Technophile

Amazon’s Echo Auto review: Alexa goes for a ride

Kishore Bhargava | Updated on February 02, 2020 Published on February 02, 2020

Find out if you’re a likely candidate for this in-car smart addition to the smart speakers line-up

Ever since the initial announcement from Amazon about an Echo device for the car, there has been great anticipation and expectations of what the Alexa-in-the-car experience will be like. The good thing is that the Echo Auto does not disappoint.

When it comes to digital assistants there is a lot of choice out there and some of it based on the device you use: if you have an Apple phone, your preferred assistant may be Siri, if you are on Android then it is most likely to be Google. Cortana does figure somewhere in between the two, but when it comes to Amazon’s Echo, it’s the one assistant that is prevalent on all platforms, including several smaller devices like headphones and clocks.

One of the reasons for this success is home automation. So what does this have to do with the Echo Auto you may ask? Well, with Alexa available all over the place, people seem to interact with it just that much more. Now having a new passenger in your car in the form of an Echo Auto makes car journeys that much more fun.

As with most Amazon products, the build quality, look and feel are all rather good. While the device itself is just a small rectangular piece of plastic, it looks like it could be something interesting. Add a few buttons and lights and suddenly you feel like using it.

 

Setting up the Echo Auto was completely trivial. It relies on and uses the Alexa app on your phone and once you connect it to your car speakers, either via the provided 3.5mm cable or via Bluetooth, you are ready to go instantly. While my initial setup was a breeze, at some point I changed the power source from my car’s USB to the charger provided and for almost 45 minutes I struggled to get the Echo Auto and my phone to recognise each other and start cooperating again. Subsequently, I have not had any issues at all and the device works as expected.

In the box, you get the Echo Auto, a 3.5 mm audio cable, a 12V car charger and an air-vent clamp. If your car has the conventional vertical air vents the clamps fit rather well and it stays in place. I did have it fall out the first time I clamped it, but then that was me and not the clamp. Now it just sits firmly up front on one of the vents waiting to be commanded.

How it works is very interesting. My first thought was to wonder whether it has a SIM, but the answer was no. It just uses your phone, the Alexa app and your phone’s data connection. There have been a few moments driving around New Delhi where at some of the known cellular blind spots the device just goes blank. I was listening to live news and it just suddenly stopped and did not resume, however, when I was listening to music from both Amazon Music and Apple Music, it seems to have buffered some part of the track, for it just played with no breaks at all.

One of the most interesting features is the ability to make calls and read and send messages. This seems to be the first Echo device that is capable of that. Many years ago when I bought my first Echo, I wondered why it would not let me make calls despite the fact that my phone is connected to it via Bluetooth and it would not be any different to the hundreds of Bluetooth speakers that are available. It has baffled me for a while, I guess the reason must be permissions, but I am glad to see that this is finally available. You can now not only make Alexa calls, Drop-In, make announcements but also make regular cellular calls and take full advantage of the multiple microphones on the device and your car speakers for the output.

Cars make for a very unique environment as you have road noise, air-conditioning, your passengers talking and on top of that you have music playing.

The amazing thing is that the Echo Auto can at most times hear you very clearly over and above all of that. The device has at no less than eight microphones and they work rather well from anywhere within the car to pick up on your request and comply.

Only on a few occasions have I had to raise my voice to be heard, but that’s when the rest of the environment is just way too noisy.One can physically turn off the microphone button so your in car conversation can’t be heard if you don’t want it to.

So who is this device meant for? If your car already has an infotainment system that is smart, you may not need an Echo Auto, but if it just a stereo system then the Echo Auto is a great addition. I tried the device in two cars, one with just a simple stereo system and one with a full infotainment system but without Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.

In the car with the simple stereo, there was no doubt that this is a must have device. The car’s system does not support Bluetooth and there is no way to take or make calls. Adding the Echo Auto was a real advantage.

On the car with the infotainment system, it was only a minor advantage. Since the car’s system supports Bluetooth, my phone is already connected and I can play any media and take or make calls with no issues. One can use the phones assistant to use voice so that you don’t have the additional distraction of looking at the phone or taking your eyes off the road to make a call. Amazon Music, Audible, Apple Music, Spotify, Podcasts all readily available.

Navigation is an interesting option. Once you set your location on the Alexa app on the phone, you can ask Alexa to navigate to a location. The problem is it provides you voice prompts from the default map app on your phone and in fact actually opens the map on the phone as well.

For a car which has maps in-built this seems like a downgrade. Some people may consider this a plus point though, rather than having to look at the map, you just continue listen to the prompts. Doesn’t work that well for me.

In conclusion, I would say that if your car has a simple stereo system, then adding the Echo Auto is a no brainer. If however, you already have a smart infotainment system, then it just a fun device to own and interact with.

Of course, one added advantage of having the Echo Auto is being able to control your home devices from the car! I was able to switch on the lights at home as I was driving up so that I did not have to enter a dark space.

Amazon Echo Auto
  • Price: ₹4,999/-
  • Pros: Easy setup, sensitive microphones, voice controls for calls, messages and maps.
  • Cons: Relies on the phone and phone app, a little expensive, limited use in cars with smart systems

Published on February 02, 2020
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