Amazon Echo Auto

You know what I hate? Being alone in the car without a giant corporation listening to every word. Sure, I could turn on Siri, but I still haven’t forgiven her for her first failure. I’ve never even tried the G or M listeners, which means A is for Alexa!

Last Wednesday, just shy of a year after I signed up for an invitation, Amazon finally offered me the chance to give my car a voice of her own. Friday night, it arrived, and was quickly, easily set up.

Saturday morning, I spent about five minutes trying to find the correct incantation to get it to open Waze and navigate me to a friend’s house. I ended up settling for Apple Maps and looking up his street address, and only later found out that choice of navigation app is a global setting for your account, not something like “tell waze to take me to Scott’s house”.

Not a big fan of Apple Maps for in-car navigation, by the way; the colors seem off at night, and it automatically activates the matching Watch app to try to get you to look at your wrist while driving. Having walking instructions show up on my wrist is one thing, but driving? No. (and, of course, the place where I’m most likely to need walking instructions is Japan, where Apple Maps ain’t so hot)

Interestingly, one of my friends got his Echo Auto two months ago, and considers it a piece of junk, based largely on having to re-link it to his car and phone pretty much every time he tried to use it. He’s on Android, though, which may explain why the device is still invitation-only; iOS may be a moving support target, but Android is a swarm of locusts.

The biggest challenge I faced getting it working was the fact that it comes with a vent mount, and with my phone already vent-mounted, I really didn’t want to cover another vent. The results are kind of clunky at the moment, and the long-term solution may involve Velcro.

Functionality-wise, it only supports streaming; the 60+ GB of music on my phone is inaccessible, and it can’t even communicate with the phone’s iTunes app. It can link to an Apple Music account and stream from it, but that’s it. It can’t even tell an app to start playing, at least, not successfully; I managed to get it into a state where nothing would play audio via Bluetooth until I rebooted the car. Fortunately I had the audio cable hooked up as well, and the Echo successfully fell back to it.

I haven’t tried any skills or other app integrations, and haven’t tested it on a long trip or with dubious cell coverage. There are reports that it can consume quite a bit of your data plan if you use it a lot, but I don’t have any plans for a long drive until February.

Now, if I could just manage to convince Alexa to play a song without wasting 30 seconds mispronouncing the title and artist and reminding me that I’m using Amazon Music…

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