Top critical review
Wanted to love it but MANY issues. Hopefully software updates and an updated mount will come
Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on October 29, 2019
I really wanted to love the Echo Auto. It does work, and actually has a few nice features. It has a enough issues though to take at least a few stars
• Provides Alexa functionality in the car, giving voice control similar to an Echo device in the home.
• Adds A2DP (Bluetooth streaming music) functionality to cars that may not support it. With iPhone implementation also sends audio from other sources such as Google maps while providing streaming audio from Alexa sources.
• Amazon Alexa app will show information on content playing on phone lockscreen and Apple watch. Apple watch can be used to pause, skip, and also provide information on content being played.
• The cigarette lighter power adapter provided with the Echo Auto provides 2 USB A 2.4A port and appears to be of good quality. One of the ports is used for the Echo Auto, leaving another free to charger your phone.
This list could get really long, but some of the key points
• The mount is useless. It is large, bulky, and ugly. It doesn’t work for my vehicle, and if it did it would be blocking the air conditioner vent. The air conditioner function is important so, no it isn’t going there. It also would force having dangling wires up to where this thing sits, not to mention that the cables included with the Echo Auto would not be long enough. This is far from an ideal solution. I ended up just sticking the mount back in the box.
• The connection to the phone, and apparently to the Amazon cloud is really flakey. Almost all functionality is performed on the smartphone in behalf of the Echo Auto device. For no apparent reason sometimes the Echo Auto can’t communicate with the phone (using iPhone X), or it will connect to the phone but the Alexa app can’t communicate with the cloud. Note that other apps can communicate with the internet.
• The volume seems to be low sometimes. I’ve tried to keep the phone volume at maximum and tell Alexa “Volume 10” and then adjust the volume on the car audio system. Sometimes it is plenty loud. Sometimes though it isn’t.
• Even when it does work, there is a lot of latency in responding. If you have used other Echo devices you just make an utterance starting with the Alexa wake word, and then immediately the rest of the command. Such as “Alexa play Classic Rock.” On the Echo Auto this won’t work most of the time, but will sometimes. Other times it will just ignore you. Or you will hear a ding that it detected the wake word, but doesn’t do anything. You basically have to say “Alexa” the wait for the ding, then say “Play Classic rock.”
• It doesn’t seem to have the same fingerprinting to eliminate false wake word detection. For example, I had it playing the flash brief news update. As part of that update, one of the feeds said the word “Alexa.” The Echo auto detected Alexa from that audio stream it was playing, made it’s “ding” sound that it recognized “Alexa,” attenuated the audio, and then eventually timed out.
• While the included power and 3.5 mm audio cable are reasonable quality, they both stick straight out. A right angle connector, at least for the audio cable would make for a much neater installation.
• No user manual is included, or even seems to be available online. Only an absurdly brief getting started guide. If you search there are third party books you can buy, but nothing free, and nothing from Amazon. Seriously, not even a Kindle ebook manual. Some things are obvious, at least to me, but I’ve yet to figure out how to get it to control Google Maps that it is supposed to be able to do.
• Almost everything is performed on the smartphone. This really isn’t all that bad since I’m not actively using my phone except for navigation and maybe music while driving. Just be aware of this and plug your phone into a charger, otherwise it will accelerate draining the battery.
• Not the device itself, but the invitation program was awful. Not only did I have to wait almost a year, but also when I finally had the invitation to buy it, it was while I was away on International travel and didn’t want it shipped. I waited until the last day of the 7 day window, but within the window. When I went to purchase it, the window had already closed. Awful experience! I was able to request to be added to the invite again, and was able to buy it, at the invite half price about a week later.
I really wanted to love this. Even after waiting almost a year from when it was first announced and I requested to be added to the invite list, and then had to opportunity to buy it when I was away on International travel. I did finally get it, and installed it.
