Hardware &Mobile Phones &Software Wes Novack on 06 Aug 2019

Amazon Echo Auto review

Back in May, Amazon targeted me with a special pre-release offer on an Amazon Echo Auto for $25, which is supposedly half price from their target retail price of $50. I bit and grabbed one to try out.

Below is a photo of the Amazon Echo Auto, sitting on my van’s dash.

Amazon Echo Auto Device on my vans dashboard

Setting up the Amazon Echo Auto

I unboxed the Echo Auto and inside I found the device itself, a dashboard mount, a USB cable, an automobile lighter USB power port that boasts 4A output, an auxiliary cable, a small instruction book and a “Things to Try” card.

For my van, I plugged in my pre-existing auxilary cable, as this vehicle doesn’t have built in bluetooth capabilities. I turned on the power to the vehicle and then proceeded to the Amazon Alexa app on my phone, as the instructions guided.

As part of the setup process of adding a new device (the Amazon Echo Auto) inside the Amazon Alexa Android app, it plays a sound to attempt to validate that you can now play audio through your automobile’s speakers. Unfortunately, this didn’t work for me.

Troubleshooting the Amazon Echo Auto setup

I’m using a modern, brand new Moto G7 device running Android Pie (9.0), and when the Alexa app paired the Amazon Echo Auto with my smartphone, it did not enable “Media audio” and “Phone calls”. Ironically, this is a special Amazon edition of the Moto G7, so I’d expect a better integration experience with an Amazon product.

I had to dive into my bluetooth settings, navigate into the device settings for my newly paired “Echo Auto F19B” device, and then turn on these settings myself. But that didn’t solve my problem! After these bluetooth device settings were enabled, I still wasn’t getting any Alexa audio out of my vehicle speakers.

I tried stopping the Alexa app and restarting it and then I tried disconnecting the bluetooth device and reconnecting to it, which I couldn’t get to complete. After that, I restarted my smartphone and once it booted back up and paired with the Amazon Echo Auto again, it could finally output audio to my van’s speakers.

One more note. Setting up the Amazon Echo Auto requires you to turn on “running in the background” for the Alexa Android app, with a warning that this can degrade your phone’s battery performance. This could be negligible, but it’s also possible that it could affect your daily battery life in a real way.

Below is a photo of the Amazon Echo Auto on the vehicle dash, with a USB power cable and auxiliary audio cable running out of its right side, with the vehicle stereo system shown on the bottom right.

amazon auto echo next to a phone mount on a vehicle dash

Testing out the Amazon Echo Auto

Below, I’ve included a few transcripts of my initial attempts to use Amazon Echo Auto after setting it up in my van. I enjoy listening to podcasts and the ability to play one via voice command was one of the main features that I was looking forward to using with an Echo Auto.

Me: Alexa, play Linux Action News podcast.
Alexa: Hmm, I couldn’t find Linux Action News, try asking me to recommend a podcast.

Me: Alexa, play the podcast Linux Action News.
Alexa: Hmm, I couldn’t find Linux Action News.

At this point, I looked at the Amazon Echo Auto “Things to Try” sheet that came in the box, which has the following suggestion listed:

Alexa, play the podcast Planet Money.

So… I think to myself, this one has to work, right? They advertise it right here in the package!

Me: Alexa, play the podcast Planet Money.
Alexa: Hmm, I couldn’t find Planet Money, try asking me to recommend a podcast.

Me: Alexa, play Planet Money on InTune.
Alexa: You can’t use InTune on this device.

Me: Alexa, recommend a podcast.
Alexa: I can’t play podcasts while the explicit filter is on.

Me: Alexa, turn off the explicit filter.
Alexa: Okay, the explicit filter is off for music.

Me: Alexa, play the podcast Planet Money.
Alexa: Sorry, I don’t know that one, but you can ask me to recommend a podcast.

Me: Alexa, recommend a podcast.
Alexa: Shuffling your stations from Pandora.

What in the bloody !?*!?*!?*

Welp, it looks like the podcast experience on this thing isn’t going to be winning any awards this month. One of my primary use cases for this device has flown straight out of the window!

The Verge also posted an informative article on the Echo Auto today, which reminded me that I had an Echo Auto still sitting in a box that I needed to test! Thanks to Verge for the excellent report and for prompting me to write this post.

So far, the Amazon Echo Auto is not impressing me (or the Verge). Here’s hoping that Amazon can vastly improve it via software updates. For me personally, with the current dismal experience, I’m questioning whether it was even worth the $25 that I spent on it.

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