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echo Auto Review – take a ride with Amazon’s Alexa

Our Amazon echo auto review shows how Alexa has stepped out of the home and into your car. But does it work? And what do you need to know before you buy it?

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If we only said one thing about it, it would be this…

If you are an Alexa user with an older car, why not? For $25 $49.99 you can have all the benefits of Alexa in your car.

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Amazon Alexa auto…for your car?

So simple and yet so brilliant. There are literally hundreds of thousands of cars who may have a 3.5mm jack, or might even have old Bluetooth built-in (not with an external Bluetooth dongle added by you later) but that’s where the fun stops.

A lot of people with modern cars and great Bluetooth integration (but possibly no Carplay, Alexa or Android Auto) are struggling a bit with the need for the echo auto.

The real people who will benefit from the Amazon echo auto are people with older cars.

Already you’re saying, ‘Yeah, but there are loads of ways to add Bluetooth and music to an old car’, and you’d be right – but, not all of these solutions give you such an extensive range of opportunities like the echo auto does. It may not do a lot more, but what having Alexa in the unit brings is significant.

The interesting thing about the echo auto is that it is clear Amazon have had to consider, and build in, a lot of allowances around car safety. Alexa will say quite often, ‘when it is safe to do so’ and they have built-in a feature like other apps have where you have to tap ‘I am a passenger’ if the car is moving as Amazon don’t want you playing with your phone while driving.

This is a good thing. The last thing we need is more people driving distracted. It kills people, so don’t do it.

Tech Specs
Alexa is not small, but really not big either. Fits in a cup holder effortlessly.

These are the unboxing images and some up-close pictures. The look a little dusty but that must be my sweater fluff. More in the car below.

echo auto unboxing Video

Our unboxing video shows you have simple this device is, how small it is and therefore how easy it is to get installed. Full echo auto review video to follow.

Alexa echo auto tech specs

Features
Weight1.6oz or 45 grams. Which is about the weight of a golf ball, or the same weight as 2 x AA batteries.
ProcessorMediatek MT7697, Intel Dual DSP with Inference Engine
Size3.3” x 1.9” x 0.5” or 85 mm x 47 mm x 13.28 mm for those metrically minded. This is about 2/3 the size of an iPhone 5. Quite small and fits on the supplied holder on your air vents nicely.
AudioEight microphone array. Supports auxiliary audio output.
BluetoothHFP Support for phone calls. A2DP for audio streaming. AVRCP for voice control. See more on Bluetooth further down the post, you can’t miss it.
OS Phone SupportAndroid 6.0 / iOS 12 or greater
Warranty1 year limited warranty

echo Auto Set Up

For the first hour of setting up echo auto and connecting it to my phone and car was a nightmare. I think I messed up and early trick in the set up so I reset and redid it a few times before it really worked. Interestingly I think it was my phone being difficult, not the echo auto but who knows. I really thought I was heading for a 2 star review.

After that first hiccup, it’s been solid and effortless. Absolutely turn-key. (Get it? Turn key….boom boom).

What do I need in my car to make the echo auto work?

You need 2 of these 3 things.

1: A cigarette lighter / 12v car power slot to power the echo auto

AND

2: A 3.5mm jack plug socket (AUX input) to plug the unit into your car stereo/speakers unit.

OR

3: A Bluetooth connection available in the car. More on this below but a Bluetooth car adaptor is the perfect companion.

If you don’t have a 3.5 mm jack plug or some version of Bluetooth…your a little stuffed I’m afraid. Better get a Boom instead and jam it in the dashboard.

You might also want to check the list at the bottom of the post for cars and phones that are not compatible.

Will I need my phone for the echo auto to work?

Yes, you will need to have the Alexa app on your mobile phone as this is what the echo auto uses for data connectivity and it’s ‘smarts’.

If you are connecting to your car Bluetooth and not using the Aux input, you will also use your phone to connect to your car Bluetooth, and not Alexa auto itself. I repeat, your phone connects to your car via Bluetooth, not Alexa.