I have a 2004 Acura TL. The car originally had support for Bluetooth Handsfree (Acura Handsfree Link) for phone calls, with a truly awful voice recognition system. There was no support for A2DP (streaming music) or AVRC (music control). The car also didn’t even come with an auxiliary input. I had installed a USA Spec iPod/iPhone interface that also provided an AUX input that I had installed in the console area near the 12V power jack. The Handsfree link also died (as is very common it seems) and removed the module since it drained the car battery. The Echo Auto seemed to be the perfect solution to replace the handsfree link, add streaming music support, and control it all from Alexa. It has partially lived up to the hopes, and does provide all of what was hoped, but just far from perfectly.
First the installation: I tried the large, bulky air conditioner mount. It didn’t work for my car. Even if it did I don’t think I would have used it. The mount and the Echo auto would have blocked the vent. I use the vent as, well, a vent. Imagine that. Second, if I did manage to somehow use the AC vent mount it would have put the Echo Auto right out in the middle of the dash area, with an ugly large mount, and wires dangling down from it. As I wrote above, the auxiliary audio input is in the console next to the second 12V outlet. Neither cable provided was long enough to reach from the dash to the console area. Note that many factory AUX jacks are in the same location. Yes, I could have used longer cables than provided, but that would have been even more dangling cables. This really needs some other mounting options. I ended up installing it in the cup holder area in front of the console. This isn’t the best location as the lights aren’t easily visible (but can be seen). The microphone array is actually closer to the driver and seems to work OK, but is slightly behind and to the right instead of in front of the driver. Overall it seems to work OK. The straight audio and power cables do stick out a bit, and I may replace at least the audio cable with one with a right angle connector. Eventually if it works out I may try and figure out a more permanent install with the wires cleanly routed out of sight. I’ve added a photo of where it is now.
I’ve listed many of the issues I’ve had in the bullet points above so won’t duplicate them all here. It does work, at least some of the time. As noted it has frequent problems either connecting from the Echo Auto to the phone, and from the app to the cloud. One time while sitting at a traffic light when the app couldn’t communicate I tried a speedtest with the speedtest app. The phone had data connectivity. There wasn’t anything wrong with the phone or signal. Sometimes it will fail, and you can retry literally 5 seconds later and it will work. Other times I’ve had to unplug the Echo Auto and plug it back in again. Other times kill the Alexa app. Still other times I had to do all of the above and power cycle the phone. It is definitely not reliable.
As mentioned above as well, the latency to accept commands is highly variable. Sometimes you can just give a complete utterance like other Echo devices. Other times it will totally miss the command. As noted above as well, you need to give it the wake word Alexa, wait for it to recognize it with the ding sound, and then continue to give the command. Yes, it can get frustrating repeating the same command several times.
Note also that unlike other Echo devices that have all of the processing in the Echo device, this clearly relies on the companion smartphone Alexa app. The Echo auto only listens for wake words, streams audio to and from the phone, and provides limited audio to say when it isn’t connected. There are also local mute buttons and an LED light bar similar to other Echo devices. Having the app do almost all the work isn’t entirely bad though. At least with an iPhone X there is enough performance to run the Alexa app and functions while also running Google or Apple Maps, and play music. I’m not actively using the phone, and have it in a mount, and, importantly, have it connected to a charger. Audio from the iPhone will be routed to the Echo Auto. This can be a good thing if the car audio system is set to the AUX input. This allows Alexa commands, streaming music, and navigation audio all to play through the car audio system. If however you select another audio input, say the radio or CD, then you won’t hear any audio from the iPhone. A few times I’ve ended up streaming a local radio station the I could have received directly on the radio because of this. Some easy configuration would be nice, but this is a reasonable limitation for an aftermarket accessory. Notably, and somewhat surprisingly not only will Alexa commands work, but “Hey Siri” commands also work.
