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The best five uses of a smart assistant in your car

It has become essential at home, so why not take it with you when you drive? EL PAÍS tested a device that adds this functionality to your vehicle; these are our favorite features

Echo Auto
The second-generation Echo Auto.Laura Pajuelo

By now, we are more than used to using smart assistants at home, through a television, a speaker, or our phone. And we know exactly what we can do with them: ask general questions, make them control our smart home devices, make shopping lists, play some music or summarize the news of the day, among many other things. But are they useful in other places, such as the car?

For some time now, the most modern vehicles have included Android Auto or Apple CarPlay, which turn the car into an extension of the smartphone (with all the possibilities that this implies, including access to apps and voice control). But that is not the only way to have an intelligent assistant on the road: some companies offer devices that can transform any car into a smart one that can be controlled by voice, something useful in those vehicles that do not come with integrated voice assistants. Anker and JBL were two of the first, with the Roav Volt and Link Drive models, respectively, equipped with Google Assistant. Amazon would arrive shortly after with its Echo Auto with Alexa.

The apps

We tested the second generation of this gadget to find out exactly what one can do with a smart assistant in the car. These are the most interesting points:

  • Find my car. This is our favorite feature. During device configuration it asks if you want to activate this function (the essential thing is to always grant location permissions). From there, Amazon periodically collects the data and, when you ask “Alexa, where is my car?” it shows its exact location. You can also see it in the app.
  • Asking it to play songs, music from specific bands and playlists from streaming services like Spotify, Amazon Prime Music and Apple Music. Also audio books (Audible), podcasts (iVoox) and even the radio (TuneIn), everything straight from your car’s own speakers.
  • Controlling smart home devices. Although at first controlling home appliances from the car might not sound particularly interesting, we have found certain features useful, such as adjusting the temperature before you arrive home — you must have a connected thermostat or air conditioning system — or asking it to open the garage door when you get there (as long as it is also automated).
  • As a travel assistant, you can ask about traffic information, the weather at your arrival, fun facts and more. In the settings you can choose which map service to use (Apple Maps, Google Maps, Waze) and it also guides you to the destination, although it does it with voice commands; to see the image you have to use the screen of your phone.
  • Making hands-free calls, both to the contacts on your phone and to those who have Alexa devices. You can call directly to smart speakers or leave messages on them.

What about the setup?

It is quite simple — just plug it into a USB port or the car cigarette lighter, link it via Bluetooth or cable to the speakers and configure it from the Alexa app. Keep in mind that it always works together with your smartphone, from which it gets the internet connection that is essential for its operation, and that it is not compatible with all vehicles (the list can be consulted online).

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