Amazon Echo Auto review: Much improved but still miles behind the competition

It's not déjà vu, we are actually doing another Amazon Echo Auto Review. Why would we bother to do that review two years later? That's a great question! The Echo Auto was not ready to be released when we reviewed it in 2019. (Yes, it has been that long!) However, the initial review mentioned that the Echo Auto could have been so much more with minor tweaks and updates. This naturally prompted me to give it another look. It's been enough time for Amazon to devote more resources to the development of back-end services that will allow this gadget to work as it originally intended. The Echo Auto is much more complete than it was when it launched. If it were as well-rounded now, my colleague would have given it another star in his review. VPN Deals: A lifetime license is $16 and monthly plans are $1 and more. However, Android Auto has continued to improve and Apple CarPlay has added new features to the Alexa accessory ecosystem. Are the changes that Amazon made to Alexa and Echo Auto worth it? Although the product is on sale, it will likely prove difficult to sell, it can still be a great buy for the right person. Let me show you by diving into the review.Echo Auto Summary: The Echo Auto is now two years old and has made significant improvements since its humble beginnings. It has excellent microphones and Alexa can respond quickly to your queries. Additionally, it can do 95% more than an in-car infotainment device. This product is not recommended for those who already own a car that supports Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. The Best Excellent microphonesCompact and smallFor those who don't have an integrated infotainment system, this is a great hands-free option for a smart car.It works well when used with an Alexa app and a phone.Navigation is better, but not seamless.Alexa cannot send or respond to third-party messages natively $20 at AmazonBest Buy $20$30 at B&HEcho Auto: Prices and availabilitySource: Russell Holly/Android CentralThe Echo Auto was announced by Amazon at its fall product launch in September 2018. It was available on an invitation-only basis, similar to the Day One Editions program. Nearly a year later, the product was finally made available for purchase at $50 in late summer 2019. Although it is usually listed at $50 it can be found at Amazon and other retailers such as Best Buy and B&H for as low as $15. Right now you can purchase one for just $20. Echo Auto: The best things are getting betterSource: Jeramy Johnson / Android CentralMy colleague was quite harsh on the Echo Auto when he wrote the first Echo Auto review back in August 2019. Although the Echo Auto was criticized (and more), there were also some positive aspects in my initial review. The microphone array works as fast and responsively as ever. I didn't have to repeat myself over the sound of traffic, music, or air conditioner. It was amazing to see how quickly Alexa could understand and follow my commands. When I asked her questions about the weather or how to skip a song she responded almost immediately. After previously using Alexa-in the-car solutions that were slow, this was a pleasant surprise. It was easy to make phone calls and they connected without any problems. The Echo Auto's excellent microphones allow Alexa to respond quickly via the Echo Auto. It's still very easy to set up and is small enough to not be distracting from your dash. My colleague had complained that the air conditioner vent mount/clip didn't work well in his car. However, it fit perfectly in my car and held its place even on bumpy roads. It is one of those "your mileage might vary" things that will depend on your dashboard's shape and configuration. If the clip is not suitable for your vehicle, you can either tuck it away in a cupholder or console compartment, or use two-sided adhesive to stick it on the top of your dash. The device does not have a display, so I was happy to see an LED light strip that provided visual feedback. These LEDs indicate that Alexa is listening to your request and/or taking actions so you don't think that your command has gone unanswered. If you know what the different colors on Echo devices mean, you will be reassured by the consistency.Source: Jeramy Johnson / Android CentralAlthough the Echo Auto does not have a screen for information display, the Alexa app's Auto Mode complements it quite well. You can enjoy all the benefits of an Amazon-style in-dash infotainment by placing your phone in Alexa Auto Mode, and then securing it with a mount. This mode provides a simplified user interface that includes large text and large touch targets. You can view relevant information such as music playing, navigation suggestions or weather. There are actually four screens: the home screen, navigation screen, communication screen (which allows you to place calls and make drop-in announcements via your Echo devices), and the play screen. Listening to audiobooks, music, and podcasts was as simple as using any other Alexa device. You can access most of the major services, except YouTube Music, from the Alexa app. It's easy to ask for specific artists, playlists, or stations. It's important to ask Alexa for what you want. You won't be looking at Spotify or Tidal, but you will be looking through Alexa's lens to see your music. Playing a game with Alexa via the Echo Auto is quite enjoyable. It's great for your commute or family road trips. You can also use Alexa Skills to help you find parking in unfamiliar cities, play games with your family and listen to news bulletins. Although Alexa Skills are not always easy to use, you can ask Alexa "Alexa can you do this" or "Alexa can you play these games" for quick ideas. Side note: When you ask Alexa what it can do, the Echo Auto will get confused by its own hot word and respond. It will respond by saying "Alexa, try '..."" and the Echo will be retriggered. This is a bit ridiculous! My colleague also mentioned the Echo Auto's use as a navigation tool. Although it isn't as seamless as Waze or Google Maps in an in-dash system and it's still not as easy as Waze, it's certainly not as difficult. Alexa responded quickly to my requests