Amazon has released an Echo Auto Alexa-enabled smart speaker for your car. Here’s the lowdown to help you decide whether it’s worth buying.
Last year, I signed up to receive an invitation to purchase an Echo Auto device as soon as Amazon released it. I waited. And waited. And waited. Finally, several months later, I received an email inviting me to purchase an Amazon Echo Auto device, complete with installation kit, for $24.99 – half the regular retail price of $49.99.
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Ease of Setup
First off, if your car doesn’t have Bluetooth, you should probably skip this gadget. I’m basing this advice on reading some of the complaints posted in reviews on Amazon.
I’m not sure how people can complain about “more cords” for the Echo Auto if you don’t have Bluetooth in your vehicle. How do you expect it to connect to your car speakers if you don’t have Bluetooth and don’t use a cable?
I found the Bluetooth setup challenging, but only because I’d never bothered to set up a phone Bluetooth connection in my CR-V previously. Once I figured out how to connect my phone to my CR-V’s Bluetooth, the actual Echo setup was a breeze.
As with many other reviewers, I’m not crazy about how the Echo Auto mounts on an air vent, but it works, nonetheless. I haven’t had too much trouble with it getting knocked off the vent. However, I usually don’t have a passenger in the front seat.
What Does Echo Auto Do, Exactly?
Amazon Echo Auto lets you issue Alexa commands just like you would for an Echo Dot or other Alexa-enabled device. You can play music, ask about the news and weather, listen to Audible books, and more.
I generally listen to music from my Amazon Prime Music playlists. There’s an Alexa skill for listening to podcasts, but I haven’t tried it yet because I don’t spend a lot of time in my vehicle.
Using Echo Auto
Until you get to know your new Echo Auto, you might think that it’s a glorified beta device and “not ready for prime time.” Fortunately, I soon learned how to work around the device’s shortcomings and focus on what it can do.
Drawback: Echo Auto works through your smartphone and can quickly drain the battery if you have a long commute.
Workaround: The device’s car power adapter features a second port for plugging in a charger for your phone. You’ll need to either use this while you’re driving or charge your phone when you get to work (like I do).
Drawback: Echo Auto uses your mobile phone’s data plan. Streaming media can quickly run through your monthly data allotment.
Workaround: Create playlists for your Amazon music and download songs to your phone. Be sure to check periodically to make sure that all of your music is downloaded and doesn’t need to be downloaded again. I also installed an app to monitor my data usage to make sure I don’t go over. Be sure to download Audible books to your phone, too, so you’re not streaming them over your data plan.
Drawback: Echo Auto doesn’t work immediately when you start driving.
Workaround: Your phone is still trying to connect to your home WiFi when you first get in your car and start driving. This is a function of the way smartphones work, not really an issue with Amazon Echo Auto. Drive a couple of miles, and your phone will connect to its mobile data plan, and you’ll be all set. It’s the same kind of problem you might have if you go for a walk and try to connect to Pokemon Go as soon as you head out the door. As long as the phone has a weak WiFi signal, you won’t have a strong enough signal from either WiFi or mobile data to connect to the game.
Drawback: Message saying that Echo Auto can’t connect to the Alexa app.
Workaround: When you get in your car to go somewhere, launch the mobile app. When you get to your destination, exit the Alexa app. Inconvenient, yes, but it can quickly become routine, too. You’ll want to do this anyway since shutting off your car engine doesn’t stop the Alexa app from playing, so you could be using data and/or battery life if you don’t exit the app.
Is It Worth Buying?
If you have a long daily work commute or you otherwise spend a lot of time in your vehicle, the Echo Auto may be worth buying. You’ll have to get used to the drawbacks mentioned above, though. If you can’t handle any tech foibles, then skip it and hope the next version has worked out some of the kinks.
Be sure to keep checking for sales throughout the holidays if you’re interested in buying an Echo Auto – it’s a device ripe for Black Friday and Cyber Week discounts.
Because I work in technology and have for many years, I may be more tolerant of tech imperfections. Technology isn’t magic and doesn’t always work perfectly. For me, the Echo Auto is a delightful addition to my vehicle.
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