(Credit: Tom McNamara/Download.com)

With Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, you can plug your phone into a compatible vehicle with a USB or Lightning cable and get map directions, stream music, listen to audiobooks, talk on the phone, and send text messages, all hands-free. It's pretty nifty.

Android Auto and CarPlay are better than just mounting your phone in a cradle, because you get a much bigger screen built into the car's infotainment console for better legibility, and audio from your phone comes out through your speakers for better clarity. We have a quick guide to setting up CarPlay in your car, assuming that vehicle's compatible.

SEE: The new Apple CarPlay apps coming in iOS 12

And as you've probably heard by now, Google Maps has finally come to Apple CarPlay, at least if your iPhone can run iOS 12. Apple Maps has a reputation for under-delivering, so Google Maps (iOS, Android) has become the de facto navigation app for most people. (Waze is also coming to CarPlay, but we don't have an ETA.)

As we mentioned yesterday, the CarPlay version of Google Maps looks almost identical to Apple Maps, aesthetically. After digging around this version today, we can report that it's also missing a number of features present in the mobile app, some of which put a sizeable dent in its appeal. So based on our testing, you may still prefer to use that cradle, because the CarPlay version of Google Maps takes a few detours, figuratively speaking.

Using voice commands

If you want to issue voice commands to Google Maps, you can't do it hands-free. Even with Google Maps open, tapping the voice command button on your steering activates Siri, and neither "Hey Google" nor "OK Google" activate the Google Assistant. To dictate an address to Google Maps, you have to tap the map, then tap the microphone icon in the bottom right.

This means that you can't issue directions or notify Google Maps of a change of plans if you're already on the move. Not without interacting physically with the screen, which cancels out the whole appeal of CarPlay. Apple Maps has no problem handling hands-free operation, but its mapping data is routinely inferior, and Siri is notoriously bad at speech recognition.

Managing your travel history

The CarPlay version of Google Maps also doesn't remember where you've been. It will remember previous address searches, but that's not the same thing. You may prefer this for greater privacy, but it can be a hassle to pull up directions when you can't just tap on a previous destination and go there.

You also can't label a location as "home" or another location as "work." With Android Auto, you can be driving down the road and just say, "Hey Google, take me home," and Google Maps will open and start giving you directions. The CarPlay version also doesn't let you save a short list of frequent destinations.

FOLLOW Download.com on Twitter for all the latest app news.

Finding places to go

Lastly, the local exploration tool pales in comparison to the Explore tab in the mobile app. When you tap on the map and then tap on Add Destination, You can search for local gas stations, restaurants, grocery stores, and coffee shops, but there are no sorting options. Granted, Google Maps in Android Auto doesn't let you sort either, but it would be a welcome addition.

There's also an "Other" category, which is an odd label for the section where you manually enter an address using a virtual keyboard on the infotainment screen. "Other" sounds like it should be a catch-all for miscellaneous destinations like post offices, airports, and train stations.

Where does the CarPlay version of Google Maps excel, then?

Despite the drawbacks in CarPlay, we still prefer Google Maps (iOS, Android) over Apple Maps. Google has a lot more map and live traffic data, which helps it create less congested routes and provide more accurate arrival time estimates. And in our testing today, it was also very good at recognizing speech.

However, we wouldn't blame you for sticking with that cradle, so that you can quickly access your favorite destinations and explore areas more effectively.

Also see

Tom McNamara is a Senior Editor for CNET's Download.com. He mainly covers Windows, mobile and desktop security, games, Google, streaming services, and social media. Tom was also an editor at Maximum PC and IGN, and his work has appeared on CNET, PC Gamer, MSN.com, and Salon.com. He's also unreasonably proud that he's kept the same phone for more than two years.