Amazon’s second-generation Echo Auto is a tiny Echo for your car’s dashboard. It has a great mic, is easy to attach and stow when parked, and provides an easy way to play music hands-free to car stereos that don’t have Bluetooth. But it’s not as smart as the assistant built into your smartphone. It also makes no sense for most people unless they already have an ecosystem of Amazon smart home gadgets.
Simply put, the Echo Auto is a $54.99 microphone that attaches to your dashboard and lets you use Alexa voice commands on the go. Connect to your phone via Bluetooth and connect to your car stereo to play via Bluetooth or 3.5mm wired connection. Your car doesn’t need any kind of smarts for it to work. Just a traditional cigarette lighter/power outlet and an auxiliary input for your stereo.
The mic side of the 2nd generation Echo Auto is even smaller than its predecessor (2.1 x 0.9 inches compared to 3.3 x 1.9 inches. Much more than Echo speakers and packs designed for home use). small). It comes with a magnetic mount with adhesive that attaches to your car’s dashboard. There isn’t a lot of room on the dashboard and I was a little worried that the car stereo volume he was too close to the dial. But it’s deceptively small, so I found a nice spot out of the way for buttons and knobs.
Echo Auto gets its power from your car’s USB port (or 12V power adapter). Your car must be running to use Echo Auto. Once powered up, it can connect to your phone (and the Alexa app) via Bluetooth. Then use the 3.5mm jack on your Bluetooth or Echo breakout box to connect to your car stereo. With an Amazon account and the Alexa app on your phone, you can do all this in about five minutes.
There were no problems. I like that the breakout box and cords can be easily tucked into the small compartment under the dashboard so everything is out of the way. What’s important is that when you leave your car, you can remove everything, remove it from the mounts, and store it in your center console. With nothing visible inside the car to entice intrusions, keeping something of value on your dashboard at all times would have been no novice.
My experience with Alexa has not been so smooth. It seems to have gotten smarter since his colleague Sean Hollister reviewed the original Echo Auto. Asking them to locate a nearby gas station or coffee shop or find out store hours usually worked. But when you need to interact with the phone, like making calls or using navigation, you’re limited by what the Alexa app can do on your phone, and you’ll quickly run into those limitations.
You can’t send Alexa texts only to people on your contact list. Alexa messaging must be enabled. You can see who selected this by scrolling through your contacts in the Alexa app. By the looks of it, probably a third of my contacts have this feature enabled. Also, there are numerous current and former Amazon employees in my circle (disclosure: I used to work for DPReview, a wholly owned subsidiary of Amazon).
Alexa can also open Apple Maps by specifying a destination with a voice command, but you must tap a button in the app to start or stop navigation. Siri, on the other hand, can do these things without any additional input from me.
Echo Auto wants to default to an Amazon service that I don’t use often. Even with Spotify set as my default streaming service, I had to ask Alexa several times to get it. Charlie Brown Christmas Play it there instead of Amazon Music. Also, new events are added to your Alexa Calendar by default, even if you have another calendar linked to your account. Need this Alexa Calendar? Do I even know where it is? no no You can easily change the defaults to Google, Microsoft, or Apple calendars, but there’s one more trick to getting it exactly the way you want it.
You can’t send an Alexa text to just someone on your contact list. Alexa messaging must be enabled.
As for other Alexa services, well, the library of “skills” looks pretty bare. No longer available. The only Starbucks Alexa skill available will tell you which Starbucks coffee roast is best based on your answers to a few questions. This is a waste. Amazon recently made significant headcount cuts to its devices and Alexa teams, so I’m not too happy about the long-term prospect of more helpful Starbucks skills (or any other skill) returning in the future.
Naturally, Alexa works best in Amazon’s ecosystem. But I’m not sure it’s what my car needs. If you have a lot of Alexa-enabled smart home devices, you probably want Echo Auto. Even if I did, the voice assistant on my phone can already do it.
I order a lot of my groceries from Amazon Fresh, which integrates pretty well with Alexa’s shopping list feature. Being able to add something to the next grocery order that comes to mind while driving is a legitimate use case for me, so the Echo Auto helps in those cases. But it’s still a rare occurrence, and there’s not enough else Alexa can do for me, requiring a whole extra device in my car. You can easily ask Siri to remind you later that you need to buy cat food. You can’t put Fancy Feast in your Amazon shopping cart, but you can still put up with it.
The Echo Auto’s strength is still its very good mic. This version has five instead of eight and relies more on “improved algorithms” to understand voice commands. Even with fewer mics, it’s still very good. Even with the heaters and fans running at full blast, you can still hear people talking at a normal volume. Driving on the highway with the windows open can be difficult, but you can hear better than you think even if you don’t speak too much.
Understanding simple questions and commands is what the Echo Auto does best, and even then it fails spectacularly sometimes. When I asked about the opening hours of Brien Press, a coffee shop in Brien, Washington, they loudly matched those correctly identified on the first try the day before. Below is a list of things Alexa thought I said when I became increasingly impatient.
- variant press
- fury crest
- prion press
- Marion Washington Darien Press
The Echo Auto is good hardware with no practical implications. The best use would be someone with an older car that doesn’t have Bluetooth but has an AUX input. If so, you can easily add hands-free music playback and basic navigation to your car’s built-in speakers. Still, $55 is too much for that — $30 feels right for that sort of thing, and Bluetooth-to-AUX adapters already exist. It’s a little easier to justify $55 if you have Amazon’s smart home products, but if you “have a very old car” and “have a lot of Amazon’s smart home products” I think the overlap in the Venn diagram is pretty low. Besides, the long-term prospects for Alexa making more and better third-party skills don’t look good.
What really spoils the Echo Auto’s appeal is the device you already own: your smartphone. Just put the easy mount in your car, set up your phone, ask your phone’s built-in assistant to go to Starbucks, send a text, or play something on Spotify, and you’re in luck. As it stands, Alexa isn’t all that smart outside the home.
Photo by Alison Johnson/The Verge
Agree to continue: Amazon Echo Auto (2nd Gen)
final tally: 14 mandatory contracts.