Echo Auto (2nd Gen) review: Alexa for your car just got a big upgrade

The all-new Echo Auto is a lot more compact at first glance — but there’s a catch

Echo Auto (2nd Gen) Review
(Image: © Future)

Tom's Guide Verdict

The Echo Auto (2nd Gen) is a much more refined version of Amazon’s Echo for your car but it’s still a niche product that likely won’t appeal to those with modern cars. The new design, improved microphones and roadside assistance are all welcome additions but they may not be enough to convince owners of the original to upgrade.

Pros

  • +

    Sleek, more compact design

  • +

    Multiple mounting options

  • +

    Improved microphones

Cons

  • -

    Non-removable cable

  • -

    Vent mount comes in a separate bundle

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Echo Auto (2nd Gen): Specs

Price: $54.99 ($62.98 with vent mount)

Size: 2.05 x 0.91 x 0.6” (Mic), 2.24 x 1.38 x 0.55” (Speaker)

Weight: 2.15 oz (61 grams)

Microphones: 5

Output: 3.5mm, Bluetooth

Bluetooth: HFP (phone calls), A2DP (audio), AVRCP (voice control)

OS: Android 6.0, iOS 12 or newer

Alexa for your car just got even better with the release of the all-new Echo Auto. This compact, USB-powered device adds Amazon’s voice assistant to any vehicle for hands-free calling and messaging, navigation and more. With Echo Auto (2nd Gen) there’s an additional mounting option, redesigned microphones to hear you better and it also ships with a fast car charger that can quickly charge your phone over USB-C.

Our Echo Auto (2nd Gen) review will help you decide if it’s worth adding Alexa to your car in the first place and whether or not you should upgrade from the previous version. Even if you have a more modern vehicle that ships with Android Auto or Apple CarPlay, you can still use the Echo Auto if you prefer Alexa over Google Assistant or Siri.

Echo Auto (2nd Gen) review: Price and availability

The all-new Echo Auto will be available for preorder beginning on December, 7 for $54.99 and units will begin shipping out the following week. This price gets you an Echo Auto (2nd Gen), an adhesive car mount, an auxiliary cable and a fast car charger. However, the new Echo Auto will also be available in a separate bundle that includes a vent mount as well as everything listed above for $62.98.

Echo Auto (2nd Gen) review: Design

A picture of the Echo Auto (2nd Gen)'s microphone

(Image credit: Future)

The Echo Auto (2nd Gen) appears much more compact and sleeker than the original while also giving users a second way to mount it. Instead of a horizontal layout, Amazon has gone with a vertical one where the button to enable Alexa is located at the top and the mute button is underneath it. The light bar above these two buttons is also much smaller.

A side view of the Echo Auto's microphone with the adhesive mount attached

(Image credit: Future)

Unlike with the original Echo Auto, this new version ships with an adhesive car mount that gives you more flexibility when it comes to where you want to install it. The microphone is just over 2 inches long with a width of just under an inch and it’s half an inch tall when laid on its side. One big difference though is that its cable isn’t removable like with the original.

A comparison of the original and all-new Echo Auto

(Image credit: Future)

If you look at the new Echo Auto next to the original, the size difference is quite noticeable and its microphones are now hidden under fabric. Even though there are fewer microphones (8 vs. 5, they perform better, especially when there is music, air conditioning or even road noise in the background.

The new Echo Auto's microphone and speaker modules

(Image credit: Future)

When Amazon first unveiled the Echo Auto (2nd Gen) at its September event, its new, slimmed down design was all that was shown. However, as you can see in the picture above, it comes at a cost. Essentially, the company’s engineers moved the audio jack and other components to a speaker module next to the USB cable so that the microphone, light bar and buttons can be in a more compact enclosure. Unfortunately though, the Echo Auto’s cables are no longer removable which means you can’t use a shorter cable. However, both the adhesive mount and the optional vent mount have extra space behind the microphone where you can wrap the cable.

Echo Auto (2nd Gen) review: Setup

Echo Auto (Gen 2) what's included

(Image credit: Future)

The Echo Auto (2nd Gen) includes everything you’ll need to get the device set up and running. Since I already had the previous version installed in my car, I decided to go with the vent mount instead of the new adhesive one as I didn’t want to worry about it falling down while driving. Amazon does include a spare piece of adhesive tape in case the device does fall down or if you want to reposition the Echo Auto.

