I recently received an email from my auto insurance company offering to provide me with a free Amazon Echo Auto for my car. I decided to take advantage of the offer.
In the box was the Echo Auto, an air vent mount, an auxiliary cable (to plug directly into the car), a micro-USB to USB-A cable (as power cord), and an in-car power adapter that plugs into the car’s 12-volt outlet (formerly known as the cigarette-lighter outlet).
Initially, after reviewing the connection instructions, I decided to first try and see if it would work just with my cell phone, since it requires that I have a cell phone with a data plan in order to work in the car.
Like any other Amazon device, I first needed to power it up and install it with the Alexa app. I did that at home, using my phone’s Bluetooth connection to communicate with the Echo Auto. I then proceeded to talk to it just like any other device and it worked using my phone’s speaker. It occurred to me that it probably would have been much easier, from a user perspective, if somehow Amazon could add to the Alexa app the ability to use Alexa on my cell phone, rather than having to buy another device.
Eventually, I got around to setting this up in my car. An audiophile friend of mine joined me.
The first thing that we both found annoying was the air vent mount, which is required in order to hold the Echo Auto. It blocks up most of the vent.
The Echo Auto needs to be able to connect to your cell phone via Bluetooth, and your car needs to have Bluetooth connectivity. My car has both a USB power outlet and also an audio input, so I was able to directly connect the Amazon Echo Auto to both, skipping one Bluetooth connection option. This left the car’s 12-volt outlet free for other devices I may wish to plug in. This also meant I had two (2) cables hanging from the device that was mounted on and blocking my vent. Not a pretty site.
In order to actually use the device in the car, my cell phone had to be on and Bluetooth needed to be enabled. I also needed to select the Bluetooth source on the car’s console. I spoke to Alexa. We (my friend and I) immediately noticed how low the volume was. We quickly discovered that the Echo Auto maxes out at level 6 (on a scale of 1 to 10) and will not get any louder. This required turning up the volume on the car audio. That is a serious safety problem, because if I (or someone) switch the audio source (say, to radio or SiriusXM), those sources will be at very high volumes and scare the driver and potentially cause an accident.
As I mentioned, it requires that you have a cell phone and a data plan in order to work. I was not impressed. Perhaps it is intended for listening to Amazon music, but if you can listen to it on your cell phone and your car has Bluetooth, you can accomplish this with your cell phone. Otherwise, you can ask your cell phone anything with your voice and get the information you need either from the phone’s speaker or, if you wish, by connecting to the Bluetooth audio in your car to hear the answers or the music or whatever from your car’s speakers.
Although it is shaped differently, it appears to essentially be an Amazon Echo Input (reviewed in The Kuper Report (https://www.thekuperreport.com/2020/01/review-amazon-echo-auto.html) back in August 2019) modified to work with a cell phone. This got my (and my friend’s) curiosity peaked. So after packing the Echo Auto back up (I saw no need to have it in my car), we went back to my home and decided to do one more experiment.
I previously connected an Echo Input to my stereo. We were curious if we could simply replace it with the Echo Auto and get the same results. I needed a USB power connector to plug it into an electric outlet, since the Echo Auto only came with a power connector for the car. I have several, so that was not a problem. I connected the Echo Auto to the stereo and proceeded to ask it questions and to play music. It worked just like the Echo Input, but with one glaring exception: It still would not get louder than volume level 6, and so I had to crank up the volume of the stereo to hear it. This, of course, meant that if I did not first lower the volume before switching to a different input on the stereo, it would be way too loud.
In the end, I cannot recommend this product. I have no idea why it was created. The Amazon Echo Auto seems to be a solution in search of a problem.
In the event you missed previous articles about Google and Amazon devices, you can find them here:
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Richard L. Kuper
The Kuper Report