I love my old car. He’s officially a 13-year-old to be exact, but his in-dash entertainment setup makes him look a lot older. For a very long time, I have used the Android Auto app on my smartphone as an “infotainment” system in my car. Years ago I removed the proprietary 30-pin iPod plug from my glovebox to expose the AUX port, then later bought a Roav Bolt with the built-in Google Assistant for hands-free connectivity.
Everything worked so well. I would start the car, my Android phone would connect via bluetooth to the Bolt, and the Android Auto app would appear on my phone screen. Then I would hook the Popsocket to its holder and press the pput the button on the phone to start on the road. Android Auto offered the perfect marriage of music playback and Google Maps, which I constantly need as 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 the phone app would be phased out and I started to panic. This is when I looked Car Thing from Spotify, a Bluetooth accessory for your phone that plays music. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from this $ 80 device that only exists to stream Spotify – surely there was more to it than that, I thought. Reader, there is none.
An iPod, but do it Spotify
I have been a Spotify Premium user since its inception. My algorithm has adapted perfectly to the many stages of my life over the past 10 years, and I feel intimately locked into my Spotify profile, the same way a person might have felt with their CD mixes and music. iTunes playlists at the time.
That’s why I thought I would benefit from Spotify’s Car Thing. It’s a thing for a service that I have been paying for for almost 10 years. Spotify requires you to sign up for an invitation list for the chance to buy Car Thing, so I did. About a month later I got approved and broke the buy button.
the Car Thing mounts to any vent with a strong magnet, although there is a CD slot insert included if you prefer to mount it that way. The device has a 3.97 inch screen, which is not much larger than my first Android phone, the HTC Incredible. It also has a giant rotating dial in the right corner and a small button at the bottom. It is powered via USB-C through your car’s 12V outlet with a USB-A adapter, which includes an additional USB slot in the adapter to charge your phone. There are also five additional buttons at the top of Car Thing that serve a navigation function. I’ll get to that in a minute.
To its credit, Spotify made a display that is easy to see even in sunlight. The screen automatically brightens and darkens, just like your dashboard.
A remote control for your music
To set up Spotify Car Thing, you need to connect your device through your car speakers. Some newer cars have bluetooth, which makes it easier (good for these people). But my car only has the AUX, so every time I want to drive with the Car Thing, I have to physically plug a headphone adapter into the AUX cable that came out of my glove box before I can take off. It adds minutes to my driving time that I would rather not manage and turns me away from this gadget almost entirely.
Nonetheless, I persisted. Spotify Car Thing and I have made several trips together throughout the Bay Area. Over the course of a hundred miles, I discovered that I liked having the app I use most often in the front and center behind the wheel. But once you drive and decide to change the mood, the Car Thing suddenly feels too much of a hassle to use. You have to really Trust Spotify to deliver the playlist you want before you hit the road.
Those four buttons at the top that I mentioned before? These are shortcuts that can be customized so that if there’s a playlist that you update frequently (mine is called Everyday I’m Shufflin ‘) you can pin it. You can also pin a favorite podcast (have you heard of gadget?). By default, Spotify takes you to a list of playlists. I have encountered some playlists for a commute to work, but I work from home and only use my car for shopping around town, so these playlists are not for me.
The most frustrating part of Car Thing is that the volume knob isn’t intuitive to use while you’re jumping into a playlist. Because I listen through the AUX in my car, the volume is already as loud as possible. And if I want to browse songs, it takes two clicks on the back button to activate the mode that scrolls through the playlist. Unfortunately, I can’t even use it to skip to the next song, which would be a much easier mechanic than tapping the screen. It’s a delicate balancing act when trying to steer the car on the highway.
Spotify has a kind of digital assistant. You can say “Hey Spotify” to skip a song or queue a particular album. To his credit, he’s been the only assistant to date who understands when I ask him to play my ‘Everyday I’m Shufflin’ playlist. The Google Assistant constantly struggles with this particular task, and it was nice to see that Spotify’s assistant was capable behind the wheel, which is the only place I really rely on that kind of hands-free interaction.
You can turn off the microphone if you don’t want to use Spotify Assistant. The capacity is available in the settings panel, which you access via the fifth end button at the top of the device (on the same row as the presets).
I use Spotify for music but not for podcasts, and unfortunately that means I can’t use Car Thing to listen to my favorites. Car Thing stays on standby if you want to stream podcasts from a third-party app on your phone (and the same goes for music, although if you’ve purchased Car Thing, you’re probably already streaming on Spotify). Since my phone was physically attached to the car speakers, I could still listen to my Pocket Casts downloads without any interruptions. You’ll have to do this manually, so it’s one of those things you’ll need to stop and deal with if you want to do it safely.
Everything about Spotify
My biggest annoyance with this accessory is that it doesn’t do everything I need. Car Thing is simply a bluetooth accessory for your phone to play your Spotify library, and that’s about it. For a car device, you want navigation capabilities, and I’m not sure if Spotify would incorporate that into their offerings (or work with a third-party maps app) to make Car Thing more useful. But in its current implementation, I still have to place my Android smartphone against an air vent to see where I’m going and what the traffic looks like. It’s almost comical, and it’s definitely not what I expected when I went looking for a sleeker infotainment option.
If you are a Spotify Premium user and are deeply rooted in its ecosystem, I mean you like the playlists it offers every week and you don’t use other apps to engage in them. media, so maybe Car Thing is worth it. to try. And to be fair, Spotify doesn’t make any promises about Car Thing, just that “Because Thing has a job and does it wonderfully. But the era of single-use devices is behind us, especially when it comes to music. The iPhone made the iPod useless, and it’s clear Car Thing isn’t reinventing the wheel there.
I’m still on the lookout for an app that could replace Android Auto on my phone when Google does away with it for good. By then, my trusty Roav Bolt will have to do the job.