What it’s like to use Android Auto on a motorcycle
October 9, 2020
Over the years, since its introduction in the early 1970s, the Honda Gold Wing has become the unlikely venue for some early motorcycle deployments of novel technologies, everything from airbags to integrated GPS navigation. For a bike often considered to be a bit stodgy, the Wing has been quite progressive on the features side. That continues with the latest model, which was already the first two-wheeled machine to offer Apple CarPlay on its 7-inch LCD. Now it’s opened its doors to the other walled garden of smartphone technology: Android, and Android Auto.
Owners of any current-gen Honda Gold Wing — 2018 or newer — are eligible for a free update that was released this summer. It’s taken a few months, but I’ve finally had a chance to tether my device and see just what it’s like to use Google’s first major foray into automotive interfaces while on two wheels.
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I’m already a huge fan of Android Auto, having spent far too much on an early aftermarket stereo to add it to my Subaru, but I confess I never found myself wanting to have it when out riding on my Triumph. Of course, the Gold Wing is a very different bike than a Speed Triple. The modern Gold Wing, despite being ridiculously quick and surprisingly nimble at speed, is all about covering big miles. While I’m the sort who generally enjoys getting lost on my two-wheeled trips, were I doing some serious touring I would for sure want the power of Google Maps helping me find my way.
So, with mixed feelings I booted up the ‘Wing, slotted my phone into the central compartment, plugged in a USB Type-C cable and… got absolutely nowhere. Android Auto requires a Bluetooth headset to work, something I have integrated into my helmet. However, to use Android Auto on the Gold Wing, that headset must be paired to the bike, not to the phone.
Honda assures me this is how Gold Wing owners are used to doing things and I can appreciate that, but coming in cold it was a bit of a frustration to have to unpair and re-pair.
This done, I reconnected my phone and, presto, Android Auto popped up on the bike’s central display just like on the Honda Civic Type R I was testing at the same time. However, where Honda’s bewinged hot hatch offers a suite of driver assistance offerings like adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist, the Gold Wing is inherently a bit more hands-on in operation. I was therefore a bit more cautious in using Android Auto while moving.
Interaction is handled through a series of buttons on the left grip, a large joysticklike controller situated just below the screen or via voice. Voice of course is the safest way, but success there depends largely on the quality of the noise cancellation provided by your headset. Mine, apparently, was not up to the task, and no amount of yelling got poor Google Assistant to do what I asked. Again, though, blame the headset, not the bike.
I instead relied on the thumb controller, as taking either hand off the bars to fiddle with the joystick seemed like a really bad idea. In this way, Android Auto was perfectly usable, just like on any car that lacks a touchscreen. Still, I made a point of keeping my interactions short. Though the Gold Wing is a remarkably easy thing to ride despite its girth, when riding I’ve come to treat every object on or near the road as if it wants to kill you, and it’s hard to keep one eye on your foes while the other is cycling through Spotify playlists.
Those tunes stream easily through the Gold Wing’s integrated sound system, which is powerful enough to make me drop the volume when cruising by my neighbors. Tap a button and the Wing redirects the audio to your headset if you’d rather. And indeed, I would rather.
After a week of riding around on this big Gold Wing I was left convinced that Android Auto is definitely a nice thing to have, as using your phone to get you to your next hotel is a lot easier than manually punching destinations into the bike’s own nav system. And, with CarPlay also on board, you’re now covered regardless of your choice of phone.
Again, Android Auto compatibility is a free update if you have a modern Gold Wing, so there’s no reason not to add it. That said, please be really, really careful when making use of either. Even though both systems have been designed to keep from distracting you, it’s all too easy to let your eyes linger when pondering which podcast to play next. Consider it yet another risk to be managed when experiencing the joy of motorcycling.