The new Echo Auto's speaker module plugged into a car's USB port

(Image credit: Future)

As the speaker module’s USB cable is on the short side, I opted to use a USB extension cable so that it could lay flat on top of my center console. I haven’t had any problems with this setup yet but I do wish the new Echo Auto’s USB cable was a bit longer – especially since it isn’t removable.

Echo Auto Setup 1

(Image credit: Future)

To get started using the Echo Auto, you first need to download the Alexa app and sign into your Amazon account. Even though the setup guide gives you tips for mounting the device, I recommend you install it in your car first to make the process easier.

Echo Auto (2nd Gen) setup 2

(Image credit: Future)

Once your Echo Auto has been added to the Alexa app, the setup process begins with asking you how you connect your phone to your car with options for Bluetooth, Aux, Android Auto (Wired), Android Auto (Wireless) and Apple CarPlay. A sound is played three times to sync you car with your Echo Auto and then you’re asked to select your preferred music and messaging services and map provider. At this point, you can also set up Amazon’s Find My feature as well as roadside assistance. Overall, this was very easy to do and only took a few minutes.

Echo Auto (2nd Gen) review: Auto Mode

Echo Auto (2nd Gen) next to a phone running Auto Mode in the Alexa app

(Image credit: Future)

In order to use Amazon’s Auto Mode, you need to have an Echo Auto (1st or 2nd Gen) installed in your vehicle. Just like the now discontinued Android Auto app, it offers a simplified user experience that’s designed to “help you stay focused on the road with easy to read visuals, large touch targets and intuitive features and shortcuts” according to Amazon (opens in new tab).

Screenshots of Auto Mode in the Alexa app

(Image credit: Future)

The Auto Mode home screen has tiles for music, directions and phone calls but you can also navigate to each section by tapping the icons on the bottom of the screen. Here you’ll find additional options for each. For instance, the Communicate screen also allows you to drop in on the best Alexa speakers at home, announce that you’re on your way and call roadside assistance. I particularly like the Smart Home screen as you can quickly turn lights and other smart home devices on or off.

Even though Auto Mode is one of the perks of having an Echo Auto, you don’t have to use it. If the Alexa app isn’t open on your smartphone and your screen is off, you can still speak to Amazon’s virtual assistant to make calls, send text messages, play music, control smart home devices and more.

Echo Auto (2nd Gen) review: Navigation 

A smartphone showing Google Maps next to the Echo Auto (2nd Gen)

(Image credit: Future)

Getting to and from work or anywhere else you want to go for that matter is quite easy with the Echo Auto. During the device’s setup process, you’re asked to pick your preferred navigation app but you can change this later. A full list of supported apps isn’t available but the Echo Auto does work with all of the big players including Google Maps, Waze and Apple Maps.

Since I drop off my son every morning at his aunt’s house, I have her address set as my work location. After starting up my car and waiting for Echo Auto to turn on, I just ask Alexa to “get directions to work” and she opens Google Maps. I haven’t had any problems with this while testing both the original and the Echo Auto (2nd Gen).

Getting directions to general locations like gas stations and restaurants also works well as Alexa hands things over to Google Maps (or your preferred navigation app) which does the brunt of the work. If you don’t say the name of a specific place, restaurant or store, you’re presented with a list of options to choose from.

Overall, navigation works well with the Echo Auto (2nd Gen) but you can always manually input a destination before getting into your car and still use Alexa on your drive.

Echo Auto (2nd Gen) review: Calling and messaging

Hands-free calling and messaging is one of the best (and safest) reasons to have an Echo Auto installed in your car. You just need to ask Alexa to call or message one of your contacts and she does the rest. However, you can also have Alexa answer incoming calls or read your text messages aloud.

Call quality is improved with Echo Auto (2nd Gen);even when I was going relatively fast with my windows down, the person on the other end was able to hear me clearly. In fact, my wife said that I sounded better when using the Echo Auto than I normally do when using my phone’s speaker to make calls while driving.

The one problem I did have occurred while trying to send text messages. If you forget to turn Wi-Fi off when you get into the car, your phone may try to connect to various hotspots during your drive. When this happened, I was able to start messaging someone and relay my entire message to Alexa but she had trouble sending it. Although this isn’t a problem with the Echo Auto itself, it’s something to remember if you plan on using the device to send text messages while driving.

