(Pocket-lint) - The Amazon Echo Auto offers the convenience of Alexa in your car. It's not the first device to do so, but thanks to its slim design and the fact that it's made by Amazon, it's one of the slick options out there.
When it comes to adding any accessory to your car, there's bound to be a lot of questions about how to set it up and what it will actually allow. To help you get organised, here's a quick run down of your setup options.
The Amazon Echo Auto comes with a 3.5mm cable in the box, allowing either a physical connection to a car, or you can use Bluetooth to connect to cars that allows streaming music via a Bluetooth connection. Not all cars support it, however, but there's a list of cars here that don't support Bluetooth Echo Auto.
For older cars, or anyone with a 3.5mm aux input, then the Echo Auto has you covered too, with none of the Bluetooth foibles.
Armed with those details, here's how to setup your Echo Auto.
Setting up the Echo Auto
The most important part of setup is to have your phone to hand. The Echo Auto will use your smartphone for its connection to the outside world; you'll need to have the Alexa app installed and you'll need to be signed in.
- Download, install, and sign-in to the Alexa app.
- Grant the Alexa app the permissions it needs.
- Connect your Echo Auto to the 12V power supply using the cable and adapter in the box, or plug into a USB socket.
- The Echo Auto will have an orange light on the front when it is ready to connect.
- In the Alexa app in your phone go to devices > add, tapping the icon in the top left corner.
- From the menu select Add Device > Amazon Echo > Echo Auto.
- Follow the instructions in the app that will guide you through mounting and connecting your Echo Auto.
That's the basics of setting-up your Echo Auto, but you'll notice that there's a lot involved in step 7. Through that final step, you'll be guided through connecting to Bluetooth or 3.5mm cable, based on the type of car that you have.
This is pretty simple and might involve connecting to your car's Bluetooth which is pretty simple as you just need to ensure that your phone is connected to your car's Bluetooth. You'll have to then switch to that Bluetooth connection as your choice of audio whenever you want to use the Echo Auto.
For those using 3.5mm, you'll be prompted to plug it in (again this can be to the car's input or a head unit with an input) and you'll have to switch to the aux input to be able to hear the audio from your Echo Auto - and you'll be guided through setting the volume levels to make sure you can hear things.
Can I use Echo Auto with multiple phones?
Yes, the Echo Auto will connect to six different phones, although you might have to manually pair with additional phones once you've initially set it up. That's a simple case of pressing and holding the action button on the top until the orange light comes on, then it's in setup mode again.
Using the Alexa app on the second phone you can then run through the setup process again.
That's fine when there's only one of those phones in the car, but if multiple users are in the car at the same time, you might have to manually select the phone it's connecting too, by turning off Bluetooth on devices you don't want it connecting to.
This only really matters when it comes to ensuring it's drawing data from the right device or accessing the correct contacts list and so on.
What about calling?
The Echo Auto is primarily designed for information from Alexa's services and playing music, triggered by voice control. It does allow some calling functions, however. Firstly you can use it to call other Echo devices using Alexa Calling. Secondly, because Alexa Calling will also place outgoing calls to your contacts, it can be used to call anyone in your address book, if you've synced that with the Alexa app.
You might decide you don't want to share all your contacts on your phone with Amazon, because that potentially means anyone can use any Alexa device signed into your account to call your contacts.
In our opinion, the best option for calling is to use whatever connection and calling options your car provides, regardless of the Echo Auto.
Often there's easy access to calling direct from your car already. When you do make a call your car should then handle that call and cut out anything that the Echo Auto is doing. That will also mean that you control the call from your car's controls, like steering wheel buttons.
What about using my phone for navigation?
If you use your phone for navigation like Google Maps or Waze then this works with Echo Auto too. Once connected you'll get the navigation directions through your Echo Auto - using the default navigation app selected in your Alexa app. Open the Alexa app, head into settings > traffic > default navigation app and you can select the app you want Alexa to use.
Then when you ask for direction, Alexa will trigger that app and open it on your phone. You just have to make sure you're precise with your destination requests, although Alexa is smart - and you can ask for shops or restaurants, for example.
If you are using a service like Waze that integrates streaming music services, you're better off using Alexa to control those services via voice, rather than using the in-Waze option.
Connecting Echo Auto to exiting Bluetooth car devices, like Pure Highway
If you've previously added smart connectivity to your car - like a Pure Highway digital receiver for example - then you can continue to use those devices setting up the Echo Auto as though you're connecting to a car that accepts Bluetooth streaming. As long as your phone is connected to that other device too, you should have no problem.
However you really need to consider why you might want to do this. In many cases the Echo Auto's functions will duplicate some of the common added options - digital music and streaming. There's a cost to that, of course, in that you'll have to have a data plan to support music steaming, whereas DAB radio is effectively free.
There's also more potential for failure the more devices you start to daisy chain. Each connection is a point of failure - your car, your phone, Echo Auto, whatever else you might have. We connected the Echo Auto to a Pure Highway 400 and found it worked with no problems, but you're really not then using the Pure device for anything other than its Bluetooth connection.
Using Echo Auto in cars with no Bluetooth and no 3.5mm connection
If your car has no Bluetooth and 3.5mm connection then you have a bigger challenge. If you have no stereo in the car then the easiest option is to get yourself a decent Bluetooth speaker. You might find that something like the UE Wonderboom speaker will work nicely, with the volume and battery life to keep you happy. You just have to connect to the speaker from the Echo Auto during the setup process.
If you don't connect to anything, you can setup the Echo Auto as though your car accepts Bluetooth music via your phone. What that really does it set your phone as the Bluetooth audio device for your Echo Auto and the sound will then come out of your phone's speakers. Whether you'll be able to hear those in the car or not is a separate question.
If you have a stereo there are various other options, like FM transmitters. These will provide a Bluetooth connection for you to connect to and then broadcast over an FM frequency for you to tune your car radio into. Yes, you'll have to find a blank space on the radio, but then anything that it receives will play through your car's speakers.
The downside of an FM transmitter is that they are prone to interference. In reality, if there's the option to change your car's head unit, that's probably going to be a better long-term solution, as well as giving you access to better connectivity. If you have an existing single DIN car stereo and you're doing a simple swap, you'll likely find it's a simple process, but you'll have to check the specifics for your car.