Android Auto vs Alexa Auto Mode: What's the Difference?

Google and Amazon want to be in your car. Which one deserves a ride?

Android Auto is the car-friendly mode built into newer Android phones and available via an app in older ones, and Alexa Auto Mode is a car-friendly version of the Alexa phone app that's highly integrated into Echo Auto. Both of these interfaces provide you with car-friendly interfaces while driving and allow you to interact with your phone via voice commands, but there are a lot of very important differences.

Android Auto and Alexa Auto mode interfaces

Overall Findings

Android Auto
  • Requires Android 5.0 or newer.

  • Built into Android 10+ (no app needed).

  • Doesn't need any peripherals.

  • Integrates directly with many OE and aftermarket car stereos.

  • Usable by itself without head unit integration.

Alexa Auto Mode
  • Requires Android 6.0 or newer, or iOS 11.0 or newer.

  • Uses the Alexa app.

  • Requires the Echo Auto device to work.

  • Echo Auto connects to your car via Bluetooth or aux.

  • No way to use Alexa Auto Mode without Echo Auto.

Android Auto and Alexa Auto Mode both perform the same function and have a lot in common, but they target slightly different audiences. Android Auto only works for Android phone users, while Alexa Auto Mode works on both Android and iPhone. Android Auto is also the better option for drivers whose car stereos have Android Auto integration, while Alexa Auto Mode can work in virtually any vehicle, as long as you buy an Echo Auto.

Specifications:

Android Auto
  • Android phone running Android 5.0 or newer.

  • Requires Android Auto app (Android 9.0 and older)

  • Built into Android 10.0 and newer.

  • Requires compatible car stereo for full functionality.

  • Capable of running on your phone without full car integration.

Alexa Auto Mode
  • Android phone running Android 6.0 or newer.

  • iPhone running iOS 11.0 or newer.

  • Requires Alexa app.

  • Requires Echo Auto device.

  • Car stereo must have Bluetooth connectivity or an auxiliary input.

The biggest difference between Android Auto and Alexa Auto Mode is you can only run Android Auto on Android phones, while Alexa Auto Mode is available for both Android and iPhone. Android Auto does work on some older Android phones though, as it is compatible with android 5.0 and newer, while Alexa Auto Mode needs Android 6.0 or newer.

Android Auto is also a bit more convenient for owners of newer Android phones, as it comes built right into Android 10.0 and later. Owners of Android phones that can't install Android 10.0 have to actually download the Android Auto app.

The other big difference is Android Auto doesn't require any additional hardware or peripherals to use, while Alexa Auto Mode does not work without the Echo Auto device. If you don't have an Echo Auto device, you simply can't use Alexa Auto Mode, and have to use either Android Auto if you have an Android, or CarPlay if you have an iPhone.

Interface: Big and Easy to See

Android Auto
  • Open interface by launching the Android Auto app, or by asking Google Assistant to launch Android Auto mode.

  • Your phone will also switch automatically if connected to a compatible Android Auto car stereo.

  • Home screen with large text and buttons.

  • Individual screens for navigation, communication, and music.

Alexa Auto Mode
  • Open interface by connecting an Echo Auto and starting your car.

  • Can't open interface without connection to Echo Auto.

  • Home screen with large buttons and text.

  • Individual screens for navigation, communication, and music.

Android Auto and Alexa Auto Mode are both built around car-friendly interfaces, with much larger text and buttons than a phone would normally display.

When you launch Android Auto on your phone, you're greeted by some navigation buttons on the bottom, a clock in the middle, and menu and microphone buttons up top. This home screen can also display other useful information, like a mini player for your music, weather information, and your current driving directions. The main buttons along the bottom open your navigation app, phone dialer, and music.

When your phone connects to an Amazon Echo Auto, and you start your car, the phone will provide a message you can tap to launch Echo Auto Mode. The home screen here provides large buttons you can press for music, navigation, and calls.

Both systems are set up to work with voice commands alone as well. You can operate Android Auto with the Okay Google wake word, and activate Alexa Auto Mode via your Echo Auto by using the wake word you set for it.

Navigation: Slightly More Integrated With Android Auto

Android Auto
  • Option to use different navigation apps, including Google Maps and Waze, from within Android auto.

  • Use voice commands to find points of interest and set routes.

  • Navigation occurs within the Android Auto app.

Alexa Auto Mode
  • Option to set default navigation app in the Alexa app settings.

  • Use voice commands to find points of interest and set destinations.

