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What is Amazon Echo Auto and how does it add Alexa to your car?

What is Amazon Echo Auto

With Amazon Echo Auto, Alexa has officially made the move from home to car. Amazon Echo Auto connects to the Alexa app on your smartphone, and plays through the car’s speakers via Bluetooth or auxiliary input. 

It means that, in theory, you can choose your music, change the radio station, stream podcasts, listen to the news, make a telephone call, or get directions – all without taking your hands off the wheel.

Right now,  exclusively by invitation only, for the discounted price of $24.99. Amazon says everyone who requests an invitation will be able to buy Echo Auto for the lower price, even after it has gone on general release for $49.99.

It’s not the first time Alexa has been available in a car, but it’s the first time you can get the personal assistant directly from Amazon.

How does Amazon Echo Auto work?

Amazon Echo Auto device

If you’re familiar with Alexa – or any voice-controlled personal assistants for that matter – Echo Auto will need no introduction.

It’s much smaller than the cylindrical speaker or hockey puck Echo or Echo Dot you might have at home. At 85 mm x 47 mm x 13.28 mm, it’s small enough to find a home in most cars. Weighing just 45 grams, it’s also light enough to take on the move.

It connects to Alexa via the Alexa phone app and plays through the car’s speakers via Bluetooth or the aux-in. Each time you start the car, make sure the phone’s volume is turned up and that the stereo is set to the correct input, then say “Alexa”.

What are its key features?

Amazon Echo Auto

Echo Auto has eight microphones, which means Alexa can hear you over road noise, claims Amazon. It’s a claim backed up by early reviews in the United States, with The Verge reporting that “Alexa can hear [you] when [you’re] going 70 on the freeway with the windows rolled down”.

The device also features an action button, light bar, 3.5 mm audio output, micro-USB power and microphone off button.

Is Echo Auto any good?

Amazon Echo Auto for cars

Sean Hollister’s engaging and interesting review of Amazon Echo Auto suggests it could be a bit hit or miss.

On the one hand, Sean rates the quality of the microphones and the Bluetooth connection, arguing that “it’s worth paying the $25 promo price for the Bluetooth adapter functionality alone”.

But he also lists a number of reasons why “Alexa is really dumb about location”, going on to say that “Amazon has put remarkably little effort into improving the things you might want Alexa to do from a car”.

Of some of the claims advertised on Amazon’s website, Sean says they are “laughably bad right now”.

Is Echo Auto an alternative to Apple CarPlay or Android Auto?

2019 Skoda Scala Apple CarPlay

Sean’s review suggests that Apple CarPlay, Android Auto or Google Assistant are superior to Amazon Echo Auto.

Amazon says Echo Auto connects to most cars that support Bluetooth to play music or that have an auxiliary input. It works best on cars that do not have Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, it says.

What’s in the box?

Amazon Echo Auto comes with an in-car power adapter, micro-USB cable, 3.5 mm auxiliary cable and quick-start guide.

Amazon Echo Auto: specifications

  • Price: $49.99 ($24.99 via invitation)
  • Size: 85 mm x 47 mm x 13.28 mm
  • Weight: 45 grams
  • Supports: Android 6.0 and iOS 12 or greater
  • Plan usage: uses existing smartphone plan (carrier charges may apply)
  • Warranty: one-year limited warranty included
Amazon Echo Auto

Amazon Echo Auto can bring Alexa into almost any car

Amazon Echo Auto

Just as an Amazon Fire Stick makes your TV smart, so the new Amazon Echo Auto makes your car smart. Never mind Android Auto, Apple Carplay, connected car systems and enormous infotainment screens – all Echo Auto needs to make your car intelligent is a USB socket (or 12V power) and an auxiliary cable.

How does Echo Auto work?

Effectively, Echo Auto offers 50,000 Alexa ‘skills’ you can activate using your voice from behind the wheel. That means apps like Spotify and Audible are controllable via Amazon’s well-resolved voice recognition system.

