Amazon's strategy of using Alexa everywhere is hampered by one essential fact: it does not make a phone. This means that Alexa's influence is seriously hindered as soon as we leave our homes. To help bridge this gap, Amazon has created Echo Auto, a dashboard device that integrates Alexa into your car.
It's a beautiful concept. Next to us, we spend the most time in our cars, and unless you sell a Alexa headset (which would have been programmed), an embedded device is the best way to expand the reach of Alexa. To compete with our phones and navigation systems that already offer assistants always ready for use, Echo Auto must however provide you with a compelling reason to install one in your car. There is only one problem: you need a phone to use it, which goes against the question.
Is there an echo here?
Let's start with the design. At 3.3 x 1.9 x 0.5 inches, the Echo Auto is neither a small device nor a particularly pretty camera. Whether you place it in the center console or support it with the optional Echo Auto fan bracket, it's much more visible than the relatively slender Roav Viva, and not in the right direction. The bulbous speaker has little character and raises fingerprints much too easily. And as it depends on one of your 12V outlets for power, hiding it (and its cord) will take a little work.
As soon as you plug in the Echo Auto with the included micro-USB cable and AC adapter, it comes to life with an orange LED strip that tells you it's ready for installation. Like any Echo device, you need to open the Alexa app on your smartphone to connect it. You will then have to add it as a new device and perform some audible checks, but all of this is very fast. Overall, you should be up and running in less than a minute.
Inside its rectangular frame are eight microphones, which seems excessive, all visible in the upper part of the device. A multi-microphone matrix is useful for a device that may be in the room when you ask a question, but Echo Auto will never be more than a foot or two away from listening. But all these microphones mean that the Echo Auto will hear you every time for the first time, which is not the case for other devices that I tried. There is also a button at the top to activate Alexa without saying the idle word, and another to mute the microphones.
Once you start using Echo Auto, one thing becomes painfully clear: there is no display. You can ask him to do the same things you would use with Android Auto or Apple CarPlay, such as playing music or getting directions, but no Echo Show style interface displays it. Instead, Echo Auto uses the screens at its disposal – the navigation system for music, your phone for instructions – which goes against the purpose of asking Alexa to do it in the first place.
Echo Auto contains a speaker, but it is only used for configuration and error messages. Otherwise, once the device is connected to your phone and car, that's where the audio will come from, depending on what Echo Auto does. To get answers, you need to make sure your car is connected to the Bluetooth source, otherwise you will not hear anything, and even then it's not perfect, at least in my experience. When playing the sound system of my Hyundai Ioniq, the first part of the songs and phrases was slightly truncated after Alexa woke up and the execution of an action.
But the biggest problem with Echo Auto is its goal. You can switch to other echoes, but you can also use your phone to make a call. (Fortunately, other people can not come on you when driving, it would almost certainly be an accident risk.) You can listen to music from various sources (including Apple Music), but you miss the sophisticated interface of CarPlay or Android Auto. Text messages send both an audio recording and text, without the possibility to disable it. And when you ask for instructions, it simply reports to the default navigation application of your phone.
Do you have to buy an Amazon Echo Auto?
It will not be long before the biggest problem of Echo Auto becomes obvious: it is fundamentally superfluous. Since you need a phone with you for this to work, it basically acts as an intermediary device. It does not matter that you can not already do with your phone and it does not really facilitate voice interactions. In fact, without a screen or proper cellular connection, you could pretend that it adds to the process by forcing you to switch to your car stereo or smartphone app.
But in a vacuum, the Echo Auto is a good device. It would have been a lot better The device was released three years ago, but it does what it is supposed to do. I would not say its selling price is $ 50, but for $ 25 – the price Amazon charges for its invitation period – you probably will not feel any remorse from a buyer.