Voice controls keep you safer when driving. But many vehicles either have hilariously awful voice controls or nothing at all. Amazon wants to solve that with the new Echo Auto. Does it achieve that goal? Mostly. But it needs work.
Needing a Solution for Dumb Cars
I drive a 2010 Toyota Prius, and its voice command system is the worst. To make a phone call by voice, I have to press a button, listen to a series of command options, respond, and repeat no less than three times. Half the time it fails, and I have to start over. It takes so long I don’t bother.
To get around that, I bought a Roav Viva nearly two years ago. It promises more natural voice commands through Alexa that work quickly. Sure, I can use my phone’s built-in Google Assistant, but when I tried to do that, my phone’s microphones couldn’t hear me well enough. The Roav Viva works well, but it isn’t seamless. It misses out on some features like Spotify integration and proper followup. Anytime the Viva asks, “Did you say Call John?” it completely fails to listen to my response.
The Echo Auto is supposed to be different. This product, currently sold by invitation only, comes directly from Amazon . So unlike the Roav Viva, it won’t need a bridge app to connect the device to the Alexa app. And mostly it’s better. But in some places, it’s a step back from the Viva.
The Physical Setup Is a Bundle of Bad Choices
My absolute favorite thing about the Roav Viva is that it looks like a car charger. You plug it into your cigarette lighter, and it includes two USB ports for charging your phone and other devices. You forget it’s a physical object in your car.
I wish Amazon had stolen that concept, but it didn’t. Instead, what the company came up with is a rectangular box about the size of a Nintendo Joy-Con. Overall it’s a pretty boring design. The top has two buttons, one for mute and one to prompt the Echo to listen to you. The right side sports a MicroUSB port for power and a headphone jack.
Included is the car charger (with two USB ports), a USB cord, and a 3.5 mm audio cable. To get set up, you connect the Echo Auto to your phone, and then the phone to your car. If you have Bluetooth in your car, use that, otherwise, use an Aux jack. If you have neither, you can’t use the Echo Auto. That mirrors the Roav Viva exactly.
Once everything is connected, you have to put the device somewhere. Amazon includes a vent clip that magnetically holds the Echo Auto; although it technically fits my car’s vents, it prevents them from moving or aiming in a sensible direction. So the next best option is to set the Echo Auto on the dash and hope it doesn’t slide around.
That leaves me in an awkward position. I have a power cord dangling in the way and a device that might fly away. Whether I use the mount or not, when I leave the car, I feel like I should hide the thing. I don’t feel the need to hide the Roav Viva because who’s going to steal a car charger?