Communication diagram of echo auto connecting to phone and then phone connecting to a car
Bluetooth connectivity and communication diagram for the echo auto. If you’re using AUX Cable then it’s different.

This will use your data plan and require the app to be active.

For those of you saying, but if I need my phone then what’s the point? You’re not picking up what I’m putting down here.

What’s the point of the Alexa auto if I already have my phone in the car and it works just fine?

Good question, you might think your Android or iPhone is fine as your Car assistant. So, here are my thoughts and feelings on that question.

1: Mobile phones, specifically iPhones have pretty average far-field microphones. Saying ‘Hey Siri’ in my car, with my phone mounted directly in front of me, wakes Siri up to actually listen to me but it’s sometimes hit and miss. The echo auto has 8 far-field microphones on it so it’s waaaaay better at picking up voice commands.

2: My car is older. It’s a 10-year-old BMW which I love more than my third Latte at 11 am but it’s old and not so smart. It has HFP Bluetooth and I have a third party Bluetooth audio and microphone set up working in it quite well but it’s not a pleasant experience trying to use Siri or Hey, Google from it, and it messes with my in-car phone calls vs listening to podcasts and music.

3: My iPhone isn’t smart enough to connect to all my home devices. I have Google Home, Amazon Alexa and Apple Homekit all connected but Apple Home isn’t integrated with enough devices for me to want to use it. This way I can control my smart home from anywhere. That includes setting the alarm if I need to, controlling heaters, garage door, lights, switches etc.

4: Having just a phone doesn’t let you play music through the car and use a smart assistant through the phone. Phones have to be all-in on one of these. Either the phone is connected to the car stereo/speakers or it isn’t. You can’t talk and listen to Siri through your phone but have music streaming from your phone through the car stereo speakers.

This way you have your smart assistant and music playing and utilising the car stereo.

5: Phones don’t have Alexa built-in natively – as in you can’t just say ‘Alexa, blah blah blah’. You can do it with Google Assistant and Apple Siri but not Alexa.

6:  Just to drive the point home (get the pun?), not all older cars have what they need to connect without being plugged into the audio system of the car.

But it’s bigger than I’d like…and a little ugly?

Don’t care. It’s a $25 unit that makes your car smarter. Compare it to come of the units below and it starts to look like real value.

And personally, I think it looks great!

Don’t things like this exist already?

Yes, they do in many forms. There are some that even have Alexa built-in already,  these include:

Some similar best selling units include the following, except they are not very smart. They have Bluetooth and aux but not smart assistant, which is the point here:

…and while we are here, there are some people who use a normal echo dot in their cars – it uses a USB charger and a 3.5mm jack connector so…why not?

Anyway – read on as there is a great combo with these.

But as I say, these non-Alexa Bluetooth devices are dumb if you can’t get google assistant, Siri or Alexa working well from your phone. Which I have not managed yet so this is great.

In conclusion for this section, perhaps you don’t see the point of echo auto because your car has newer Bluetooth which connects into the system so your phone can listen through the car microphones (or phone mic), stream music through the car stereo directly and generally connect and be awesome without the need for a third-party device? No judgement, just merely pointing out that might mean you don’t need echo auto unless you don’t have Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.

Can I use a third-party Bluetooth adaptor AND Alexa together?

Yes! This is how I use it currently in my car. I have a Bluetooth adaptor connected to my 3.5mm aux input. So:

  1. Alexa connects to my phone
  2. My phone connects to my car via the Bluetooth adaptor
  3. It works amazingly well!

There is no lag or any delays with this setup. In fact, less than I had with the phone to the Bluetooth only. These are some of the reasons I decided to do an echo auto review. I’m quite a fan.

I get in the car and turn it on. Alexa turns on and connects to my iPhone. My Bluetooth adaptor turns on and my Phone then connects to that. Within 10 seconds of turning on the car, I am set to go.

