I recently received an invitation to purchase an Echo Auto. I’ve been an early adopter of Echo hardware for several years and was part of the first round of customers for the original Echo back in 2014, so I happily paid my $24.99 and eagerly awaited delivery.
Now, after two days driving around town with the Echo Auto installed, I’m ready to render an early verdict…it’s great! The integration into the Alexa app on my iPhone is simple and easy, and provides a significant enhancement to everyday driving, especially with my kids.
The integration with Apple Music is seamless, so all my 11-year-old has to say is, “Alexa, play Aftergold by Big Wild” (his current favorite) and it’s blasting on the speakers. The same thing happens when my younger son wants to play his favorite podcast, Wow in the World, which I totally recommend by the way. No matter how polite I am to Siri, we haven’t been able to get this kind of voice integration to work reliably in the car. I can ask for the score of the latest Cubs game (they won, 17–8), the forecast for tomorrow morning (84 and sunny) and check what is next on my schedule (coaching AYSO at 11:30 am tomorrow). My kids can look up interesting facts on Wikipedia, ask what time the sun sets (7:18 pm), and then turn on the lights when we pull into the driveway.
All of this is exactly what you get with the home version of the Echo, and I think that is pretty impressive. There are plenty of flame-filled reviews about how the Echo Auto doesn’t have a screen (that is correct), or the inability to purchase movie tickets using the Fandango skill (?), or that it does not replace Android Auto or Apple CarPlay (why would it?). I think these reviews are missing the point. The Echo Auto isn’t trying to replace your GPS or your car’s entertainment system or suddenly make your vehicle location-savvy. What it is doing, however, is bringing the Echo experience to your car, easily connecting you to the outside world while you are hurtling down the highway at 65 mph.
I also think it is important to remember that, as with so much of today’s emerging technology, the Echo Auto’s performance is only going to get better, even with the current hardware. It is only a software update away from having new capabilities, it won’t need a hardware upgrade to handle more complicated skills since it is running off of your smartphone and the cloud, and the thousands of Alexa developers are undoubtedly going to be rolling out a steady stream of new functionality that will show up every time you start your car in the morning. My original 2014 Echo is still going strong almost five years after taking it out of the box and if Echo Auto has the longevity it will be in the car when my oldest son starts driving.
Is it perfect? Of course not. I generally hate adding more gadgets and wires cluttering up the inside of my car, so I did the only reasonable thing I could and promptly stuck it on the floor out of the way after plugging it in (the microphones still work great, thank you very much). Also, the USB plug seems to cause some kind of conflict with the USB drive I have to record Sentry Mode on my Tesla—I am still trying to figure out if that is a Tesla issue, which would not surprise me. But both of these are pretty minor or isolated issues.
Is it worth $24.99? I think the answer is a strong yes. Is it worth the standard retail price of $50? Well…that I’m less sure of. But for at least a couple of days it has brought a gleam to the eyes of my two very tech-jaded young boys, and perhaps provides a glimpse into the future of driving when everything is voice-controlled, and we sit back and consume content while the car does all the navigating on its own. So far it’s a hit, but I’ll have a better idea of whether the Echo Auto is really worth the full $50 price tag after we return from our next family road trip.
This content was originally published as “A $25 Echo Auto Transformed our Family’s Driving Experience” on September 14, 2019.