  • Navigation occurs within your chosen navigation app.

Android Auto and Alexa Auto Mode are functionally very similar when it comes to navigation. With Android Auto, you can choose your navigation app, like Google Maps or Waze, from within Android Auto. You can also choose which navigation app to use with Alexa Auto mode, but you have to do so from the Alexa app settings.

Both services allow you to locate points of interest, set destinations, and begin navigation using voice commands. Google Assistant handles it for Android Auto, while Alexa does the listening for Alexa Auto Mode.

The biggest difference is Android Auto is a bit more integrated with its navigation. When you start a route, the navigation occurs inside the Android Auto app, with the familiar car-friendly buttons, and the ability to easily access the Android Auto home screen, communication screen, or music screen.

With Alexa Auto Mode, requesting navigation causes the app you have selected to launch and provide navigation assistance from within that app. Thanks to the Echo Auto, you can continue controlling your phone with voice commands, so you can say, "Alexa, go back to the Alexa app" if you want to return to the Alexa Auto Mode home screen during navigation. The functionality is all there, it's just a little less integrated.

Communication: Alexa Auto Mode Allows Drop-in

Android Auto
  • Dedicated communication screen.

  • Easy options for recent numbers, favorites, contacts, dialer, and voicemail.

  • Send and read text messages with voice commands.

Alexa Auto Mode
  • Dedicated communication screen.

  • Dedicated buttons for calling, dropping in on other Alexa devices, and sending announcements.

  • Use voice commands to send and read text messages.

For the most part, the communication options provided by these services are on an even keel. Android Auto provides you with easy access to recent calls, favorite numbers, contacts, the dialer, and your voicemail. Alexa Auto Mode is a little more sparse, with just the option to access your dialer in terms of actual phone calls.

The difference here is the Alexa Auto Mode communication screen also provides easy access to drop in or make an announcement. The drop in button allows you to connect to any Alexa device you own or are authorized to drop in on, while the announcement button allows you to send an announcement to your other Alexa devices.

While basic calling options are a bit more robust in Android Auto, the drop in functionality is a nice touch for households that use a lot of Alexa devices and make heavy use of the drop-in feature.

Both services support voice activated calling, text message dictation, and the ability to have either Google Assistant or Alexa read incoming text messages so you don't have to take your eyes off the road.

Smart Home Integration and Beyond: Google Home vs. Alexa

Android Auto
  • Use Google Assistant to control Google Home devices.

  • Google may provide payment options for things like Gas through Google Assistant in the future.

Alexa Auto Mode
  • Use Alexa to control your smart home devices from your car.

  • Order and pay for Starbucks.

  • Pay for gas and activate pumps at participating Exxon and Mobil stations.

Android Auto doesn't have any smart home integration in and of itself, but it does use Google Assistant. So while you're using Android Auto to navigate and make calls, you can easily ask to activate, operate, or shut off any smart devices you would normally control with Google Assistant or a Nest smart speaker.

Alexa Auto Mode relies on an Echo Auto to function, so it provides full Echo functionality by default. That means you can interact with your smart home devices through Alexa Auto Mode in the exact same manner you would if you were talking to an Echo or Echo Dot smart speaker.

Alexa Auto Mode provides extended functionality, allowing you to interact with services beyond your own smart home devices. For example, you can order and pay for Starbucks via Alexa Auto Mode and then go pick it up at the drive through. You can also pay for gas, and activate the pump, at participating Exxon and Mobil stations using Alexa Auto Mode.

Final Verdict: More People Will Get Better Results With Android Auto

Android Auto is the gold standard in-car phone interface for Android users. It allows you to use it by itself if your vehicle doesn't have any kind of smartphone integration, and it also integrates seamlessly with OE (original equipment) and aftermarket car stereos that have Android Auto built in. That makes Android Auto the superior option if you have an Android Auto car stereo, or if your car stereo has no integration and you don't want to buy any additional peripherals.

Alexa Auto Mode is a bit of a tougher sell, because it only works if you buy an Echo Auto. It does work on both Android and iPhone though, and Echo Auto works with both Bluetooth and auxiliary inputs. That means Alexa Auto Mode is a great option, regardless of the type of phone you use, if your vehicle has Bluetooth connectivity or an auxiliary input, but no built-in support for Android Auto or Apple CarPlay.

The bottom line is Android Auto is the more fully baked of the two options, and more people will get better results from it due to the fact it works both with Android Auto car stereos and on its own without any additional peripherals.