The little box rests on your dashboard and connects to your phone, using the Alexa app and your phone data plan to work. You power up with a USB or a 12-volt socket, and plug into the car’s speakers with either an auxiliary cord or Bluetooth.

Th box contains eight microphones designed for in-car acoustics. That means you can ask Alexa for traffic updates or call someone over the sound of air conditioning, road noise, your music, and so on. It can connect to your home Amazon systems, too. You can program it to turn your outside lights on when you pull into your driveway at night, for example.

Amazon Echo Auto

Given how poor some manufacturers own voice recognition systems are, we expect big things – especially given how much Amazon has put into the technology

Anything that lets us control facilities in-car, without taking attention off the road, gets our vote. It sounds better than scrolling through endless menus on a dashboard touchscreen, that’s for sure.

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Seat with Amazon Alexa

“Alexa, find the nearest Seat dealer” – Amazon Alexa now available in Seats

Seat with Amazon Alexa

Seat is the first automotive brand in Europe to launch Amazon Alexa in its cars. The cloud-based voice control system will give users the ability to change music, manage personal schedules, get directions and more.

Alexa, launched in 2014, has accrued more than 45,000 ‘skills’ via the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK) with which developers have actively worked to grow Alexa’s range of abilities.

Seat claims the integration of Amazon Alexa should make using the car’s features safer, too. The usual multi-step navigation process of button-pressing and menu-jumping is reduced to a simple press of the control button followed by a vocal command for Alexa to follow. Great, if it works…

The availability of the service goes back to cars manufactured after May of 2018 (MY19 cars) and fitted with Sat Nav High, so if you’ve already taken delivery of your car but it’s still fresh out the box, there’s a chance you can get Alexa.

Seat

Finding a balance

Much like Apple’s CarPlay and Android Auto, Amazon Alexa could serve as the purpose-made replacement for features that in-house development couldn’t fully realise. Voice control has been around in cars for years, as have multi-media interfaces. Only recently has the integration of systems from dedicated technology companies elevated in-car media experiences up to the standards we enjoy on our other devices.

Alexa will hopefully do the same thing for voice control as smart UIs did for in-car entertainment.

“As functionality and connectivity levels increase, we have to find a balance between usability and safety. Introducing Amazon Alexa helps us find that balance,” said Seat president Luca de Meo.

“With just a tap of the steering wheel, customers will be able to ask Alexa for music, points of interest and much more without taking eyes off the road.”

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Volvo Amazon Prime Now test drives

Now you can arrange to test drive a Volvo on Amazon

 

Volvo Amazon Prime Now test drives

Amazon’s Prime Now service is designed for shoppers who find next-day deliveries just a little bit slow. If you want something and you want it within two hours, you’ve got it, providing you live in the right postcode and have signed up to Amazon Prime.

But forget toothpaste, dishwasher tablets and ice cream, because now, for the first time, you can arrange a test drive of a new car via Prime Now. There are a couple of catches – which we’ll come to in a moment – but after a sign-up process, the vehicle will be delivered to your home or workplace.

It’s the result of a collaboration between Amazon and Volvo Car UK, which follows the introduction of the company’s new Care by Volvo subscription-based ownership package.

For now at least, the service is limited to the Volvo V40 and is only available in London, Birmingham, Manchester and Edinburgh, but we’d expect it to be widened to include other cars and locations, should this initial roll-out prove successful.

Delivery to your door

Amazon Prime Now test drive

Jon Wakefield, managing director of Volvo Car UK, said: “At Volvo Cars, we aim to make people’s lives easier. Our ‘Prime Now test drive’ offer does just that, allowing potential customers to try our V40 on their terms and in familiar surroundings.

“We’re proud to team up with Amazon to deliver this unique initiative, the first of its kind in the UK and the latest in a range of offerings from Volvo designed to take the hassle out of running a car.”

