I recently bought a 2018 Toyota Camry SE Hybrid to replace my not-very-old Kia Forte that turned into a bucket of problems  . It’s well known that Toyota has been slow to adopt Android Auto and Apple Car Play – features that are slowing become standard on more and more models from most big auto makers these days. Rather, Toyota is really pushing their Entune 3.0 head unit software and it’s various apps and connected features.
While doing extensive research for my car before buying, and reading even more about it online while waiting for it to be built, I was fast to notice that a lot of people who commented on various articles and videos online were quick to point out that the lack of either of these two features would completely stop them from buying the car – in favor of buying makes that are often inferior quality and/or wouldn’t last as long as a Toyota, but did include these simple apps. Some even being lifelong Toyota owners, raving about how great the cars are and how they lasted so long, commenting that their next car will instead be from X or Y manufacturer who has those features.
Was it really that bad? Is Entune 3.0 really such a disaster that people would forgo buying one of the highest rated cars on the market just to have a slightly better mobile experience? Was I getting into something that I too would regret after actually using it? No. Here’s why:
Mobile Connectivity – 7/10:
In a matter of minutes, my wife and I had both our phones paired up to the Entune head. The car also lets us split up who’s phone is doing audio vs. whos is doing calls – this is particularly nice on longer drives where the wife may want to DJ, but my phone needs to remain connected in case work were to call me.
I can read and reply (canned messages or full responses) to text messages on the screen or with my voice, I can view all my contacts on the screen, and even assign favourite contacts to four quick tiles on my “Home” screen of the head. This works good, but the voice quality of Entune sucks. Spoken phrases do sound like Toyota is stuck about six years behind on text-to-speech technology, and that’s why I’m rating it at only a 7/10. I find myself just using the hands free Google Assistant when I want to send text messages – it’s a bit faster and much more proven voice recognition technology.
When I switch over to Bluetooth Audio, I can control my Spotify and Podcast apps seamlessly. Focusing on Spotify in particular, it’ll display all the now playing track details, and even cover art from Gracenote is available – but only when the car isn’t moving, for some really weird reason. It uses Gracenote for covers rather than Spotify directly because we’re just in generic Bluetooth Audio playback mode – this isn’t a specific Spotify app and therefore any content that isn’t generic media content isn’t directly available to the Entune head. I can use all the regular multimedia control buttons on the head unit, and the steering wheel, to change around tracks, volume, play mode, etc. as needed.
Changing artists, songs, and playlists is easily done with Google Assistant when I want something more than just skipping tracks (which I can do with the buttons on the wheel or head unit) – I don’t need an Android Auto menu right on my head unit to do this! In fact, I find it much quicker with Google Assistant. Skipping over the car’s voice button on the steering wheel, if I push and hold the phone button it will launch Google Assistant. From there, I can voice control anything I need to in Spotify! I like this MORE than Android Auto, not just because I find it faster, but because I can keep my eyes on the road. I do have Android Auto on my phone, and the whole process of opening and navigating the Spotify menu in the Auto app takes time, and it takes my eyes away from the road to do so. I wouldn’t use it even if I did have it available in the head unit.
Also, when I get in the car and it was last turned off in Bluetooth audio mode, it will remember to start on Bluetooth audio and will immediately send a “Play” command to my device. Now my music or podcast will resume where I left off on my device, without needing to even take my phone out of my pocket. Podcast voice control via Google Assistant is also available, but I only touched on Spotify as it’s what 99% of users will use anyway.
So, from a multimedia playback and control perspective, I’m getting my full Spotify experience in a safe, hands-free manner. I guess not entirely hands free if you count using the skip forward/back songs, or turning shuffle on and off 😉
I’m going with a 10/10 on this one. It was a huge step up from Bluetooth audio on my Kia, which offered absolutely zero control and had to be run entirely from the phone.
I’m too new of an owner to have used the Scout GPS app extensively yet. I’ve used it just enough to know that it isn’t Google Maps, nor is it built into the head unit (it requires my phone’s data to pull down maps, traffic, directions, etc.). I wish it would have maps built into the car so when I’m driving in the USA without a roaming data plan, I could still use the car’s navigation. Or for people like my parents who only have pay-as-you-go mobile phones with no data – they couldn’t use Scout or any navigation in the Camry at all.