If you have an older car with a 12v and 2.5mm audio plug you can use something like this unit, which is the one I used first. Kinivo BTC450 Bluetooth Car Kit

or

You can get a specific Bluetooth care kit unit for older BMW and Mini, like the e90 model, which is designed for the armrest set up and patches into your iDrive computer screen. This is the Bovee Bluetooth Car Kit WMA3000B.

Why on earth do I need Amazon Alexa in my car? What would it do for me?

Here are some examples which in my humble opinion provide plenty of reasons…

Alexa, how is my commute this morning

Alexa, open my garage door (or close my garage door) as I arrive or leave home via my Tailwind Smart Garage Door (and any smart garage door you might have).

Alexa, turn on the lounge heater (via my Abode Security System and Aetoec Smart Switch 6)

Alexa, reminder me to put the bins out tonight at 8 pm

Alexa, call Dad

Alexa, what movies are playing near me

Alexa, what is the weather forecast this weekend?

Alexa, play my audiobook

Alexa, play my favourite podcast

Alexa, play Mumford and Sons playlist.

I know…I’m being a little obvious here but the point is, when you are sitting in your car in traffic or driving somewhere it’s the perfect time to use Alexa.

Some of them are extra smart, like opening my garage door, and some not so smart like playing a playlist in the car.

NB: You don’t need an abode security system as your hub for the smart bits. You could have any smart home automation system that also works with Alexa.

Is it slow to startup?

No. Something that has really impressed me with is how fast the Amazon engineers have managed to get Alexa to power up. Within seconds she is booted up and ready to listen. There is a small audio ‘ding’ which confirms Alexa is powered up.

The default vocal accent of Alexa isn’t my favourite so I’ll look at how to change that next.

How good is echo auto at listening?

Really good. Admittedly I have a fairly quiet car but the 8 microphones are awesome. I’ve opened the window a bit and still, she manages it. I’ve had chatty kids in the backseat and she gets me.

What are some of the best things about have Amazon Alexa in the car?

She is way more useful than I expected. Yes, she can do everything with my smart home hub but there are little things I didn’t expect to work so well.

1: Navigation works great – she looks up the address, sends it to my phone and I click the notification to open the Apple apps map and off I go. See more on maps next.

2: TuneIn radio opens up unending radio station opportunities. My FM stereo tuner has become unnecessary for me. I now have access to radio stations all over the world.

3: Music quality it better streamed from Spotify and TuneIn radio compared with listening to normal FM radio in the car.

4: Messaging works better. Saying ‘Alexa, message XXXXXX and say I’m on my way home’ or a fun thing is announcements. ‘Alexa, announce I’m on my way home’ – this then passes that on to all my Alexa units at home – might be weird for some people but not at our house’.

5: It impresses people. Driving my father home from the airport this weekend we were discussing the weather. I casually asked Alexa for the weather, which she provided, and this was an impressive touch to the commute. It’s the little things sometimes.

6: I don’t do much with the car buttons anymore. I get in, turn on the engine and from then on I have nothing I need to control manually except diving the car itself of course.

Here is what I can now do hands-free with Alexa in the car:

  1. Control the volume of the music – ‘Alexa, turn the music up, down’.
  2. Choose what music to listen to – FM, Spotify – what tracks to play etc
  3. Get directions
  4. Message people (she listens better than Siri does)

Will echo auto work with maps? Like, google maps?

Yes! echo auto can work with google maps, waze and apple maps so if you’re thinking, like I did, ‘Can I ask Alexa echo auto to open my maps and get directions…and it will open my favourite map app and get me there’, will it? The answer is YES….in capital letters. Boom.

You can indeed start directions using Alexa echo in the car.

This IMO is also one of those key things to make it really worth using in the car. I don’t want to have to play with my phone if I have echo auto-installed.

But, with maps there are limitations

If you own an android you are able to select your default maps application, whether it be Waze or Google for example. With an iPhone, it defaults to Apple Maps.

