Amazon Echo Auto review: Mostly pointless, at least for now

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Features will surely come in time, but right now this is a tough sell even at the extreme discount.

Nearly a year has passed since Amazon first announced it was going to put a cute little box in your car so you could access Alexa when you drive. It’s been a long year for the Echo Auto, which had over a million pre-orders almost overnight for a $50 accessory which has been shipping in a bizarre invite-only fashion since that announcement. Amazon only seems to be making these available to those who are deep in the Alexa ecosystem, and as of a couple of months ago also making it so you could purchase one at half its ini price.

With a year of development, only half of which included time for third-party developers to take advantage of the Alexa Skills for Automotive guide as a helpful assist, the Echo Auto is aiming to be your go-to voice assistant while you drive. But in order to do that, Alexa is really going to need to start playing nice with the other things in my car. And that doesn’t seem to be happening.

Alexamobile

Amazon Echo Auto

$25 at Amazon (with invite)








Alexa is not ready for the car.

With no active navigation, limited music options, and very few car-friendly skills onboard, it’s hard to recommend the Echo Auto. Which is a shame, because the hardware absolutely demolishes anything any phone will every be capable of when it comes to voice dictation or keyword triggering in a car.

The Good

  • Stunningly good microphones
  • Small enough to tuck away
  • Bluetooth and 3.5mm stereo connectivity
  • Dead simple set up

The Bad

  • No active navigation
  • No cooperation with other apps on my phone
  • Mostly limited to Amazon-only services
  • Multi-user support is lacking
  • Included Vent Clip sucks

Amazon Echo Auto What I like

Like everything with the Echo branding on it, the first thing I noticed are the microphones. Eight holes grace the top of this little accessory, split evenly across the cute little face on the top of a piece of plastic not much bigger than a pack of gum. And in keeping with the Echo look and feel, it couldn’t be simpler to set up. You give it power, open up the Alexa app on your phone, and once the two see each other the rest of the set up begins. Because every car and car stereo is a little different, there’s actually a lot of difficulty here in making sure this system works for everyone, but Amazon gets closer than any company I’ve seen. If your car doesn’t have Bluetooth there’s a 3.5mm cable for the Auxiliary input. If you do have Bluetooth, everything goes straight through your phone.

I will probably stop being impressed by how good Amazon’s microphone arrays are at some point, but clearly today is not that day.

This is where the microphones are particularly interesting. If you have Bluetooth, the Echo Auto is now connected to your stereo through your phone, which means there’s a Bluetooth connection from the Echo to the phone and then passing that connection from the phone to the stereo speakers. This, naturally, introduces latency. And since every car stereo Bluetooth connection is a little different there’s a way to manually adjust the latency between Alexa hearing you and responding.

In any other situation you’d want there to be as little latency here as possible, but when it takes 500ms for the Alexa wake up sound to reach your speakers that latency can be a good thing. You say "Alexa" and it doesn’t feel like there’s a lag between it hearing you and performing an action, because that latency was actually at the beginning of the interaction and you didn’t really notice it because you were busy speaking. And yes, as you can see in the photo, there’s a familiar blue light to let you know Alexa is listening.

The Echo Auto microphone array doesn’t need to be configured like other Echo microphones, because even in big cars you’re never more than a few feet from the stereo. So instead of being tuned to hear you from a distance, these microphones are listening for you through other sounds. With the windows down, or in a car with a particularly loud engine, and of course with the volume up nice and high, Echo Auto heard my voice without my needing to shout. I will probably stop being impressed by how good Amazon’s microphone arrays are at some point, but clearly today is not that day.

Because of the size and shape of the Echo Auto, you really can put it anywhere. My order came with a vent clip for easy access, but it can be placed anywhere. And with the two buttons on top to either kill the microphones or manually summon Alexa, there’s a clear benefit to having it somewhere within arms reach. Though if you’re like me and don’t need to see the Alexa confirmation light to know it’s listening, you could probably get away with storing this thing out of eyesight and still have it be perfectly usable.

