My eight-year-old son and I rarely agree on our choice of music. With the iPhone streaming music from one of the many music apps I pay for, he finds it convenient to just switch to whatever he wants to play — often the same three songs. But then I summon Siri to replace Thunder or Old Town Road with a blast from the past like John Lennon’s Imagine. But what if the car itself could take voice commands?
This is exactly the thought Amazon has been working on with Echo Auto. While Amazon has tied up with many car manufacturers to pre-burn Alexa into their music systems, it has also launched a small Echo device that plugs into your music system giving it a smart layer. India is the second market where Echo Auto has been launched.
Echo Auto Price in India: Rs 4,999
What is Echo Auto?
Well, Echo Auto is a small device that does everything that other Echo devices do, but ideally plays back via the music system in your car. That said, it does have a small speaker of its own, though that is not great if you want to enjoy your music. But Echo Auto is different from other devices from Amazon, for this is the first Echo that works yoked to a smartphone.
Set up is relatively easy, but it does take time. You have to initiate the process on the device and then take the process further on the Alexa app. The system does good work of connecting seamlessly to the Bluetooth audio system — even aux if you don’t have Bluetooth — and links back as soon as you are in the car.
The device itself is the size of a small candy bar and sticks magnetically to a stand that you clip on to your AC vent. Yes, there is an additional wire to take care of and if you already have something that runs on the cigarette lighter dock, then you will have a bit of an issue.
Using Echo Auto is easy, especially if you are someone used to Alexa. I guess this device will first find favour with those who already give Alexa a lot of trouble at home and literally can’t live without it.
In the car, the use cases differ. You might not want it to solve a math problem like my son does all the time. Yes, the primary use case will continue to be music wherever you use the Alexa. In the car, I was quickly juggling songs in multiple languages and genres. And Alexa was pulling up songs from JioSaavn as well as Amazon Prime Music and I could not really make out when it was switching the services.
You can ask Alexa for directions and it works well once you give it access to your location. Since I was using this feature on the iPhone, after I selected my home and workplace, I could ask Alexa to direct me to the office. This starts with a time taken note and the default app on the phone pops up for you start the turn-by-turn navigation.
But since I am captive in the car for well over an hour each day, Alexa can go beyond music and even read my Kindle books or tap into news bulletins. But there are no podcasts that are available on request at the moment. This is an added advantage and one way for Alexa itself to broaden its base in the Indian market.
The microphones on the Echo Auto are good and Alexa could hear me even with the windows rolled down. This is quite something because on Delhi roads you can’t hear yourself with the windows down. But then it is better with the windows up if you want to really enjoy the music or listen to an audio book.
However, not everything is that smooth. There were quite a few times when Alexa said it could not connect to the network and asked me to check on her later. Given the state of network in India, the experience will depend on where you are, how crowded the area is and maybe even how the wind is blowing.
Also, I am not sure what the experience would be on the highways as we all know the phone dances between Edge and 4G when you are on the move. Since this Echo gets its connections from your phone, the experience will depend to a large extent on how to good the network is.
Also, for the first time Alexa is on a device which has a separate volume control. I was befuddled by full volume on Alexa was not sounding really good. That’s when it struck me that the music system was at a lower volume. So you have to ensure the system itself is a high volume before you start using voice to adjust the sound levels. However, the audio quality itself if as good as your car audio system.
Also, as spotted by my son, the counter on the tracks is not dependable when you are streaming via Alexa. It seems to go all over the place — up and down — as the song is playing.
But there is no doubt about the hands-free convenience Echo Auto brings to the car. Yes, I will end up using this more to pull the songs that I want to hear and you never know what you might want to hear while stuck on the road. Also, in the car, Alexa widens the repertoire of what in-vehicle listening can be. The Echo Auto is a must-buy for those who spend a lot of time on the road.
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