The audio volume seems to vary. When it works properly the audio is plenty loud, and unless I want to listen to loud music I need to turn down the car volume. Sometimes though it is low, like when it attenuates audio during an Alexa command, only all the time. Overall it sounds reasonable considering it is streaming over Bluetooth. Sometimes with the phone audio at max and Alexa set to 10 to eliminate local audio scaling it does sound a bit distorted. Other times though it sounds fine, or about as good as I can expect from Bluetooth.
The audio does sound good enough to be able to hear differences in audio quality. Streaming from Tidal does sound better than from Amazon music. The good thing is that it supports both and XM Sirius radio and more. It doesn’t seem to support playing local music stored on the iPhone itself. If you manually start the music, or get Siri to do it, it will play, but there doesn’t seem to be a way to get Alexa to do it. This seems to be a pretty big limitation.
As I wrote above, there is no included user manual. Only an incredibly brief getting started card is provided. As written above, most things are obvious and I haven’t needed a manual. Some things though, such as asking Alexa to navigate for you with Google maps I have yet to figure out. I believe the web site shows this, but I’ve tried all kinds of commands and can’t get it to work. Again, if I start the navigation from Google maps the voice directions will play through the Echo auto. There are 3rd party books for sale, but I haven’t bought one. I shouldn’t have to pay for a 3rd party book of unknown quality or accuracy to be able to use the product I purchased from Amazon. At least Amazon should publish a Kindle ebook manual similar to what it does for Kindles and some other devices.
Surprisingly, one of the reasons I bought it, to replace the Acura Handsfree Link for telephone calls I haven’t tried yet. I need to do that and see how it sounds in both directions. So I can’t comment on either the audio performance or control capabilities for basic telephone calls.
The iPhone shows the Echo auto as a headphone. However, Google maps is now marking my parking location as if the phone knows I’m leaving a car that it was connected to. Hopefully Apple maps will too, although I use Google far more often. This is another plus.
As I also wrote above, the Echo Auto comes with a cigarette lighter/12V socket to USB A adapter. This adapter has 2 ports, but 2.4 A. This allows using one port for the Echo auto itself, and a second for charging a phone or other use. This was a nice surprise. This may still not be ideal if you prefer USB C PD for your phone, but overall it was good. It will likely eliminate the problem of not have enough ports for a phone and the Echo Auto for many users. The Echo Auto uses a micro USB B connector for power, and comes with a USB A to micro USB B cable. It is relatively short, and has straight connectors. If you mount the Echo Auto near a 12V outlet you may be OK, but there is a chance it won’t be long enough.
The Echo Auto has a 3.5 mm audio output jack next to the micro USB jack. It comes with a 3.5 mm to 3.5 mm cable to plug into this jack and to the vehicle AUX input. The cable is of reasonable quality, and about the same length as the USB cable. Again, if the Echo Auto is physically near the AUX input you will be fine, otherwise you may need a longer cable. I would definitely would have preferred at least one side of the cable to have a right angle connector. The straight connector makes the cables stick out needlessly more than they have to.
Hopefully the software in app improves and resolves some of the problems and adds functionality for playing locally stored music on the phone. Amazon, please write a user manual and publish it for free as an ebook! At least provide some FAQs with how to use it for controlling Google maps and other use cases. Additional mounting options should also be extremely high on the list of updates. Maybe also a professional install kit can also be offered for a more permanent vehicle install without wires dangling all over the car.
Overall for the half price invitation purchase option I’m not sorry I bought it. I’m not returning it immediately as others have commented. Yes, there are MANY areas for improvement. It does provide most of what it claims, albeit not very reliably. I expect it will follow Murphy’s law and be flakey just as need to use it the most. So while it isn’t going back, it doesn’t deserve 5 stars either. That awful vent mount alone justifies knocking it down at least one star. The flakey operation, loss of connections, waking up to its own audio saying Alexa, variable high latency recognizing commands, less than ideal cables, variable audio levels, and physically being larger than it likely could be all warrant dropping at least one, if not 2 more stars. I will be kind and give it 3 stars.