Most in-car infotainment systems that are actually made by automakers themselves suck. Built-in navigation systems are about a decade behind Google Maps, while media player interfaces often resemble the Creative Zen MP3 player you had as a teenager because your parents didn’t love you enough to afford an iPod. . If they knew what was good for them, automakers would outsource those things to the real software experts in Silicon Valley.
With the world’s first implementation of the Polestar 2’s Android Automotive operating system, the Swedish electric vehicle maker has done just that. As the name suggests, it’s a car-optimized version of Google’s Android, which is the operating system used by most smartphones that aren’t iPhones. and offers smartphone-like Android apps to support navigation, media, and messaging. usual car-specific functions such as climate control, parking cameras and driving modes.
In addition to future Polestar models, variants of the Android Automotive operating system are available in select General Motors SUVs, including the new GMC Hummer and Cadillac Lyriq electric vehicles, as well as the upcoming Honda Accord.
Polestar’s Android Automotive Operating System Review Specs
- Auto: 2022 Polestar 2
- Infotainment screen size: 11.15 inches
- Instrument screen size: 12.3 inches
- Volume potentiometer: Yes
- Apple CarPlay/Android Auto: Wired
- Quick take: The future of in-car infotainment – if Google can fix a few bugs and loopholes.
In the case of the Polestar 2 used for this test, the system is projected from an 11.15-inch touchscreen accompanied by a 12.3-inch instrument screen. The former is vertically oriented, which adds to its large smartphone-in-a-car vibe. Both screens are quite sharp and of high quality.
There’s even an Android-style tactile home button at the bottom as well as a physical volume knob housing a play/pause button which, just like the rest of this car, looks very ripped from Volvo’s parts bin, which is not the case. bad thing. Located at the front of the shifter, the volume knob moves with nice heavy detents and has a diamond-like texture that makes it feel like an ornate quality item.
Buttons on the steering wheel also allow you to control volume as well as skip tracks or channels, prompt voice commands and control the information displayed on the gauge screen. As a physical space, it’s simple and quite minimalist but not too much. A wireless phone charger located below the touchscreen works as advertised.
The reason for this system is, of course, the built-in Android apps. Instead of forcing you to plug in a smartphone every time you want to use real smartphone apps (although you can still do that if you really want to, we’ll get to that later), the Polestar is capable of running quite a few of these integrated applications. -in. Two of the most crucial apps are, I suppose, Google Maps and Spotify and they are indeed both on board here.
Built-in Google Maps looks a little more complete than the ultra-simplified Apple CarPlay rendering in that it’s ready to display more information on the screen. It’s closer to the full version of Maps for phone, like the version you get on your phone without CarPlay or Android Auto, which is appreciated. In addition, the entire map can be relayed on the gauge screen.
Built-in Spotify, probably because it’s not an internal Google joint, isn’t as well designed. It mostly works as advertised, able to play tunes and podcasts of your choice and serve up a facsimile of the mobile app users are already familiar with, but with Polestar’s orange UI. But, for some reason, there was no song repeat toggle at the time of testing. So if you happen to come across an amazing new song that you’d like to spam yourself with for the rest of the ride until it’s not amazing anymore (no judgment, we’ve all been there), you you’re pretty much stuck with hitting the previous track button every time.
(On a related note, Polestar’s radio player doesn’t seem to be able to rewind satellite radio, not that I can figure out anyway.)
There are, of course, a whole range of apps from Google Play Store available for download. You can use Google Play Books to listen to audiobooks. If you’re one of the 23 audiophiles subscribed to Tidal, you can also download it to your Polestar. Same for YouTube Music. The PlugShare app is useful when you’re on the road and need a charging station. However, since it is a Google system, Apple Music is not on the menu.
In short, Android Automotive OS does its best to replicate the smartphone experience without having to log in or even carry a smartphone with you.
Audio and navigation aren’t the only things an infotainment system has to deal with, though. Much like systems from Mercedes, BMW and, of course, Volvo, climate controls are via the bottom of the touchscreen. The climate-related buttons are nice and big while more detailed settings can be brought up by tapping the fan icon.
The entire system as a whole feels fast, with screen touches resulting in fast and smooth reactions.
An annoying gripe: the things that Polestar has decided to attribute to the big shortcuts that live at the top of the screen are questionable. You have parking cameras, car-related settings, the app drawer, and an “O” that takes you to the screen that lets you switch user profiles. The latter makes sense, of course, but, as far as I’m concerned, these other three are among the functions I use the least. Navigation and media should take at least two, and there doesn’t seem to be a way to customize them.
One other thing to point out which may or may not be due to the cellular connectivity issues known to plague the Polestar 2: Google Maps built-in randomly stopped being able to locate my location around the middle of my week with this car and didn’t recover the ability to do so, rendering the function practically useless. Coincidentally or not, the Sirius XM satellite radio subscription associated with this car seemed to expire around the same time, almost as if the car had gone into some sort of selective airplane mode.
When this does work, however, the system itself is decently designed mainly because of its simplicity and clean, uncluttered layouts.
Apple Car Play
Despite the Polestar 2’s status as a cutting-edge electric vehicle, Apple CarPlay integration is surprisingly hard-wired. Although perhaps that’s not so surprising given the phone’s elimination philosophy of its Android Automotive operating system. Either way, once you’ve connected your iPhone via USB-C, CarPlay works well and takes up most of the screen in a vertical orientation. CarPlay, by the way, dynamically places your three most recent (i.e. most used) apps at the bottom, solving my biggest gripe with Polestar’s native Android system.
For that reason alone, I would probably use CarPlay most of the time if I actually owned this car. Doubly if the connection was wireless, which unfortunately is not the case.
With Android Automotive OS, Polestar is moving in the right direction by entrusting the development of infotainment software to the experts at Google. It’s much better designed than the vast majority of native car stereos. The biggest caveat here, however, is that both Google itself and Apple already have their own in-car phone mirroring technology, and as good as Polestar’s relatively new Android system is, it is still not as well thought out or faultless as CarPlay, which has had nearly nine years of iterations and refinements.
That said, there are absolutely things to like here, namely the ability to have Google Maps projected natively into the gauge cluster, and the Polestar-specific settings pages that allow you to change vehicle settings are nice to look and simple to navigate.
But in its as-tested condition, the whole thing looks a bit unfinished. Give it a few more years to iron out the flaws and bugs, and we might just be looking ahead to the future of embedded software.
Do you have a tip or a question for the author on Android Automotive OS? You can reach them here: [email protected]