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Hands-on review: The Amazon Echo Auto
Mon, 14th Sep 2020
FYI, this story is more than a year old

Already possessing a relatively smart car audio system, I was wondering how the Amazon Echo Auto could add to my motoring experience. I've had some small experience already with Amazon's Alexa, OK Google and Siri. I have also developed a love-hate relationship with my car's onboard computer.

Alexa doesn't nag. She never tells me, “Please obey all traffic regulations”. She doesn't indicate that I'm driving through farm paddocks when I'm on the new Expressway extension.  If I want to listen to Neil Young, Alexa will find him on my default music app.  She will tell me bad puns if I need cheering up. She will tell me what the weather is doing.

If you want a similar experience, you will need to invest some time in setting all these things up in your Amazon Alexa App - especially if you want the Echo to turn on your lights when you're getting near home.

Once I had gone through the setup (best done at home on your wi-fi and not in a moving car) I found talking to Alexa very easy. Those who know me will understand that the hard part is stopping me from talking. The Echo Auto works alongside the Amazon Alexa app.

How complex your setup is will depend on the complexity of your needs.  I'm very interested in home automation, but my life as a reviewer means that I'm forever hopping from one phone to another. At some stage, I'll need to reactivate all my smart devices on my phone, as soon as I remember which one is mine.

You'll just need to ensure you have adequate data allocated on your phone, as the phone remains integral to how well Alexa will work. Make sure you take the time to set up all those services and apps you use, and Alexa will integrate brilliantly using your voice. Amazon promises that the microphones will easily deal with background noise. As I write, I'm not in my car but at my desk. Alexa is ignoring the Beast and Brad in the background, and only has ears for me.

For the purpose of the review, I focused on just a few functions. I'm keen to know where I am - and as I mentioned earlier, my car tells me I'm cruising through paddocks whenever I use the newest expressway in the Waikato. Alexa uses Google Maps on my phone, sidestepping my car's built-in software, which I can have updated at a cost at my next service.  To use Alexa to navigate, I rely on my phone. This gives you a voice-activated way of navigating, similar to what you can already do if you have Android or Apple CarPlay installed.

To get the most out of the Echo Auto, you will need to spend some time sorting out the settings on the Amazon Alexa app.  A sneaky look at my reviewing brethren tell me that this can be frustrating, but I haven't had any headaches. My chief task was to point Alexa to my default music app, which isn't Amazon Music. Once that was achieved, I was underway.

As I write, I'm yet to get to grips with IHeartRadio, but this has been mainly due to my other main role in life, pandering patiently to the needs of my patient who is recovering after major surgery. Pillows fluffed, blankie tucked in and fevered brow sufficiently fanned, I can then retire to the study until called on for another glass of water or to peel another grape. 
In the meantime, I'm making do with CNN and the BBC World Service for my news fixes.

Amazon's Echo Auto comes with a clip-in holder that attaches to your air vent, with a cable running to your USB charger. If your car radio has an auxiliary input, you can plug the aux cable directly into your car stereo. I use the Bluetooth connection, meaning one less cable for me to misplace.

Once you have all the settings you need on the Amazon Alexa app, you will hit the road happily telling Alexa to tell you what the weather is doing, play your favourite Taylor Swift songs or call your mum. It hasn't happened to me yet, but others have warned of those “dead areas” where cellphone coverage isn't as great as it is here in the Auckland and Waikato regions.

If you already have a smart setup in your car, the Echo Auto may well be unnecessary. For me, however, it meant being able to do everything by voice alone and forgetting about pressing buttons and taking my eyes off the road.

Coming in at well under $100, the Echo Auto may well be that auto accessory that keeps you company on those long road trips. My only caveat would be the time you need to spend with the app to ensure you're set up properly. In the end, though, it will be worth the effort.