for directions and offered nearby suggestions for categories such as gas stations or restaurants. Specific requests could cause Alexa to be confused (more details below). You can request a new destination or save one. To get directions, you must tap the screen. Alexa will then open the default mapping service that you have set in the Alexa App. Although it's an extra step that takes a few seconds, it was not as difficult as I expected. Echo Auto: The areas where it still falls shortSource: Jeramy Johnson / Android CentralThis is a 2-year-old product so I'm not going to be harsh about it. We already reviewed a lot of this in our Echo Auto review. There are still some issues from launch, and I wanted to mention a couple of small annoyances that I still have. Although navigation with Alexa has improved significantly since launch, it still struggles to compete against other platforms in certain areas. If you enable Auto Mode, Alexa will quickly show you options on your phone screen. Or she can read them to you. You will still need to tap on the result you wish to open to engage your map app. Although it is a minor thing, it can make your life a little more complicated. Although Alexa is quite good at providing directions, there are still some issues. Alexa can sometimes require you to be precise in your directions requests. Because I wanted a spicy chicken sandwich, Alexa was able to provide directions to Popeye's Chicken. I was first to get a Popeye's Chicken in Dallas. I tried again, and got one for San Antonio. I tried again, and she gave me an answer in Katy (near Houston). None of the results I got were relevant for me as I live in Austin. I thought I was crazy so I pulled up Google Maps to find the exact location. I was shocked to see that the address was Popeye's Louisiana Kitchen. Alexa was able to locate the correct location when I asked. Although it would be great to send and listen to incoming messages through Alexa, that functionality is not natively available. Although I don't normally bother with listening to or sending messages while driving, such functionality is possible with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Not so with Echo Auto. Although Alexa can be asked to send and read SMS messages, it is not listed in Amazon's documentation. I tried, but it didn't work for me. I reached out to Amazon and will update this section when I get back. You will need to download an Android third-party app such as Ping and activate the Ping Alexa Skills Alexa Skill. This may seem like a long way for many people. This type of stuff should be easy. Multi-user support is technically possible. However, this requires you to un-pair one phone and re-paire another in order to make the Echo Auto work with multiple devices. This is not a problem for people who use Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. It shouldn't be. If Amazon wants its Echo Auto to survive to the next generation, it must fix this. Echo Auto: CompetitionSource: Jeramy Johnson / Android CentralThe ROAV Viva by Anker was my first experience with Alexa in the car. It's still one I use occasionally. The ROAV Viva is a much more discreet device than the Echo Auto. It plugs into the vehicle's power port, so it doesn't need to be visible. You can also charge your phone and other devices from the ROAV Viva via its two USB-A ports. The ROAV Viva's price has fluctuated quite a bit but it is still about the same price as the Echo Auto. The Echo Auto is a much better product than it was when it launched. However, the iOttie Aivo Connect is still my favorite Alexa car device. It can do everything the Echo Auto can. But it can also open and close automatically to secure your phone in landscape or portrait orientation. And it can charge compatible devices at up to 10W. It's not the fastest, but it's still quite usable. The Aivo Connect's biggest problem is the price. It retails at around $100. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are the elephants in the car. If your car is equipped with either one of these platforms, the Echo Auto should be avoided. Both platforms offer more functionality and better integration with your smartphone. They can also be used by multiple users. Amazon also offers an Auto Mode that you can use with your Alexa app. This saves you money and allows for easy mounting of your phone. Auto Mode features a home screen and navigation screens. It also has a screen that plays music and skills. There is also a menu bar that allows you to quickly switch between modes. Amazon suggests that you use Auto Mode with the Echo Auto. However, you don't necessarily need both. You get the Echo Auto's main benefit, which is better microphone support and large touch targets that are easy to use with a visual display of Alexa's activities for you. Amazon Music has a Car Mode that is very similar to the Alexa app's. Echo Auto: Should it be bought?Source: Android CentralThis is the best product to buy if you're already all-in Amazon AlexaA vehicle does not have an integrated infotainment system such as Android Auto or Apple CarplayThis is what you want. You're not as concerned about navigation or messaging, but would rather make calls and listen to music hands-free.You plan to upgrade your vehicle in the near futureShare your vehicle with a spouse or family member 3 of 5 I am an Alexa power user so I want to recommend this product for everyone. But I don't think I can. The Echo Auto isn't a bad device, but it's certainly not the best for everyone. If you already have Echo speakers in your home and love to interact with Alexa (like I), then this device is for you. If you own a car that does not have Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, this device is worth considering. This is a better option than shouting at Siri or Google Assistant on your car's Bluetooth. The voice controls add value to your daily driving experience. If you can find one for less than $25, I recommend it. The regular price of $50 is a reasonable amount, especially when compared to other Alexa in-the-car products. It's still a bit expensive after two years of no physical improvements. Amazon seems to have taken this form factor as far without any hardware updates.