If you’ve always wished your kids could ask Alexa to tell jokes, play “Old Town Road” and make fart noises while you drive them to school, now you can.
Although it was announced nearly a year ago, Amazon has kept its Echo Auto product on an invitation-only list. And mine arrived last week.
The device is the size of a pack of gum. Powered by USB and connected to your car’s audio system by either Bluetooth or auxiliary input, the Amazon Echo Auto is easy to set up and add hands-free and voice functionality to your vehicle.
As more states pass distracted driving laws, hands-free technology is becoming more important – particularly for older cars that aren’t iOS CarPlay or Android Auto-enabled. I believe that’s the sweet spot for Echo Auto.
Primarily driven by your phone’s Alexa app, Echo Auto allows you to open your garage, turn on lights, make calls, check the traffic on your commute and ask for the weather. If you are already familiar with the Amazon Echo ecosystem and Alexa-based invocations, adding voice functionality to your car is pretty straightforward. Prime users can access their Amazon Music or Spotify accounts, as well as podcasts and other audio content. All using just your voice.
For me, the addition of adding Alexa to my complicated digital lifestyle hasn’t been so simple. The Chevrolet MyLink system built into my 2013 Chevy Spark fights with the Bluetooth connection for my Echo Auto. Add to this my Automatic Connected Car Assistant (that I use to have my car tweet by itself at @WhereIsGregsCar), and I kept having Bluetooth drop connectivity every time I started the car and three systems were competing for my phone’s data.
So I uninstalled it, “forgot” Bluetooth for both MyLink and Echo Auto, and instead installed the device’s provided auxiliary audio cable. The result is functional but removes any data display on the car’s stereo screen, which is kind of a bummer but more true to the Alexa voice-first ecosystem. In this mode, the Echo Audio also works well as an after-market Bluetooth input device – so my son can also Bluetooth in to my car to stream music. It’s as simple connecting to a jambox at your neighbor’s house.
At the end of the day, I absolutely prefer iOS CarPlay to Echo Auto. It’s simplified, has limited screen interaction and is powered by Siri. It’s a way more elegant system and feels more native to iOS and the Apple experience.
However, you can’t add CarPlay as an aftermarket accessory without replacing your entire car’s stereo ($300+). And since Chevy and other automakers rarely provide support for older model year’s operating systems, apps and data, Echo Auto makes for an affordable aftermarket accessory to bring hands-free to your older vehicle.
Priced at $49.99 but marked down to $24.99, the price is right. They seem to shipping fairly quickly, so…