Amazon has been the leader in putting their Alexa smart assistant into all kinds of devices. Last year, they unveiled Echo Auto by invitation only. This little device essentially puts an Echo Dot into your car, complete with mounting solution. Well, now it’s available to anyone in Canada.
The sleek device may immediately conjure memories of Knight Rider and the K.I.T.T. car that David Hasselhoff drove on the 80s tv show. The familiar Echo moving light is displayed in a horizontal light bar that glows in blue shades when activated, moving back and forth.
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The simplified button interface just has mute and action buttons on the top, with a micro-usb port on the right side. An eight microphone array on top makes it easy to hear your voice under most road conditions. There is also a line out to allow you to connect it to your car stereo if you have an AUX in port.
It includes a mount that lets you easily attach it to most car vent systems and also has an integrated cable clip to hold the required USB cable firmly in place. It can securely attach to the vent mount thanks to embedded magnets. The original US release also included a small mount with double sided tape to mount it anywhere but it doesn’t appear to be included anymore on either side of the border. You could easily put some velcro on the bottom of the device to attach it someplace other than the vent mount.
The kit includes a decent length micro-USB cable, although it’s a straight cable, it would have made more sense for Amazon to include a right angle cable to allow the unit a smaller profile without having cable management issues. I immediately ordered a new right angled cable, ironically from Amazon itself, to tidy things up in my car.
The first question you might have is why do I need this in my car? If you have built your smart home around Alexa, you may want to take that ecosystem with you on the road. I literally put an Echo Dot in my car and paired it with my smartphone as a hot spot for a while, before this product was announced. But the Dot took a while to boot up everytime I started my car whereas the Echo Auto is ready to go very quickly.
Any skills you use at home can be accessed by the Echo Auto while on the go, whether its asking Alexa questions, updating your shopping list, playing music from any Alexa compatible service, activating any smart home products, making calls or dropping in to your Alexa devices at home to just name a handful of options.
Another thing it does quite well, especially if you have an older car (with an AUX in at least), is give you bluetooth access to your car stereo. Most addon systems for adding bluetooth are small gadgets that plug into the lighter or USB ports and simply don’t have the microphone pickups that the Echo Auto does if you want to use your stereo for calls while in the car. The $70 unit may be worth it for that feature alone.
One of the things I thought would be better is voice navigation. I found it to be clunky to have to open the Amazon app on your phone in order for navigation to work with the Echo Auto. Distracted Driving laws might make this a challenge unless you remember to get everything set up before you shift out of park…which kind of defeats the purpose in the first place.
Some cars with bluetooth audio may not be compatible with Echo Auto. Amazon has a list of vehicles that don’t work over bluetooth but you may be able to use an AUX line in (if your deck has one) to get Alexa on your car stereo.
Is this device for everyone? Definitely not. But with a low cost (and possibly even lower during one of Amazon’s regular Echo device and Prime Day sales), it’s the easiest and smallest way to add Alexa to your daily vehiclular routine. Adding Bluetooth to older cars is also a nice bonus, even if you don’t use Alexa that much.