Amazon has slowly been building on the Alexa based smart speaker since the first Echo launched back in 2014. Now in 2020, Amazon wants to see Alexa on every device that can have a speaker and some that don’t. This is where the Echo Auto comes into the picture. A new Bluetooth based device that connects the world of Alexa to your daily commute. With so many cars already offering smart systems, and phones already working as the center point of most drives, the Echo Auto sadly offers a little value for the average buyer.
What once was a towering speaker built for the home has now been shrunk down to the size of a small remote, the Echo Auto is the evolution of Alexa, cramming all the technology down, while still allowing it to work while on the road. Unlike while home, in the car you don’t have the luxury of fiddling with technology, and just need things to work. Taking your eyes off the could lead to an accident, so the microphone and voice assistant concept Amazon is promising the Auto has the potential to be exciting.
The little matchbox car size device offers up eight microphones, listening for the wake words as you dive. Echo Auto also offers up the usual buttons, giving you the option to mute the device or activate it with a simple click. Looking to the front of the device, you will find the typical ED-209 style light the Echo speaker is known for, and to the right-hand side, you can spot the standard mini-USB and aux-3.5mm jack out. Turning to the left-hand side you will see the small, quiet, speaker that can be used for setup prompts and nothing else. It is an overall sleek package and one that feels very at home on the dash of your car. While you will need to have it plugged in at all times for it to work, the cable management solution included with the vent mount ensures it will be as unobtrusive as possible.
One interesting aspect of Echo Auto is the aforementioned aux output, that should your car be older than the last handful of years and lacks Bluetooth connectivity, the little Echo and double as a Bluetooth connection to give your phone a gateway into your archaic mode of transport. Simply plug the Echo Auto into the Aux port, connect your phone as normal, and your car is now connected. While not what Echo Auto is designed to do, it is a great feature, and one almost worth the price of admission alone.
But jumping back onto the Alexa aspect of the Echo Auto, and it seems a no-brainer that Amazon’s smart assistant would be a perfect fit for driving. In theory, being able to command your messages, directions, and song with the power of voice is an enticing concept. But it is so easy to forget that most phones released over the past five years already offer up many of the same features you can find with Alexa. To further complex the value proposition comes in the way Echo Auto relies on the phone and its internet connection to function. Should your phone loose connectivity for any reason, all the features of Alexa will simply cease functioning.
This is not to say Echo Auto is not without its uses, should you be a sucker for music and demand music from most music services, Spotify, Pandora, Apple Music, TuneIn etc, it will deliver flawlessly almost every time. It is incredibly simple to command and save for a few instances, it had no issue pulling up the songs when I needed them, even when on the road or in a noisy car.
The same can be said for many of the common tasks Alexa is great at. Should you need to ask random questions while driving, the Echo Auto is able to give you the facts you need, without taking your eyes off the road.
Sadly, it is with navigation the cracks in the Echo Auto armour starts to show. Echo depends on your phone for anything visual, and when you want to pull up maps, it uses your default map application to handle the rest of the heavy loading. This means it feels less integrated and means you still need your phone mounded to the dash for it to work in any reasonably efficient way. While it can bring up the map, and for the most part get the job done, it at the end of the day feels like an overly complex solution to a problem your phone already solved with the advent of Siri or Google Assistant.
At the end of the day, the fact the Echo Auto is reliant on a phone and offers little beyond better microphones and a different voice assistant. There is a lot to love about Echo Auto, and the design and engineering need to be commended, but if you have a new car, and a modern smartphone it is little more than an extra device cluttering up the car’s cockpit. Should you have a car without Bluetooth, and rely on Alexa for your day-to-day schedule the case can on its value, for everyone else skip this device, your modern smartphone will do 95% of what the echo auto does, at no additional cost.