I love the idea of a voice assistant in my car: hands-free calling, music requests, instructions – everything seems to be getting easier and safer. Can you imagineDoes a friend holding a smartphone hold the same way? "Okay, you're not turning this light, you're turning the next one."
Given the many hands-free functions in newer cars, this vision is not that far away. But Amazon offers a co-pilot for voice assistance who could bridge the gap between the "almost-there" reality of vehicle integration and the smart cars of the future. The problem is Amazon Echo car doesn't add enough to his usually home-bound digital assistant to get him on the road safely.
The Echo Auto from Amazon is currently only available by invitation, but can easily be brought onto the market. For $ 50, you get a power cord, an auxiliary cord, a stand, and the device itself – a little black box near the dimensions of an Altoids can that has the standard action and mute buttons, a light bar, and eight remote controls – field microphones. (It's not yet available in the UK or Australia, but the price is around £ 40 or AU $ 75.)
Installation, especially if you're already using Alexa, is as seamless as the product. You connect the stand to a ventilation opening, hold the device in place with the magnetic field, connect it and establish a connection to the Alexa app on your phone via Bluetooth. The power cord can be connected to a USB charging port or to a lighter port using the included adapter. And the Echo Auto can connect to your sound system using the additional cable or Bluetooth.
Both in a 15 year old Honda minivan and in a brand new Mustang convertible, the rig was ready for use within a minute.
I like the simple aesthetics and the simple setup, although I'm not crazy about the idea of using my mobile data to strengthen Alexa on every commute. Of course, this is not an obstacle for customers with unlimited data plans, and frankly I'm not sure if there is any other solution for Amazon.
Take a car ride
For people with newer cars, the Echo Auto will feel largely superfluous. Of course, with a simple voice command, you can access music or make a call instead of tapping the dash display. However, these displays are designed for easy access. Since the Echo Auto does not offer step-by-step instructions (if you ask for instructions, a push notification is sent to your smartphone that is linked to a map app), you still need to look at your screen. This seems like a big missed opportunity as the Echo Auto ultimately relies on what it is supposed to do.
For people with older cars, Alexa in the passenger seat is a serious improvement. With Amazon Music, Spotify, or other services connected to Alexa, you can easily request songs or playlists. You can check the traffic on the way home. You can make hands-free calls. Fifty dollars to close the feature gap between 15- and 5-year-old cars isn't bad at all.
However, one question remains: is the Echo Auto simply a newer shell for the same old voice assistant? Most of all, I asked Alexa in the car about the traffic. I was pleasantly surprised when the car made subtle sounds to indicate that it heard both wake-up words and the question. The two displays are a small but fine addition, with which the Echo Auto is not only hands-free, but also eye-free.
The device can also control smart home devices. This is a useful feature if you are in a hurry to start off and want to make sure your front door is locked. Home automation isn't just for Echo Auto, but it's especially useful when you're on the go.
However, when I checked other features, I found Alexa on the Echo Auto to be a leaner version of its usual self. Alexa cannot adjust the volume in the car, let alone change the audio settings such as the bass level. You cannot change the wake-up word and it is bound to a phone. If I stop at a gas station for a snack and my phone and my wife and children stay in the car, they will lose the music they are listening to.
These are not major problems, but I would have loved to see Amazon work harder to make Alexa the way it is in my living room. Still, it's hard to imagine how Amazon could have kept it all The digital assistant works without Wi-Fi or built-in speakers.
A little something new?
The Echo Auto may lack some minor features, but cars differ from homes, and their users' needs are different. The more important question is whether the Echo Auto brings anything New to the table – or to the dashboard? Unfortunately not really. A step-by-step guide, controlling the audio settings or even reading incoming text messages could have made the Echo Auto something very special and offered convincing, vehicle-specific functions. But none of them are included.
The biggest selling point for the Echo Auto seems to be that it can hear your voice over street noise. And on the whole, with its eight built-in microphones, it can. About the typical noise in a car – window down, music up, children screaming – the Echo Auto hears well and responds appropriately. However, once you start stress testing the device, things get a little hairier. I race down a highway with a top-down convertible and the assistant Really struggled to hear me. Passengers too, of course, but it is worth mentioning that the car there does not exceed expectations.
And maybe that's the primary problem with the car. Despite the opportunities to break new ground, so that Alexa feels really special and indispensable in the car, the co-pilot from Amazon always seems to be just To meet Expectations. It is a little disappointing that the company that exploded the home automation room with its smart speaker is making such an ambitious attempt to break into the automotive space.