Amazon's Alexa Auto

Amazon's Alexa Auto (Amazon)

I'm all in with Alexa at my house.

I have Echo Dots in my living room and office and an Echo Spot on my bedside table.

I used to run my home automation through a Wink hub, but now I've switched my smart bulbs and smart outlets to ones that work with Alexa directly - no hub required.

When I first heard that there were Alexa devices designed for the car, I was intrigued.

I've been using Amazon's $50 Echo Auto, which was available via invitation only for the last few months. The invite-only preorder period is over, and now anyone can buy the Echo Auto.

My 2009 Honda Fit doesn't have an audio system with Bluetooth, but it does have an aux-in jack.

For the last few years, I've been using Bluetooth adapters to stream music and make phone calls from my iPhone.

The Echo Auto is replacing my current Bluetooth adapter.

The Echo Auto is about the size of a business card and about a quarter of an inch thick. It has eight microphones and two buttons, one to mute the microphones and one action button that can call up Alexa without the wake word.

The Echo Auto needs to make two connections in your car: one to your phone, via Bluetooth, and one to the car's audio system via Bluetooth or aux-in port.

For my car, I connected the included aux-in cable from the Echo to my car's aux input.

If your car already has Bluetooth, you'll be given a chance to wirelessly pair the Echo to your car stereo.

You'll need to have the Amazon Echo app on your smartphone and follow the instructions to add a new device.

Now when I get in the car, I put my phone in the dash mount and turn my stereo to the aux input.

Amazon must really want people to mount the Echo Auto up high on the dashboard, since it ships with a very nice vent mount. I didn't want to block my air conditioning, so I mounted it with 3M Command Strips directly on my dash under the stereo.

This puts the Echo Auto in a prime spot for the eight microphones to pick up my voice.

After I start the car, the Echo Auto takes about 15 seconds to power up. There is no power button - it starts automatically when the car starts.

Using the Echo Auto is just like using the Echo Dot in my living room. Just say the trigger word (I use Alexa) and say a command.

Alexa ...

Now that I have Echo Auto in my car, what am I doing with it? Plenty.

First, I can use my voice to dial phone calls.

"Alexa, call my wife" dials her cellphone. I had to assign the nickname "my wife" in her contact in the Alexa app.

Calls are very clear on both ends. If I'm listening to music before I ask Alexa to dial a call, the music will continue when I hang up.

Speaking of music, my main use for Alexa in my car is to play music.

For local and satellite radio, I just say,

"Alexa, play 1310-The Ticket" or another of my favorite stations, like E Street Radio from Sirius/XM, Brunch Cafe from Pandora or 1080-KRLD.

Free radio stations usually just play if you ask for the call letters.

The streaming services, like Pandora, Spotify and Sirius/XM, require you to link your account information in the Alexa app on your phone.

If you subscribe to a music service like Spotify or Apple Music or Amazon Prime music, you can ask for specific songs or albums or playlists you have saved with those services.

Or if you're in the mood for Dire Straits, you can just say, "Alexa, play Dire Straits," and she'll answer back, "Shuffling songs by Dire Straits from Prime Music," and you'll get a nice selection that'll play for an hour or so.

You don't have to start the music through Alexa. Because the Echo Auto is my new Bluetooth adapter, any audio I play through the phone will come through the car stereo.

What else?

I find myself looking for reasons to use Alexa in the car.

"Alexa, add Tabasco sauce to my shopping list."

"Alexa, what's on my calendar tomorrow?"

"Alexa, what's the temperature?"

"Alexa, what's my traffic?"

For traffic information or navigating from place to place, Alexa will hand off the request to your default traffic app. You can choose Waze, Google Maps or Apple Maps.

You set your home and work locations in the Echo app. When I start out to work and ask Alexa how traffic is, my Waze app appears on the phone's screen showing the preferred route.

The Echo Auto is the first Echo device that uses your phone as the source of its data.

Some business travelers I know have started taking an Echo Auto on the road to use in their hotels. Other Echo devices need to connect to Wi-Fi, which is impossible with most hotels, but the Echo Auto just needs to talk to your phone.

Quirks

I had a bit of a learning curve with my Echo Auto and how it interacts with my iPhone.

When I am leaving my house, my car is parked in the driveway and my phone is still in range of my home's Wi-Fi network. As I pull out of my driveway and head down the street, my Wi-Fi signal fades out and my phone switches over to LTE mode.

I found that the Echo Auto struggles with this data handoff. If I start a music stream in my driveway, it will drop before I get a block away from my house. I have to quit the Echo app on my phone and re-establish the connection on LTE.

I learned to not use Echo Auto until I drive outside my Wi-Fi range.

This isn't a hardship, but it did take a day or two before I figured out that I needed to wait 30 seconds after pulling out of the driveway to start the music.

I did find a delightful feature I wasn't expecting. If I'm listening to music on the phone through my AirPods and I get in the car, the music will hand off to the Echo Auto and continue playing through the car's stereo.

I've also been testing the Anker Roav Viva, which also brings Alexa to your car through a device that plugs directly into your 12v power plug. The head of the Viva is rather large, so if your 12v outlet is up against a corner or behind a small flip-up door, it may not work for you.

There are a few Viva models with additional ways to connect to your car (Bluetooth, FM transmitter, Aux-in). I really didn't care for the Viva. I found it a bit fussy in making the Alexa connection, and my 12v plug is low on my dash, so the Viva's built-in microphones didn't pick up my voice clearly.

The Echo Auto works perfectly for my car stereo. If I had a newer audio system with built-in Blueooth, Android Auto or Apple CarPlay, I'm not so sure I'd have as much use for it.

If you've been pining for Alexa in your car, I think the Echo Auto is the best solution.

Pros: Small, great microphones, works with most cars, doesn't need Wi-Fi.

Cons: Needs an occasional reset. A bit expensive.

Bottom line: All the functionality of my Bluetooth adapter plus Alexa.

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ABOUT THE WRITER

Jim Rossman writes for The Dallas Morning News. He may be reached at jrossman@dallasnews.com.

Visit The Dallas Morning News at www.dallasnews.com

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