Earlier this week Amazon made the eagerly anticipated Echo Auto available to the UK. Our Development Manager, Ian, gives us a personal review of the new product.
Having struggled before to get the bluetooth phone system working with my 2004 BMW 3-series (E46) I thought this would be worth the £49.99 price tag to have bluetooth hands free capability in my car with the added bonus of voice control and the Alexa smart home functionality I have become used to in recent years. It is worth noting that many newer cars not only have built-in modern bluetooth capabilities, but also Apple / Amazon / Google integrations available.
Less than 24 hours after clicking the purchase button (spreading out the payments over 5 months at no extra cost) the familiar brown packaging that is no doubt filling recycling bins accross the UK during the COVID-19 pandemic arrived at my doorstep. As far as Amazon’s renowned over boxing goes, this wasn’t too bad in terms of the blue box size.
The box contained the Echo device, air-vent mount, a micro-USB lead, a headphone lead adapter and a 12V USB cigarette adapter.
It also contained an instruction manual / guide but this was put next to the aforementioned packaging to get recycled (but not put out yet – just in case). I was disappointed to see it was not USB-C, but as the device is just going to stay in the car this isn’t a big issue.
Important – Mobile Data!
Unless you plan on only using this on your driveway you are going to need to connect to your mobile data. I have unlimited data as part of my mobile contract but this is something to bear in mind if you intend to use this to provide entertainment on longer commutes or road trips.
Unboxing and getting the leads plugged in took minutes – possibly closer to a minute singular.
I already had an aux lead from when I ditched the CD changer years ago so I plugged that in, then the device in to the cigarette adapter and the device added to the mount. One observation is that it doesn’t look the prettiest. The mount point is just a square magnet so I’ll be buying some sticky back magnets and ditching the fan mount. The leads don’t look too elegant but will be re-routed behind the dash at some point.
The device has a microphone mute button which turns off voice commands. If you and your partner, co-traveller or children have disagreements in terms of musical taste this adds value to the product. Also this stops any Amazon ‘listening in’, or inadvertent ‘Alexa’ lyrics from music disrupting the flow. The status LED glows red to indicate when this disabling is in operation.
First things first – Some Music!
‘Alexa – play Virgin Radio’ is a command my partner often says at home so away we go with this one. The 16 year old un-touched sound system in my car plays radio at an equal quality to a clear normal radio station.
‘Alexa – play songs Foo Fighters’ is my second command – the uplifting music of Dave Grohl blasts out at quality to my ear as good as CD’s playing through the aged system. A qualified audiophile may be able to tell the difference if better amps were installed – particularly as this was Amazon Music standard rather than Amazon Music HD.
A negative point to note is the device operates as a bluetooth speaker for the phone rather than as a smart speaker. This means any whatsapp, email, or text notifications will disturb the music playing unless you turn your phone to ‘do not disturb’ mode
Next, can it operate my smart home?
‘Alexa – turn on the lounge lights’ is what I tried next and unsurprisingly, but exciting in a strange way none the less, this worked. A real world use of this would (if I had this at home) would be just before arriving home at night or asking Alexa to turn on your driveway or porch lights. Asking her to turn on a smart plug e.g. electric blanket or kettle ready to boil. These are things that with patience you could have set up with geo-fencing, however, to be able to control on demand seems preferable to me.
‘Alexa – Phone Mum’ – Up to now the whole unboxing, plugging in, and setting up has taken minutes. I haven’t connected my Amazon account to my phone provider before so the device says no at this point. A quick Google, and through the Alexa app I log in to Vodafone and approve this. A short while later I am able to ask the request again and after a couple of first time use confirmations, I’m able to have a phone conversation with no audio issues even with the engine running -though granted a diesel estate rather than a convertible sports car. The device contains 8 microphones and, according to the product description, far field technology.
Overall Opinion / The Future?
Overall I would recommend this product. The benefits it brings outweigh anything I didn’t like so much about the product.
The first thing a colleague asked me is ‘Does the product provide Sat Nav’? Without a screen I would prefer the trusty Garmin than listening to voice instructions but with products like the Echo Show having a screen I can imagine something like this isn’t beyond the realms of possibility – although Amazon don’t currently provide a navigation themselves currently.