Worked as Advertised, but Spotify’s Car Thing Is Mystifying at Best

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The Spotify Car Thing is adorable, but it isn’t the solution to my car’s audio problems! Photo: Florence Ion / Gizmodo – When I’m behind the wheel, I don’t need a gadget that can solely output audio. To me, my ancient automobile is a part of my family. Even though it’s a teen—a 13-year-old, to be exact—its in-dash entertainment system makes it seem much older than it really is. The Android Auto software on my phone has served as my car’s “infotainment” system for quite some time now. Years ago, I removed the 30-pin proprietary iPod connector from my glovebox to reveal the AUX port, and then purchased a Roav Bolt with the Google Assistant built in for hands-free communication.

It was all very smooth. The Android Auto app appeared as soon as I turned the vehicle on and my phone was synced up with the Bolt using Bluetooth. Popsocket holder attached, I’d then press play on my phone to get started on my trip. Because I have no sense of direction, even after living in the San Francisco Bay Area for most of my life, Android Auto provided the ideal combination of music playing and Google Maps.

My heart sank when Google revealed that the Android Auto phone app will be taken away. As a result of this, I decided to investigate Spotify’s Car Thing, a Bluetooth device for smartphones that plays music. For a $80 gadget that serves just to stream Spotify, I was a little unsure of what to anticipate. Reader, there isn’t.

An iPod with Spotify installed

With the help of a magnetic adaptor, Car Thing may be installed straight into your air vent. Photo: Florence Ion / Gizmodo

Since its inception, I’ve been a paying subscriber to Spotify Premium. It’s as if my Spotify profile’s algorithms have been fine-tuned over the last decade to reflect the many periods of my life, much like the way people used to feel about their tailored CD mixes and iTunes playlists.

Because of this, I figured Spotify’s Car Thing would be a good match for me. A thing for which I’ve been paying for over ten years now is this. So I signed up for Spotify’s invitation list in order to gain a chance to acquire Car Thing. I received approval about a month later and immediately purchased the item.

The Car Thing may be attached to any air vent using a powerful magnet, but it also comes with a CD slot insert if you like. My first Android phone, the HTC Incredible, had a 3.97-inch display, so this one isn’t that much larger either. Large dial in right-hand corner and little button at bottom are further features of this device’s design. Using a USB-A to USB-C converter, you may connect it to your car’s 12V plug and charge your phone at the same time. Additionally, the Car Thing has five extra navigational buttons located at the very top. That’s something I’ll cover shortly.

As a result, Spotify has a display that is readable even in the bright sunlight. Like your dashboard, the screen automatically adjusts its brightness and contrast.

For Your Music, a Remote Control

Your favorite podcasts, musicians, and playlists are all at your fingertips with Car Thing. Photo: Florence Ion / Gizmodo

You’ll need to use the speakers in your vehicle to connect your Spotify device to the Spotify Car Thing. It’s much easier now since many contemporary vehicles come equipped with Bluetooth (nice for those people). However, since my vehicle only has AUX inputs, I must first connect a headphone adaptor to the AUX wire in my glove compartment before I can start driving with the Car Thing. It adds minutes to my driving time that I’d rather avoid, and it’s one of the few things about this device that I really like using.

Despite this, I continued. I took Spotify Car Thing on multiple road trips across the Bay Area. During a few hundred miles of driving, I discovered that having the app I use the second most often in the driver’s seat was a pleasant surprise. Car Thing suddenly becomes difficult to utilize while you’re driving and you want to alter the mood. It’s imperative that you put your faith in Spotify before you leave the house so that it can provide the playlist you’ve requested.

For a vehicle attachment, Spotify Car Thing has a lot of buttons. Image: Spotify

There are the four buttons I mentioned earlier? They’re customizable shortcuts, so you can pin a playlist you often change (like mine, dubbed Everyday I’m Shufflin’). It’s also possible to save a favorite podcast (like Gadgettes, for example). Spotify, by default, directs you to a selection of playlists, which you may customize. My inbox flooded with playlists designed for people who drive to work, but because I work from home and primarily use my vehicle for errands, they weren’t appropriate for me.

Using the volume dial in Car Thing while listening to a song is the most annoying feature of the app. As a result of using the AUX input in my vehicle, the volume is already set to the maximum level. As for shuffle mode, it requires two back button presses before I can access it. This is quite inconvenient, since I could utilize it to quickly go on to the next song by just touching the screen. A delicate balancing act is required while driving along the highway.

There is, in fact, some form of digital assistant on Spotify. It’s possible to skip a track or an album by saying, “Hey Spotify. To its credit, it’s the first virtual assistant to recognize that I’m asking it to play music from my “Everyday I’m Shufflin’” playlist. Seeing Spotify’s helper in the driver’s seat was a pleasant surprise, since it is the one area where I depend on hands-free interaction most often.

If you don’t want Spotify’s assistant to hear you, you may off the microphone. You may reach the settings panel by pressing the fifth end button on the device’s top (on the same row as the presets).

I listen to music on Spotify, but I don’t listen to podcasts, therefore I can’t utilize Car Thing to listen to my favorite shows. While using a third-party app to broadcast podcasts to your car, Car Thing remains inactive (and the same thing for music, though if you bought Car Thing presumably you stream on Spotify already). I was able to continue listening to my Pocket Casts downloads since my phone was physically connected to the car’s speakers. That will need physical intervention, so if you want to do it safely, you’ll need to pull over and deal with it.

Spotify: The Complete Guide

Car Thing did not, alas, resolve my issues. When I’m driving, I have two gadgets attached to my air vents. It looks like something straight out of the future! Photo: Florence Ion / Gizmodo

The most frustrating thing about this item is that it falls short of my expectations. Basically, Car Thing is just a Bluetooth attachment for your phone to play back your Spotify collection. I’m not sure whether Spotify will ever include navigation to its Car Thing services (or work with a third-party mapping app) in order to make it more helpful. For now, my Android smartphone is placed against an air vent to observe where I’m heading and how much traffic there is. When I set out to find a more streamlined infotainment system, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

If you’re a Spotify Premium customer and you like the weekly playlists it sends you, and you don’t use any other media applications, Car Thing could be worth a look. “Car Thing has one task and performs it awesomely” is all Spotify guarantees about the service. However, the era of single-use gadgets is over, particularly in the music industry. Clearly, the iPhone displaced the iPod, and Car Thing is not creating anything new there.

When Google finally retires Android Auto, I’ll be looking for an app to take its place. Roav Bolt, on the other hand, has my whole confidence for the time being.