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July 24, 2019
Paul Gipe

I am Sold: Android Auto & Google Maps are an Essential Tool for the Bolt


I am a slow learner, but I've come around to Sean Nelson's view that Android Auto is an indispensible tool for the Chevy Bolt EV. Nelson drives a Bolt in Canada's British Columbia province. And he uses Google Maps and Android Auto all the time.

Previously, I'd panned Android Auto and the Bolt's big central monitor in my review of the electric vehicle. (See Driving the Chevy Bolt EV--Our Impressions.) I'd commented that "All that digital real estate is wasted on us. I mount my phone on the dash as I did with our Leaf. My phone has maps already loaded on it. I don't need Google."

We drove the entry-level Nissan Leaf from 2014 to 2017. This down-market EV didn't include on-board navigation. For road trips in the limited range Leaf, I used a GPS mapping app on my smart phone that I mounted on the dash. This worked fine and because the app stored the maps I needed in memory, navigation didn't depend on a cell-phone connection. Sure, the screen was small, but it was bright and easily readable in Southern California sunlight.

The Chevy Bolt doesn't include on-board navigation either, but it does include the ability to link your smart phone with either Apple Car Play or Android Auto. The latter app works with Google Maps, enabling the car to deliver the same functionality as an on-board GPS system.

Chevy advertised that the Bolt would work seamlessly with your smart phone and would include the ability to project maps on the screen. In my naïveté, I'd assumed that my smart phone would link my GPS app with the Bolt's large central monitor. Wrong!

Android Auto is a Google Play app and plays only with Google. It doesn't play with Genius Maps, my GPS navigation app.

This was a great disappointment. I liked my app and was familiar with how to use it.

Moreover, I had problems getting Android Auto to function with the Bolt and my phone. Finally, I just gave up and went back to mounting my phone on the dash and using my navigation app. This is the source of my comment about all that wasted digital real estate.

Like other EV tech challenges (Leaf Spy, Torque Pro, and Chevy's in house app) I just let the problem stew for some time then approached it again after a period of gestation.

This worked. When I next tried to link Android Auto on my phone with the Bolt, it worked and up comes the AA on that big central monitor. Gradually I learned how the mapping function worked compared to my GPS app. I learned how to search for addresses with the on-screen keypad. I learned how a search for Google locations on my desk top would pop up on AA as a destination choice. I also learned the crucial command, "OK Google." This brings up Google's assistant.

She (our Google assistant's voice is female and we call her Ms. Google) doesn't always get it right. For example, she has a lot of problems with the Spanish names of many California cities. But she's right more than she's wrong and this ability to issue voice commands to the mapping software is a powerful tool when you're driving.

There are times when Ms. Google changes the route en route. Naturally, she doesn't announce this, she just does it. But you can issue a voice command to get her back on track. She does listen, but she can stubbornly revert to her own devices for reasons known only to the gods of Google.

Sometimes Ms. Google knows more about your route than you do. On our trip back from Death Valley National Park, I'd programmed AA to take us via Lake Isabella in the Kern River Valley. Ms. Google just wouldn't have any of it. She kept rerouting us through Tehachapi. She kept showing on that big screen that we should make a U-turn--and she kept doing that for miles and miles. Finally, Ms. Google showed an X on the route ahead.

As I said, I am slow learner. Was Ms. Google trying to tell us something? She was. A few miles later there was a digital road sign announcing that the road ahead was closed because of a rock slide in the canyon. She knew what we didn't. Ignoring her advice cost us a night in Kernville where we were fortunately able to charge at a new Level 2 station installed by the Forest Service.

Ms. Google has her idiosyncrasies. You need to keep an eye on where she's taking you. Nevertheless, she's become an indispensible companion on our road trips. Like Sean Nelson in BC, I plug in my phone even for trips across town. I call out where I want to go and Ms. Google takes me there--mostly.

Some new Bolt drivers have had trouble loading Android Auto. Here are some tips that have worked for me: How to Use Android Auto on the Chevy Bolt.

Another tip that was a revelation to me was that you can quickly flip from one screen to another in AA while driving. One chevybolt.org forum user from Texas posted that "You can LONG press the physical home button to return to Android Auto. This is very handy for flipping to the Bolt's GUI for checking on power consumption or fiddling with options, then flipping back to the map or app you had running in AA."

This one tip has made Android Auto much easier--and safer--to use than any other, making AA my go to navigation system.

 


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