In-car voice recognition is getting a boost thanks to Amazon Alexa, which is now available in Canada, either through the Amazon Echo Auto, or Amazon Alexa Auto Built-in.
The Amazon Echo Auto works much like an Echo Dot smart speaker for the home, but one that connects to your car via Bluetooth or a 3.5-mm aux cable. You can use it like any smart speaker or digital assistant – ask it to do something, and it complies as best as it can. It’ll play music, provide navigation directions, answer simple questions, and even manage smart-home devices.
However, if you’re looking for a more refined and complete experience, there’s Amazon Alexa Auto Built-in. In Canada, this is currently only available on model year 2018 and newer GM products, but Amazon is looking to bring the functionality to more vehicles and partners. Having Amazon Alexa built into your dashboard offers more features and is easier to manage than the Echo Auto because it can integrate better with your vehicle’s infotainment – offering an experience comparable to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, with the difference being that Amazon’s voice assistant will work whether you carry an iPhone or an Android.
How It Works
First, you download the app to your dashboard using your car’s app store. It’s important to note that an internet connection, either through your vehicle’s built-in modem or shared from your phone, is necessary to set up and use all features of Alexa Auto.
Once the app is downloaded, you connect it to your Amazon account by logging in using your mobile device (now would be a good time to pair your phone with your car if you haven’t already). Then it asks if you want to access Alexa via the car’s voice recognition button (typically found on a steering wheel) or via the infotainment touchscreen. And that’s it – you can put your phone away.
Unlike Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, your phone’s interface doesn’t take over the vehicle’s infotainment screen. As a result, Alexa provides navigation and music through the vehicle’s native apps. This is great if you prefer your car’s usual maps or media interface to the one on your phone. This also addresses a pretty big pain point in Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, where you’re stuck with the music and services already on your phone – it’s usually a hassle to hop over to the CD player or a radio station using those phone projection systems.
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Finally, Amazon Alexa Auto works with your connected smart-home devices to perform some nifty tricks. For example, while getting ready in the morning, you can get the car warmed up by tell your Alexa Echo device to turn on your vehicle. You can also ask Alexa to lock or unlock the vehicle while sitting in the living room. Furthermore, if you have smart lightbulbs or switches, you can control them using Alexa Auto, whether to light up a hallway before you head inside, or to turn off a light that you forgot about when you left the house.
Below is a list of common commands that you can give Alexa. All of these commands require Alexa to be triggered and listening, either by the button on the dashboard or on your steering wheel. On the other hand, the Amazon Echo Auto can be triggered by saying “Alexa.”
Like the Google Assistant and Apple’s Siri, you can ask Alexa for information about any number of things, like weather, calendar entries, news, to-do lists, and more.
- “What’s the weather like?” or “What’s the weather going to be like this weekend?”
- “Will it rain today?” or “Will I need an umbrella today?”
- News and Information
- “What’s the date today?”
- “Give me my sports update” or “Did [sports team] win last night?”
- “How far away is the moon?” or “What’s the meaning of life?”
- Shopping (via Amazon)
- “Add paper towels to my cart.” or “Reorder dog food.”
As expected, you can make telephone calls and send text messages, but Amazon Alexa Auto also allows you to call specific Echo speakers.
- “Call [contact].”
- “Call [contact]’s Echo.”
- “Call [contact]’s home phone.”
- “Call [number].”
- “Send an SMS.”
- “Send an SMS to [contact].”
Alexa Auto Built-in makes use of your car’s own navigation system. If you have the Echo Auto, however, it routes your requests through your phone’s default map app.
- “Get directions to [destination].”
- “Cancel navigation.”
- “What’s my commute look like?” or “What’s the traffic like?”
- “Find a top-rated Thai restaurant.”
- “Find a nearby gas station.”
- “Find the closest dog park.”
Alexa can work with different apps and even Audible audiobooks. And if your car has Alexa Built-in, it can also access radio channels.
- “Change radio to 88.1.”
- “Play some music.”
- “Play [playlist] on Spotify.”
- “Play [artist] station on Pandora.”
- “What’s that song that goes, ‘Just hold on, we’re going home’?”
- “Play [title] on Audible” or “Read [title]” or “Play the book, [title]” or “Next chapter.”
Smart Home Control
If you have connected devices, you can control them from your car.
- “Lock my front door.”
- “Turn on the porch light.”
- “Turn down the temperature in the living room.”
Amazon Alexa Auto is pretty new, so many skills and capabilities are in active development – like HVAC controls. While GM is the first partner with Amazon Alexa Built-in active in Canada, other manufacturers – such as Ford, Toyota, BMW, and Audi – are listed on Amazon’s US site, so it’s only a matter of time before more Canadian drivers get to experience the feature for themselves.
It’s important to understand that while most vehicles these days have some kind of voice recognition built in, these cloud-connected services are often better at recognizing commands and offering functionality that extends outside the car and into the home – and they’re always getting better.