By John R. Delaney Review Source
Design and Features
The Echo Auto is a small black rectangular box that measures 3.3 by 1.9 by 0.5 inches (HWD) and weighs 1.6 ounces. It has an Action button, a Mute button, and eight microphone holes on top; a micro USB port and a 3.5mm auxiliary port on one end; and a light strip on the front that glows blue when you ask Alexa a question and alternates between dark and light blue when responding. The eight-microphone array helps the Echo Auto hear what you're saying over the sound of your car's engine and other background noise. The bottom surface of the device has a square indent for attaching it to the included magnetic air vent mount. Also included are a 3.5mm audio cable, a 12-volt car adapter, a micro USB cable, and a quick start guide.
The Echo Auto is powered by a Mediatek MT7697 processor and has a Bluetooth radio for connecting to your car's audio system and to your phone and the mobile Alexa app. The device itself doesn't contain any cellular circuitry; instead it taps into your phone's data plan to access the Amazon cloud servers. This won't be an issue for users that have an unlimited mobile data plan, but if you have a fixed plan you'll want to keep an eye on your data usage. You can connect the Echo Auto directly to your car's USB port or use the 12-volt adapter. If your car's audio system doesn't support Bluetooth, use the 3.5mm audio cable.
The Echo Auto is strictly an Alexa device that offers all of the same functionality as Echo speakers. You can ask Alexa to stream tunes using Spotify, Panadora, Apple Music, and of course Amazon Music, listen to audiobooks on Audible, and play games, all through your car's audio system. You can also ask for the latest news, weather, and sports scores, place calls from your phone's contact list, Drop In on other Echo devices, and control smart home products that are linked to your homebound Echo device.
What the Echo Auto doesn't do is offer native driving directions. Granted, you can ask Alexa things like where the closest gas station is, and she'll respond with several choices, but in order to get turn-by-turn driving directions, you'll have to open a mapping app on your phone, and press Go. At that point the app takes over and gives the directions. If you have an iPhone, it's actually easier to just ask Siri and get the same results without ever having to touch (or look at) the screen. On the plus side, the Echo Auto integrates with popular mobile mapping apps including Apple Maps, Google Maps, and Waze.
The Echo Auto uses the same Alexa mobile app as other Echo products. There aren't a lot of settings for the device, but to access them, tap the Devices button at the bottom of the Home screen, then tap the Echo and Alexa tab to display a list of all of your installed devices. The Echo Auto can be found in the Accessories section. Here you can do things like adjust LED brightness, run a sound test, troubleshoot audio issues, see which phone the device is connected to, and see how the device is connected to the car (Bluetooth, cable).
Installation and Performance
Installing the Echo auto is a cinch. Once I connected it to my car's USB port, I heard a chime and Alexa told me to go to my Alexa app (when it is safe to do so) to add a new device. I opened the app, tapped Add Device, selected Amazon Echo, then selected the Echo Auto from the list. I followed the on-screen instructions to attach the device to the air vent then tapped Continue. I gave the device permission to access my phone's microphone and location, turned on Bluetooth, and tapped Continue. I waited several seconds for the Echo Auto to appear in the Accessory list, played a quick audio test clip, and the installation was complete.
It should be noted that the air vent mount doesn't work on all types on vents. For example, my Ford F-150 uses circular vents with two baffles, and the instructions state that these (and a few other) types of vents are a no-go. I was unable to use the air vent mount in my truck, but it fit nicely into a slot designed to hold things like phones and wallets. However, when I installed the vent mount in my wife's Honda CRV, it became dislodged and ended up on the floor whenever I rolled over a speed bump or a pothole.
The Echo Auto worked as advertised in testing, most of the time. It had no trouble understanding my news, weather, and football scores requests, but every now and then I would ask Alexa to do something and she would respond with a message saying that the device had lost its connection to the mobile app. It didn't happen often, but it was annoying nonetheless.
The device did a fine job of locating gas stations and restaurants while driving around, but having to pull over to tap a notification to get driving directions is a bit inconvenient. It worked well when controlling smart home devices from the car; I was able to turn Philips Hue lights on and off, change the temperature setting on a Honeywell T9 thermostat, and turn on the fan and light on a Big Ass Fan Haiku I Series fan.
The Amazon Echo Auto makes it easy to bring Alexa and all of her skills with you when you hit the road. Just plug it in to your 12-volt power jack or USB port, pair it with the mobile app on your phone, and use it just as you'd use your Echo speaker at home to play music, get the latest weather and news, check your calendar, or Drop In on another Echo. You can even use it to control smart devices in your home while you're out on the road. Although the Echo Auto occasionally dropped its connection to my phone in testing and lacks a hands-free navigation solution, it still provides a relatively affordable way to smarten up your car.