartphone like the Google Pixel is the coolest thing ever, the next you find out everyone has moved on to some other Android model. You try a new travel website that uses machine learning to find the best deals, then realize there’s a new app for your tablet that works much better.
Driving today is equally variable. Climb into a Ford Escape and you’ll see an upgraded interface from the one the car had a few years ago. (Thankfully, it’s much better.) And, if you switch between a few different cars at a dealership for test drives, there’s a good chance you’ll get confused about simple tasks like how to sync your phone over Bluetooth.
That’s why, on a recent test of the 2017 VW Beetle Dune, I realized how a consistent interface is so important for the modern digital age. The car is fantastic — it uses a lower profile and has fine accents along the trim that’s a throwback to the days of the original Southern California version. What impressed me most is that, once I hooked up my Samsung Galaxy S6 phone over USB, the interface for Android Auto popped up immediately.
I’ve tested Apple CarPlay many times, but I had forgotten how slick Android Auto is. There’s a simple row of icons at the bottom. (You don’t even need to bother setting up Bluetooth although that’s the only way to do a hands-free phone call.) You select a map icon, one for your phone, and one for music. In the center, there’s a button you can use to access the Google Assistant, although in my tests it was obviously a simplified version.
Mostly, the voice assistant helps you get directions. You can ask questions, but we’re not talking about the bot in the Google Home speaker here that is connected to your smart home. For most of my questions in a test, the Android Auto bot kept saying it could not help with that. The same questions lead to a much better result on Google Home. That said, it’s not as distracting in the car. Mostly, if you ask about pizza or seafood, the bot will show a list of local eateries.
The interface is clean and tidy, just like the one on the phone. I didn’t have to learn anything. I knew, in Google Maps, where to find the option to do a search. Even the voice is familiar. In Google Music, I picked an option to see my most recently played tracks. It’s slick because it is exactly the same as what you see on the phone itself, which can help with distracting driving problems. You plug in, punch in a song you want, get directions, and focus on driving.
It’s worth noting that this is a good match for the Beetle Dune for another reason. The car is meant for having fun when you drive and taking corners fast. It’s mostly about style as well — the car is incredibly eye-catching, so much that people kept asking about it when I parked. Since the focus is on driving and style, using Android Auto meant I didn’t have to learn how to use any of the dashboard options. There’s no adaptive cruise control or steering aids.
Overall, the interface helped me focus on what was important — that is, making sure I put the turbo-charged engine through a few test runs on some curvy roads.