Alexa steps out for a long drive with the all-new Amazon Echo Auto
After the Echo Flex and the Echo Studio, Amazon releases Echo Auto – a device that will let you carry Alexa with you – for just Rs 4,999. Let’s take a look if it’s worth our ride.
Looks like voice assistants are all but taking over our lives. After all, who can deny the convenience of just voicing a command and receiving an instant response? And the one area where this hands-free experience was lacking was in the car.
But, no more. Amazon’s range of Echo devices – some with only speakers while others with smart displays also – has brought Alexa to millions.
Now, you can take Alexa with you in your car with Amazon Echo Auto, available in India for Rs 4,999.
For a start, the Amazon Echo Auto gets all the basics right – navigation, playing music, and much more. To begin with, setting it up is easy and takes only a few minutes.
It connects with the car through the bundled air-vent mount or an in-car power adaptor that plugs into the cigarette lighter socket. The device can also be connected by a 3.5 mm audio cable and a USB-C cable, which are included in the box.
You can simply place the Echo on the dashboard (it has enough grip) or via the air-vent mount. Just pair it to your phone using Bluetooth and use the Alexa app to set it up.
The Alexa experience
Once you’ve set it up, it’s pretty seamless. The Echo Auto connects to your smartphone when you speak to Alexa, relays that information, and it uses the car’s speakers to respond.
To be fair, the audio system in the car will determine just how good the experience really is.
While one would think that a wired connection would provide a more seamless experience, we noticed no difference between the quality of the Bluetooth connection and the 3.5 mm audio cable.
Surprisingly, Alexa can hear you fairly well, without any hiccups even with your windows rolled down and with the traffic noises in the background.
Navigating and playing music
The two most common use cases for Echo Auto are more likely going to be music playback and navigation. Alexa aims to help you to ‘keep your eyes on the road, your hands upon the wheel’ and just talk instead of looking at a screen.
Instead of shifting from screen to screen trying to find what you want, you can simply tell Alexa to do the heavy lifting for you.
If you ask Alexa for directions, it’ll open the default navigation app on your smartphone and read out the directions. Similarly, it’ll play music through one of the supported apps.
Navigating via Alexa works far more for well-known landmarks and places. It’s easy to tell Alexa to navigate you to Qutub Minar or to the office, but it struggles to find obscure destinations, and one eventually has to open their navigation app and manually search for directions.
While listening to directions can help you keep your eyes on the road, it can be difficult to navigate if you are used to visual cues. For turn-by-turn navigation, Alexa does just fine.
Audiobooks, podcasts but no FM radio
Using Alexa, you can listen to audiobooks courtesy Audible with a simple, “Alexa, resume my audiobook” command. You can also play podcasts.
However, if your smartphone doesn’t have a native radio app, Echo Auto will not be able to play the FM for you. On a side note, you can listen to ‘online’ radio.
One area Amazon needs to re-think the Echo Auto is the connectivity. At the moment, the device relies upon your smartphone’s 3G/4G connection.
If you’re on a long drive, you are likely to experience a few spots of inconsistent connectivity, which will hamper Alexa’s performance.
Another need of the hour is to have a cleaner Echo Auto experience. Instead of a long USB-C cable, the device could have a battery-powered version in the future.
Is it worth it?
For Alexa and Echo loyalists and for those who take their cars out frequently, the Echo Auto is a no brainer. It’s a fun experience and makes for a more enjoyable ride.
On the other hand, Echo Auto doesn’t do anything different from your average Google Assistant. But, Alexa’s growing list of skills may prove to be a differentiator in the future.
However, the Rs 4,999 price tag could prove to be a deterrent when Amazon Echo has several products available at cheaper rates.
To sum it up, Amazon Echo Auto is simple and practical with a tinge of fun on the side.
(Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta)
How Indian companies are building voice-based services on Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant