While its name probably makes it sound like something an executive at Spotify thought of overnight, the Spotify ‘Car Thing’ has been in the works for years. It honestly makes sense, considering every one of Spotify’s competitors is in the hardware space too – Apple has the HomePod Mini and the AirPods complementing its Apple Music, and Amazon has the Echo series of smart speakers tying in with Prime Music. The Car Thing helps Spotify enter the hardware space too, and solidify its position in the one area where the market still remains untapped, and where honestly people require music/radio/podcasts the most… the car.
Picture this… you’ve got a long, 30-minute drive to work. A decade ago, you’d switch the radio on and listen to the news or some music. Now, you’re most likely to tune into your favorite podcast episode, or play music from a playlist on your streaming service. The software has evolved, although the hardware’s still playing catch-up. Not every car comes with a smart dashboard, and it can be a nuisance to constantly lift up your phone and unlock it to pick a song or a podcast episode… especially when you’re driving. That’s where the Car Thing comes in.
Issued as a limited release, Spotify’s Car Thing provides a bridge between your car’s speaker system and your favorite online streaming service. Available for free to a select group of applicants (you can sign up on Spotify’s Car Thing microsite), the Car Thing is a nifty little dashboard that brings Spotify to life in your automobile. It runs a version of the streaming company’s Car View, a simple interface that’s easy to use and navigate while driving, and while the device DOES have a touchscreen, it comes with physical dials and buttons that you can instinctively operate with your hand as you keep your eyes on the road.
The Spotify Car Thing is built to be compatible with vehicles regardless of make or model and displays a home screen with a touch-sensitive navigation dial slightly overlapping the screen to make the device look visually dramatic. The device comes with voice-controlled search too, and you can simply summon songs, artists, and playlists by using the command “Hey Spotify” before your query. Alternatively, you could rotate the dial to navigate the dashboard, increase or decrease volume, or press it to select songs or play/pause music. A button right below the dial lets you go back to the home screen, and 4 preset buttons on the top let you instantly play songs, stations, podcasts, or playlists of your choice.
Ultimately, the Car Thing works as an intermediary between your phone and your car’s speaker system. It doesn’t sport a speaker of its own, instead, it connects to your car’s built-in speaker system either via Bluetooth or an aux cable. It still requires your smartphone too, given that it can’t connect to the internet independently. Sure, that sounds like a bit of a drag, but what Spotify is betting on is a much more intuitive and easy-to-use interface that lets you listen to your favorite talk shows and music without fiddling with your phone as you drive. The Car Thing ships with three mounting accessories for connecting it to a vent, the dashboard, or the CD player, and can be powered either by the USB port in your car, or a USB adapter that fits into the lighter socket. Sadly, the Car Thing isn’t quite available to the general public yet. You need to sign up on the Car Thing website and Spotify states that the device will only be available to “select” Spotify Premium members. To make up for that, the company is giving the Car Thing away at a 100% discount on its $79.99 price-tag. All you really need to pay is a nominal $6.99 shipping fee.
The Car Thing sports a 4-inch touchscreen, with a durable construction and matte-textured rubber controls that are responsive and easy to use.
A rotating dial lets you quickly cycle through elements on your interface, and you can simply push the dial to select an item within your menu or press the home button below to go back to your home screen.
The upper edge of the Car Thing spots 5 buttons – 4 for dedicated presets, and a recessed button on the extreme right lets you either quick/mute a song, or access your settings. The device even comes with 4 microphones on the top, laid out in between each of the buttons, that run Spotify’s adaptive interference cancellation technology to help tune out the background noise and focus on your voice commands.
Each Spotify Car Thing ships in a kit that includes a USB cable to power the device, a 12V adapter for your car’s lighter socket, 3 different mounts to choose from, and a rubber cover for extending the primary dial’s lifespan.