This is how it works:

  • Alexa, get directions to Hot Dim Sum restaurant.
  • Alexa looks up directions and says something like this (can’t remember exactly) “Sure, just tap the notification on your phone when it is safe to do so.”

What kind of Bluetooth do you need to make the Alexa echo auto work without connecting via a jack plug?

A lot of older cars (~10 years) have HFP Bluetooth (or OPP / PBAP) which means you can make and manage calls from the car but you can’t stream music or control music from the stereo or steering wheel controls.

If you have a newer car then you will most likely have A2DP and AVRDP which gives you full control.

For clarification – here are the Bluetooth protocols in more detail:

Named Bluetooth Abbreviation What it does
Advanced Audio Distribution Protocol A2DP Capable of streaming Audio
Audio/Video Remote Control Protocol AVRCP Allows you to control music playback directly from the stereo (or steering wheel if you have controls)
Hands-free Profile HFP Hands-free calling through the stereo but not much more. Mute, call, end call.
Object Push Profile OPP Allows you to upload your contact info to the stereo. Always a laugh in rental cars after people have uploaded these address lists. 🙂
Phone Book Access Profile PBAP You can access your contact list from the stereo but not stored.

The echo auto, as mentioned earlier, includes HFP Support for phone calls, A2DP for audio streaming and AVRCP for voice control. This is via the connection to your phone though, and not the car. It connects to Android phones via Serial Port Profile and to iPhone via iPod Accessory Protocol.

This means, assuming you have a newer phone, that the echo auto can connect to your phone with all the protocols it needs. It can handle calls, stream music and manage voice commands. If your car Bluetooth is only HFP (like mine) you might be better off connecting to an AUX input on the car to make the car connection flawless and increase response speeds dramatically.

My point with all this Bluetooth talk is that the echo still brings intelligence to older cars still using HFP Bluetooth protocol via your Phone, although a cable connection is faster.

Bottom line: You can now talk to your car, listen to music and give commands to Alexa.

If you have no compatible Bluetooth you will still be able to use the 3.5mm plug to connect straight in.

To be extra clear – you don’t connect the echo auto to your car Bluetooth – you connect your phone to your car Bluetooth (if you don’t connect the 3.5mm aux cable instead) and the echo connects to your phone. BUT, as I mentioned earlier, I use a Bluetooth adaptor for my phone which is connected to my 3.5mm aux-in and this allows me to stream music, handle voice controls. I just need to try calls.

If you have a car with HFP Bluetooth then you might, like me, have issues with the delay of the phone connecting and passing audio to the car stereo. I’ll cover more of that in the demo video.

Where do you mount or place the echo auto in the car?

A few options here, and it really depends on your car.

1: The auto ships with a vent mount bracket which creates a small table for your auto to sit on nicely. This might be your prefered option. Personally I am reluctant to use vent mounts as I’ve seen too many vents get broken.

2: If your car has a decent sized, relatively flat dashboard you could put it directly on the dashboard. You could also secure it better with one of those non-slip dashboard mats.

If you have a shelf in the car, as my 335i has, or any old BMW with an iDrive in the dashboard, you could rest it there too. This is where I rest mine. I have the cable plugged into the small section behind the gear stick. My Bluetooth adaptor is in my armrest which is where my 3.5 aux is also. I think my wife’s Honda CRV is the same (aux and 12v in armrest) so I’ll do the same with her car too.

I tried the vent mount but the angle was weird and it restricted how the vent angle slider thing could control the direction of air. So, I have it just sitting in the iDrive shelf for now. It’s not secured but it’s actually perfect and the audio probably bounces into that slot quite well I expect.

3: I last resort as you’ll have cables sticking out and looking a bit silly, is a cup holder, ideally an open type cup holder. The echo auto will set nicely inside it and with 8 microphones you’ve still got a chance of being heard.

Here are some photos of the echo auto in my car.

Will the echo auto listen to all my car conversations?

