Technology

Amazon’s new Echo Auto is smaller and easier to mount in your car

Amazon has announced an update to the Echo Auto that it originally launched back in 2018. The new Echo Auto is a wholly new design, with a smaller footprint, fabric covering, and easier mounting options. It will sell for $54.99.

The idea behind the Echo Auto is to put Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant in your car if your vehicle doesn’t have it integrated natively like some modern cars. Effectively a microphone with some smarts, the Echo Auto pairs to your phone over Bluetooth and can then connect to your car’s audio system over Bluetooth or through a 3.5mm audio cable. Power is supplied by your car’s USB port.

The new Echo Auto has five microphones, down from the original’s eight. Amazon’s vice president of Alexa devices, Nedim Fresko, said it has “improved algorithms to better detect voice commands” in a briefing ahead of today’s announcement. It’s designed to be able to hear commands over a car’s AC system, music, and road noise. But hearing voice commands wasn’t the main issue with the original Echo Auto when we reviewed it back in 2019. It was its dependence on the phone’s cellular connection for internet connectivity, which frequently flaked out. The new Echo Auto relies on the same kind of system, so we’ll have to see if it’s improved at all when we get a chance to test it.

The smaller size of the new model should make it easier to find a mounting spot in your car, and it comes with an adhesive mount to stick it to your dash. Amazon moved the audio output jack to a breakout box closer to the USB plug, which should address some of the cable clutter the old one suffered from.

Additionally, Amazon announced a new roadside assistance service for the Echo Auto that will let you call for help if you need it. The service does not have a subscription charge and instead requires payment for services, such as a flat tire change or roadside gas fill-up, as they are needed.

Otherwise, the new Echo Auto is still designed to be used for actions like asking for music or podcasts, getting directions to specific locations, or providing answers to random questions. In our testing of the original Echo Auto, we found it was laughably bad at location-based queries, so again, we’ll have to see if Amazon made any kind of progress there.

Another still-open question is why you would want this in your car. The Echo Auto relies entirely on a smartphone, which already has a more capable voice assistant that’s better suited for the things you need in a car on it. Many modern cars now support CarPlay and Android Auto, which use their respective voice assistants for commands and generally do a better job at finding locations, sending text messages, and making phone calls than Alexa can. Amazon’s assistant is very helpful inside of a home, where you can use it for answers to facts, play games, control smart home devices, listen to music, and set timers. But it still has a long way to go to prove itself useful outside of the home.