We typically do not take the time to talk about apps since there is a whole dedicated market of publications for that. However, sometimes you find a special reason to discuss something. Due to the demise of Android Auto, a good replacement needs to be found and Google Assistant’s Drive Mode just isn’t it (not yet, at least). So we played with a number of alternatives and eventually ended with AutoZen as the one we wanted to discuss. This is going to sound like a conflicted recommendation though, but bear with me.
AutoZen is a great replacement for Android Auto since it is being removed from the market. Zen does some things even better than Auto did, like putting the focus on the map vs notification screen, or on the new widget screen that has a lot of promise (it’s not there yet, but it is still in beta). In fact, there are a number of things in this app that are or feel like they are in beta. However, we feel it has a strong future ahead.
I did a lot of playing with it and found that there are a few things that will cause me to seek something else for now. It wouldn’t be a permanent escape as I will likely come back over time (I even paid for Premium in preparation for a comeback). I just feel that a dumbed-down interface like Google Maps would be something I will use for now until Zen is in its prime.
For one, it does indeed seem to chew up a bit more battery than Google Maps does. I have a wireless fast charger in the car, so this counters it, but it is indeed noticeable. Many navigation apps suffer from this though and even Google Maps can go through growing pains from time to time.
Also, there is far too much of having to leave the app to get things working like music. I find it too distracting and kind of ruins the automated experience for me. The user can switch to Google Maps, but it also pops them out of the app to use it, which defeats the purpose.
I am also not a fan of Mapbox (the integrated map service the dev chose to go with). It feels jittery and my positioning is all over the place. Not nearly as smooth or accurate of an experience as Google Maps and some of the other alternatives. I do understand that Google Maps doesn’t allow direct integration into other apps (or so it seems). This is also why you have to pop out to Google Maps if you choose that as your map of choice. However, maybe options like HERE Maps could be possible as they do offer dev access to their APIs as well. It’s been a while since I used HERE but I do remember enjoying it back when I used Nokia-made devices.
Also, it would be nice if it had a daytime/nighttime to the map colors as Google does. Keep the app dark, sure (if matching system defaults). But giving the option for the map by itself to be light or dark based on the time of day would be nice. I find that maps pop better as light during the day and dark during the night.
I do understand that a lot of these limitations may be thanks to Google and how it doesn’t play fair at times with third-party developers. Making it hard for them to compete. However, Google isn’t the only accurate option out there.
So I know this sounds like a conflicted recommendation. We are saying that this is a great replacement for Android Auto while also saying it has some kinks it needs to work out before we would use it ourselves. This is more about the potential the app has and the ard work this developer has put into it.
As mentioned, I highly see myself coming back over time once the app works out its kinks. The developer has done a fantastic job building it out to what it is today and I see a lot of good fortune ahead for it. This is why I paid for Premium as I really do think it has a lot of potential and already looks great. I look at it as a future investment for something that will likely become one of the best options out there.
For some, it may already be “good enough” to make the jump. A few sacrifices in order to get a great interface and experience. Especially, as it blooms into something amazing.