If your iPhone feels a generation smarter than your car, Spotify has just the in-car music player for you. Called Car Thing, the new Spotify-branded tech promises a more convenient listening experience for devoted Spotify Premium subscribers. So if buying a car with Apple CarPlay or Android Auto isn’t happening anytime soon, perhaps due to the rising cost of used and new cars, the Spotify Car Thing promises to brighten your commute by making your ride feel more modern.
When the most popular audio streaming service offers its own in-car hardware, we take notice. But we wanted to find out whether the Spotify Car Thing makes as much sense for music fans as the streaming service itself. Can the Car Thing ease an evening commute or enhance a road trip? Here’s what you need to know about this new product.
What Is the Spotify Car Thing? And How Does It Work?
Spotify Car Thing is a Bluetooth-enabled audio player that hopes to improve your in-car listening experience. Seen another way, this device can help suppress the desire to get a new car. Or at least push it down the road a while. When the choice is between an $89.99 Spotify Car Thing and the down payment on a newer car, the device’s sub-$100 price and trusted branding can look like an appealing compromise.
The Car Thing connects to your phone, which then needs to be linked to your car with an aux cable, USB, or Bluetooth. Plug in Car Thing to your car’s 12-volt outlet, and you’re ready to set it up. Speaking of which, we found setup easy. The controls are likewise simple to understand. On the right side of the 4.0-inch touchscreen, a rotating dial and smaller back button facilitate navigation if you don’t want to just swipe and tap. Four small, tab-like buttons sit at the top of the 2.5-inch-tall Car Thing and serve as customizable presets. Or, if you prefer, a “Hey, Spotify” command should get you closer to a favorite song, artist, or podcast.
What’s in the Car Thing’s Box?
Inside the box, the Spotify Car Thing is front and center. At just under an inch thick, the Car Thing leaves room underneath for a USB cord to link it to your car via a 12-volt adapter with a USB connection. Although we suspect most Spotify Car Thing users will simply use the supplied vent clip, a dash mount and CD-player mount are also included, along with a quick-start guide.
What You Need to Use the Spotify Car Thing
Spotify Car Thing users will need a smartphone, a Spotify Premium subscription, and $89.99 for the device itself. As of this writing, Spotify Premium subscriptions start at $9.99 for ad-free listening and increase for two- or six-person family accounts (a student rate is $4.99).
Car Thing Pros: What Spotify’s Tech Does Right
Loyal Spotify Premium users with older cars should like the Car Thing. In-car touchscreens can’t offer the Car Thing’s Spotify-specific presets, a cool perk that’s tough to match. Although the screen is small, keep in mind that the audio display of many older cars, SUVs, and trucks merely shows one line of text. In comparison, the Spotify Car Thing’s color screen, complete with cover art, is a big improvement.
The more adventurous you are, the more the Spotify Car Thing shows its strengths versus a phone on a vent clip or yes, even against Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
“I’m not a regular Spotify user,” senior editor Aaron Gold said, “but after playing with the Car Thing, I might become one. I really loved how this little gizmo let me explore Spotify using only the ‘Hey Spotify’ voice command.”
Beyond commands that call up a specific playlist, artist, or album, the Spotify Car Thing’s voice commands can play (or show) more audio content like the current selection. As with any new tech, experimentation increases the usefulness of the Car Thing. If you generally stick with set playlists, the Car Thing advantage diminishes.
“After playing a particular song I requested, it came up with something related, and I asked it for more music by that particular artist,” Gold said. “I tried commands like, ‘Play 1980s road trip music,’ ‘Play relaxing classical music,’ and ‘Play harpsichord music,’ and it always responded correctly. … There’s no need to load up your phone with music, because whatever you want to hear, you can just ask the Car Thing.”
Car Thing Cons: Room for Improvement
Even when you master the voice commands and set up your presets, the Spotify Car Thing still only caters to a sliver of the car-tech market. We simply don’t see as much value for anyone with a car whose infotainment system includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Those phone-mirroring features have been upgraded over the years and can now handle voice commands just like the Spotify Car Thing. The Apple and Google voice command options—also available through a long press on a steering-wheel button—aren’t as expansive as the Spotify Car Thing, but they get the job done. Again, the importance of this Car Thing advantage comes down to how often you travel down musical (and podcast) rabbit holes.
There are multifunction advantages to integrated car-tech solutions, too. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto now have split-screen options, so you can see your phone’s map and music info on the same screen. This isn’t much of an advantage for cars with smaller screens, but it’s still a visual option the Car Thing can’t compete with.
One editor also had issues inadvertently resetting our four presets. Because we’re not in the habit of leaving phones, hardware, or any other valuables visible when we park cars, there were multiple times we accidentally pressed and held the buttons on the top of the device when moving it out of sight. Over time, we learned to be more careful, but it was a constant concern.
New Features on the Spotify Car Thing
Just this month, Spotify revealed new Car Thing updates for Apple iPhone users including controls for other, non-Spotify media and the ability to answer phone calls from the display. So far, there’s no timeframe for when those convenient features will be rolled out to Android users. Whether you’re on Android or iOS, the Spotify Car Thing can now handle the addition of songs to your listening queue, another meaningful update. A night mode is also on the way.
All of those welcome changes increase the overall usefulness of the device. As much as we understand the idea posited on Spotify’s
Car Thing website that a phone should handle “phone stuff,” these days phone stuff encompasses pretty much everything. Even on a 6.5- or 7.0-inch screen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto offer superb all-around functionality to help safely listen to text messages, hear audio, navigate, and make phone calls.
Is the Spotify Car Thing Worth Buying?
All of that is irrelevant if your car doesn’t have Apple CarPlay and Android Auto—this is where the Spotify Car Thing becomes more of a value. Music and podcast fans who aren’t ready to buy a new or updated used car should appreciate the Spotify Car Thing.
We think $89.99 is a bit pricey, but the Car Thing is a more sophisticated streaming solution than a phone on a vent clip (Gold suggests including a few months of Spotify Premium with every purchase). Every day, however, more people buy newer cars with integrated phone-mirroring tech and basic voice commands that can handle just enough of the Spotify Car Thing’s functionality to make it tougher to recommend. But if you’re trying to do anything you can to avoid buying a new car with today’s inflated prices? The Spotify Car Thing is worth considering.