Amazon’s Echo Auto is now officially available in the UK and Ireland. As with any other Echo device it brings Alexa to the party, but uses your car’s Bluetooth audio as the speaker. You can also plug it in via a 3.5mm audio jack if that works better for you.
Data-wise, the device uses your phone for connectivity (so you will need a decent data plan). As with all other Echo devices, there’s a button to mute the mics.
We think the device will be most useful for harassed parents trying to entertain kids or workers who often drive between locations - you can be productive with email, calendar and tasks when on the move – but Echo Auto does have a couple of clear disadvantages – you don’t always have your in-car system in Bluetooth mode, while we've heard that Alexa isn’t always that sensitive to precise location - but it can pick up local radio stations depending on location.
Amazon announced Echo Auto would leave US shores and come elsewhere at CES in January, but even so it’s still been a long time coming – it was first available as an invite only product in the US in 2018.
However, it has been a complex road to compatibility with as many in-car systems as possible because of the different Bluetooth systems involved.
Amazon also had to test the eight-mic array with hundreds of cars to ensure you could talk to Alexa over music, road noise and noise like air conditioning. When you set it up, you calibrate the delay on your car’s Bluetooth with the device.
When we spoke to Amazon’s head of devices Miriam Daniel back in January, she said that Bluetooth stacks introduce lags in streaming Alexa’s responses and music to your car speakers. "You might ask a question and you might have to wait because of the Bluetooth stack - not because Alexa is not working," says Daniel. "So we have to work around all of that."
The device is powered by your vehicle’s 12V power outlet or integrated USB port.
As you’d expect you can do everything you’d normally do with Alexa, so you can set reminders, check your calendar, listen to music or the latest news or access Alexa Skills. Naturally, the benefit in using voice is that you can keep your eyes on the road.