I’m going 1/10 on this. I’ll probably skip over using Scout and just magnet mount my phone to use Google Maps for navigation. Again, once the phone is magnet mounted, I can fully control maps using my voice through the Google Assistant access in the car. That being said, with this approach, I don’t get the advantage of maps on the head unit if I’m using my phone for this purpose. Arguably though, I mount my phone much higher than the head unit (on my windshield) and find it offers a faster and safer way to look at the GPS without having to remove my eyes from the road as far as looking all the way down to my head unit and back. I can simply flip my eyes over a bit to my phone, keeping the road in my peripheral, and right back to the road again. I see a safety benefit in this approach – others may not. I also see better longevity – my Google Maps is always getting new and great features, where as any built-in navigation I’ve seen in vehicles generally ends up dated very fast.
Misc. Apps 1/10:
Here’s another drawback that will affect some more than others. Android Auto (and Apple Car Play) allow other app vendors to hook into the ecosystem. For example, I can get alerts from various other messaging services, like Facebook Messenger, straight on my Android Auto. Entune only allows access to my SMS and Email (I haven’t figured out the email bit yet – or I just haven’t gotten an email while driving maybe). The app capability of these two platforms allows you to continually have great new features on your head unit without being dependent on the car manufacturer to make their own apps. I see the benefit here, but I also argue it with safety again. I don’t need to have access to fifteen different messaging services through my car head unit. I don’t like that it has text messaging and email to begin with. When you’re behind the wheel your focus should be on driving a car, not reading the minutes from the meeting you just attended – those can wait. If I touch my cell phone while I drive I face incredibly large penalties here in Ontario for distracted driving – but you’re telling me if this all gets built into my head unit then suddenly it’s fine to be distracted?
Entune does offer some of their own apps still, but the catalog is small and unlikely to appeal to the masses. Other than accessing the Scout navigation app, I also have things like nearby gas prices (this one is useful, especially the sorting), road closure/delay warnings (didn’t seem to ever show anything in my fairly large city of 0.5mil people), weather access, stock access (never had this urge while driving), and Slacker and NPR One access. A native app for more well known music services like Spotify and Play Music would be nice, but as I mentioned, native-like control is already available using the simple Bluetooth audio input. I hope to see Entune release more apps, but it’s a proprietary ecosystem and likely to never grow much, or at all, like we see with most head unit app attempts.
Where I Stand:
Entune 3.0 offers everything I need to enhance my driving experience in a safe manner. For me, it’s mostly about the multimedia (Spotify/Podcast) access and the Google Assistant. I can do nearly everything I can do with Android Auto using the native head unit, or at worst, with my phone on a $5 magnetic mount and using the hands free Google Assistant access via Entune. Although it’s navigation does really let me down, I don’t see my inability to access all sorts of other third party apps to distract my driving further as any sort of “let down”.
It’s worth noting that Entune covers far more than just what I discussed here. Toyota ties a lot of their safety features and some other head unit related features into the Entune ecosystem too. This wasn’t meant to be a full Entune review, rather just a discussion on some of the key areas it compares to Android Auto or Apple Car Play based on my experience with them – a way for other potential buyers to understand and have more clarification on some of the questions I had in my head while waiting for my Camry to arrive.
Everyone has their own wants and needs in a car, but I see choosing to not buy one of the most highly rated cars on the market all because it lacks a couple silly software features as a foolish decision. My last new car was a Kia, and it lasted me five years before it was done (see my article links in the intro for details on why cheap cars are cheap cars). Toyota hybrids are rated at some of the longest, and most maintenance free, ownership in the market with an average 10-15 year ownership on them! When I look at the money I’ll save in low maintenance costs, and at least 5-10 years of not having car payments during my span of ownership, I’ll spend $5 on a phone mount for my car to supplement what Entune can’t do.
Oh, and my first tank of gas got me almost 1200km, that’s also pretty cool.