It is now easier for Spotify users to get their hands on its first hardware device, the Car Thing. This is done by opening up a waitlist for those interested in buying the appliance. Anyone can sign up to be placed on this list starting today. Interestingly, the price of the streaming service’s product, which was once an invite-only offer, suddenly increased to $79.99 from free with paid shipping and handling.
Even though Spotify will allow anyone with a free or premium subscription account to sign up for its waitlist, you will still need a premium subscription to use the device. Considering its updated price of $79.99, it’s also worth re-evaluating what the Car Thing has to offer.
It should be noted that the Car Thing does not function as a standalone Spotify device. It can communicate via Bluetooth and utilize your phone’s internet connection as a way to stream and control the playback of songs and podcasts from Spotify’s library. Additionally, the Car Thing is reliant on your phone’s Bluetooth, USB, or auxiliary cable connection to your car, so in essence, it is simply a glorified Spotify remote.
When we tried out the Car Thing, the voice control (“Hey Spotify”) seemed to be helpful, but you might not lose anything if you already have a built-in stereo that does the same thing. In the end, the Car Thing is just limited – even though Spotify plans to update it – and it’s no longer “free.” I’d suggest considering whether it’s worth the investment before you sign up for one.
What’s in the box, design, hardware, what’s in the box
Spotify has set itself apart from all the others thanks to its extensive customer analytics, which have enabled this streaming music service to stand out from all the rest. Those tactics are what drive Spotify’s excellent discovery systems, which include features like the end-of-the-year Wrapped experience, as well as playlists like Your Top Songs and Discover Weekly. In the early stages, Car Thing attempts to bring that experience into hardware form, and it fails to deliver.
You’d be excused if you mistook the Car Thing’s plastic body for metal, given its gritty consistency and the accuracy in fit and finish. The mesh is narrowly shy of four hairsbreadths, accented by a tremendous rotary dial that somewhat precludes it, supplemented by a handful of controls. An accenting rubber identification with the Spotify logo and wordmark punches out of the left boundary, which is better merriment than the style of screen-published branding you’d anticipate and an excellent indication.
On the top of the Car Thing, between the microphone array, are additional buttons that offer quick and configurable shortcuts to specific content, playlists, settings. Still, the controls are hard to hit – I wish they were either bigger or put somewhere on the face of the Car Thing. USB Type-C is the power source for the device, and it is connected to a port on the back via USB Type-C. As far as the audio output is concerned, there is no built-in audio output (more on that later).
Even though you are not likely to use the Car Thing in this manner, it still feels premium and well-made. Moreover, the size of the device is also perfect. It’s not too big that you’d have a hard time finding a place to put it on your dash, and the screen size is large enough to be helpful without being too intrusive.
Regardless of driving conditions, the screen has good viewing angles and automatically adjusts brightness and dimness for use in all driving situations. Spotify did not consider polarized glasses when choosing the direction or type of polarization on display itself is somewhat disappointing. In other words, polarized sunglasses make it impossible to read your screen while driving, as many people do when they wear them.
Indeed, the rotary dial that controls the volume of the phone isn’t the easiest to use. Still, it is easy enough to use in tandem with the button beneath it for a relatively simple and intuitive interface. To manipulate the dial, you should grip it around your thumb and forefinger or rotate it by accident.
A rotating two-part mount attaches all this to your dashboard, vent, or CD slot, but it’s a little flimsy because it’s only two parts. This idea is similar to a sandwich: you’ve got the part that sticks to the surface (or vent, or CD player) and also provides a flat, round receptacle for the middle position. This magnetic piece connects the mount to the Car Thing itself, attaching like a barnacle and clipping into the Car Thing, which is the connection between the support and the Car Thing itself. All of these extraneous layers need to be removed for the system to work correctly, but if they are, they will cause the Car Thing in its mount to wobble disconcertingly.
As a result, I used the Car Thing with the shortest 3M adhesive-backed mount since it seemed to give the most stability and take up the least amount of space, but CD or vent mounts would be even worse. The flimsy-feeling car mount that comes with the Car Thing is even more disappointing when you consider how nicely made the entire Car Thing itself is. It was Spotify that I reached out to find out if the problem was just with my unit, but the company did not respond.
Depending on what type of vehicle you have, you will either be able to mount the Car Thing on vents, CD players, or any flat-ish surface in your car. There is also a USB Type-C cable and a 12V power adapter included. In addition to the cable routing clips, there is a cleaning cloth that you don’t have to pay $19. There are also some other little bits for better cable routing that I immediately lost.
Getting started with the setup, software, and performance
You must be a premium Spotify subscriber to use Car Thing, as well as possess a car (it goes without saying) and a smartphone. In the case of a family plan, there is a strange situation, since only the plan’s owner can purchase a Car Thing. Even though Car Thing works both on iOS and Android, we (hopefully understandably) chose to test it on the latter. As well as working with CarPlay and Android Auto, Car Thing also works as a standalone application.
