Alexa is everywhere in our homes now, but what about in your car? Wouldn’t it be great to have an in-car, hands-free voice assistant? You’ll never need to take your hands off the wheel to play a Spandau Ballet album, check your calendar or get the latest news headlines. You can do just that for less than £50 with an Amazon Echo Dot. Setup can be tricky, however, so here’s our guide on how to fit an Amazon Echo Dot in a car.
Amazon Echo Dot in a car: what you’ll need
- An Amazon Echo Dot (obviously)
- Either a smartphone with the ability to operate as a mobile hotspot or in-car Wi-Fi (onboard or via a dongle)
- Two USB sockets – either in the car or provided via a cigarette lighter adapter (we’d recommend the Belkin Boost-Up 2-Port Fast Charging, £19.99 from Amazon)
- In-car Bluetooth audio or an auxiliary audio input
Amazon Echo Dot in a car: how to set up the Wi-Fi
Installation instructions for the Amazon Echo Dot will vary from vehicle to vehicle, depending on what connections/ports are available in the car. However, there are some general hints and tips that will apply to almost every setup.
The most difficult problem to crack is the Wi-Fi. Some flashy cars have their own Wi-Fi hotspots – if yours does, you can basically ignore this section and skip forward. We’re going to assume most people will want to run their Echo Dot off a mobile hotspot on their smartphone and don’t have in-car Wi-Fi.
That’s perfectly possible, but you can’t set that up using the Alexa app on the smartphone you’re planning to use, because both the Echo and the smartphone must be connected to the same Wi-Fi network during the setup process. Your smartphone can’t connect to a Wi-Fi network and operate as a mobile hotspot at the same time.
Instead, you’ll need another device (such as a tablet or laptop) with the Alexa app installed. Here’s how to do it:
- Go to your phone’s mobile hotspot settings and make a note of the network name (eg SamsungHotspot) and password
- Connect the Echo Dot to your home Wi-Fi and switch on your smartphone’s mobile hotspot
- Connect your tablet/laptop to the home Wi-Fi and open the Settings in the Alexa app. Select your Echo Dot and select Update Wi-Fi.
- At this point, the app will tell you to look for the orange light on your Echo Dot. It almost certainly won’t appear until you hold down the button with the white dot on it for five seconds.
- When asked to choose the new Wi-Fi network, opt to enter the details manually, and then enter the network name and password of your mobile hotspot. If you’re asked to choose the type of security, it’s normally WPA2.
- With a bit of luck and a fair wind, your Echo Dot should now connect to your smartphone. Test it out by barking an instruction at Alexa and seeing if she responds. Responses can take a couple of seconds longer over mobile data, so be patient.
Amazon Echo Dot in a car: powering the devices
Now we’ve got the Dot connected to your smartphone, the next challenge is powering the devices in the car. The Dot isn’t very power hungry, so if your car has any type of powered USB ports, you can normally run the Dot straight from those using the cable provided in the box by Amazon.
You’re probably going to need two USB sockets, however, as your smartphone running in mobile hotspot mode will canter through its battery. If your car has two ports, great. If not, invest in a cigarette-lighter charger such as the Belkin Boost-Up 2-Port Fast Charging mentioned above. That supplies enough power to keep both devices running.
Amazon Echo Dot in a car: connecting to the car audio
The final challenge is hooking up the Echo Dot to your in-car audio, so that you can hear Alexa, music and whatever else through the car speakers instead of the Dot’s feeble built-in speaker.
The best way to achieve this will depend on what connections you have available in the car.
If you have an auxiliary input, I’d run a small cable from the Echo Dot to the socket. Yes, it’s another cable, but it’s by far the simplest option.
If your car has Bluetooth, you can give that a crack, although this proved something of a stumbling block in my Volvo V40 (this is my #AccidentalPartridge moment). The Dot isn’t compatible with any Bluetooth system that demands a PIN number, such as the Volvo’s.
If you don’t have an aux in or Bluetooth, there is another workaround. You can buy cheap Bluetooth FM transmitters that plug into the cigarette lighter. The fantastically named VicTsing Bluetooth MP3 Player FM Transmitter Hands-free Car Kit Charger I use in my Honda Jazz also has two USB ports in it, which means it can charge the phone and the Echo Dot, as well as provide the audio connection.
I’ll be honest with you: the audio quality over the FM/Bluetooth connection is far from sparkling. In fact, crackling might be a better choice of word. However, it’s not too bad once you get used to it.
Amazon Echo Dot in a car: using Alexa on the road
The great thing about using an Echo Dot in the car is it fits perfectly in cup holders. That means you can normally have the Dot mounted in the car’s central column, close enough to hear your instructions.
Alexa in the car can do everything she can at home: play music, read audiobooks, give you traffic updates on the commute to work and so forth. Bear in mind that all this data is now being passed through your mobile phone connection, so keep an eye on your data cap if you’re streaming hours upon hours of music.
Alexa doesn’t offer turn-by-turn satnav instructions or hands-free calling from your mobile phone, so bear in mind you’ll lose both of these on car journeys, as she’s now dominating your in-car audio. That said, if your car has a built-in satnav, that will normally override the Bluetooth audio to deliver directions.
Let us know how you get on with Alexa in the car in the comments below.
Now read this: which Amazon Echo should I buy?