Amazon has a variety of digital assistants with Alexa built in. In addition to the popular Echo, Echo Dot or Echo Show, the brand also sells another model. I’m talking about the Echo Auto – it’s meant to be used on road trips.
The product has not officially arrived in Brazil, but it can be found on the market or imported. But it’s worth? What is it like to use ‘Alexa’ in the car?
I’ve made several trips with this gadget in the last few weeks, and I’m going to tell you my experience here so you can decide if it’s worth buying the device before Amazon brings optimizations to our country.
Design and Construction
The Echo Auto has a minimalist look that fits in the palm of your hand. It has a flat design reminiscent of a small wallet, with two physical buttons at the top – to activate the Assistant or prevent it from hearing you – and no less than eight microphones for audio capture.
At the bottom, the gadget includes four small rubber feet, perfect for attaching it to flat surfaces.
In addition, the “holes” with magnets allow you to attach it to the car’s magnetic mount. The kit also includes an accessory that can be connected to the air conditioning outlet. This works well and the device is securely attached to the vehicle, even on rough roads.
On the left is a simple audio output, but don’t expect too much. The sound is extremely low and is only used to help with initial pairing. On the right are the connectors for the micro USB cable and the auxiliary cable with the 3.5mm plug.
Like other devices in the Echo lineup, the Auto has an LED light – it’s on the front, and when in use it indicates when Alexa is listening for a command or the microphone is blocked.
In general, the look is very interesting and helps to make the device discreet on the dashboard of a car.
The Echo Auto acts as an intermediary between Alexa and mobile devices. In this way, the device will not work without a constant connection to the smartphone. In addition to the two, the device has built-in speakers.
In addition to the Wi-Fi connection, the device also offers a micro-USB cable connector – which must be connected to the car socket – and an auxiliary cable with a 3.5 mm plug to allow connection to an audio system. Bluetooth technology is not available.
To put it simply, the Echo Auto connects to the phone via Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, which in turn should connect to the car radio via Bluetooth. If the last process is not feasible, you can connect the P2 cable from the gadget to the car stereo.
As for the initial pairing, I had a lot of difficulty every time I needed to connect an accessory. That’s because I need to connect my phone to my home Wi-Fi network to establish a connection between the two devices.
This is especially annoying as the network signal cannot reach the garage. So I had to start the connection at home, then take the device to the car and complete the bluetooth connection with the radio.
The Echo Auto even offers a way to pair without relying on a physical connection. But here, I was not able to carry out this process at all. And there were few attempts.
Finally, after pairing, I noticed another problem — even more annoying. The device constantly loses connection with the cell phone after it is disconnected from the power. The Echo Auto was removed from the list of paired devices in the Alexa app, and the entire pairing process had to be repeated.
This happened to me four or five times. With this, the user is forced to always leave the accessory connected to the car’s power, since it does not have an internal battery that allows its use for a few hours without being plugged in. And even keeping the device connected to the car, it still lost the connection eventually.
It is important to note that the cell phone used in the pairing needs to have a constant connection to the internet, as the actions performed by Alexa will start from it.
Configuration and Performance
As mentioned earlier, the Echo Auto offers no less than 8 microphones for audio capture. In theory, this would allow Alexa to hear the user in traffic, with a lot of noise from the car or surroundings.
In practice, however, this is not what I realize. In some cases, screeching in traffic or over more complex roads such as cobblestones is almost necessary.
Another thing I’ve noticed – but I’m not sure if this is an isolated fact or an incidental issue – is that the Echo Auto has a bit of trouble hearing female voices.
At the same time, she could hear the same tone better than my girlfriend in the car next to me.
Regardless, it still needs to be spoken out loud to be heard. I’m well on the way, but a device with 8 microphones and intended for use in the car should have a better audio capture system so that the driver hardly needs to yell in the car.
Another disadvantage is that it does not fully support Portuguese as it is an import-only device. Therefore, some commands may not be understood by the device when configured in our language.
I emphasize that the Echo Auto even accepts a configuration in Portuguese, but the Alexa app itself has made it clear that this is not a suitable language to use and may have flaws.
Integrate with mobile apps
Another downside is that Echo Auto cannot fulfill commands to play music through Spotify. It understood the request, started searching, but returned an error message. I can only use the service if I manually open the app on my phone.
With Amazon Music better integrated into Echo line devices, you can use voice commands to search for tracks, artists or albums as usual.
In addition to music requests with commands, transit routes are also available. With this, users can open Google Maps or Waze without touching the screen – just unlock it.
This works fine, but with one small caveat. Even if you save the address in the Alexa app and try to search for the configured name (like “Casa do Bruno” or simply “Bruno”), the device will barely recognize it.
So it returns an error message and asks you to enter the address you want to go to or at least your neighbor’s name.
Other than that, the integration is very good. When asked to get directions to an address or drive a car, the navigation app set in the settings will run on the screen and start the route. In that sense, I have nothing to complain about the gadget.
smart home controls
Like any other Alexa-enabled device, the Echo Auto can also be used as a hub to control smart home products like light bulbs or appliances.
In that sense, the accessory works in the same way as the Echo Dot, both in theory and in practice. This is useful if you’re in traffic and you forget to turn on the lights and don’t want to go back or stop to turn on an app that controls the lights.
In my case, controlling some Positivo smart lights worked fine, except for connecting to an IR-controlled smart TV.
The Echo Auto has a small audio output, located on the left side of the device. However, it is very low and this recommendation is for initial pairing only.
After that, there are two ways to hear Alexa better: The first is to connect an already-paired phone to the car’s Bluetooth audio system, or use the Echo’s aux cable for the car stereo.
The Echo Auto doesn’t have a direct competitor device to compete with. However, Google and Apple’s Android Auto or Car Play services, respectively, can serve as alternatives for those who don’t want to buy the gadget.
These platforms are capable of connecting the phone to the car’s multimedia center, allowing it to perform various functions, such as accessing maps or making phone calls.
More problems, less benefits
The Echo Auto has a great suggestion for anyone who wants to use Alexa outside the home. It lets you control smart home items or get directions using just voice commands in the car.
However, the implementation leaves much to be desired. The system is not well optimized for our language as it is not yet officially sold in Brazil, and we still have some shortcomings.
The fact that it doesn’t have a built-in battery, however small, and its reliance on a constant power connection to the car – otherwise you run the risk of re-pairing it every time you use it – is its heel of Achilles.
Not to mention that initial pairing is always tricky and requires connecting to your home Wi-Fi. Useless as it is a device used in a car.
The mic is also not as good as its eight pickups promise. In traffic, it is still necessary to speak loudly – or almost shout – to be understood. Between us, it’s not great.
As a positive point, I will just highlight the ease of finding public transport routes and the integration with Waze or Google Maps. So anyone who doesn’t care about the flaws listed and wants a simple device to take advantage of these features – as well as controlling smart home items – will be able to enjoy Alexa Cars.
For those who want to import, it costs US$ 19.85 in the US (about R$ 110 direct). Here, resellers who brought products from abroad cost between 200 reais and 300 reais.