When Spotify launched the Car Thing last year, I was immediately sold on the idea. The Car Thing is a touchscreen with voice control so you can listen to Spotify in your vehicle. It sounded like the perfect solution for my car, which doesn't have Car Play or Android Auto built-in. Initially available as an invite-only purchase, the $90 Car Thing is now available to all Spotify Premium members in the US.
I got my invite in November 2021 and jumped at the chance to buy a Car Thing. Since then, the price has gone up by $10 and in its current form I'm not convinced that it's the best solution for older vehicles just yet. But Spotify has said it will roll out features like playback control for other audio apps that may help justify the price increase.
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Setting up and using the Car Thing is easy
The installation process is straightforward and everything you need is included in the box: mounts to attach the screen to air vents, on the dash or in the CD slot, a 12-volt adapter and USB cable. The Car Thing connects to your phone via Bluetooth, then you also connect your phone to the car stereo via Bluetooth, aux or USB cable. Your phone acts as the Car Thing's brain: It needs to be connected to the screen at all times for it to work.
To start playing music, just say, "Hey, Spotify" and choose whatever song, album or artist you want from the catalog. You can also bring up your playlists, play and pause music, or skip tracks with voice commands. There's also a physical dial and the touchscreen itself for additional control, plus four programmable preset buttons to bring up favorites. The screen is lightweight and on looks alone, it makes me feel like I've given my vehicle a bit of an upgrade.
However, I found the Car Thing's voice recognition to be hit-or-miss. Maybe it's partly to do with my Australian accent, but calling up some simple artist names like MF Doom resulted in artists like Miss June, or albums called Pit of Doom to start playing on my stereo. Other times, it completely surprised me by getting more complex or non-English artist names right the first time. It's unpredictable.
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This is a single-use device -- it only works with Spotify right now. You also need to have an active Premium subscription and other apps from your phone, or maps and navigation guidance, do not appear on the screen. Spotify has said you'll be able to control other audio services on your phone using the Car Thing in the coming weeks.
There's no built-in music storage or EQ controls either, but you can hear audio from your phone, like navigation and phone calls through your speakers while using the Car Thing.
After a few weeks using the Car Thing, I feel most people with an older vehicle will probably be satisfied with a car mount for their phone and by using Spotify's same voice assistant in the app. Or even using Siri or Google Assistant to bring up the Spotify app in a pinch. I'll probably still use the Car Thing for longer drives when I know I'll want to listen to a variety of songs on demand, or when I have other people in the car who want to control music.
This is also Spotify's first foray into hardware, so I'm looking forward to software updates down the line to bring support for more audio apps, potentially tweak the voice recognition and support playback in areas of patchy cellular connectivity. You can watch my full experience of Spotify's Car Thing in the video at the top of this page.