from Amazon Second generation Echo Auto it’s a little Echo for the dashboard of your car. It has good microphones, is easy to install and stow when parked, and provides a simple way to add hands-free music playback to your car stereo if you don’t have Bluetooth. But it’s not as smart as your smartphone’s built-in assistant, and unless you already have an ecosystem of Amazon smart home devices, it doesn’t make sense to most people, myself included.
Simply put, the Echo Auto is a $54.99 microphone that mounts to your dash and lets you use Alexa voice commands on the go. It connects to your phone via Bluetooth and then connects to your car stereo for playback via Bluetooth or a wired 3.5mm connection. Your car doesn’t need any smarts to make it work, just an old fashioned cigarette lighter/power outlet and an aux input for your stereo.
The second-gen Echo Auto’s microphone tip is even smaller the last (2.1 x 0.9 inches, compared to 3.3 x 1.9 inches, which itself was much smaller than Echo speakers and drives designed for the home.) It comes with an adhesive-backed magnetic mount that sticks to your car’s dashboard. There isn’t a lot of open space on my dash, and I was a little concerned that it would be too close to the volume control on the car stereo. But it’s deceptively small, and I found a nice spot to tuck it out of the way of any buttons or knobs.
The Echo Auto draws its power from your car’s USB port (or 12V power adapter). Your car must be running to use the Echo Auto, and once it’s on, you can connect it to your phone (and the Alexa app) via Bluetooth. You’ll then use Bluetooth or the 3.5mm jack on the Echo’s breakout box to connect to your car stereo. All of this can be done in about five minutes, provided you have an Amazon account and the Alexa app on your phone.
I didn’t have any problems with it, and I like that I can easily store the junction box and cables in the little compartment under my dash so everything is out of the way. Importantly, the whole thing can be unplugged, removed from the mount, and stored in the center console when I get out of my car, and plugging it back in is just as quick. I try not to leave anything in plain sight in my car that could tempt a theft, so having something that looks valuable attached to my dash at all times would have been impossible.
My experience with Alexa was not as smooth. She seems to have gotten smarter since my buddy Sean Hollister reviewed the first-gen Echo Auto. Asking him to find nearby gas stations and diners and to look up hours of operation usually worked well. But for anything that requires you to interact with the phone, like making calls and using navigation, you’re limited by what the Alexa app can do on your phone, and you run into those limitations quickly.
I can’t get Alexa to send text messages to anyone on my contact list – they must have Alexa messaging enabled. You can see who has opted in by scrolling through your contacts in the Alexa app. From the looks of it, maybe a third of my contacts have enabled the feature. I also have an unusually high number of current and former Amazon employees in my circle (disclosure: I used to work at DPReviewa wholly owned subsidiary of Amazon), so take it with a grain of salt.
Alexa can also open Apple Maps with a specific destination via voice command, but I still have to 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.
The Echo Auto wants to default to Amazon services, which I don’t use many of. Even with Spotify set as my default streaming service, I had to ask Alexa a couple of times to get it. A Charlie Brown Christmas to play there instead of Amazon Music. It also defaults new events to your “Alexa Calendar” even if you already have another calendar linked to your account. Do I want this calendar from Alexa? Do I even know where it is? No and no. You can change the default calendar to a Google, Microsoft, or Apple calendar quite easily, but it’s one more thing to play with to get it set up the way I want.
I can’t get Alexa to text anyone on my contact list – they must have Alexa messaging enabled
As for other Alexa services, well, the “Skills” library looks pretty bare. check a Starbucks reorder skill, which would be helpful (disclosure: I live in Seattle and have a habit). It’s no longer available, and the only Starbucks Alexa Skill available is something that tells you which Starbucks roasted coffee is best for you based on the answers to a few questions. This is useless. Amazon recently made some major cutbacks to its Alexa devices and gearso I don’t feel too good about the long-term prospects for a more useful Starbucks skill (or any) returning in the future.
Alexa naturally works best in the Amazon ecosystem. But I’m not convinced that’s something I need in my car. There’s probably a case for the Echo Auto if you have a lot of Alexa-enabled smart home devices. I don’t have any, and I’m not sure I’d care to turn on my living room lights by talking to a device in my car. Even if it did, my phone’s voice assistant 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 my next grocery order when it occurs to me while I’m driving is a legitimate use case for me, so the Echo Auto would be useful in those cases. But that’s still a rare occurrence, and there aren’t enough other useful things Alexa can do for me to want a full add-on device in my car. If I ever pluck up the courage to start using Reminders on my iPhone, I could easily ask Siri to remind me to buy cat food later. Can’t put Fancy Feast in my Amazon shopping cart, but I can live with it.
The Echo Auto’s strength remains its very good microphones. 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. You can hear me speak at a normal volume, even with the heater and fans running at full power. It’s harder if I’m on the road with the window down, but he can hear me better than I expected without having to talk a lot.
Understanding simple questions and commands is what the Echo Auto excels at, and even then, it sometimes fails spectacularly. I got into a shouting match with him when I asked about the hours of Burien Press, a coffee shop in Burien, Washington, which he had correctly identified on the first try a day earlier. Here’s a list of things Alexa thought I said while she was getting more and more impatient:
- variant press
- fury crest
- Purion Press
- Darien Press in Marion Washington
The Echo Auto is an excellent piece of hardware that doesn’t make much practical sense. The best use may be for someone with an older car that lacks Bluetooth but does have an auxiliary input. In that case, it’s an easy way to add hands-free music playback and basic navigation to your car’s built-in speakers. Still, $55 is too expensive for that; $30 feels good for that kind of thing, and There are already adapters from Bluetooth to auxiliary. That $55 becomes a little easier to justify if you have Amazon smart home products, but I think the overlap in the Venn diagram of “You have a very old car” and “You have a lot of Amazon smart home products” “It’s pretty sparse. On top of that, the long-term prospects for Alexa getting more and better third-party skills don’t look great.
What really kills the Echo Auto’s appeal is the device you already own: your smartphone. If you stick a simple mount in your car, set your phone on it, and simply ask your phone’s built-in assistant to navigate to Starbucks, send a text, or play something on Spotify, you’ll have better luck. As she stands, Alexa isn’t that smart outside the home.
Photography by Allison Johnson/The Verge
Accept Continue: Amazon Echo Auto (2nd Generation)
All smart devices now require you to agree to a series of terms and conditions before you can use them, contracts that no one actually reads. It is impossible for us to read and analyze each of these agreements. But we’re going to start counting exactly how many times you have to hit “accept” to use devices when we review them, since these are agreements that most people don’t read and definitely can’t negotiate.
To use the Amazon Echo Auto, you’ll need to download the Alexa app for iOS or Android. An Amazon account is required to log in. By subscribing to one of those, You must accept their conditions of use.
final count: 14 mandatory agreements.
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