Echo Auto: Three Weeks Later

porterjw

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"Good Morning Alexa"

For the past several years, that how I started my morning, rolling over in bed and speaking those words. A moment later I was greeted with a familiar voice giving me a random fact, something that occurred on that day in history, or sometimes a joke. It began as a fun thing but quickly turned into a sort of ritual; I enjoyed hearing her...it?...no, her. Then a few weeks ago, I made the effort to stop doing it.

That's because I was selected for the invite-only preorder (request submitted when it was announced) for the newest addition to the Echo family: the Echo Auto. Within 45 seconds, it was added to my cart and the order was completed - free one-day shipping included. The next afternoon, I came home to the all-too familiar sight of a brown box sealed with Prime tape. I *should* have done an unboxing video but I was too eager to play with my new toy. A minute later, I was holding the smaller and far lighter than expected device in my hand and heading to the car.

Set-up was fairly intuitive, just what I've come to expect with Echos: power-on the device and open the Alexa App. You're walked through step by step, with the option of selecting if your vehicle has Bluetooth or if audio will be transmitted via 3.5mm cable. After everything is set up though...nothing. No in-app notification that things are paired, just a video that played (silently). Not knowing what had just happened, I unpaired and went through the set-up again. In hindsight, I realized everything was fine the first time, my speaker volume was muted. Still, some sort of notification on the device used to initially connect would be nice.

Throughout the days, the device has seen fairly good use. Between asking for phone calls to be place, apps to be opened, or even just the random joke or question, the response has been quick and sounded clear through the speakers. However, certain Skills (I'm looking squarely at you I'm Driving) don't seem to want to play nice all the time. Perhaps its the background noise inherently present in all vehicles, but giving that Alexa can hear my normal voice even when playing music, it seems to be a larger quirk. Yes, I know GA and Siri can give voice-based directions, but one of the biggest boons to having this sort of device is to have everything in one package and be completely hands-free from a phone.

One glaring issue though is the Bluetooth connectivity... On device start-up, everything is paired within seconds, though if I need to switch to an actual headset (or even walk out of range of my vehicle) Alexa will not automatically reconnect, and give me a very hard time manually doing it - to the point that it’s just easier/quicker to cut power from the device and allow it to reboot. For someone that is in and out of the vehicle as much as me this is a major issue and I hope it gets addressed before the full-release. This will mainly be an issue in vehicles that provide power to their 12-volt adapters for a period of time after the engine is shut off. My Sonata kills everything but the radio upon stopping the engine and the Auto reboots upon start-up, so there were no issues when using that vehicle.

Overall, this seems to be a well-built and super mobile (seriously, it's size is just shy of a pack of Orbit gum) addition to the Echo family, quirks included. Being able to keep both hands on the wheel while having full access to everything an Echo can do is pretty amazing. While I’m not an audiobook person (a three month trial of Audible is included), I do listen to Pandora and other streaming services frequently and it’s very convenient simply asking for what I want to hear. It should be noted, though, that as of this being posted, the Auto is only compatible with Android phones. Support will eventually come for iPhones, but there is not yet a firm date. Sorry Apple folks. Once a firmware upgrade comes through to fix the few issues I’ve noticed, I think this will quickly become one of the higher-selling Echo devices.
 
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