Having signed-up and selected a time-slot, a ‘fully trained operative’ will deliver the car to the door, before accompanying the prospective customer on a 45-minute test drive.

Should the customer be interested in purchasing a V40, they will be directed to their local Volvo retailer, which will be music to the ears of dealers up and down the land, fearful that this venture could cut out the middleman. Test drives will be offered on a first come, first served basis over the following weekends:

  • London: 9-10 June
  • Birmingham: 16-17 June
  • Manchester: 23-24 June
  • Edinburgh: 30 June-1 July

Customers living outside the eligible areas are invited to visit their local dealer for a test drive. How very old-school.

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The Grand Tour: fans from more than 100 countries want to visit Whitby

You’re invited to join Clarkson’s Grand Tour in Whitby

the-grand-tour-whitby

With filming underway for The Grand Tour, the ex-Top Gear trio have announced they will be filming in front of a live studio audience in North Yorkshire. Yes, that’s right: Clarkson, Hammond and May will be in Whitby.

It’s the first UK stop for The Grand Tour, which will also visit Johannesburg and California. Jezza and the gang will follow in the footsteps of Bram Stoker and Captain Cook, who are both linked with the seaside town. Stoker stayed in the Royal Hotel and is said to have based Dracula on the town.

No comments about rare steaks, please.

Jay Marine, vice president of Amazon Video Europe, said: “We were blown away by the customer demand for tickets to our studio tent recordings in Johannesburg and California and today we are excited to announce that the guys are coming home!

“Our first UK stop on The Grand Tour will be the historic North Yorkshire town of Whitby, so we invite fans to get in early to join Jeremy, Richard and James for thrills, spills and fish and chips by the seaside.”

But no steak. Definitely no steak.

Amazon’s website suggests filming will be taking place on the 13th and 14th October and that ‘audience participation is key’. Applicants must say why they want to go and, curiously, which of the presenters they most like and why.

The Grand Tour will launch on 18th November 2016 exclusively for Amazon Prime members. If you fancy standing in a big tent in Whitby, you’ll need to be quick, as entries are only open for two days and will close at midnight on Friday 30th September.

To apply for your trip to the seaside, go to: www.amazon.co.uk/GTGuestlist.

New Amazon Prime show

New ‘Top Gear’ show named

New Amazon Prime showThe new Amazon Prime TV show set to rival the BBC’s Top Gear has been named: The Grand Tour.

The programme will be presented by former Top Gear stalwarts Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May. Only those who have signed up to Amazon Prime’s £79-per-year streaming service will be able to watch it.

Clarkson announced The Grand Tour on Twitter by saying: ‘Start the smoke. We have a name.”

The controversial presenter then explained: “We’ll be travelling the world hosting each episode in a different country, from a giant tent. It’s a sort of “grand tour”, if you like. So we’ve decided to call it ‘The Grand Tour’.”

Lads on tour

Clarkson later tweeted: “So, The Grand Tour (GT for short) will come from a tent, which we will put up in a different location every week. Your town?”,  although it’s not yet clear if fans can nominate their town to host the show,

Hammond and May seemed less enthusiastic about the name. Hammond said: “We’ve got a name. And it was bleeding obvious cos it’s what we’re doing: coming from a different place every week.”

And James May remarked: “I wanted to call it ‘Nigel’, or ‘Roger’. We needed a name, and they’re names.”

Hypercar group test

With the three presenters, plus former Top Gear producer Andy Wilman on board, it’s likely the show will have many similarities to the old BBC Top Gear.

And we know the new series will start with a bang: namely a group test of the Ferrari LaFerrari, McLaren P1 and Porsche 918 Spyder hypercars.

In a similarity with the forthcoming, Chris Evans-hosted Top Gear, several Reliant Robins will feature, too.

A 12-episode series of The Grand Tour will begin on Amazon Prime this autumn.