When Spotify first launched the $80 Car Thing, I was sold on the idea. 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 a system like Car Play or Android Auto built-in. Except, I couldn’t get my hands on one when it was first launched in April 2021.
Car Thing is still hard to get eight months later, so when I finally got an invitation to buy the Car Thing, I jumped at the chance. But a few weeks later, I’m not convinced that it’s the best solution for older vehicles — yet.
Let’s start with the positives. 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 12V adapter and USB cable. 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 like 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.
Unfortunately, I found 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.
This is also a single-use device, so it only works with Spotify. You need to have a Premium subscription and don’t expect any other apps or even maps to appear on this screen. 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 the 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 potential software updates down the line to tweak the voice recognition, or even the second-gen to include music storage to let it work independently from your phone. You can watch my full experience of Spotify’s Car Thing in the video on this page.