It’s worth noting that the Echo Auto (2nd Gen) is also restricted to using your smartphone’s default phone and messaging apps. This means that third-party apps like WhatsApp or Signal aren’t supported. You can also use your Echo Auto to call and message other Echo devices but you need to set this up first in the Alexa app’s Communicate tab.

Echo Auto (2nd Gen) review: Alexa performance

A closeup of the Echo Auto (2nd Gen)'s microphone

(Image credit: Future)

Having Alexa at the ready is a big selling point of the original Echo Auto and Amazon’s virtual assistant has certainly seen some improvements with this new device. In my experience, she responds faster with the Echo Auto (2nd Gen) and the upgraded microphones did a much better job at picking up my voice. For instance, while going 70 MPH with the windows down on the highway, I was able to ask Alexa “What’s 2 + 2?” and she responded accordingly.  

Just like with an Echo Dot or any other Alexa-enabled smart speaker, you can set timers, alarms, reminders, ask about the weather, have Alexa tell you a joke or play a number of different audio games. The audio games and jokes can come in handy if you’re traveling with children or even if you get bored while stuck in traffic.

Since Echo Auto is tied to your smartphone and connected via Bluetooth, Alexa is limited to the apps installed on your phone. This way, instead of only using Amazon Music, you can use Spotify or Apple Music to listen to your favorite songs. Speaking of Amazon Music, Amazon is offering six months of free access to Amazon Music Unlimited with the purchase of an Echo Auto (2nd Gen). 

As I’m a Prime member, I tried listening to Amazon Music while testing out the Echo Auto. While subscribers get access to the service’s full catalog of 100 million songs, you aren’t able to stream specific albums or just a single artist’s work. Instead, you’re limited to Shuffle Mode. Amazon Music Unlimited subscribers on the other hand, have a lot more options when it comes to what they want to listen to.

A screenshot of Amazon's Find My feature in the Alexa app

(Image credit: Future)

One of my favorite features on both the original as well as the Echo Auto (2nd Gen) is “Find My”. Once enabled in the Alexa app, you can use this feature to find your car right from within the app but it also works on the Echo Show 15. A map displaying the last location of your car is shown which can be really helpful if you happen to misplace your vehicle in a large parking lot or shopping center.

As I have a few of the best smart light bulbs in every room of my house, I also found Echo Auto to be incredibly useful for controlling my smart home. Whether I forgot to turn off a light or wanted the lights on in the kitchen when I got home, I could just ask Alexa to do it for me. This also works with the best smart plugs or any other connected device you can add to the Alexa app.

Echo Auto (2nd Gen) review: Verdict

Whether or not you should add the new Echo Auto to your car depends a lot on the age of your vehicle. If you’re driving an older car without an infotainment system or your car doesn’t have Bluetooth, then the Echo Auto makes a lot of sense. However, if your car supports Android Auto or Apple CarPlay, you may not necessarily need the Echo Auto. Still, if you’re used to using Alexa around your house and want to be able to access your favorite virtual assistant on the road, then it may be worth it.

As for owners of the original Echo Auto, upgrading to the new model may be worth your while depending on if you prefer the sleeker, more compact design along with the new adhesive mount. Alexa also performs better and call quality has seen an improvement as well. Roadside assistance is another plus and the new fast car charge allows you to power the Echo Auto (2nd Gen) while charging your smartphone using Quick Charge 3.0.

Either way, the Echo Auto (2nd Gen) improves upon the original in terms of its hardware and adds new features like roadside assistance along with an additional mounting option. I wish the vent mount was included in the standard package but it does only cost an extra $8. The Echo Auto (2nd Gen) may be a niche product but Amazon has given it the upgrade it deserves with the caveat that its cable is no longer removable.

Next: Also check out the top 5 reasons to buy and 3 reasons to skip the Amazon Echo Auto 2.

Anthony Spadafora
Senior Editor Security and Networking

Anthony Spadafora is the security and networking editor at Tom’s Guide where he covers everything from data breaches and ransomware gangs to password managers and the best way to cover your whole home or business with Wi-Fi. Before joining the team, he wrote for ITProPortal while living in Korea and later for TechRadar Pro after moving back to the US. Based in Houston, Texas, when he’s not writing Anthony can be found tinkering with PCs and game consoles, managing cables and upgrading his smart home.