The car is the ultimate privacy cabin, isn’t it? The place you can sing like a pop star, curse out your workmates and complain about what your family did on the weekend. If you’re worried about echo listening to you then don’t.

echo auto will listen for its wake work, just like it does at home. But like your home Alexa echo or echo plus, the echo auto has a mute option. Like its home counterparts, the LED light strip on the echo will change to red which means the microphones have been disabled.

echo auto Compatibility

If you are concerned about your car compatibility these cars are NOT compatible with echo auto

Will try to keep this list up to date over time but you can also check Amazon’s echo auto car compatibility list.

  • Alcatel One Touch
  • Alcatel Pixi 4
  • Google Nexus 4
  • Google Nexus 6
  • HTC Desire 610
  • HTC M8
  • HTC M9
  • Huawei Honor 4C
  • Huawei Mate SE
  • LeEco LePro 3
  • LG Tribute HD
  • Samsung Galaxy J2
  • Samsung Galaxy J3
  • ZTE Blade A510 

and these phones are not compatible with echo auto

Will try to keep this list up to date over time.

  • Acura MDX (2016)
  • Acura RDX (2017)
  • Chevrolet Equinox (2016, 2017)
  • Chevrolet Malibu (2015, 2016, 2017)
  • Chevrolet Silverado (2014, 2015, 2017)
  • Chevrolet Volt (2015)
  • Dodge Caravan (2018)
  • Dodge Ram (2018)
  • GMC Sierra (2015, 2016, 2017)
  • Honda Accord (2013, 2015)
  • Honda Accord Touring (2013)
  • Honda Civic (2013)
  • Honda Odyssey (2016)
  • Honda Pilot (2013)
  • Toyota Camry (2015)
  • Toyota Corolla (2017)

Your Amazon welcome email

After your echo auto is about to arrive you will get an email from them with some basic instructions. In short:

echo auto Installation instructions:

Step 1: Plugin the echo auto and connect the holder unit (currently included) to your air vent. The idea being the unit actually sits up above the airflow of the vent. I think a lot of work went into this but as I mentioned, I have a fear of broken vents so prefer to find other ways to mount it, like on the dash shelf. I figure with 8 speakers she can hear me from anywhere.

echo auto installation step 1 - mount the bracket
Mount the echo auto on the supplied bracket on your air vents. The auto should sit above the airflow but it needs to reach your 12v powerpoint.

Step 2: Download the latest version of the Alexa App. This is straight forward but it also then walks you through connecting the auto to your phone. You connect it via the app like you would any Alexa device.

installation step 2 - mount the bracket
You’ll need the latest Alexa app for your phone

Step 3: Talk to it like a normal echo in your house. Say, ‘Alexa’ and then whatever else. An important note here from Amazon is to ensure you have the stereo and phone on the same channel when you drive. Just in case you set it to FM or muted the volume last time you used the car. Don’t fuss with the echo auto when driving! Pullover and sort it out for safety’s sake.

installation step 3 - once connected communicate as normal
From there is just like a normal echo, say Alexa and off you go.

Conclusion

The Alexa echo auto brings the convenience of your home Amazon echo experience to your mobile life. It’s not perfect, and it’s probably not needed if you’re already deep into your phone assistant or your car has fantastic integration with your phone or Alexa or Carplay or android auto.

The best things about the echo auto is having your home and car connected to the same services and helpful Alexa skills.

The other really powerful benefit is to older cars which are harder to make smart.

The echo brings some real smarts to your old car. It might not be able to give you a large touch screen display that pops up like a new Mercedes, but it’s really good value for money at only $25 $50. Let’s see if the price lasts. The price didn’t last, it went up to $49.99.

Questions? Ask below and I’ll do my best.

Amazon Alexa echo Auto

9.2

Build Quality

9.5/10

Features

8.5/10

Effectivity

8.5/10

Microphones

9.5/10

Price

10.0/10

Last update on 2019-11-21 / Some images from Amazon Product API & some links may be affiliate links

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