Spotify’s car stuff is confusing, but works as advertised

I love my old car. It’s officially a teenager – 13, to be exact – but its in-dash entertainment setup makes it seem much older. For the longest time, I have been using the Android Auto app on my smartphone as my car’s “infotainment” system. Years ago, I pulled the 30-pin proprietary iPod connector out into my glove compartment to reveal the AUX port, and later purchased a Roav Bolt with Google Assistant built-in for hands-free connectivity.

Everything worked so well. I would start the car, my Android phone would connect via Bluetooth to Bolt, and the Android Auto app would appear on my phone screen. Then I put the Popsocket to the holder and pressed the play button on the phone to get started on the road. Android Auto offered the perfect combination of music playback and Google Maps that I constantly need because I have no sense of direction, even after living in the San Francisco Bay Area all my life.

But then Google announced that its Android Auto phone app would be phased out and I started panicking. That’s when I looked at Spotify’s Car Thing, a Bluetooth accessory for your phone that plays music. I was not quite sure what I expected from this $ US80 ($ 110) device that exists solely to stream Spotify – there was probably more to it, I thought. Reader, it’s not there.

An iPod, but make it to Spotify

Car Thing fits perfectly into your air valve with a magnetized adapter.  (Photo: Florence Ion / Gizmodo) Car Thing fits perfectly into your air valve with a magnetized adapter. (Photo: Florence Ion / Gizmodo)

I’ve been a Spotify Premium user since the early days. My algorithm has been fine-tuned to the many stages of my life over the last 10 years, and I feel intricately locked into my Spotify profile – just as someone might have felt with their curated CD mix and iTunes playlists back then .

That’s why I thought I would benefit from Spotify’s Car Thing. It is a thing for a service I have paid for almost 10 years. Spotify requires you to sign up for an invitation list to get the chance to buy Car Thing, so I did. About a month later I was approved and smashed the buy button.

Car Thing is mounted on any air vent with a strong magnet, although a CD insert is included if you would rather mount it that way. The device has a 3.97-inch screen, which is not much bigger than my first Android phone, HTC Incredible. It also has a giant turntable in the right corner and a small button in the bottom. It is powered via USB-C through your car’s 12V socket with a USB-A adapter, which includes an additional USB socket in the adapter for charging your phone. There are also five additional buttons at the top of the Car Thing that serve as a navigation feature. I’ll get to that in a moment.

In his honor, Spotify made a screen that is easy to see even in the glow of the sun. The screen lights up and dims automatically, just as your dashboard would.

A remote control for your music

Car Thing can take you through your latest playlists, artists and even your favorite podcasts.  (Photo: Florence Ion / Gizmodo) Car Thing can take you through your latest playlists, artists and even your favorite podcasts. (Photo: Florence Ion / Gizmodo)

To set up Spotify Car Thing, connect your device through your car’s speakers. Some newer cars have Bluetooth, which makes it easy (good for those people). But my car only has AUX, so every time I want to ride a ride with Car Thing, I have to physically connect a headphone adapter to the AUX cable that is twisted out of my glove compartment before I can leave. It adds minutes to my driving time that I would rather not deal with and turns me off almost completely for this gadget.

Nevertheless, I kept going. Spotify Car Thing and I drove several rides together throughout the Bay Area. Over the course of 161km or so, I found that I liked having the app I use next to test in front and in the middle behind the wheel. But once you drive and you decide to change the mood, Car Thing suddenly feels too complicated to use. You must really trust Spotify to provide the playlist you want before you go.

Spotify Car Thing definitely has many buttons to be car accessories.  (Image: Spotify, Other) Spotify Car Thing definitely has many buttons to be car accessories. (Image: Spotify, Other)

The four buttons at the top I mentioned before? They are customizable shortcuts, so if there is a playlist you update frequently – mine is called Everyday I’m Shufflin ‘- you can pin it. You can also attach a favorite podcast (have you heard? Gadgets?). By default, Spotify takes you to a list of playlists. I was met with playlists for a commute, but I work from home and only use my car to drive around town and run errands, so these playlists are not for me.

The most frustrating part of Car Thing is that the volume selector is not intuitive to use while smoking out to a playlist. Because I listen through AUX in my car, the volume is already the highest it can go. And if I want to shuffle songs, it takes two clicks on the back button to activate the mode that scrolls through the playlist. Annoyingly, I can not even use it to jump to the next song, which would be a much easier mechanism than tapping the screen. It is a difficult balancing act when trying to steer the car down the highway.

Spotify has a kind of digital assistant. You can say “Hey Spotify” to skip a song or queue a specific album. In his honor, it’s been the only assistant so far to understand when I ask it to play my “Everyday I’m Shufflin ‘” playlist. Google Assistant is constantly struggling with just that task, and it was nice to see that Spotify’s assistant was skilled behind the wheel, which is the only place I really trust that kind of hands-free interaction.

You can turn off the microphone if you do not want to use Spotify’s assistant. The option is available in the settings panel, which you can access via the fifth end button on the top of the device (in the same row as the presets).

I use Spotify for music but not for podcasts and that unfortunately means I can not use Car Thing to listen to my favorites. Car Thing stays dormant if you want to transfer podcasts from a third-party app on your phone (and the same for music, though you probably already stream on Spotify if you purchased Car Thing). Once I had my phone physically tied to the car speakers, I could still listen to my Pocket Casts downloads without any interruption. You’ll have to do it manually, so that’s one of the things you’ll have to pull over and control if you want to do it safely.

All about Spotify

Unfortunately, Car Thing did not solve my problems.  When I use it, I drive with two units mounted against my vents.  Very futuristic!  (Photo: Florence Ion / Gizmodo) Unfortunately, Car Thing did not solve my problems. When I use it, I drive with two units mounted against my vents. Very futuristic! (Photo: Florence Ion / Gizmodo)

My biggest annoyance with this accessory is that it does not do everything I need it to. Car Thing is just a Bluetooth accessory for your phone to play your Spotify library, and it’s pretty much it. For a car unit, you’ll want some navigation options, and I’m not sure if Spotify would ever integrate that into its offerings (or work with a third-party map app) to make Car Thing more useful. But in its current implementation, I still have to place my Android smartphone against an air valve to see where I am going and how the traffic is. It’s almost comical, and it’s certainly not what I expected when I went in search of a more sleek infotainment option.

If you’re a Spotify Premium user and you’ve deeply integrated into its ecosystem – I mean, you love the playlists it provides every week, and you do not use other apps to interact with media – then Car Thing might be worth it. sample. And to be fair, Spotify makes no promises about Car Thing – just that “Car Thing has one job and does it great.” But the days of disposables are behind us, especially when it comes to music. The iPhone made the iPod unnecessary, and it’s clear that Car Thing is not reinventing the wheel there.

I’m still looking for an app that can replace Android Auto on my phone when Google phases it out forever. Until then, my trust Roav Bolt needs to get the job done.

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