Alexa in the car is big business. That much was clear from walking around at CES 2018, where a bunch of companies were showing of their solutions to getting Amazon's digital assistant in your vehicle.
The most notable example so far is Garmin's Speak, that affixes to the windshield and brings Alexa's voice commands into the car, as well as navigation help from the satnav specialist.
However, you don't need to fork out $150 for a new Alexa device for you car. Did you know that your Echo dot will work just fine, piggybacking off of your smartphone's cellular data?
Read this: The best Amazon Alexa Skills
Is super easy to set up - here's how...
Getting your Echo Dot connected in your car
The first thing to do is to change your Echo Dot's Wi-Fi network from your home one to the hotspot address of the smartphone you want to use for tethering.
To do this, fire up the Alexa app and then select 'Settings'.
Select the Echo Dot you want to use if your car, and choose 'Update Wi-Fi'. If you're using a new Dot for this, you'll need to choose' Set up a new device'.
Turn on the hotspot option on your smartphone and have the password handy.
On your Dot, press and hold the action button until the light ring goes orange. You'll then need to temporarily connect to a network your Dot is broadcasting, then just select your phone's hotspot name and enter the password.
That's it - you're done, your Echo Dot is now using your phone's 3G or 4G data instead of your home's Wi-Fi. You might want to change the name of the Dot to Echo Car or something along those lines - something that's easy to remember for Drop Ins.
Essential guide: Amazon Alexa missing manual
Now it's just a case of putting your Dot in your car. The Dot actually has a non-slip base, and we haven't had any issues of it moving around on our car's dashboard - but you might want to secure it with some sticky tabs to be double-safe.
Obviously, you're Dot is relying on your phone's connection now so, if your phone's data cuts out, your Echo won't work. However, with 3G and 4G coverage being so widespread nowadays, you shouldn't run into many problems.
The final point - and, again - this might be an obvious point - there's no battery in your Echo Dot so it will rely on your car giving it power. Luckily this is easily achieved using a standard Micro USB charging cable plugged into your car's 12v port.
Pairing Alexa with your Bluetooth car stereo
Once you've done the above, you're actually all good to go - after all, the Echo Dot packs a meaty little speaker for its size - so you'll have no issues interacting with Alexa on the go.
However, don't forget that the Echo Dot is also capable of pairing up with Bluetooth speakers, and many car stereos now pack Bluetooth connectivity.
So, if you're going to be streaming music or internet radio using your Echo Dot (beware those data charges/limits, but more on that in a bit) you might want to pair up to your car's speakers.
Essential guide: What is Amazon Echo Connect?
All Bluetooth speakers have a slightly different pairing process but it will be along these lines to get it sorted...
Turn on pairing mode on your Bluetooth speaker and fire up the Alexa app and select 'Settings'.
Select your new car Dot, and then select 'Bluetooth' then 'Pair a New Device'. When your Dot discovers your car's speaker, tap that name. Your Dot should then connect to the speaker and Alexa will tell you it's all paired up.
Great Alexa skills and commands for your car
Obviously the selling point for the Garmin Speak is the navigation features - but there's no skill that replicates that on the Dot, unfortunately - but that's what Google Maps is for anyway.
But there are a ton of great reasons to have Alexa in the car. Here are the ones we're using the most - you can obviously apply the actions to your own smart home and personal favourite apps.
- Turning on a house alarm if we forgot to do so as we left home. (Somfy)
- Turning the heating up when we're driving home on a cold day. (Nest)
- Settling an argument with a passenger on some inane trivia. (Alexa native)
- Finding out the traffic for our route ahead. (Traffic Watch)
- Playing animal sounds for the baby. (Animal Sounds)
- Finding out the latest news headlines. (BBC)
- Streaming internet radio. (TuneIn)
- Playing games to pass the time on long drives. (Millionaire Quiz)
- Turning the lights on at home if it's getting dark. (Lifx)
- Getting a coffee brewing as we're nearing home. (Smarter Coffee)
How much data is Alexa using
Obviously, doing any of the above is going to eat some of your smartphone's data plan. How much, exactly, depends on what you are doing with your Dot in the car.
If you're just asking questions and throwing in a few smart home commands then your data shouldn't take too much of a hit - although be aware that any Echo device is always checking in with the Mother Ship, sending packets to and from the Amazon servers.
However, if you're streaming music then the hit is obviously going to be a lot harder. There's no exact science here but, IHeartRadio streaming for an Echo device is reportedly 384Kbps, which would mean about 173MB of data in an hour's use. If you're playing music from Amazon Music, reports claim that an Echo actually downloads the MP3 file, rather than streaming it - so that's anywhere between 10 and 20MB of data per song.
So, however you plan on using Alexa in your car, make sure you have a cellular data plan in place to cover yourself.