Amazon Echo Auto What I don’t like

Taking an Amazon Echo from your house and setting it up in your car with your phone as a data connection for that Echo is a pretty silly idea. That Echo isn’t made for the car, and the features which make it useful and enjoyable in the living room aren’t going to be all that helpful when you’re driving. Even if you are 100% in the Amazon ecosystem, and you use Alexa as your grocery and to-do lists, there are lots of things you do in a car that need car-specific features.

Unfortunately, the Echo Auto has very few of these features, and from a software perspective is just an Echo from your house moved into your car. Which sucks.

If you get in the car and say "Alexa, navigate me to work" knowing full well you have provided the Alexa app with your work address, your Echo Auto will do nothing. It has no turn-by turn navigation: it won’t open Google Maps to share that information, so it tells you no and moves on with its day. If you ask for a traffic report, however, the Echo Auto is all too eager to help you with that. And if you ask for the nearest gas station, Alexa will tell you about the ones which are nearby based on the GPS from your phone. Which is almost useful. Almost.

Amazon has grown accustomed to building something and having developers heap support onto it because so many people use Alexa.

Want to listen to some music? You get Amazon by default, but there’s also support for Sirius, Spotify or Apple Music. But in none of these things do you get access to the full app, only the Alexa-friendly commands. You can ask to play your Discover Weekly, for example, but the full list of commands is limited. And even then, the app on your phone isn’t actually doing the heavy lifting here even though your phone data is being used.

It’s Spotify as presented by Alexa; your phone display is doing nothing in this process. And if I wanted to listen to podcasts or audiobooks from apps on my phone, I needed to reach down and grab my phone. Even if I was playing audio from those sources already, I can’t get the Echo Auto to pause those other apps, even though pause and play are the two things literally every Bluetooth accessory ever can manage with little effort.

As easy as all of this is to set up, it all goes away as soon as I’m not in the car. I share my car with my partner, which means if he wants to use Alexa he needs to have the app and the set up installed on his phone. Which isn’t a big deal, but if we’re both in the car the Echo Auto has no idea what to do and just defaults to the last phone connected. Between not being able to use it at all and then not being able to use it automatically even when he was in the car because my phone had been connected and we use different apps for things, the overall experience was not at all smooth.

Finally, the vent clip. I’m not a huge fan of these things to begin with, but the one Amazon is offering for its Echo Auto made it two days in the warm Maryland summer weather because the glue holding the cable organizer melted and became unusable. Even though my vent style was on the supported list, the connection to my vent was awkward at best and tended to wobble a lot. This is not something I would use on purpose, and I hope Amazon comes up with some alternative mounts.

Amazon Echo Auto Should you buy it?

Right now? No. In fact, hell no. Amazon has been working on this for a year now, and it is nowhere near ready for mass consumption. I may be asking too much here, but if this thing is going to use my phone for data, I want it to have more access to the things I regularly use on my phone. It’s not unreasonable to want access to my maps system on my phone, and have Alexa be even kind of aware this needed to be supported in order to work in most cars. This is supposed to be an inexpensive alternative to Android Auto and CarPlay, but it’s barely an alternative to the $7 Bluetooth dongle I use in my minivan.

2
out of 5






All of that said, there’s so much potential here. The microphones on this thing are incredible, and Amazon clearly has the right things in place for easy setup. But the deeper integration with my life has to be what happens next. Amazon has grown accustomed to building something and having developers heap support onto it because so many people use Alexa. The car is a different ecosystem, and Alexa needs to adapt to survive here. Until that happens, this is not something I want in my car.

Alexamobile

Amazon Echo Auto

$25 at Amazon (with invite)

Alexa is not ready for the car.

With no active navigation, limited music options, and very few car-friendly skills onboard, it’s hard to recommend the Echo Auto. Which is a shame, because the hardware absolutely demolishes anything any phone will every be capable of when it comes to voice dictation or keyword triggering in a car.

via Android Central – Android Forums, News, Reviews, Help and Android Wallpapers

August 28, 2019 at 08:03AM