September 20, 2018 (almost a year ago!) Amazon announced a bunch of new Alexa-enabled devices. The more “out of the box” products included a microwave oven, a wall clock that reminds me of my old classrooms when I was a kid, and the most exciting for me–“Echo Auto”. Being a car guy and loving voice assistants like Siri and Alexa, this was at the top of my “take my money now” list.
As soon as Amazon made the invitation-only wait list available, I immediately submitted my email address. I figured it might be a few weeks or maybe a couple of months at the most, and I’d have my hands on it. Nope. Not even close.
Over the course of the past year, Amazon has opened up the API for its famous voice assistant tech to 3rd party developers. Now there are a whole bunch of readily available Alexa-enabled products for your car. Anker, iOttie, Garmin, Muse, and Nextbase to name a few. But, almost a year after Echo Auto was announced… there’s still no sign of Amazon’s Echo Auto. If you visit the product page, you’ll see it’s “Invitation Only” still, as of August 14th, 2019.
7 months ago, Amazon finally started shipping out orders for Echo Auto. There were over a million pre-orders.
Crazy. Mind-boggling. This defies all logic, especially for a behemoth retailer and manufacturer like Amazon. All the other products announced that day have been available for quite some time. Now competing products are readily available. Still no Echo Auto.
For the past few weeks I have been obtaining those 3rd party Alexa-enabled automotive products for an upcoming episode of Motorz TV. The episode, titled “Alexa for your car” will be out sometime in September. I have four of the aforementioned products, and I was going to skip Amazon’s own “Echo Auto” because for me, it was still vaporware.
That finally changed yesterday when I received my invitation email from Amazon to purchase the elusive $25 product. I ordered it immediately, and it arrived today. It took a few minutes to configure with the Alexa iOS app, and then I tossed it in my truck.
I’ve been testing out a few of the 3rd party solutions already, and I have to say they do a great job. Their one limitation is that they don’t support Spotify and Apple Music. This isn’t a limitation of their products, I’ve learned, but rather a limitation that Amazon has imposed on them through their developer API. And this, of course, is the one stand-out difference between all of them and the official Echo Auto.
Amazon shipped the Echo Auto to me along with the vent mount, which sadly won’t work for my 2005 Ford F-150. All my vents are round and twisty and any vent mount I’ve ever tried doesn’t work well. That’s fine, though. I already had a Micro USB cable snaked up around my windshield, ending right above my rearview mirror. I plugged it in and it lit up. No problem. Since I didn’t have a mount, I just used two small pieces of 3M automotive tape and stuck it to my headliner. Works perfectly… out of the way, and its 8 microphones are in plain sight to accept my every command.
Being able to have Alexa in my vehicle is a convenience factor. I already have Siri with my phone stuck to my dash and connected via bluetooth to my car stereo. It can do everything that Alexa can, in the car. Well, except for open my garage door. I don’t have that option for Alexa because it would be too easy for someone to yell into my house from outside “Alexa, open the garage door” without permission. That’s exclusive for my phone with Face ID required. This is a major security problem for people who do have Alexa smart speakers in their home and allow a simple voice command to open a door. If you have this, disable it immediately!
I digress. The convenience of having Alexa in my car is that I have Alexa in my home. I’m used to speaking to Alexa, not so much Siri. I can easily control my thermostats, my lights, and more. The other benefit of a Alexa in your car is that it’s a better listener. I mean, for the small size that the Echo Auto is, it still has 8 microphones on its top. If you turn on your radio to a normal volume (not thumping loud, obviously), and turn your vehicle’s fan on high, the chances that you’ll be able to successfully talk to Siri is slim to none.
Surprisingly, this is less of a challenge with Alexa enabled devices (even the 3rd party ones I’ve tried). My thirsty V8 truck with aftermarket products that make it even louder isn’t exactly quiet. With the engine running, the A/C fan on high, music playing, even talking off to the side toward the window–it’s shocking how well Alexa hears me. Siri doesn’t stand a chance. One test I did today, with the music on normal and A/C on high, I talked at a barely normal volume talking voice, off to the side away from the Echo Auto. It still heard me. Challenging it a bit more, I put my cupped hand over my mouth, again turned off to the side, and it still heard me. It’s crazy. No way a smartphone’s mic can do this. Echo Auto has insane ears.
Echo Auto comes with a 12V power plug with two USB outlets, a Micro USB cable, and an audio AUX cable. I didn’t end up using any of them because, as I previously mentioned, I already had a USB cable routed to exactly where I wanted to mount the Echo Auto. The AUX cable is only necessary if your vehicle’s head unit doesn’t support Bluetooth.
What’s great about Echo Auto is that once it’s paired with your Alexa app on your phone, you can give Echo Auto voice commands and it uses your phone’s speaker to respond. The only difference in your vehicle is that your phone is then paired with your car stereo’s bluetooth for audio so it comes out of your vehicle’s speakers instead. It’s smart tech which in theory, allows you to use Echo Auto anywhere else… not just your car, truck, or SUV. The responses either come out of your phone’s speakers, or any Bluetooth speaker it is paired with. It doesn’t have to be your car.
Hopefully now you have a better understanding as to why an Alexa enabled device in my vehicle makes sense to me.
I am still planning to film this episode “Alexa for your car” and go over each 3rd party manufacturer’s benefits, and do a quick test of each… with a comparison summary at the end. Now I can include Amazon’s own product which kicked things off almost a year ago. Hopefully they will remove the invitation-only block soon so others can get one. Of course, if you aren’t as upset about the lack of Apple Music or Spotify support with 3rd party solutions, you can pick any of them up today.
3rd Party Amazon Alexa-enabled Automotive Products (Updated Frequently)