Android Central Verdict
The Amazon Echo Auto (2nd Gen) lost some of the things that make the first one useful like wireless transportability and a localized, well-positioned speaker. However, it's improved on its core functions with a five-microphone array that can focus on the person giving it commands through a wall of noise and its ability to work with other apps without having to take your hands off the wheel.
Excellent microphone that can focus on voices amongst other sounds
Improved functionality with the Alexa app
Comes with all the cords you need to use it including a car charger
Harder to carry around if you don't like leaving your tech in your car
Why is its speaker all the way on the other end of the cord?
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Amazon's aural assistants are everywhere. The original Echo started as a desktop column speaker that could hear as well as it could play and do just about any task or play any song or podcast your heart desired. Then it got smaller with the Echo Dot, the hockey puck-sized version of the Alexa that you could use as a bedside speaker to wake you up with a loud alarm or help you sleep with any number of nighttime "skills." Then somehow it got even smaller with the Echo Auto, a credit card-sized transmitter that could hear commands even when the kids are screaming at the top of their lungs in the backseat and running orders through your phone while you're driving.
Now Amazon has released the Echo Auto (2nd Gen) and somehow it's even smaller. It's no bigger than a BIC classic lighter. It's kind of frightening to imagine just how small Amazon's smart speakers will get. One day, they might shrink it down to the size of an amoeba so you can swallow it and have Alexa inside your head where ever you go.
The Echo Auto is one of my most used gadgets in my daily routine because it's very portable, receptive, and multifunctional. It can give me directions, let me make and receive calls without an annoying earpiece and play anything my phone can play on a wireless connection. It's actually a great and inexpensive way to put a Bluetooth connection in your car if you don't care about all the other bells and whistles that other devices offer like third-party app control and multi-user support. The Echo Auto (2nd Gen) delivers on almost all of its predecessor's functionalities and it's more than enough to earn a recommendation.
Echo Auto (2nd Gen): Pricing and availability
Since it's an Amazon-exclusive product, the only place you'll find it, for now, is on Amazon. You could wait and maybe get lucky by finding a secondhand one on eBay or Facebook Marketplace but you're better off buying it new since the base price is so low.
Putting Bluetooth in a car that didn't have one in the first place can get expensive. I drive my trusty 2008 Ford Mustang that's so old, it still has that annoying Shaker 1000 stereo that you need six bricks of C4 to remove so you can do any work on the sound system. So even if I had the know-how to install it myself, it would still cost more than just the $54.99 for an Echo Auto (2nd Gen). That's only a couple of bucks higher than the original Echo Auto and Amazon loves to stick its devices in lighting deals and offer even deeper deals on Prime Day.
Echo Auto (2nd Gen): Design
The most noticeable difference in design from the original Echo Auto is the size. The whole thing has been shrunk down to the size of your thumb and weighs a measly 2.15 oz. Amazon packed a lot of stuff in there though. It's got a five-microphone array and a two-inch tall speaker or an output connector so you can hear the thing through your car's speakers.
Even though the speaker is smaller, the tethered wires make it less portable than its predecessor. One of my favorite features of the first Echo Auto was its size. I could carry it in my pocket as part of my usual pocket contents like my keys, wallet, and phone. The first Echo Auto also had its own USB-C port to power the device and a headphone port to connect to the car's sound system. This new Echo Auto (2nd Gen) has a USB wire connected to a speaker module with a headphone port on the opposite end of the cord.
So instead of just taking one device that can easily slip into any pocket so you don't have to leave it in your car, now there's a small device with a cord on the end that you have to wrap up to put in your pocket. It feels like you're carrying an extra device and it doesn't make a lot of sense to put the speaker on the other end of the cord. Why couldn't the audio go in and out of one device like the previous one? I wouldn't have minded if the second version was a little bigger or even the same size as the first Echo Auto. It's a nit-picky problem but portability was one of the device's biggest strengths.
Echo Auto (2nd Gen): Features
Fortunately, the Echo Auto (2nd Gen)'s functionality far surpasses its first-generation ancestor.
The mic could pick up on my voice commands pretty much every time I uttered "Alexa," even while the Dead Kennedy's "Holiday in Cambodia" poured out of my speakers at the highest available volume. It also was able to sus out any other voices in the car as long as I gave the response word and spoke clearly enough for it to hear me.
The sound that comes out of it is only as good as the device it's connected to but the Echo Auto (2nd Gen) can still deliver a pretty clear sound that never hiccupped. Its ability to stay connected to the phone through Bluetooth has also improved. One of the biggest problems of the first Echo Auto is how fragile its Bluetooth connection could be. Eventually, you'd have to do a hard reset on the Echo Auto and/or delete and reconnect the Bluetooth connection on the phone. The Echo Auto (2nd Gen) doesn't seem to have that problem.
The Auto Mode in the Alexa app is very functional and helpful for a device designed to keep your hands on the wheel and off your phone. This time, it can work with and activate third-party apps like the map finder Waze or Apple Music through the Alexa app using only the power of your voice. It can find a location, play the latest episode of a podcast and shuffle my "Punk Covers" playlist with no problems. There are also enough skills on the Alexa store now that can work with just about any function on your phone.
The attached speaker works well but its location makes it harder to hear since it's on the far end of the power cord. You're better off just finding a headphone cord and plugging it into your car's sound system.
The improved functionality with other mobile apps also makes dictation a lot smoother. It's not good enough to write an email that requires proper punctuation and sentence structure but it's helpful when you want to send a quick text to someone without risking your health and safety because you just wanted to say "What's up?".
Echo Auto (2nd Gen): Should you buy it?
You should buy this if:
- You actually use your Amazon Alexa and Echo devices
- You don't have Bluetooth connectivity in your car
- You need a hands-free phone device that doesn't require shoving something in your ear
- You drive a noisy car or have a lot of kids in the backseat and need your phone to be able to hear you
You shouldn't buy this if:
- You hate it when you have to put wires in your pocket that get tangled up with your phone
- You need one place in your life where Amazon can't monitor your behavior
The Echo Auto (2nd Gen) is bound to become one of Amazon's most popular Alexa devices because it improves so much on what the first incarnation did well. It can hear you well enough to transcribe a text or have a conversation with someone who decided to call instead of text for some bewildering reason.
Its form is more underwhelming than its function. The rush to miniaturize high-powered electronic devices and auto accessories has made the Echo Auto (2nd Gen) a little clunkier to lug around even if it technically still fits in your pocket. If you can reach the audio input port in your car's sound system, you won't have to deal with the awkwardly positioned speaker.
If you look at its layout in a more positive light, you're less likely to lose such a small microphone device without an attached cord. It's also not big enough of a problem to at least give it a try if you want to connect to your phone in your car and still keep your hands on the wheel as every good driver should.
Amazon shrunk the device from the first generation, which somehow made it just a bit clunkier. However, this is a fantastic option if you are a big Alexa user or have an older vehicle without Android Auto or Apple CarPlay.
Danny Gallagher is a freelance tech, game and comedy writer based out of Dallas, Tex. He's written features for places like CNET, Cracked, Maxim, Mandatory and The Onion AV Club. He's also written material for games produced by Jackbox Games and SnapFingerClick.