Setting up the Car Thing is a very simple process. Upon plugging it in for the first time, the screen displays a QR code on the screen for you to scan with the phone that is meant to take you to the app so you can pair it with your phone via Bluetooth. As part of the first-time setup steps, you’ll also be guided through the process of mounting the phone to your car, but that should be pretty self-explanatory for most people. As a last resort, if you have already set up a Car Thing to connect to a new phone, you can also select Pair New Phone in the Bluetooth settings menu to trigger the pairing process manually in the app. This may work just as well as pairing via Settings -> Car Thing from within the app.
After all of the settings have been set up properly, your phone will automatically connect to the Car Thing when it is powered on – If you’re not doing anything unusual that means when you get into your car and start it. If your phone is connected to any of the mechanisms you use for audio, the playback will immediately resume from where you last left off as soon as your connection is complete.
With Car Thing, it is surprisingly easy to navigate around the interface, and you have a few ways to do this between the screen, the voice, and the buttons. In essence, if you’ve ever used the Spotify app on any platform before, you may find the interface instantly familiar, with its side-scrolling lists and identical commands and features. In the app, there’s a home screen with a mix of recommended content, a Voice tab, which shows things you’ve searched for regarding recent vocal queries, and a Your Library tab, where you can find your favorite songs and playlists.
When you say “Hey Spotify”, Car Thing responds to your voice commands and will play playlists, albums, specific songs, or whatever else you specify. The app also allows you to control playback or to save content. If you have used Google Assistant to trigger Spotify, it is very similar to that, but with limited actions and results, just like with Google Assistant.) One particularly convenient feature is that you can ask Spotify to “show” you things, so if you aren’t sure it will grab the right playlist by name, you can ask it to show you your playlists and scroll to the one you want. By doing this we can save a little bit of time when compared with manually navigating to the playlist section of the page.
As an alternative to talking to your stereo, you can also use the buttons and the screen to navigate. The large rotary dial lets you scroll through content, tapping it to select or pressing the smaller button below to navigate back and forth. When you’re watching a video, you can also control the volume and play/pause from the same dial when you’re on the playback screen. On the top and back, four of the five buttons function as shortcuts that you can program by long-pressing, but the fifth in the corner opens up a menu that you can use for things like pairing additional phones, factory resetting, restarting, or disabling the microphone (which doesn’t work when you aren’t saying “Hey Spotify,” as soon as you are saying that hotword).
With the many controls on the screen, you can like songs to save them to your playlist, search for tracks, play and pause, as well as enable and disable shuffle – commands that can also be triggered by your voice.
The Car Thing might, once in a while, need an update, and that process ostensibly happens automatically in the background with the default settings. However, it’s the case that at least once I had an update pending for several days with no apparent way of applying it. According to Car Thing’s support documentation, a message will appear when updates are available in that situation.
In a novel category such as this, it is hard to judge whether it performs well relative to other games. However, you will notice plenty of frame drops and general jank when using Car Thing. While I’m not sure whether this is a problem with the software or if the hardware is underpowered, scrolling around the UI isn’t particularly smooth. The sound quality is also a question, but that depends totally on what you choose for your phone and Spotify settings, as well as how the device is connected to the car (wired versus Bluetooth, and with what codec), so that can and will change.
However, regardless of what I have said before, there is no built-in audio output, so you have to connect your phone via Bluetooth or wire to supply audio – the latter can be accomplished with a wired source or through the use of a secondary Bluetooth device. The crux of this review is that Car Thing merely uses a dedicated screen to navigate and manage Spotify playback from within a car. As much as this is what the Car Thing was created to do in the first place, it is also its biggest flaw because it simply duplicates a limited subset of your phone’s functionality, all while you have to have your phone with you. It is a simple application that does the same kind of thing your phone does, only worse.
- By using Car Thing, Spotify users can access Spotify’s entire catalog of music and podcasts while traveling. We imagine this to be a way to offer a way for vehicle owners without built-in infotainment systems, such as Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, to be able to easily access Spotify’s personalized listening experience
- There are some Spotify users in the U.S. … Anyone who has a Spotify account – Free or Premium – can sign up for the Car Thing waitlist. Despite its simplicity, Car Thing requires a paid Spotify Premium subscription, whether it’s an Individual, Family, Duo, or Student plan, and it connects to your smartphone for mobile data use.
- It is important to remember that there is no built-in audio output, so if you want to use it with audio, you will have to connect it to your phone, either via wire or via a second Bluetooth device. It’s time to get down to the meat of this review: Car Thing merely provides a dedicated screen from which you can navigate and manage Spotify
- As part of its “Car Thing” promotion, Spotify is giving away its smart music player for free. Unfortunately, you might not be able to get one right now. … While the Car Thing is currently a limited product launch, Spotify said it would be giving away the normally-$80 device for free to select Spotify listeners, with only the shipping cost to be paid
- Setting it up is the first step. The device can be connected to a 12V power outlet by using the supplied cable and power adapter. Connect your phone to Car Thing by turning on Bluetooth in your phone’s settings. Your phone can be connected to your car stereo via Bluetooth, AUX or USB cable through the settings in the car stereo.